The first reviews for the new Star Wars film have left critics divided.
While Rogue One (out Friday) has an aggregate score of 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, many prominent critics — including reviewers for the New Yorker, New York Times, and TIME — have found fault with director Gareth Edwards’ film, calling it among other things “lobotomized” and a “force of habit.”
But despite those negative takes, most critics are praising Rogue One, which rewinds the Star Wars story to before the events of the original 1977 film, focusing on a squadron of rebels who steal the plans to the Death Star.
As EW’s Chris Nashawaty wrote in his B+ review, “Rogue One would have been a very good stand-alone sci-fi movie if it came out under a different name. But what makes it especially exciting is how it perfectly snaps right into the Star Wars timeline and connects events we already know by heart with ones that we never even considered. It makes you wonder how many other untold stories are waiting in the shadowy corners of Lucas’ galaxy far far away.”
At The Daily Beast, Jen Yamato went even further, calling Rogue One the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
“Rogue One, more so than The Force Awakens, is a Star Wars fanatic’s wet dream,” Yamato wrote. “Contained yet expansive, nostalgic yet new, it introduces striking heroes and villains and fills its two hours and 13 minutes with a narrative that fits snugly into canon. But where The Force Awakens leaned on a family-friendly appeal with its innocent do-gooder leads and tantrum-throwing baddie, Rogue One satisfies a darker itch. Its stakes are higher, soaring on the bombastic score [by] Michael Giacchino, which turns iconic themes into hard-charging new arrangements; its battles are more violent and militaristic. The scope of the mass casualties incurred in ground and air assaults between the Alliance rebels, Saw Gerrera’s insurgents and the Empire’s heavily armed forces hammer home the costs of war.”
Read more reviews of Rogue One below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“Rogue One is a Star Wars film, yes. And it feels epic. But what it really is at its core (underneath all of the gee-whiz special f/x) is a heist flick. This motley band of thieves and scoundrels has to nick some blueprints. It’s Ocean’s 11 in space. And while the movie sags a bit in the middle (where it gets weighed down with exposition), the third-act heist is white-knuckle stuff. It’s when the movie really goes into hyperdrive. There’s a lot to take in in Rogue One. So many new uniforms, and planets, and incidental species crammed into the back of the frame, I’m looking forward to seeing it a second and third time.”
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
“The first Star Wars trilogy had a fresh, insurgent energy, and learning the names of all those planets and galactic adventurers has seemed, to generations of fans, like a new and special kind of fun. Now, though, it is starting to feel like drudgery, a schoolbook exercise in a course of study that has no useful application and that will never end.”
Richard Brody (New Yorker)
“Lobotomized and depersonalized, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the film franchise, is a pure and perfect product that makes last year’s flavor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, feel like an exemplar of hands-on humanistic warmth and dramatic intimacy. Sure, J. J. Abrams’s movie offered merely effectively packaged simulacra of such values — but at least he tried. The director of Rogue One, Gareth Edwards, has stepped into a mythopoetic stew so half-baked and overcooked, a morass of pre-instantly overanalyzed implications of such shuddering impact to the series’ fundamentalists, that he lumbers through, seemingly stunned or constrained or cautious to the vanishing point of passivity, and lets neither the characters nor the formidable cast of actors nor even the special effects, of which he has previously proved himself to be a master, come anywhere close to life.”
Will Leitch (New Republic)
“The movie is stultifyingly serious, as leaden and dead on its feet as the infamous prequels — both provided us with endless council meetings, charisma-free leads, and distracting technological ‘innovations.’ The movie is so caught up in the mythology of the Star Wars universe that it never establishes itself as its own animal.”
Stephanie Zacharek (TIME)
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will not change lives for the worse or for the better, and it will—or ought to—offend no one. Welcome to the Republic of the Just OK.”
Bilge Ebiri (Village Voice)
“The first thing to say about Rogue One is that it might be the most visually splendid Star Wars movie to date — with its mist-covered mountains, its tsunamis of dust and fire, its X-wing fighters blazing through rainswept nights. I’ve never been a big fan of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla), but the man certainly has an eye, and he presents us here with fully-realized worlds often captivating in their beauty. The second thing to say about Rogue One is that, for all its vivid visual imagination, the film left me almost totally cold. And I say that as a man who has cried actual tears at more than one Star Wars movie.
