TV & Movies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Opening 20 Minutes Are a Complete Mess

Rogue One - Orson Krennic

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not a great movie. It feels rushed and is often at odds with itself, and its script feels like a first draft. (It also introduces us to an alternate reality version of Darth Vader who cracks puns and lives in a lava castle.)

I do want to clarify that with a good editor and liberal use of a red pen, Rogue One‘s script could have been quite a bit better, and the movie as a whole could have been pretty enjoyable. It was well-cast (which you certainly can’t say about the prequel trilogy) and well-acted (another observation that would be difficult to make about the prequel trilogy), and the basic concept (a gritty war movie set in the Star Wars universe) was initially intriguing. It also did some interesting things with the classic Star Wars aesthetic (hollowed-out walkers, presumably for use as cargo transports? I can get behind that).

But great casting, great acting, and great visual design can’t save a bad script, and Rogue One‘s script was as sloppy as a comically oversized scoop of ice cream in a tiny cone on a hot summer afternoon. And this is clear right away; the beginning of the movie is a complete mess.

Let’s break it down by scene.

Rogue One Childhood Jyn Erso

First, we’re introduced to our protagonist, Jyn Erso, as a child. She’s living with her parents in a hobbit hole on the sopping wet planet of Lah’mu, until one foggy day when Orson Krennic shows up to kill Jyn’s mother and force Galen into working on the Empire’s new top-secret superweapon (is it the Death Star? Yes, it’s the Death Star.) Jyn manages to escape and survive to adulthood (we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise).

While you could argue that this is designed to encourage the audience to build an emotional connection with Jyn, this whole scene could have been removed and the movie wouldn’t have suffered a bit — besides the fact that you’d miss out on a forced blue milk reference.

Rogue One Blue Milk

We’re introduced to Jyn, Galen, Krennic, and Saw Gerrera, all of whom will be reintroduced later anyway. We see the emotional connection between Jyn and her father, which will also be reintroduced later in the film. We’re shown a planet we’ll never see again and a character who dies before she gets a minute of screen time. We also have moisture farming on a water planet.

What I’m getting at is that the movie could have ditched the opening scene completely, and I don’t think we would have lost much, if anything at all.

And after all this, things only get worse. We’re shown a quick peek into Jyn Erso’s current situation, which lasts 43 silent seconds in total, and then we skip right over to a trading outpost on the Ring of Kafrene.

Rogue One Ring of Kafrene

Wait, what? We’re not ten minutes into this movie, and we’re already being shown our third interstellar location. First was our opening on Lah’mu (where the moisture farm was located), and second was the prison camp on Wobani. Now we’re being shown something else entirely? Why don’t we see more of her daily activities, the way The Force Awakens handled the introduction to Rey? It would have at least kept the opening grounded a bit.

In this outpost on the Ring of Kafrene, we’re introduced to our second major character, Cassian Andor. His introduction is a rapid-fire conversation with some rando in an alleyway about something that happened on Jedha. We will eventually get to see Jedha later in the movie, so why introduce it to us in dialogue? And why isn’t Cassian working on something more relevant to the film’s main plot, like Jyn’s rescue?

Rogue One Cassian Andor

Here, the movie seems to be telling us we already know enough about Jyn that it’s comfortable with introducing a second main character already. The movie is wrong, by the way, but it plods along anyway, pretending its work is done as far as introducing us to its protagonist. The rest of the movie will treat Jyn as a person the audience has a deep connection with, not as some random woman we know nothing about besides the fact that she was a champ at Imperial Hide and Seek as a kid (a skill she’d presumably lost as an adult).

This is a flaw that will have repercussions for the rest of the film — we’re never allowed to naturally grow attached to its characters; it just pretends we care from the get-go and keeps on operating as such. It teats Cassian in exactly the same way; it shows us a quick scene of him gathering intel, then mercilessly killing the informant before we’re whisked away to the next location — which is the aforementioned moon Jedha.

