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Rogue One •••

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterStarring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2016


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Scott, it looks like the Star Wars franchise has returned to its roots.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Rogue “won” my heart, Greg. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is her father and the lead designer of the Empire’s new weapon – the Death Star. She was separated from her father at youth and raised by elite rebel Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker). The Rebellion needs Jyn, now 28, to find Saw and determine what he knows about a message her father sent about the new weapon. She meets him at Jedha only to find that the Empire is there and is about to destroy the city – and Gerrar with it.

Jyn learns that Galen has sabotaged the design of the Death Star so that it can be destroyed, so she devises a plan to steal the star’s schematics. The schematics are located on the highly secure tropical planet Scarif. With the assistance of Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind spiritual leader, Jyn and rebel intelligence officer Cassian (Diego Luna) infiltrate the planet with the goal of altering the balance of power in the Empire.

Scott, Rogue One is a sort of Episode 3.5 in the Star Wars lineage. While it is billed as a standalone film, it fits nicely between Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith and 1977’s Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope. The ending of Rogue One is the natural beginning to Episode 4.

And herein lies the first of many problems with this film: we know how it must end. We know that the rebels must get the plans because Episode 4 starts with Princess Leia sending the plans to the dusty planet of Tatooine. And so, there is no real tension in this story because we know our heroes will succeed.

Another problem is a large number of so-called Easter Eggs. We see characters from Episode 4 pop up randomly and inexplicably throughout Rogue One. The cameos are intended to delight those of us who have watched Episode 4 since 1977 – but for me it was a distraction as I tried to remember where the characters came from and how they merge with this new film.

And the epic nature of the film causes the first half of the film to be a series of vignettes rather than proper scenes. We are delivered first from planet to planet where snippets of the story are told. But we have very little time to get invested in any of the characters. This “set up” took nearly half the film and was quite dull.

If you’re looking for Rogue One to move the great Star Wars story arc forward, you’re in for a disappointment. Rogue One is a prequel that introduces new characters whom we never seen in later installments, so we pretty much know these characters are going to have to die. So not only do we know the outcome of the story, we know what has to happen to our heroes. The only thing we don’t know is exactly how it will happen.

I would say that Rogue One is one of the better films in the Star Wars universe. I wasn’t dazzled by this movie but it did several good things. For starters, Rogue One stars Felicity Jones who does a fabulous job portraying a multi-faceted hero. I was impressed with how she demonstrated the physically heroic traits of strength and courage, and combined them with a softer, gentler side — as evidenced when she saves a young child’s life. For me, this is an important step forward, showing that stereotypically masculine traits need not be the only defining characteristics of heroes.

What the movie industry now needs is male heroes who are portrayed in this same fuller way. The same hero can both kick ass and show a nurturant quality, regardless of whether the hero is male or female.

I’d like to say that Jyn undergoes a heroic transformation, but she only goes through the motions. Aside from the prologue where we meet her as a child, we meet Jyn as a fully formed rebel soldier. She’s already been trained by her mentor Saw Gerrera and is recruited by the rebellion to find her father. But she’s a loner. And the lesson she must learn is to depend upon others.

The key word in Rogue One is “hope.” Her new sidekick Cassian Andor tells her that rebellions are built on hope. And then, when the senate won’t support an attack on a remote base, she repeats this new lesson. But we never see Jyn undergo the transformation that shows us that she believes in the rebellion. She simply changes her tune because it makes for a convenient plot twist.

And the moment you mention, Scott, where she saves the little girl is just inserted into the middle of a battle scene with little context. In writing circles we call this the “save the cat” moment. If you have a rough character and you want to soften her, you have her save a cat from a tree (or some other such thing). And this is precisely what Jyn’s saving the child does. However, it’s the only such scene we see – and it is antithetical to the rest of her personality as displayed in the story.

Her ultimate transformation from a loner to a leader doesn’t occur so much from a series of events that lead her inexorably to this new state – but by the writers simply putting her in the position of making an impassioned plea. There are no scenes that show her growing into this new leadership role. She simply becomes a leader because the story required it. It was a very disappointing presentation.

