Synopsis: From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
Rogue One 8.0
eyelights: its premise. its ‘Star Wars’ connections. the way it ties up loose ends from the original.
eyesores: its lack of ‘Star Wars’ trilogy flavour. its middle-of-the-road music. its unattaching characters. its clichéd-ridden finale.
“They call it the Death Star. But they have no idea… there’s a way to defeat it.”
Too much of anything (even your favourites) can be a bad thing. If you see a sunset only once in your life the experience will resonate with you in ways that it won’t if you see a sunset every day. Similarly, birthday gifts mean little if you are given goodies all the time.
As human beings, our adaptability allows us to survive some of the harshest conditions; it makes us resilient. But adaptability also means that we get accustomed to things so that we take them for granted or forget what made them special in the first place.
We can inadvertently filter out pain and pleasure.
That’s why I look at any franchise with some misgivings: the longer they go on, the more they broaden their horizons, the more likely it is that what magical qualities that pulled us to them in the first place get lost in the shuffle. They could also just lose their spark.
Either way, our warm recollections and feelings become diluted by colder ones.
Break new ground with a worldwide box office phenomenon. Awesome. Add two more films to make it a trilogy. Still pretty good. Add a prequel trilogy. Mixed results. Add a sequel trilogy. I guess we’ll see. Throw into the mix some spin-off movies. Um… when will it end?
That’s how I felt about ‘Rogue One’.
Though I was curious about the new film, which I thought prudently subtitled itself “A Star Wars Story” (instead of calling itself ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’), I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of tedium set in, what with both ‘The Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’ TV series already saturating the mainstream. How much ‘Star Wars’ do we need?
Don’t answer that.
Nothing about the initial marketing compelled me, but I found the premise of following the mission of the rebels who stole the plans to the first Death Star a bit intriguing. Was it a story worth telling, though? Hmmm… Would I actually care about these no-name characters, if they’re not at all connected to the iconic ones we all know and love?
Then I heard about the reshoots, and I wondered if this new entry was on shaky ground. Oh, the filmmakers insisted that this was all part and parcel with blockbuster films, but you had to wonder. So I was relieved when I checked in with a couple friends who went to see it and was told that they actually preferred it to ‘The Force Awakens‘.
Okay, then, twist my arm and take my money.
We all know the story by now:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The Jedi are all but extinct, the Republic has fallen and in their wake, the Galactic Empire has engulfed the far reaches of the galaxy in fear.
Persecuted members of the Old Republic have been thrust into hiding. Only members of the REBEL ALLIANCE dare take a stand against the ruthless Imperial forces.
Deep in the Outer Rim territories, the dastardly Director Krennic has discovered the location of a long lost friend; one capable of completing the Empire’s most powerful weapon yet…
(Nota bene: Since the ‘Star Wars’ movies have been already talked about to death, we decided to simply pick apart their strengths and weaknesses as we watched them – in list format and -mostly- in chronological order.)
Light Side of the Film
- The Opening Crawl: Wait-a-minute… there isn’t an opening crawl?
That’s correct: the film’s producers chose to make this Star Wars movie distinct from the trilogies, and skipped the crawl. That Disney now owns the franchise is already discombobulating because we also don’t get the traditional Alfred Newman fanfare – which is owned by 20th Century Fox. Remove the crawl as well, and it’s a slightly alien ‘Star Wars’ experience.
But it’s the right call here.
- A Star Wars Story: Like I mentioned earlier, I like that this story ties right into ‘Star Wars‘, but isn’t officially part of the original trilogy. It doesn’t take anything away from it, existing on its own terms, and standing alone. That’s pretty cool.
- Its premise: I very much like that ‘Rogue One’ explores how the plans to the Death Star get into the hands of Princess Leia. It doesn’t follow the Skywalkers or the Jedi, but digs deeper to explore a crucial side story. We may never have cared how the plans got into Leia’s hands, but the filmmakers make us curious. Well done.
- Its aesthetic: ‘Rogue One’ is a bit grayer than most of the ‘Star Wars’, with the notable exception of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, of course. It seems appropriate for two reasons: 1) we’re not being served a fantasy; ‘Rogue One’ is grittier in tone and intent, and 2) it’s set right before the Rebellion has its first major victory after years of struggles against the Empire. It’s fitting for it to be darker.
- Grand Moff Tarkin: The producers CGI-ed Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin into the picture! He looks a bit off (i.e. a bit too sinister, less pensive), but he’s credible enough. What a presence! And what an evil mastermind. For me, ‘Rogue One’ was worth seeing just for Tarkin. Having said this, it’s kind of sad that the best character of the movie is computer-generated.
- Galen Erso’s moral dilemma: I love the concept that Galen chose to do corrupt work for the Empire so that he could build a flaw into the final product – knowing that if he didn’t lead the project someone else would and the end result would be indestructible. The moral grayness and forethought was pretty cool (not everything is black and white, after all) and it ties up a major loose end from the original film in the process. Brilliant!
- Death of the Rebels: I like that the whole team dies – it’s contextually realistic and it leaves no loose ends. However, it wasn’t at all necessary to see all of them die, going from one death to the next for whatever reason. Having said this, I really liked the way that Jyn and Cassion ended, holding each other in the wake/shockwave coming at them; it’s a truly poignant moment.
Dark Side of the Film
- John Williams’ absence: Though I’m not as much of a fan of Williams’ work, post ‘Phantom Menace’, as others are, to me Michael Giacchino’s score is merely serviceable. It doesn’t do anything special for me as Williams’ original themes did; it doesn’t have that magic. Of course, as I was saying, even Williams doesn’t have that magic anymore. For me.
- CGI ships: The ships are CGI and it shows. And I hate that many of them have little streams of light behind their wings when they pass: it makes them look like they’re in a comic book, to show movement. They wouldn’t do that in reality – and never have before.Ultimately, there isn’t as much CGI in ‘Rogue One’ as there was in the prequels, but it’s still too much for my taste. For me, it was an eyesore.
- Galen Erso vs Orson Krennic: Was it just me or was the confrontation between Galen and Orson kind of silly? I mean, Galen lies poorly and it leads to his spouse trying to shoot their way out – even though all she has is a pistol to use against a small crew of troopers. Who came up with THAT plan, I wonder?
- Jyn Erso’s escape: Galen sends his daughter off to fend for herself when Orson Krennic comes for him. But the little one hides in a grotto that’s filled with sand: her tracks should have been easy to follow, especially since they lead to a “rock” some ten feet away. She should have been easily found, but she wasn’t, somehow. Instead, Saw Gerrera shows up, within minutes, or hours, or days, or even months (who knows, as there appeared to be no passage of time…).
- Cassian’s mission: Why in the world would Cassian hesitate to kill Galen if it’s his mission and he’s a pro? He’d proven his callousness when he shot down his contact earlier on, to prevent him getting caught. So why did he hesitate now? Um… so that the audience didn’t think that he was a dick, maybe? To prevent a conflict between he and Jyn? Well, either way, it seems out of character…
- Character diversity: So… I understand that we’re in an era where racial diversity should be acknowledged (especially since blockbusters need a global audience to turn profits), but was it REALLY necessary to have a character of nearly every race, in a perfect balance that doesn’t seem realistic? And that, despite this explicit effort, it yields ONLY ONE WOMAN in the whole crew? Perhaps there was gender imbalance a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…?
- Character likability: Based on what I’ve read online, I know I’m not alone in this, but… I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Seriously, I couldn’t possibly have cared if any of them lived or died. Like I was saying earlier, when your favourite character is computer-generated, there’s a problem.
- Jyn Erso: Or Pouty McPout, as I like to call her, is a perfectly okay character. But she’s kind of featureless. At least she’s not whiny, like Luke was. But Luke is a character, whereas Jyn is a cardboard cutout. Felicity Jones turns in a decent performance, but she’s way too pouty.
- Cassian Andor: Fittingly, he’s a cardboard cutout sidekick to our cardboard cutout heroine. Mind you, I’m a fan of Diego Luna, so it was nice to see him here. What a way he’s traveled since ‘Y tu mamá también‘.
- K-2SO: Obviously, a CGI character doesn’t appeal to me as much as an actor/actress crammed in a robot shell, but K-2SO is OK. I just don’t like his voice; it’s the blandest… voice… ever! It’s really strange because I actually quite like Alan Tudyk in his other performances.
- Galen Erso: At his best, Mads Mikkelsen can entrance you when he’s on screen (see ‘Casino Royale‘ as prime example), so why is his Galen so damned constipated and inconsistent?
- Saw Gerrera: I don’t really get this character. What was he about? Why does he commit unnecessary suicide after struggling for all these years? That seems wildly inconsistent to me. On top of that, I’m no great fan of Forest Whitaker either.
