As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I've been flooded with movies, TV shows, comics, books, and video games that have fleshed out various parts of the Star Wars Universe. When Disney (and Marvel) absorbed Star Wars as a franchise, they apparently 'did away with' the Expanded Universe material dating before 2014. As traumatic as that was, this does allow for the new material to have quite a bit of freedom. With the release of Rogue One, Disney had their second attempt to 'rewrite' canon. Unfortunately, they seem to have missed out on a few chances to give Rogue One the ability to do more than just 'fill a gap'.
(WARNING: Rogue One Spoilers Ahead)
Let's face it. When we watch movies that are a part of a beloved franchise, the greatest 'episodes' are the ones that either reveal 'interesting' or powerful characters or unveil new mysteries or truths about existing ones. Empire Strikes Back revealed Yoda, Boba Fett, Lando, an explanation about the Force, Jedi Training, and truths about Luke's relationship to Darth Vader. Powerful stuff. With movies like Episode I, while it was a bit of a disappointment, we did get the mysterious Darth Maul, Senator Palpatine (early Emperor), and the Jedi Council in action. Ok, ok, yes. We got little Anakin aka baby Vader too (bleh).
For instance let's look at Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). Daughter of one of the geniuses to design the Death Star, she is the focus of Rogue One as the heroine who steals the final Death Star plans (complete with the baked in weakness) delivers them to the Rebel Alliance. In a movie about spies, espionage, and secrets, you would think that there would be something (anything) else besides the way to destroy the Death Star that could be revealed. While watching the trailers to the movie, you would think that there would be a moment that she would have to decide between betraying the Rebels and helping the Imperials that would be shocking to some degree. Instead, the decisive moment was more of one for her co-star Captain Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). She did get a lecture about doing something by the captain as well as a bit of inspiration from Forest Whitaker's overly dramatic character Saw Gerrera, but neither seemed to make you think that she really had to struggle in making her decision. In a way, it kind of made her character one dimensional and boring despite being very courageous and strong. In a movie built around thieves, spies, assassins, and saboteurs, their grand plot to succeed at mission impossible would up being little more than a Han Solo 'sneak in with disguises' and a droid plan. Not very rogue-ish to me.
There was one moment that seemed to have a bit of interesting backstory. For all of the talk about the Force by her parents, you'd think she was at least a bit Force sensitive. Chirrut Îmwe (played by Donnie Yen) stops her in the streets of Jedha City. There, the Empire is 'stealing' kyber crystals (which power lightsabers) needed to provide the Death Star the power to destroy planets. Jyn has one of these crystals on a pendant around her neck given to her by her mother. Chirrut (who is able to sense the Force apparently) feels the pressence of the crystal she has and attempts to strike a convo with her about it and the Force to some degree. The moment is potentially exciting as if it is on the cusp of revealing something significant about the Force or the Jedi or the city or who killed JFK or something. Instead, the convo is broken up and never returned to again in the movie. Maybe the follow up convo is cut out of the final cut of the movie. If so, this was definitely a missed opportunity.
Villains are typically a golden opportunity for a movie to excel as well. Luke had Darth Vader. Rey has Kylo. In Rogue One, Jyn has Director Orson Krennic. As the one that splits up her family, Krennic isn't really particularly impressive or interesting as a character aside from 'choking on his aspirations' (which is a horrible Darth joke by the way). He's not a tactical genius like Admiral Thrawn was in the now 'Legends' arc of the Expanded Universe. He's really just … there. Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin both strut their stuff in some scenes but our heroic team never encounters them. In a way, it almost felt like an Imperial spy or assassin or a merc could have been introduced as a mysterious character that systematically took down members of Rogue One themselves up until Jyn defeats them or something. Oh well. That didn't happen either.
Last of all there is Saw Gerrera (apparently a veteran of the Clone Wars) and his rebel extremist group. The Rebels make it clear they don't like his methods and that he should die rather than become a part of the Rebellion again (which clearly needs all the help they can get). Still, not much is shown or explained as to why that is the case. Did he prefer the use of suicide bombs that include civilian targets or what? Nope. Nothing else is given aside from the fact that he is dangerous. More mechanical than man and equipped with a breathing apparatus, maybe there is something there. Once again, he needed some scene to cement his bad-assery but none was given. Super sigh.
Plot whiffs aside, Rogue One still managed to satisfy movie goers hunger for the Force (or Star Wars at least). Nostalgic cameos brought chuckles as well as a passing desire to watch the original Star Wars just to continue the story. Now we all sit back and start the year long countdown to episode VIII, where we hope there's epic story significance akin to Empire Strike Back. We can all only hope, because 'rebellions are built on hope'.
Eh. Something like that.