Movie: Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Inciting Event: On her way to Imperial prison, Jyn Erso is forcibly “rescued” by the Rebel Alliance and taken to their base on the Yavin IV moon, where she is presented with an opportunity to find her long-lost father—Imperial science officer Galen Erso—if she will introduce the Alliance to her radical mentor Saw Gerrera. Reluctantly, understanding it’s likely a trap, wanting nothing to do with “politics,” but knowing she has little choice, she agrees.
Nothing wrong with this Inciting Event, but it caps a scattered first eighth of the story, which follows the regrettably prevalent Hollywood trend of a lengthy flashback prologue, paired with scattered intros of various characters and places. A more cohesive and solid opening might have been found by better spending that early segment of the movie in grounding adult Jyn’s character and situation, so viewers might have already been identified with her plight before the Call to Adventure came knocking.
First Plot Point: Jyn and her Rebel contact/babysitter Captain Cassian Andor arrive on the planet Jedha, where Saw and his rebels are disrupting the Empire’s mining of sacred kyber crystals (necessary to power the Death Star). Jyn and company are quickly embroiled in battle, getting caught in the crossfire and eventually captured by Saw’s men and taken to his base.
This isn’t a bad First Plot Point, by any means, but because the First Act is relatively unestablished in its presentation and grounding of Jyn’s Normal World, the First Plot Point can’t quite hammer home a stark delineation between First and Second Acts.
First Pinch Point: Saw shows Jyn a message from her father—indicating Galen has been working against the Empire all this time and has planted a weakness in the Death Star’s reactor. Before she can finish viewing the message, Jedha City is destroyed in the Death Star’s first test for Governor Tarkin. Jyn, Cassian, and their newfound friends escape. Saw remains behind to die.
The true pinch here is the demonstration of the Death Star’s capabilities and thus what is at stake for the heroes if they can’t stop it. Those stakes are neatly tied into the current scene by placing their lives in danger.
Midpoint: Jyn and Cassian travel to the Empire’s research base, where Galen works. Cassian, under orders to kill Galen, hesitates and chooses not to. Meanwhile, Jyn tracks her father down, only to watch him die in an Alliance airstrike. Both she and the antagonist Imperial Director Krennic learn, independently, that the secret to Galen’s sabotage can be found on the planet Scarrif. Both Jyn and Cassian face Moments of Truth, forcing them to reevaluate their respective views of the war.
From the larger perspective of the plot, this plot point is problematic for the simple reason that the protagonist and antagonist’s meeting doesn’t influence the story in the least. The antagonist doesn’t even know the protagonists are present.
You’ll note this is the first time the antagonist Krennic has impacted a major structural point enough to be personally referenced in this analysis. He skims along the surface of the plot, poking at it from behind the scenes and presenting a nice “personal” face to the general threat of the Death Star—but he has little to no direct meaning to the protagonists’ conflict (despite having killed Jyn’s mother and forcibly enlisted her father).
This Midpoint scene is a perfect example of Krennic’s lack of integrality with the main conflict. Both he and Jyn are present at this crucial moment, but neither impacts the choices or decisions of the other. If we were to pull Krennic, Jyn’s scene would progress just the same—and vice versa.
Second Pinch Point: Jyn and Cassian return to base to report to the Alliance. But the Council refuses to risk engaging with the Imperials on Scarrif in order to retrieve Galen’s guide to destroying the Death Star. Jyn and Cassian decide to take their own rogue crew and do it themselves.
Third Plot Point: The Rogue One team infiltrates Scarrif’s planet-wide shield and lands. Although this is a functional turn into the Third Act, it’s also a generally lackluster Third Plot Point with no obvious “low moment” to provide context and deeper meaning to the characters’ goals in this section.
I’m criticizing this movie a lot, and it may sound like I thought it was poor. I didn’t: it’s a nice movie on a number of levels. But its great failure is in providing subtext, heart, and particularly solid arcs for the characters. It sketches arcs for both Jyn and Cassian, but because it fails to hit extremely important beats, such as this one, it ultimately lacks power and resonance in that department.
Climax: The Council members independently change their minds, upon hearing of Jyn’s mission, and take their fleet to battle outside Scarrif. Meanwhile, Director Krennic realizes Jyn and Cassian are about to access the Death Star plans and goes to personally confront them. Unfortunately, because this is the first time the characters interact or directly influence one another in the story (not counting the prologue when Jyn was a child), this one-on-one confrontation lacks any kind of thematic meaning.
Climactic Moment: Jyn transmits the plans to the Alliance Fleet, just as the Death Star shows up and blasts the planet. (Note how the Climactic Moment is not Krennic’s death, which is yet another indication of his lack of integrality to the main conflict.)
Resolution: The Rebel Fleet escapes into hyperspace, just as Darth Vader arrives. Jyn and Cassian hold each other as the Death Star’s blast reaches and kills them. Princess Leia receives the plans and jumps to hyperspace, with Vader in pursuit.
Notes: The plotting in this film isn’t awful, but it’s not great either. Even more disappointing is the massive wasted opportunity with the characters’ arcs. I really wanted to like this movie (and I have a feeling I will like it better on a second viewing), but the characters just never pulled me in—in large part because the setup period of the First Act failed to make good use of its time.