Here is the thing: all of us already know this story. We all knew going into the movie that rebel agents would steal the Death Star plans and get killed delivering this vital information to Princess Leia. If this last bit came as a surprise, evidently the pitched battle at the beginning of A New Hope was not a big enough clue, or, as I mentioned above, you haven’t listened to the Radio Drama (and you really should).
Therefore, plot was not a tool the writers had when writing this script. There was no plot twist, turn or surprise that was going to change the outcome of this movie. The only real option in stories like these is character development. In the case of the story supposedly covered in Rogue One there are three basic characters:
- The Empire
- The Rebellion
- The Agent who gets killed
Thus, the job of the writer is to ask a couple of questions:
- What motivates The Agent to be willing to die?
- Is The Rebellion/The Empire worth dying for?
Answering these questions can make for a gripping story despite the fact that we know the plot. For example: The Patriot has a basic plot that we all know: the American Revolution. The movie, however, was not about the American Revolution. It was about how Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, went from being a guilt-ridden combat veteran who wanted nothing to do with the war to becoming a Patriot.
As a post-Christian movie, Rogue One failed miserably on this front. While they did provide us with a bunch of cool characters, not one of them had any real depth and the movie never really bothered to give us an arc to understand why these people were willing to die for the Rebellion. Further, the portrayal of the other two main characters (The Rebellion and The Empire) was fraught through with relativism.
The Rebellion was portrayed as a fractured, schizophrenic movement that really didn’t know what it wanted to be, all the while doing whatever it took to survive including murdering its own and committing acts of terrorism. The assumption here is that simply taking on the mantel “The Rebellion” automatically makes these people the good guys; however, being rebels does not a good character make. For example, the Bolshevik Revolution executed around 1000 political prisoners a month into the early 1920s.
The Empire was portrayed as an entity that wanted to bring peace to the galaxy at all cost, up to and including the use of a super weapon; however, having and using a super weapon does not an evil character make. The U.S. is the only country to ever actually use a nuclear weapon in war. The U.S. did so to end WWII and it is arguable that not only did its use save lives, but that the cause for which they used that weapon is one of the greatest countries ever to exist (warts and all).
So, 40 minutes into the movie I didn’t understand why the Rebellion was so important to save because they were portrayed as not being much better than the Empire and I certainly didn’t understand why all these cool characters were so willing to run off and die to save it.
Back when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas I was hopeful that new life would be pumped into the franchise after the bitter disappointment of Episodes I-III. Unfortunately, Disney has proven once again why I trust Hollywood about as far as I can throw a bantha. All they have done is produce movies that make Episodes I-III look good in comparison. After all, no matter how badly they were done, at least George Lucas attempted to answer the question as to why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.