Spoilers ahead, y’all. You’ve been warned.
Last year, the most successful film franchise of all time returned to theaters with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long-awaited continuation of the Skywalker saga that inspired an unprecedented audience enthusiasm and shattered box office records. It was a sensation, but the reaction was undeniably split. For many, The Force Awakens was a triumphant return to form for the franchise after the wayward years of the prequels. For others, it was a copy-paste retread of A New Hope.
Cut to a year later, and we’re having a very similar discussion about Rogue One, Lucasfilm’s first standalone Star Wars film, which promised to introduce new characters and worlds to the Star Wars universe without being beholden to the narrative of the sagas. No Jedis, no Skywalkers; Gareth Edwards‘ prequel takes place right before the events of A New Hope, following the ragtag group of rebels who stole the Death Star plans. And once again, fans are debating whether Rogue One is one of the best Star Wars films of all time or a nostalgia-driven retread hampered by reshoots and studio interference.
In truth, Rogue One is, like The Force Awakens, a mixed bag. It’s a flawed film, and abundantly so, but it’s also got a big beating heart and a swinging set of balls. If The Force Awakens kept the safety switch on with a strikingly familiar family-friendly narrative, Rogue One throws it out the window with a heartbreaking and unusually grim depiction of the “Wars” in Star Wars. It’s a brave film that takes a lot of swings, even if it doesn’t land all the hits. Unfortunately, in throwing out the narrative playbook, Rogue One ends up stumbling over its own story beats and while it may not be a play-by-play retread of A New Hope, it’s very much living in its shadow.