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“There are no Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks-like characters here, thrown in just to appeal to pre-school-aged audiences. The plot is designed less like a flashy video game, and more like a down-and-dirty war movie (think the conflict in Syria, rather than stodgy World War II films). And quite a few of the principal characters die, which would be upsetting for young viewers, but provides fans old enough to remember seeing Star Wars in theaters with a heroic sacrifice designed to inspire a ‘Remember the Alamo!’-style rallying cry when it comes time for the Red Squadron to do its business. With all due respect to comic-book devotees, this is the Suicide Squad audiences have been waiting for this year.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“The climactic battle, fought on a tropical isle that can’t help but summon thoughts of the Pacific during World War II, goes on and on and on some more, during which time Jyn frantically tries to find a way to root out the booby trap her father installed in the Death Star’s system design. A final bit of wondrous of CGI provides a bridge that leads quite plausibly to the original Star Wars. So this new entry in the series, stand-alone or not, earns solid middle-to-upper-middle standing in the overall franchise scheme of things. Whether we ever see any of these new characters again remains an open question; some would be welcome, others will not be missed. What fans will get here is loads of action, great effects, good comic relief, stunning locations (Iceland, Jordan, and the Maldives) and some intriguing early glimpses of the Galactic Empire as it begins to flex its inter-galactic power.”
Pete Hammond (Deadline)
“The cast could not be better with Jones the perfect and edgy heroine, Luna a dashing partner, and the great new robot invention of Tudyk’s K2SO. Mendelsohn is a nicely complex bad guy, while Ahmed and [Donnie] Yen each have some great moments. It is also nice to see, or at least hear, Jones back in full Vader mode. The Special Effects team outdoes themselves here, and Michael Giacchino’s great score owes a few notes to John Williams’ iconic classic, but carves out its own place in this particular universe.”
David Ehrlich (Indiewire)
“How these space cowboys come together is neither interesting nor important, but following along as they collide with each other makes for a fun travelogue of intergalactic hotspots (some of which blow up in uniquely satisfying ways). No Star Wars director has shot this world as lovingly as Edwards does — he never manages to conjure a setpiece as massive and majestic as the ones that highlight his 2014 Godzilla, but he takes every opportunity to awe at the scenery. Rogue One is at its best when it pauses to render the distant Death Star as an ashy white moon in the sky, when it turns a desert wasteland into the ruins of a fallen civilization, when — in one fantastic early sequence — it re-stages “The Battle of Algiers” in a sand-swept marketplace that’s teeming with alien life and making uncertain use of violent imagery from the contemporary Middle East. It’s the only time when Rogue One makes good on its promise to be a war movie, and not just a Star Wars movie with a slightly higher body count (though a climactic space battle is graced with enough raw carnage to become the series’ best).”
Mike Ryan (Uproxx)
“Rogue One is part of a blockbuster franchise. The blockbuster franchise. But it doesn’t have to worry about what its characters will do in another movie. There are real stakes. People complain that we know our heroes in these type of movies won’t die. Well, here, we really don’t know. And that adds a sense of urgency I haven’t felt in a big movie like this in quite some time. I could make the case Rogue One shouldn’t work – from everything from the reshoots to just the fact Star Wars is breaking from centering its story around the Skywalkers – but, yet, it does work. Mostly.”
Matt Patches (Thrillist)
“In Rogue One, the galaxy far, far away looks more like home than ever before. It’s a movie that may scare the 10-year-old Rey devotees to death but dares to deliver a message worth stringing through the Star Wars universe. Jyn’s a real hero, and her heroism requires sacrifice. Yes, Rogue One is a big, crazy video-game movie — but even big, crazy video-game movies are allowed to say something.”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is for the fans, all right, but in that expression’s worst way. Unless you’re thrilled by the idea of 133 minutes of sideways mentions, shout-outs and straight-up references to the original Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope, for those born after 1977), there’s not nearly enough excitement going on here, much less character, plot or story.”
Forrest Wickman (Slate)
“By breaking some of the rules, Rogue One has made itself the first movie since The Empire Strikes Back to redefine the boundaries of what a Star Wars movie can be. The Force Awakens may have reanimated the once-dormant franchise, but it’s Rogue One that will give Star Wars fans a new hope.”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“There’s this, too (and here is where I tread further into spoiler territory as a warning to parents of very small children): The Rogue One that unfolds onscreen is ultimately very different in tone and impact than the heady pop-culture party that months of nonstop marketing would have us believe. There are notions of sacrifice for the greater good here, and of the unfairness of war, and while these will be pondered and taken to heart by adults and older kids, they may be deeply upsetting to your average 6-year-old Obi-wan Kenobi wannabe with a bag of plastic lightsabers at home. You have been advised.”
Mick LaSalle (SFGate.com)
“It’s a downer. It’s morally tangled. The characters are as depressed as the scenario, and Michael Giacchino’s music can’t make it better. Jones will probably become wealthy from this, which is the only happy thought to take from the experience. But Rogue One is strictly for completists, for the type of “Star Wars” fans who hated “Phantom Menace” and yet watched it more than twice.”
