Star Wars standalone Rogue One offers visual thrills in a story that could use more character 

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Director Gareth Edwards is known for his sense of majesty and scale. His debut feature, Monsters, was a quiet bit of looming horror as two unremarkable people lived in a world besieged by towering tentacled beings. Edwards has a keen sense of awe and little regard for the humans underfoot. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a side story to the main Star Wars universe, bashes its characters together, godlike and aloof.

However, the film is gorgeous when it goes big.

Once the scattered characters find their way together to face their task, the film picks up. Space battles look amazing and have key moments of strategy highlighted in a way unlike anything Star Wars has seen before. Ground battles found their strength in covering classic practicalities in their setup. We see who is where, what cover they’re behind and their plan for attack. The camera, set at their infantry angle, goggles up and up and up to a towering AT-AT Walker, an incomprehensibly huge mechanical Godzilla mixed with the comprehensible firepower of a tank. The camera puts the audience in the movie, bringing out our fear of the machine, not our fear for the characters threatened by it. We never get the small moments with them that we need — no weird space monster chess, no hushed conversations trading sexually charged zingers back and forth.

The shame is that all the ingredients form a great ensemble, a sort of ragtag war movie throwback that never fully assembles its pieces. The actors are all well-respected pawns jostled together inside the board rather than in formation on top of it. In the first five minutes of the film, we zoom through four different planet names. Trying to log all this information feels futile.

First, we must meet Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), whom the Empire unsurprisingly wants to control, and his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones). After a flash-forward that doesn’t quite set anything up at all, we’re certain we’ll follow Jyn on her quest to find her father, or at least find out something about her. Not so fast; hop off that podracer. Brief encounters with Diego Luna (playing Rebel spy Cassian Andor), Ben Mendelsohn (the oddly accented director of the Death Star) and Forest Whitaker (a spacey cyborg Rebel) taunt us with amuse-bouches when we’re ready for the main course.

So little is left to chance that when the film goes out of its way to try something new, it feels like an afterthought. The script dedicates so much to plot that it shoves the variety of innovations to the fringe. We must understand the warring factions of Empire and Alliance, the magic of the Force, the history of the Death Star and the complicated plan to stop it that culminate in a movie that has been resonating in our cultural consciousness for 40 years.

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) repeatedly rears its digitally assembled head while attempts at humor by a reprogrammed Imperial droid and Darth Vader fall flat. Yes, the dark lord — embracing his chronologically first film appearance as a father — makes a terrible pun.

Potential icons like Donnie Yen’s blind monk who violently Mr. Magoos whole platoons of Stormtroopers and Wen Jiang’s embodiment of “speak softly and carry a huge space-gun” are sketches of interesting additions to the universe. Fleshing out these characters wouldn’t leave time for the multiple conference table debates or conversations-as-exposition between Jyn and Cassian.

It’s all work and no play, making Rogue One a dull boy.

Print Headline: Rogue plot, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story offers a new plan of filming attack. 

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Jacob Oller

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