#6 in my Ranking of the Star Wars franchise.
It’s a man on a mission story that focuses way too much time on one of the members of the gang to too little emotional impact, even though that’s the obvious desire, to create an emotional impact. The movie ends up working despite the repeated emotional faceplants involving its main character because they’re a relatively small part of the overall film, the rest being a pretty straight forward telling of a The Dirty Dozen type story…in SPACE!!!!
The emotional problems with the film stem from the fact that Jyn Erso’s character is caught between two father figures and neither one of them develops a relationship with her in the film itself. There’s her father, the Imperial scientist with whom she, as a child and through a different actress than we see through the rest of the film, has a very brief scene where her father, Galen, tells her to run and hide from the Imperial officers coming to their remote farm in the first act. The other is Saw Gerrera, an extremist Rebel who takes in Jyn, but we never see them together in the first act. If the point of her journey, and the movie’s emotional delivery, is supposed to be Jyn dealing with her absentee fathers, the movie never gives us a scene where Jyn is actually with them in any normal capacity. So, when she gets reunited with both of them at about the 30 minute mark of the film, the scenes are played with sweeping emotional music, but they fall flat. She’s crying at reunions with people we’ve never seen her with, so it feels like it comes out of nowhere because it does. Everything feels incongruous to the situation because of the distinct lack of emotional connection.
The majority of the film, though, isn’t dedicate to Jyn’s empty emotional connections but to the assembling of a team in a gritty warlike setting. The rest of the characters outside of Jyn have what feels like the correct amount of character. They’re individualized enough visually to stand out with strong enough individual motivations to get them on board with the adventure believably. It’s the sort of thing you would expect from a man on a mission type film.
The mission itself is, of course, to locate the plans to the newest Imperial weapon, the Death Star. It all hinges on the lead engineer, Galen, having built a failure mechanism into the plans and getting that information to the nascent Rebel Alliance. As a side note, I’ve always preferred my pet theory that the fault was because the thermal exhaust port lead engineer couldn’t get the funding he needed for all of the safety mechanisms, so he just finished at least one of them without the proper safety protocols. Anyway, this fault exists and the ragtag group of rebels end up going to the Imperial data storage facility on Scarif.
The setup around Scarif is complicated, presenting the band with a series of obstacles that are clearly defined. The storytelling of the final large action sequence is some of the clearest in the movie, despite the visual chaos on screen. The rebels need to go from a landing pad into the tower of a facility, grab the plans, and then get to the top of the tower and the large satellite to transmit it to the Alliance. There arrives a space battle as well when the reticent Alliance comes to support the rebels on the ground who left without Alliance permission.
This sequence is some of the brightest and prettiest of any action sequence in Star Wars, especially the stuff in space. There’s also an inventiveness to the action, like the ramming of one Star Destroyer to hit another Star Destroyer, that feels fresh and fun at the same time.
The antagonists of the film are a mixed bag to a certain degree. We have three, and only one was really necessary. The best of them, and possibly my favorite antagonist in all of Star Wars is Director Krennic. He’s purely a bureaucrat who’s driven by the fact that he feels like he’s not getting enough credit for the completion of the Death Star and that he got passed over for a promotion. It’s the sort of tangible motive that’s missing from most characters in general in big genre films. His drive is really fun. Then we have Tarkin, the CGI recreation of Peter Cushing (that really isn’t that bad, just still inside the Uncanny Valley), who functions more as Krennic’s antagonist. He still fits the film, though I would call him as much a distraction as anything else. And then we have Darth Vader, who was obviously added greatly in reshoots. His contributions to the film don’t move anything in the film, including his much ballyhooed fight in the hallway which looks cool but happens after the central conflict is over, providing just one more meaningless obstacle that wasn’t previously established and is only there to give Vader, who doesn’t matter to the film in any way, a moment to shine.
So, the movie has some biggish flaws, like Jyn’s emotional black hole and an overabundance of villains, but it also does a lot right. The men on a mission story is well handled. The central villain is great. The movie looks good, and it ends with a very good final sustained sequence. Not great, but a solid entertainment.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4