As it happens, years earlier Gerrera had rescued a young girl, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), when her father was captured by the Empire. Said father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), was a preeminent scientist whose skills were needed in order to construct the aforementioned super-weapon… Okay, fine, it’s the Death Star. As if you hadn’t figured that out already. After Jyn receives a hologram message (yep, that old saw) from her captive father, it becomes clear that the rebels’ only hope is to get their hands on the plans to the Death Star. That way, they can find any hidden weakness that might—oh, let’s just say for the sake of argument—render it vulnerable to a single, well-placed proton torpedo shot.
The bulk of Rogue One’s plot, about which I won’t say more, concerns Jyn’s efforts to verify her father’s message and acquire the Death Star plans. In this, she is assisted by a motley group consisting of Rebel intelligence agent Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); his reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk); a blind warrior-monk, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen); his shaggily martial companion, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen); and a former Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who has defected to the rebels.
Is that an awful lot of new characters to keep track of? Yes it is, and Rogue One largely fails to establish them as distinct and three-dimensional. Jones and Luna are both intriguing in the principal roles, but their backstories are scant, and the central relationship between the two is never adequately developed, a shortcoming that becomes more significant as the film cycles toward its somewhat surprising conclusion. Among the lesser roles, Hong Kong action star Yen has some good moments as a monk trying desperately but unsuccessfully to connect with the Force, and Tudyk is customarily droll as K-2SO, the saucy droid whose rebel reprogramming has resulted in his saying “whatever comes into his circuits.”
On the Imperial side of the ledger, Ben Mendelsohn is a nefarious pleasure as Orson Krennic, the head of Imperial weapons research, alternating, depending on his audience, between preening malevolence and groveling toadiehood. A couple of old friends return as well, including Grand Moff Tarkin, who is creepily played by a CGI version of the original actor, Peter Cushing, who passed away in 1994. Whatever one’s thoughts on the tastefulness (or lack thereof) of this particular “casting” decision, it’s a gimmick that wears exceedingly thin over the multiple scenes in which Tarkin appears.
The movie’s relatively shallow characterizations are in part a byproduct of the overall pace of the script (by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy), which leaps from planet to planet and battle to battle with dizzying velocity: from Jedha to the rainy crags of Eadu to the beachfront Imperial HQ of Scarif. (Not to mention a trading post in deep space, the rebel base on Yavin 4, the Wobani Imperial Labor Camp…) Anyone who, like me, has ever over-planned a family vacation will be familiar with the sensation that perhaps, ultimately, there was one stop too many.