Rogue One had a lot of great things going for it. A spy/sabotage story in the Star Wars universe is great. Everything from the set design, costume design, objects in the world, and the types of encounters all feel like they are in the Star Wars universe.
The series had some serious cojones to create a movie that showed a major sacrifice of the heroes for just the slightest hope of ultimate victory in the future. But none of that changes how there are a myriad of flaws that make this movie only a winner in comparison to the god-awful prequel trilogy. If this film existed in a universe where only episodes 4,5,6, and 7 existed, everyone would be giving it a much harsher critique.
Even with all of that, it came close to hitting the mark, and I think only one or two rewrites could have gotten an amazing film. Here are some of my thoughts on what should have been done to make the film work. This is a really in-depth and lengthy review, but I think the film is interested enough to warrant discussing at length.
Massive Spoilers ahead!!
How to Fix Jyn
Jyn Erso is easily the least memorable protagonist of the good star wars films. No matter how badass she is (See above), nothing about the character really sticks, and needed a bit of life injected into her. I’ve seen Jyn compared to Han Solo and Rey, but both of those characters are sassy and sarcastic in a way that is appealing. Jyn broods in a highly unlikable way. If she was allowed to be funny, I think people would have responded to her and the film much more strongly.
Jyn comes across as a major outsider in a lot of the conflict because she constantly appears as a woman who wants to keep her head down and get away from the conflict as soon as possible. We cannot root for someone who wants to run away from the story for so long in the film. For comparison, in A New Hope, Luke refuses to go to Alderaan for a total of 2 minutes before returning from seeing his dead aunt and uncle and jumping at the chance to leave. Jyn on the other hand takes more than an hour into this film to be pushed to save the galaxy by the death of her father. In that time we have lost all possible chances to really root for her interests. Jyn needs to start this story by quickly getting interested in joining the rebellion. How this can happen is by speeding up the Jedha scenes, and putting more emotional weight to them by reworking Jyn’s past.
So much could have been done to integrate major Star Wars themes into the story by reworking Jyn’s past. Jyn is initially rescued from the Empire by this strange character of Saw Gerrara, supposedly an extremist terrorist that even the rebel alliance despises. While I get that it’s fun to put in this character from The Clone Wars TV show (big fan, by the way), he is completely wasted in this film. He just serves to complicate the story and the morality of the rebel alliance, and really added nothing of interest.
What needed to happen was to make Donnie Yen’s character Chirrut Îmwe the one who rescues Jyn as a child, and brought her to Jedha to be safe.
This man really deserved better than the mediocre side-character we got.
And here is where the major reworking takes place. Jyn’s mother already instilled her with ideas of the force as a protector when she put on the necklace in the opening scene. If we know that Jyn grew up learning about the force, and perhaps the deterministic philosophy Chirrut espouses, then we could get more of the religious/philosophical aspect that is so integral to Star Wars. This also feeds into the importance of the destruction of Jedha. It was home for Jyn for years, and thus is an emotional blow when the Death Star destroys the city.
As I believe that Chirrut did nothing of importance after Jedha was destroyed that couldn’t have been done by another character, I think that he should have died on Jedha. If he had been Jyn’s mentor and protector for years, this could be the moment that Jyn decided to devote herself to the cause of saving the galaxy. By eliminating Saw’s plotline, Jyn and Cassian Andor can quickly show up on Jedha, meet with a Chirrut who has taken the empire pilot Bodhi into his temple so he can be safe during the occupation by the Empire. Quick meet up happens, Chirrut gets to do his Kung-Fu master thing, instill some force ghost philosophy, and then can die to effectively push Jyn to new heights like a new Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. The death of Saw felt meaningless and stupid, while the death of a spiritual mentor could be very powerful.
In this telling, Jyn arrives on Eadu to find her father with the intended goal of saving him and the alliance, and we are ready for the real plot to begin. This point in the movie becomes the same moment of the plot when Luke leaves Tatooine for the first time, and hopefully only takes us to the 30-40 minute mark. With these changes in place, I believe Jyn’s behavior in the rest of the film would feel justified and much more exciting.
How to Fix the Rebel Alliance
The Rebel Alliance felt like it was channeling the senate from the prequel trilogy, and anything that reminds me of those films is just BAD.
