Rogue One

Okay, so Rogue One. To review, Disney bought the Star Wars intellectual property for 4 BILLION dollars, and now plans to have a Star Wars movie every year until the end of time. There are going to be the Episodes, which continue the Skywalker saga, and Stories, which are separate takes around in the Star Wars universe. This is the first of the stories, and concerns the mission to steal the plans for the Death Star that were used to such effect in A New Hope. This movie is directed by Gareth Edwards, a guy with a background in special effects who made one movie prior to being handed the reboot of American Godzilla, and now this. This movie was retooled late in the game because it was grim and not fun, and there were extensive reshoots and Tony Gilroy made extensive script changes. You might notice that a great many lines and moments from the trailer are not in the final film.

The first question [I don’t have answers] is: Should a Star Wars movie be a special occurrence? Or are we really ready to have them coming at us once a year, until they’re even more routine than Harry Potter? Another question directly pertinent to this film is: do stories outside the Skywalker thread really have any reason to exist?

I’ll skip straight to judgement and say that the main problem this movie struggles with throughout is overwhelming lack of any reason to exist. The movie follows Jyn Erso, daughter of the man who designed the Death Star [DS]. Her dad is taken, and mom killed in front of her, when she is a young girl. When grown, she is tasked with… well, actually it’s a long, meandering road, but it amounts to getting the rebels the plans to destroy the DS. We’ll come back with a spoiler review where we can really say how it all works out, and just stick to spoiler-free overall statements for now.

Overall, it’s an odd duck. The story told here is okay, but one suspects that what happened during the mid-course rejiggering is to bring in more in line with “the Star Wars feel,” which might be to make it less grim and tie it more clearly into the larger series. Then one also has to wonder if the original vision might have resulted in a better film. Because the end result is: this movie is kind of okay, yet dull. The characters are decent enough [and there are a surprising amount of long, character-driven conversations], yet somehow lack teeth and remain vague and uninteresting. There are moments of great emotion that come across as bland and muted. Ultimately, it feels like someone wanted to make a genuinely good movie that could truly stand on its own and might come across as devastatingly tragic, and that halfway through someone else decided that it had to be a LOT happier and have a LOT more ties into the original trilogy.

This movie follows The Force Awakens in that they had to put a lot of thought into “what makes a Star Wars film?” and they decided that it has to do with micro elements that mimic or outright replicate the original trilogy. Thus whenever the DS is about to fire, there will be a shot of a gloved hand pushing buttons, and another of a guy in a shiny black helmet turning toward the camera and raising his arm, both found in A New Hope [ANH]. Jyn’s childhood home looks exactly like Luke’s. When X-Wings fly into attack, they do a roll call just like ANH, and we have one pilot with a mustache to call back to that one pilot with the mustache in ANH. A LOT of things like that, sprinkled all throughout. And although one can admire the generous desire to really make sure it “feels” like an original trilogy film, they’re going to have to strike out on their own if they’re really going to fill out a whole universe with new, unwanted movies.

One kind of interesting thing is that this film takes place in the same time period as ANH, making it unique among Star Wars movies after the original trilogy, and meaning it can share the same ships and characters. By the way, there are characters that are digitally resurrected from ANH, one of which has a fairly major role, and… the technology simply isn’t there yet. We can accept digital fantasy characters [like Gollum], but we’re not ready for digital recreations of formerly-live people, and it takes you out of the movie every time.

Can I also say that I just can’t get used to the idea of large spaceships [i.e. space ships] operating just fine in atmospheres? This is a big pet peeve with the rebooted Star Trek, too. The Enterprise, and star destroyers, don’t seem like they should be able to hover in a planet’s atmosphere. Also, I don’t really think TIE fighters could fly in an atmosphere. But the filmmakers have decided that they need it for the story, and thus apparently the ships have some kind of magical anti-gravity device that operates independent of physics. By the way, I also don’t buy that the Death Star can travel at light speed.

So I can normally see special effects movies more than once, a pale leftover of my youth, in which I used to see them multiple times [and I believe I have seen ANH maybe 25 times before I turned 25]. I fully expected to see this one at least once more, but halfway through, started thinking “I could never sit through this again.” It’s long. It’s not joyous in any way. It’s also not really that moving or involving. It’s dull.

Also… if a story this momentous happened just before ANH, gosh, you kind of think someone would have mentioned it.

The good thing is that it is not just a cash-in spinoff. Obvious care has been put into delivering a quality movie that respects its viewers and the integrity of the brand. It is made with care, has good actors, the best special effects money can buy, and made with gritty yet brand-safe characters. But overwhelming it all is that lack of reason to exist, and fear of really making a completely standalone feature. It’ll be interesting to see how this one shakes out; if fans enjoy it, if it does well at the box office, if it has any lasting impact. But as a movie, without lack of trying to make a decent film, it just ends up bland and unnecessary.

Come back for the spoiler discussion, where we can really delve into the narrative issues. By the way, orange you glad we got through this without me making some pun on “the force is / is not strong with this one,” as I have seen in every single review of this film?

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5 thoughts on “Rogue One

  1. It’s a little disappointing to hear that they *didn’t* just make the “dark Star Wars” film that we all wanted the prequels (and TFA) to be. I mean, I’d have thought that the whole point of these side stories was to explore different ways to tell the basic Star Wars story!

    But I guess we live in a world where kids can’t handle a fucking TRAILER where Lightning McQueen maybe gets hurt, and Disney damn sure isn’t gonna give up on the cash stream provided by eight-year-old boys, so we bland everything up to keep from scaring kids away. So instead of an interesting look at what Star Wars might be like for people who *aren’t* Jedi, we just get an excuse to have a bunch more Original Movies stuff (and keep selling those toys instead of having to design new ones.)

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    • Agreed. In spite of what I said, I did go see it again, and it focused that the story is essentially tragic [Jyn’s story is extremely tragic], but the film doesn’t want to deal with any sadness or mourning, so it just skips on to the next thing. I’m sure we could speculate on what happens to a generation of kids raised on movies where bad things happen but no one can process negative emotions.

      I’m also missing anyone in the film recognizing their sacrifice or how much it means to the rebellion.

      Finally, this movie tells a huge, momentous story, the way that all blockbusters now have to be huge and momentous. But this story is as big or bigger than that of A New Hope, so what happens when the other movies diminish the impact of the original films?

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      • One thing it seems is that Superman movies are really driving the meta-level conversation about film, in that you can see direct reactions to what people said about The Most Recent Film With Superman In.

        Like, “Man Of Steel”, everyone says “oh what about all the civilian casualties”, and suddenly every large-scale action film either has civilian casualties as a backstory, evacuating civilians as a plot beat, or at least a throwaway line about “get everyone out of here”.

        “BvS” is too grimdark, suddenly everything gets reshoots to add jokes and pratfalls!

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  2. I’ve seen it now and my non-spoiler evaluation is:

    *It’s a slightly above-average SF action movie.
    *It’s an above-average Star Wars movie.
    *Star Wars fans will enjoy it. SF action fans will moderately enjoy it. It won’t convert non-fans or anti-fans.
    *…but it’s not *for* non-fans, really, and it does not apologize for this. It’s very definitely a Star Wars gaiden.

    The thing as a whole runs long; several scenes could have been shortened or cut entirely to shave at least twenty minutes off the duration, probably more like thirty.

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  3. Pingback: Movie Gun Violence – CdM II: The Quickening

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