Everything that is wrong with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be summed up in one thing.
Well, there are a lot of things wrong with Rogue One: paper-thin characters, a middling pace, a largely forgettable (and, within the mythos, unnecessary) plot.
But the tank – the TX-225w “Occupier” combat assault tank, as Wookiepedia tells me – is the perfect vehicle to address Rogue One’s fundamental problem: a superficial guise and muddled tone.
Because while the film purports to be a gritty war drama – tanks! firefights! no Jedi! – it never fully divorces itself from the character of the rest of the series.
And that has serious repercussions.
Star Wars – despite a misleading title – has never really been about warfare. In the series, wars merely act as backdrop and motivation for the melodramatic blood feuds of space wizards: a former slave is seduced by dark magic and rebels against his mentor (the Prequels); a farmboy learns magic to defeat his fallen father (the Original Trilogy); an orphan scavenger discovers magic and proceeds to beat up some goth kid (The Force Awakens).
The climax of these films usually feature a battle of some kind, yes, but it is the emotionally-charged contest between individuals that form their central focus: Luke vs. Vader (the battle of Yavin), Luke vs. Vader (the occupation of Bespin), Luke vs. Vader vs. Palpatine (the battle of Endor), etc.
Before Disney felt it needed to add A Star Wars Story to the title — you know, for all the uninitiated viewers who needed a green light to go buy a ticket — it was just Rogue One, the first of what could be an avalanche of anthology movies set to release as Disney begins its plans to release at least one SW movie per year from here on out.
Apart from the three new episodes, these standalone movies — the next one is a young Han Solo movie for 2018 starring Alden Ehrenreich as Han and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian — can be viewed either as boons or boondoggles. They are at once many things and nothing — a wasteful cashgrab to extreme purists, an insult to committed followers of the expanded universe, and/or a welcome addition to the family by pretty much everybody else with an open mind.
For the casual fan wondering what the fuss is, Rogue One isn’t a major episode, and Luke Skywalker is nowhere to be found. It does have Darth Vader, and several other cameos, but the focus is on a set of characters who have never been mentioned by name before, and — for all intents and purposes — may never be mentioned in any new movie ever. (Notice I put down “new.”)
So if you have no desire to watch this, but you’re still excited about the Force Awakens and the next two episodes, you won’t miss out on anything critical — though it will ease some of your doubts about the convenient way the plot sort of connects itself. And if you’re partial to the prequels — meesa thinking some of you are — it won’t really change how you feel about those movies.
It will, however, have a profound effect on fans of the original Star Wars movie, the one simply titled Star Wars at its release — it didn’t get the Episode IV or A New Hope subtitle until 1978 or 1981, depending on which source you trust.