Not this crap again…
I really like how Jyn was so instrumental to getting the Alliance to act, but it was for all the wrong reasons. In the film, Jyn’s speech only convinces the rag-tag group that becomes rogue one. The bureaucracy kills what should have been an exciting moment where the downtrodden come together.
What I propose instead is that the alliance completely believes here due to the backing of Cassian (who would have to be considered extremely trustworthy or high ranking in the rewrite). But their trepidation stems from the risk of losing almost 90% of their fleet if they choose to attack the Scarif base. This way Jyn’s speech can convince them that it’s worth the risk, and that they need to fight to change anything.
In this edition, Jyn is assigned to a group of stealth soldiers called Rogue One that already exists, who lead a strike force knowing that the fleet will come to destroy the gateway blocking the signal and to help get the Death Star plans away. The rebel alliance needed to be more exciting to root for, and showing them being ready and willing to attack the Empire when given the chance instantly gives them a higher likability score.
By having the Alliance prepared to attack Scarif we’ve already come a long way towards making them likable, but now we just need to have them avoid killing Jyn’s father. The choice to make Galen Erso’s death be at the hands of the alliance was just bizarre. It makes Jyn less likely to work with the alliance and just makes the entire story less fun. Let Krennic kill Galen during the battle. This simultaneously eliminates the stain from the alliance, and gives Jyn even more of a reason to fight. This becomes Jyn’s version of Obi-Wan’s death in A New Hope. She’s lost her mentor and her family, and now is fully resolved to kick ass and save the galaxy.
It’s good to try new things and not feel so tied to the past, but the narrative structure of the early films is amazing and can be a source of inspiration that could have been taken further. This film instead of taking narrative cues, simply thought that adding random fanservice moments would suffice.
Sadly the blue milk was even more obvious than this…
Fixing the Empire
A lot of what the empire does in the movie is pretty good in my opinion. Their ruthlessness is great. The political scheming to keep the death star hidden from the Imperial Senate (Which we know was dissolved only after the existence of the Death Star became the new way to rule the galaxy) was also fun. The way they fight and the decisions they make for most for most of the film feel effectively evil. I especially applaud the final scene with Vader just tanking his way through dozens of rebel soldiers. I know I must be one of the only ones who was fine with the inclusion of Grand Moff Tarkin. There are clearly some weird ethical things going on with Peter Cushing’s likeness, but there are still bigger problems going on in the movie’s depiction of the empire.
To start, having Vader show up before the final battle was a terrible decision. Seeing Vader’s evil lair on the volcano planet was ridiculous. We know Vader lives in his weird healing chamber bubble on his massive star destroyer. He is inhuman and should live in a mechanical place. The scene is completely useless and just serves to add more sniveling characterization from Krennic that we already got enough of in his scenes with Tarkin. If Vader was saved until that final sequence, when we hear that the Empire has called in Vader’s fleet to supplement the existing fleet, and then suddenly he appears in that hallway, I think that scene could have become legendarily effective.
The Imperial pilot Bodhi was also under utilized, and could have made for an amazing main character. He needed more scenes to interact with Jyn and Galen, perhaps something where we see Galen thought of Bodhi as something like a son, and a great person for joining a truly worthy cause. We saw a little of this type of character in Finn from The Force Awakens, but having more sympathetic empire characters can’t hurt. Bodhi is utilized well in his help getting Rogue One to the surface, but having him take a more pivotal role in the fighting would have meant a lot. I think it could also have been a really powerful nod to the redemption story line integral to Star Wars in the character of Darth Vader. If Vader can be redeemed, so can Bodhi Rook.
Finally, I think Krennic deserved a little more engaging of a death. Jyn should have had him in her sights able to kill him, just like Luke did with Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. Showing our hero as merciful and badass is a staple of Star Wars. She should have left him trapped knowing that the force wills whatever happens to him, and allow him to watch in horror as his creation, the Death Star, is used to kill him. Now, the audience and Krennic are aware of how little his political crawling was, as the Empire casually sacrifices him and so many others for the sake of trying to stop the plans from getting out. In those final moments, we have cuts between Vader trying to desperately get to the plans, the Scarif base about to be annihilated, and the majority of the rebel fleet getting destroyed. The final scenes show a signal that Tantive IV has managed to escape just as Jyn and Cassian perish, knowing they gave their lives to a worthwhile cause.
Tarkin does not approve.
And this way we can avoid the horrifying uncanny recreation of 19-year-old Carrie Fisher from hell. RIP you amazing bastard.