Sara Stewart (New York Post)
“Rogue One is definitive proof: Star Wars is back, baby. Much like last year’s The Force Awakens, it rights so many wrongs perpetrated by that loathsome trio of films from the late ’90s/early aughts. Despite being merely A Star Wars Story, which makes it sound flimsy and fan-fictiony, this is a worthy entry in the franchise, from its formidable heroine (Felicity Jones) to its canny blend of innovation and nostalgia, of human-scale drama and judicious special effects.”
Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
“Screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy foreground the father/daughter saga when they’re not focusing on the coming-together of the lone wolves comprising Rogue One’s rebel fighters. Donnie Yen plays the blind and dazzlingly lethal Chirrut Imwe, with whom the Force is strong; Jiang Wen is Baze Malbus, ex-assassin; Riz Ahmed is the pilot Bodhi Rook, and in the droid department, Rogue One introduces a fine addition to the Star Wars universe, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who gets some genuinely funny material. He’s programmed to express his feelings at all times, no matter how blunt. The movie’s pretty violent. Certain shots, such as a child screaming for her mother in the middle of a rebel attack on the Empire troops in a crowded marketplace, evoke memories of various nonfiction wars in Vietnam and Iraq, by design. Several people exiting Monday from the Chicago press screening expressed the same three-word sentiment — ‘not for kids’ — though of course millions of preteens will prove that sentiment hapless.
Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times)
Leading the mission this time is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a defiant young warrior whom we first encounter as a young girl being cruelly separated from her parents. After her scientist father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, excellent), is taken prisoner by the ambitious Imperial leader Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, ditto), Jyn spends the next few years being raised and trained by Saw Gerrera, a Rebel extremist who was introduced in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and who here takes on the imposing live-action form of Forest Whitaker. Saw’s backstory, like those of many characters in Rogue One, is murky, ill-defined, and tossed off with the kind of rapid-fire exposition that is likely to leave more than a few Star Wars neophytes (OK, me) in the dark. My republic for a flow chart! Fortunately, the casting — one of the franchise’s consistent strong suits over the years — is especially sharp this time around, and more often than not the choppiness of the storytelling and the lapses in character development are overwhelmed by the sheer force (ahem) of the actors’ personalities.”
Rodrigo Perez (The Playlist)
“Much of the morally gray texture of the movie is a welcome change of pace from the black and white stripes of the heroes and villains of the original trilogies. Much of this conflicted layering and darker tone is introduced through the character of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a veteran spy and Rebellion intelligence officer. A man of conviction, Andor’s had to risk lives and employ questionable methods in the name of the cause. The notion of doing what’s right and living with a clear conscience weighs heavy over the characters in Rogue One as guilt and regret plays a central role in the motif of misplaced ideals. Edwards’ film demystifies the notion of heroes; these are damaged human beings, many of whom have made mistakes and live with their own baggage. Rogue One also accentuates the immediacy of freedom fighters living on the fringes. Like an underground French resistance that is outgunned and outmanned, living during the Nazi regime, Rogue One features a remarkably real anxiety.”
Bryan Bishop (The Verge)
If the original Star Wars was a nostalgic throwback to the era of sci-fi serials, thus far Nouveau Star Wars has been a nostalgic throwback to the era of seeing movies without trailers spoiling everything, and my advice with Rogue One is to go in knowing as few plot details as possible. But you’ll have to pay attention. The movie moves quickly, and Rogue One throws a lot at its audience in the first hour without much beyond sheer momentum to hold things together. Unlike a traditional Star Wars sequel (or prequel), Rogue One has to build itself — and establish its characters — from the ground up, and the film occasionally struggles with the workload. Breaking from the hero’s-journey convention that powered the original Star Wars trilogy is part of what makes the idea of a standalone movie so compelling, but at times, the film doesn’t entirely know where to place its emphasis. It’s torn between the Empire’s nefarious actions, the Rebellion’s politics, and the gradual coming together of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her ragtag group of freedom fighters.
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
“As always, a Star Wars movie lives or dies depending on how much we give a damn or don’t about the characters. Luckily, there are no cutesy Ewoks to soften Jyn’s journey into the heart of Imperial darkness. It’s no lie that some of the interactions get lost under the weight of front-loaded exposition. But with the smashing Jones giving us a female warrior to rank with the great ones and a cast that knows how to keep it real even in a sci-fi fantasy, Rogue One proves itself a Star Wars story worth telling. It’s hard not to get choked up with that blind monk when he chants, “I’m with the Force and the Force is with me.” Who’d want it any other way?”