Rogue One Bodhi on Jedha

Two minutes and 23 seconds after we saw Jyn in prison — just barely eleven minutes into the movie — we’re introduced to our third major character in our fourth location. Some may argue that this is the film being economical, but let’s be honest; nothing important to the plot of Rogue One has actually happened yet.

Everything we see on Jedha only reiterates things we already know from Cassian’s dialogue in the previous scene. While things are happening on the screen, none of it is moving the plot forward. This is all redundant — and we’re going to be reintroduced to all of this scene’s scallywags, as well as the moon Jedha, later on. This scene could have easily been cut.

We see poor Bodhi (who happens to be the movie’s most likable character so far) for just over a minute before we jump back to Wobani. This is where the film should have begun, and it’s where the film should still be focused when we’re only twelve minutes deep. Here, Jyn is now in a prison transport, chained down and looking grumpy as ever. She’s rescued, an operation that, even though we’re in an Imperial labor camp, takes just a moment. One minute and twenty seconds of screen time, to be exact.

During this rescue, we’re introduced to K-2SO, who says: “Congratulations. You are being rescued. Please do not resist.”

Rogue One K-2SO

This is the first line in the film that has any personality behind it. It’s almost comical to hear the “Congratulations” coming from the droid who just slammed Jyn on the hard, icy soil. We’re shown a droid with a sharp sense of sarcasm who cares very little about being relatable to emotional beings, yet he’s the most relatable character we’ve seen yet.

It should come as no surprise that we then fly over to the Rebel base on Yavin 4, which, at the very least, will be familiar to Star Wars aficionados. The movie hasn’t hit the fifteen-minute mark yet.

Rogue One Jyn Erso on Yavin 4

At this point, we’ve seen a lot of cool imagery, but there’s nothing of substance from a storytelling perspective. We’re about to get a list of Jyn’s crimes against the Empire, but that doesn’t really tell us much about her as a person; it’s just a list of things she may or may not have done. We’ve seen four major characters, but we don’t know much about any of them besides the fact that the droid has more charisma that the rest of them put together — and he’s the one who has spoken the least so far.

Could this have been handled better? Certainly. We only need look at any of the original trilogy Star Wars films, or The Force Awakens, as an example.

A New Hope - Binary Sunset

The first scene in A New Hope takes place aboard the ship Tantive IV, where we’re introduced to Leia, Darth Vader, and two lovable droids. While that’s a lot of major characters, this scene is nine minutes long and is filled with character-driven dialogue. By the time C-3PO and R2-D2 land on Tatooine, we know them quite well. This is because these characters have gotten to interact with each other in meaningful ways that will inform the rest of the movie. R2-D2 doesn’t even speak, and by the time we’re twenty minutes into A New Hope, we know him better than we’ll ever get to know Jyn Erso across the film’s entire two hours.

Keep in mind that the Tantive IV was near Tatooine (the land of blue milk), and we’re more than 35 minutes into the film before we’re taken to the next location, the Death Star. Luke Skywalker is A New Hope‘s protagonist, and we get to know him pretty well before he ever leaves his home planet. Which, by the way, is almost an hour into the film.

Empire Strikes Back - Hoth

The Empire Strikes Back‘s first 35 minutes take place on the ice planet of Hoth. The only thing we are shown outside of Hoth is a formation of Imperial starships in space, presumably on their way to Hoth.

Return of the Jedi opens in space near the second Death Star. We’re here for about three minutes or so before we head back to Tatooine, which we should already be familiar with. The mission to rescue the carbonite-frozen body of Han Solo goes awry, but things work out nonetheless and our heroes leave the planet within just about 35 minutes.

The Force Awakens Jakku

The Force Awakens opens on the planet Jakku with a sequence almost ten minutes long that introduces us to as many characters as Rogue One does in its opening ten minutes, only we feel like we actually know all of them by the time the ten minutes are up. We’re then shown a First Order ship just outside of Jakku’s atmosphere, and we’re quickly taken right back to Jakku. The Poe and Finn rescue sequence takes place on the aforementioned First Order ship, though it sends Finn straight back to Jakku afterward.

