CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

This article was originally posted on News Cult in December 2016.

SPOILER WARNING – This article discusses major plot points from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

After seeing The Force Awakens, my initial feeling was one of gratitude that a new Star Wars movie could actually be good. After seeing Rogue One, my initial feeling was a desire to trim the fat. I generally do not get too hung up on the “right” running time for a movie. Sure, I’ll have an opinion about pacing, but there are usually more significant issues to discuss. And in this case, the running time is not my hangup so much as it is the hangup of the whole blockbuster template.

The best part of Rogue One is the last ten minutes, when the Rebels manage to transmit the Death Star plans expressly to Princess Leia (thus leading directly into A New Hope). The pace of this sequence is electric, which is as it should be in a heist film, which is indeed what Rogue One is. The driving purpose of such a film is a plot with a very specific purpose. The most obvious, and usually most effective, way for the audience to feel the urgency essential to this genre is by compressing the runtime.

So what could be lost in a hypothetical shorter Rogue One? The character work is uniformly unimpressive. Plenty of time is spent examining whether or not Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a true rebel and if the others are willing to accept her into the fold. But that conflict is never all that interesting, nor does it especially matter. This story is not a hero’s journey, like the rest of the Star Wars saga.

But perhaps there are some viewers who appreciate the time given to Jyn’s arc, or all the time spent with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) that does not really affect the ultimate direction of the plot. (I can certainly understand the latter, thanks to Whitaker’s off-kilter performance.) It is not an absolute requirement that heist flicks must be on the short end of feature running times. If the character work of Rogue One were more impressive, I could very well be singing a different tune.

My real issue, though, is the implicitly accepted, rarely examined convention that big-budget action blockbusters must hit that sweet spot between 110 and 140 minutes. That standard holds true across all the numbered Star Wars episodes as well as Rogue One, and nobody has ever really stopped to ask, “Why?” One might suggest the old saw of “getting your money’s worth,” but a film’s value decreases when it has 30 minutes of padding.

Rogue One is just one example. My larger point is that major franchise films should be more adventurous. Star Wars does appear to be interested in such variability. The one-off nature of this film and the upcoming Han Solo prequel are evidence of that. As for other franchises, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done an admirable job of exploring various genres within its own overarching template. But diversity of running time has hitherto been neglected in this approach towards diverse filmmaking. And I am not just arguing for kinetic short blasts. Three-hour plus, Godfather-esque generational sagas are also welcome!

The point is, this is not TV. There is no categorical need to fit within a strict temporal box. In a series that can travel long distances at the speed of light, I see plenty of yet explored possibilities.