Well you’ve put your finger on some of the perennially dissatisfying elements of the typical Star Wars film. They usually feature overly simplistic characters engaged in the classic battle between good and evil. For me, Rogue One has a bit more depth and nuance than most Star Wars movies. Even the robot character, K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk), is more interesting than past robots in this franchise.

But the evil characters are monolithically pure evil, which renders them uninteresting. They even manage to laugh at the carnage they wreak on the rebel forces. Psychological research on evil has shown that evil-doers typically do not enjoy performing their evil acts (click here for an interesting article on the psychology of evil by Roy Baumeister). I did enjoy seeing some mentoring, especially from the spiritual Imwe, whose blindness channels the ancient Greek archetype of the blind soothsayer in classic mythic tragedies. Interestingly, this is the second movie we’ve seen of late involving spiritual mentors, the other one appearing in Doctor Strange.

I think we see a true mentor in Saw Gerrara, but we never see the actual mentoring. Otherwise, there is little mentoring going on here. Cassian offers an example of what the hero can look like – but he doesn’t really give Jyn advice and gifts that help her manage the new situation she’s in. Imwe is an interesting character. He seems like a failed Jedi as he doesn’t quite channel the Force but does rely upon it. Again, he offers some examples to Jyn on how to be a good hero, but doesn’t actually instruct her.

Rogue One is a visually beautiful movie with stunning CGI effects and memorable characters who captures the spirit of the Star Wars universe. Still, I was less than dazzled by the story, as it could only lead to one known final outcome. It also telegraphed the unhappy demise of our heroes. I hope that future Star Wars movies focus on advancing the story rather than giving us prequels that box themselves in artistically. I award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

Our main hero, Jyn Erso, traverses the hero’s journey, but as you point out, Greg, some key elements of the journey are implied as having taken place off-camera rather than shown to us. Jyn does receive assistance from friends and companions along the way, and although we never see it, she does undergo a transformation between her childhood and adulthood. Despite these disappointments, I enjoyed seeing a hero who combines masculine and feminine qualities. I give Jyn a rating of 3 Hero points out of 5.

As you emphasize, Greg, the mentors are shown to occupy key roles in our hero’s life, but we don’t actually see much mentoring. The two main mentors, Gerrara and Imwe, are memorable characters but ultimately suffer from an unsatisfying emptiness in this story. I give them 2 Mentor points out of 5.

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Rogue One is a skillfully crafted CGI fest that nestles nicely into the Star Wars universe. While I found it entertaining, I was left feeling that good storytelling gave way to fan-boy fantasy. Just as with Star Wars: Episode 7: The Force Awakens we’re given a female hero who has been left without her parents. It seems you can’t be a Star Wars hero unless you’re an orphan of some sort. The performances were fine but the script lacked originality and tension. I give Rogue One just 3 out of 5 Reels.

The hero’s journey is mostly off-screen and often implied when for the bits that are on-screen. Jyn does transform from a loner to a leader, but it seems mainly as a result of the writers’ needs rather than anything that Jyn experiences. I can give Jyn only 2 out of 5 Heroes.

And the mentorship here is lacking or non-existent. Saw Gerrera trains Jyn, but it is only related to us in backstory, never something we see on-screen. The other characters act as descent examples to Jyn but never step up to true mentors. I give only 1 out of 5 Mentor points to Rogue One.

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  1. Max McGrumpy says:

    Spot on, sirs.

    One minor point — sometimes you don’t have time to transform into a leader through a journey, you have to instantly make that decision. And sometimes it is made for you for better or for worse!

    • Greg Smith says:


      Thanks for your comment. I hear what you’re saying. But it’s a bit of bad storytelling to not show the hero transforming and just have them transform on the spot. If you compare to Luke Skywalker, he makes the transformation gradually (farm boy, student, rescuer of princesses, pilot, savior of the rebellion). We don’t see that gradual transformation in Jyn. One moment she’s being told a rebellion is based on hope, the next moment she’s telling everyone else. It’s a bit of a convenience for the writers and a bit sloppy.

      But I agree that there are times when a hero is transformed on the spot. We see this in Lord of the Rings when Frodo takes on the task of carrying the ring. So your point is well taken.

      Thanks for following us on Reel Heroes! I’m looking forward to more of your observations.


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