In The Force Awakens, we’re just over 35 minutes into the film before anyone actually leaves Jakku, and the only non-Jakku location we’ve been shown was a ship in close proximity to Jakku.

There consistency here is astounding. Every good Star Wars movie features roughly 35 minutes establishing its characters on a single planet, with some cuts to a second location somewhere in space. With the exception of Return of the Jedi, the outer space location is always at least remotely close to the planet where the rest of the action is happening — and Jedi has an out because its locations are already familiar to its audience (even the second Death Star, which we technically haven’t seen before but we know it’s a second Death Star just by looking at it). This way, viewers feel grounded, and even though there are all sorts of otherworldly happenings, the audience shouldn’t feel disoriented by any of it.

So we have a clear template to follow here, which could have easily informed Rogue One‘s opening.

Instead of focusing on thinly connected events scattered across the galaxy, why don’t we introduce all of our characters on one planet? Wobani would work excellently. The first shot is a tiny rebel ship — with Cassian and K-2SO aboard — approaching Wobani. We see tension on Cassian’s face as he mentally prepares for what’s about to happen.

Rogue One Jyn in Prison

Cut to Jyn waking up in prison. We follow her tedious routine for a good couple minutes, though perhaps this is interspersed with prisoners sharing some rumors of the goings-on of the outside world. Perhaps someone got word that an Imperial pilot defected and has gone missing (or “rogue,” ahem). Next thing we see is Jyn being informed that she’s to be moved. She’s puzzled over this, as are the Stormtroopers. Something feels off; the audience can tell that shit’s about to go down.

Cut to Cassian and K-2SO, who are preparing for the rescue mission alongside a small, ragtag crew. We get to finally hear some dialogue exchanged between the two before an intense action scene unfolds in which Jyn is rescued and dozens of Stormtroopers meet their demise.

Rogue One - Stormtrooper Rush

From here, Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO have plenty of time to get to know one another as they travel toward Jedha. Remember the scenes in A New Hope where Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, and Chewbacca are sort of idly floating through space, and they’re all kind of annoyed with each other because their personalities clash so badly? It could have been like that. Perhaps this could even be interrupted by a small Imperial fleet so we could throw some action in. A shortcut that brought them too close to an Imperial base, perhaps, in which they’re forced to deal with a few TIE fighters or something.

Yavin is irrelevant then. We can speed things along by cutting it out entirely (which results in the loss of very little substance). By the time Jyn gets to Jedha, she knows the drill. The audience does as well, because they know these three characters quite well by now. Through their bickering — and possible firefight between their ship and some TIE fighters — we’ve gotten to know them, and we’ve learned just a few essential facts about what they’re trying to accomplish on Jedha.

We can expect to meet Bodhi and Saw Gerrera on Jedha at around the 35-minute mark.

Rogue One Cassian and K-2SO

This isn’t the only solution — just one of many. And perhaps it’s a little too derivative of A New Hope. Fair enough.

The point I’m getting at is that a competent editor should have been allowed to ask questions about the script. Why do we need to see Jyn as a child? Can we consolidate the action that takes place across five planets and condense it into a single mission on a single planet? Why doesn’t Cassian take part in the mission to rescue Jyn? How can we punch up the dialogue to give these characters a bit of personality?

What we’re left with instead is a mess. Rogue One‘s opening is needlessly difficult to follow, and while it attempts to do far too many things simultaneously, it also completely forgets that it’s supposed to be setting up its story, so none of those things carries much weight. And we’re setting up a suicide mission to acquire the plans to the Death Star in what’s supposed to be a gritty war movie, remember? Every action needs to have a sense of weight.

Rogue One fails before it even reaches the 20-minute mark, let alone the classic 35-minute mark of its predecessors. It can’t seem to make up its mind about what it wants its story to be about, so it shows us a collage of cool-looking things and hopes we don’t notice that it’s been chasing its own tail this entire time.

Hopefully, future Star Wars writers will take careful notes and not repeat the mistakes of Rogue One. There are already plenty of bad Star Wars movies out there; we don’t need any more of them.

Josh Wirtanen owns this place and has opinions about pretty much everything. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuajwirtanen.