By Kanin Srimaneekulroj
Continuing the example set by the previously released Episode VII, the film's action sequences and epic dogfight scenes are a delight to behold, and are even more prominent here than perhaps in any Star Wars film before it.
It benefits greatly from a superb cast of supporting characters, a couple of whom are even worthy of joining the likes of C-3PO or R2-D2 in Star Wars' pantheon of excellent sidekicks.
That doesn't mean the film isn't without its flaws. As entertaining as the supporting cast are, the two main characters – Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) – are perhaps the worst main characters in the franchise's history (yes, even worse the Anakin), receiving very little development beyond spoken exposition, leaving them with a superficial depth that fails to have any significant emotional impact.
Those familiar with Star Wars lore will know exactly what kind of ending lies in store for the heroes of Rogue One, and the lack of development does it no favours, as I had very little emotional attachment to any of them. Being a story that explores the fateful event that set off the entire original Star Wars trilogy, the film feels sadly inconsequential.
For those of you not in the know, Rogue One follows the Rebel Alliance's attempt to steal the blueprints for the Death Star (which fans will remember as the little disc-thing that Princess Leia had R2-D2 deliver to Obi-Wan Kenobi at the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope, the 1978 film and the first in the series).
The film follows Jyn Erso, the daughter of the scientist who created the Empire's iconic star fort, and her transformation from reluctant vagabond to heroine of the Rebel Alliance, her efforts directly leading to the Rebel's successful destruction of the Death Star in Episode IV.
Something that may not be apparent about Rogue One is that it's pretty much a war movie. Unlike the often light-side-versus-dark-side, good-versus-evil dynamic of past Star Wars films, Rogue One's protagonists exist in a darker, greyer area, where the ends justify the means, and alliances are dictated more by practicality than simple idealism.
This is the Rebel Alliance at their most fractured and desperate, and they're not afraid to cross the moral line here and there if it means striking a blow against the ever-so-Evil Empire.
Right from the get-go, we see Cassian, the supposedly noble Rebel captain, heartlessly execute an injured informant when he gets cornered by Imperial Troops. Then we watch as he agrees to a secret assassination mission, lying to his friends in the process.
We even get a disturbing interrogation/torture scene of a sort. This is a story of sabotage, assassinations and even extremist guerrilla warfare that verges on terrorism.
It's a different kind of Star Wars story, one that is definitely intriguing, if not as suitable for children as its predecessors.
As interesting as the portrayal of the conflict is, however, much of the film's sense of significance and emotional weight is robbed by the lack of development in its two main characters, namely Jyn and Cassian.
While we do get a brief scene of Jyn's childhood, the film immediately jumps what seems to be decades into the future, leaving much unsaid about how the little girl we've seen just moments ago has turned into the weary vagabond we see now.
While tidbits of her past are gradually revealed, it is done so entirely through exposition, with very little evidence of it on-screen. We're told than Jyn is a prodigal fighter, but we rarely get to see that in action (outside of perhaps one very brief sequence).
We're told that she's been alone since she was 16, but we know nothing of her struggles beyond that. This gives her character the impression of depth, but even when the credits rolled, I still felt like she was all but a stranger, one I knew practically nothing about.
Cassian suffers from the same problems: we get brief glimpses (and are told through exposition) that tell us he's a ruthless Rebel soldier who has no qualms doing the questionable thing as long as he is ordered to, due to him "losing everything" and joining the Rebellion when he was six. That's pretty much all the characterisation he got, stretched over two-and-a-half hours.
The characterisation issue only becomes worse towards the end, when characters suddenly start dying or making inexplicable changes of heart in ways not earned by the storytelling.
It is clear that the film is trying to tell an emotional story, but it's tough to care about the characters' plight when they very much feel like random strangers. If not for the excellent performances, I may not even remember a single character.
These problems with character development also extend to the supporting cast, but to a much lesser extent. While the defected Imperial pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) receives zero characterisation (we don't even get an explanation as to why or how he managed to defect), the other supporting characters – Chirrut (Donnie Yen), Baze (Jiang Wen) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) – are all excellent.
Chirrut and Baze, two former Jedi Temple guards, provide excellent humorous banter, with Chirrut (or Yen, perhaps the biggest Hong Kong martial-arts star) getting an amazingly choreographed action sequence of his own.
But the real star of the film is the re-programmed Imperial strategy drone K-2SO, whose dry humour and painful honesty manage to make him a delight in every scene he is in. In fact, he may very well be my latest favourite Star Wars character, and that's saying a lot.
In short, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a film that remains fun thanks to its rich universe, spectacular set pieces and superb supporting cast, while still being held back from achieving the same excellence as its predecessor, Episode VII, due to problems with characterisation and pacing.
Go see it in cinemas if you must; you won't regret the ticket cost, even if it's nowhere near as excellent as the film that came before it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen.
Directed by Gareth Edwards.