This isn’t a review of the entire film. There are plenty of those around, written by better critics than I. All I’ll say is this: I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a flawed, but welcome addition to the franchise. Somewhat better than the Force Awakens, far less so than Jedi.
However, it had problems. I’ll focus here just on the actions taken by the Empire in the final battle, on the pristine beach planet of Scarif (my review of The Force Awakens, similarly, focussed on the Starkiller Problem). Spoilers ahead, obviously. This is just for those of you who’ve already seen it.
It’s a cool battle, to be sure. AT-ATs stomping through palm trees, over white sand, repelling a rebel attack force, is always going to be geek splooge material. Now, the objectives of the rebels in the battle was unclear (running around randomly shooting shit, coupled with hooking up some old-school tech to a ‘master switch’). No Wi-Fi in the Star Wars universe, apparently.
Which leads me to the first, and most important point: according to the internal logic of the Star Wars universe, it’s really hard to transmit data. There’s no email. You can’t reply all. There’s no YouTube to upload Death Star plans onto. Shit, there’s no Internet.
Data is usually stored in something as big as a VCR cassette, or if you’re lucky, a silver floppy disc. (Indeed, key plot points of the entire Star Wars franchise centre around the inability of this civilisation in a galaxy far far away to compress and transmit information).
But anyway: that’s the tech logic.
Second, there are two sets of plans that hold the information about the Death Star’s weakness. One set of plans in the rebel flagship, and one in the transmission array on Scarif.
We know the Empire knows where the copy of the plans is, because Darth Vader storms onto the rebel ship saying: we’ve got to find those plans (and at one point we hear an Empire functionary say: ‘they’ve been uploaded to the flagship’). Presumably the Empire wants the plans so they can figure out where the weakness is on the Death Star.
Well, they have it. It’s on Scarif. In the cassette. They know the other copy is on the Rebel flag ship, so why not simply blast the flagship with the Death Star, restore order on Scarif, and retrieve the video cassette in the communication tower?
If they don’t want to risk destroying the floppy disk the rebels have, because they aren’t sure if the original back on the planet is in one piece, then sure, send Vader aboard. But surely that’s even more reason to send a squad of storm troopers up to the array to see if the cassette tape plans are okay.
Which leads us to third: nuking Scarif. Massively over the top. For starters, nearly everyone left on the surface are Empire troops. It seems to be an important Empire archive facility, and as we’ve learned, data is hard to store and hard to transmit – so all those hundreds of thousands of files we see (the same files main characters climb up using as handholds at one point) is forever gone. Presumably there’s a lot of valuable stuff on those video tapes.
It’s rather like burning down the library of Alexandria to stop your enemies getting their hands on the most sacred text from your civilisation. Which your enemies have a copy of anyway. That’s not in the Library of Alexandria. Hey Bill the sacred text is in that caravan over the, the one leaving the city. Bill? Bill – why are you torching the library? They’ve got a copy of the book anyway. Bill? Bill you crazy fuck, put down that torch!
So. it’s stupid. We kinda know why the writers did it: they had to figure out a way to kill all the characters, because of heroic sacrifice and they’re not in the sequels and blah blah blah. And getting Death-Starred is a spectacular way to go out. Sure.
It’s just completely illogical.
200 million dollars and I reckon we’re owed a better ending. But hey – I saw AT-ATs shooting shit up on a beach. Good enough for me.