- Chirrut Îmw: It’s nice to see a legend like Donnie Yen in the picture, but why was he handed a !@#$-ing Asian cliché: martial artist and “blind swordsman”? I mean, I know that all Asians perform martial arts, just like all black people can dance. Everyone knows that! But why didn’t they give him a part as a math whiz instead? You know, to expand our perception of Asians a little bit…?
- Dark helmet: Is it just me or did Vader’s helmet seem “off”, kind of chunky around the neck?
- Dark voice: Hmmm… James Earl Jones’ voice isn’t booming like it should be. Maybe Vader hadn’t developed it yet, and would by the events of ‘Star Wars’?
- Dark one-liners: “Don’t choke on your aspirations”? Really? Yuck.
- Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan: Was that a cameo by the two dudes who accost Luke in the cantina? If so, they didn’t look quite right. If you can’t do the make-up, for some reason, isn’t that what CGI is for?
- (Insert fancy name here) Troopers: Seriously, there are too many different brands of troopers. In a war, you just don’t bother with a gazillion different uniforms and so forth: you want to be cost-efficient. So, aside for selling figurines to fanboys and girls who love the new fancy-shmancy designs, they have no real reason for being.
- Galen spills the beans: Though I like Galen’s secret plan, there’s no way that he would show his hand to Orson when the latter threatens to kill all the Death Star designers as reprisal for the leak. After all that he’s endured, Galen would have a longer-term vision: nothing he’d do would be out of self-interest or cowardice; everything would be based on needing to safeguard and disseminate his plan.
- Cassion’s disguise: Um, so scruffy-looking Cassion passes for a grey dude? No one notices that he doesn’t blend in? Really? Seems to me that he’d need to shave first and foremost…
- Hammerhead vs Destroyer: A hammerhead ship can push a Destroyer? Seriously? Not only that, but it pushes it into another Destroyer – which I suppose is possible, except that it literally cuts the second Destroyer in half! Has it no shield, no armour? Is it made of Lego?
- The Imperial March: There’s a nod to John Williams’ “The Imperial March” when Vader is attacking at the end. The problem is that Vader’s iconic theme wasn’t introduced until ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘. Giacchino should have used the cadence from the ‘Star Wars’ score instead. I know it’s likely fan service, but it’s an error in judgement.
- The Finale: The picture is actually quite good til the end, when Jyn does her “Dr. Evil” speech and Cassion shows up to save the day – even though he fell and all his bones should be broken. It’s an absolutely trite and unrealistic way to wrap up their mission.
- Princess Leia: Personally, I don’t think that we needed to see Leia in full close-up. She didn’t quite look right, for starters, but it’s too much of a reveal anyway. And it’s a shot Lucas wouldn’t have framed. But I guess if the producers spent so much money recreating her, they wanted to get as much bang for their buck. I get that. Still, I think a quick look over her shoulder in the audience’s direction would have been enough.
- A Star Wars Connection: I love that it’s a prequel, and that ‘Rogue One’ quite literally ties into the original at the end. But the problem is that it doesn’t look or feel like a ‘Star Wars’ film, so it doesn’t blend well stylistically; if you were to play them back-to-back, they wouldn’t mesh well at all. Yes, I realize that they’re different films, by different filmmakers, made decades apart, but perhaps a gap between the two stories or a gradual adjustment in style towards the end would have been a good move.
Now, I realize that my comments suggest that I disliked ‘Rogue One’ more than I liked it, but the reality is that I enjoyed it a fair bit. The problem is that it didn’t really stir me in any significant way; I watched it contentedly, but I was neither enthused nor excited.
In fact, I didn’t take away much from it, as nothing about it truly stood out for me.
It simply didn’t thrill me.
But a couple of my friends were REALLY pleased with it; they liked it considerably more than ‘The Force Awakens’, partly because of its grittier tone. Personally, I think that it’s a pretty good film for what it is, but it didn’t much feel like a ‘Star Wars’ film – despite the context.
Of course, that’s also something that I champion about it: I love that ‘Rogue One’ is its own thing, instead of just churning out more of the same. The problem for me is that what I initially liked about ‘Star Wars’ is sorely lacking here. Basically, it’s a double-edged sword.
In the end, ‘Rogue One’ is likely going to be one of those movies that will stand the test of time, never taking a massive tumble like ‘The Phantom Menace‘ did after a two or three viewings. But it’ll also never rocket to the top of the list either. It’s a strong effort, but it’s emotionally bland.
No matter how many rebels died in its making.
Date of viewing: February 11, 2017