I kind of feel the same way about these new Marvel Star Wars films, as I do about J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek films. Whatever keeps the idea alive can’t be so bad, can it? And Rogue One wasn’t so bad. But on closer analysis, it was bittersweet in a way that could only be properly digested and identified by a 70’s era child of the Original Trilogy.
It’s like this: while those films were made from a place of strong storytelling that recalled many well told cinematic stories of the past, this new film was designed to be a fresh take on the Star Wars universe, supercharged by modern cinematic techniques. But because they ignored the original intent of the Original films, they wound up with a diesel engine, as opposed to a linear aerospike. And it’s for this reason, that I think I had very little of an emotional response to this story. Or its characters. And that’s sad, given how good the acting is among the principal cast. If anything the director did right it was work with the actors to build memorable characters. Even if all they did was stand there most of the time. I mean, at the very least, the director did a very fine job of directing these actors to give their lines the proper inflection. Something Lucas never even gave a passing thought about doing with the Prequels. But maybe this film, and its audience, would be better served by a plot that involved the Rebels rounding up a group of criminals, one by one, and somehow getting them all to cooperate with this mission. Would’a, could’a, should’a.
To me, this film really felt like a long, twisted, confusing journey to find some sort of a weaving plot that justifies the happenings within it. And the audience isn’t supposed to even be this aware of something like that while watching a movie on an initial viewing. If your story is constructed correctly, the audience is completely preoccupied with the movie’s storyline, in the vault of their own imaginations. But here, we don’t have a thrilling plot that unfolds, much less a mystery. Heave ho, the art of distraction; all which is required is the overlong, episodic tale of how to get from point A to point B. Fuck points C through Z, we don’t need those; we can feed ‘em 3D, hyperbolic videogame gobbledygook for the cerebral cortex, throughout the second half of the film, and they won’t know the difference. This makes Rogue One a hollow meal that makes you wish for a better restaurant, or better yet, home cooking. Unlike some movies where it seems like bits and pieces of junk-ideas and leftovers have been heaped into a single script and sloughed onto the audience’s plate, this movie seems more like a by-the-instructions, hard won recipe for nothing more than a lunch of the week special of very expensive and well-made pasta — covertly removed from the refrigerator, and microwaved to proper room temperature before serving to an unsuspecting patron, at the most expensive restaurant in town.
So it’s truly confusing how to feel about this movie. While I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I can definitely say that too many things about it seem all but completely distanced in my imagination from the universe of the Original Trilogy. Much like the Prequels. And that breaks my heart, in light of how much they got right with Rogue One. Don’t misunderstand me, the film is a vast improvement over the Prequels. As was Abrams’ own film, The Force Awakens. However, while I have issues with Abrams’ film, I did feel it was connected to the essence of Star Wars. It felt connected. But with Rogue One ... there’s something missing. Maybe it’s a simple spark of creativity. Maybe it’s that the intended connection — the face of Princess Leia — is a dodgy effect at best; and the audience required better, in order to complete that illusion and generate the intended emotional response. (Perhaps it would have been better if clearly CGI Leia didn’t fully face the camera.) Or maybe it’s too gritty. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realize that a little grit goes a long way with this type of film. Or maybe the film’s simply not intended by the filmmakers to truly belong within that universe the Original Trilogy of films inhabit, in the first place. And that’s an issue with me. They make a shit-ton of money off of these things. And they likely always will. No matter what kind of films they make. And they know that. Which begs the question, do they even care about the longevity of these stories? Or are they only playing pretend on behalf of the public. Yes, in addition to wanting to separate you from your money, we also care about Star Wars. But do they?
Since the filmmakers, and I’m sure numerous Executives, could not figure out how the magic of Star Wars worked, they merely reinvented it. Makes sense, doesn’t it. They simply went back to the drawing board. Question is, is that a sufficient enough copout for not trying to genuinely achieve the grand illusion that audiences require?
I knew something was off with the opening titles. Which were designed to place the film on another track. An adjacent track to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The film opened with simply a prologue. A dark and gritty scene that portrays the abduction of the female protagonist’s father when she was a child. A scene that any experienced screenwriter will tell you, is unnecessary. In fact without it, her story would have unfolded much better in bits and pieces of information as the film went on. And there would have been more of a mystery surrounding her, as well as her Father. The entire sequence is not only unnecessary, but it plays much too long. As does pretty much the entire first half of the movie. In circumspect, the entire set-up of the film is handled the way today’s movies (many of them not theatrically released) are routinely tasked by today’s filmmakers and their crews. Lots of ‘you really need to take this seriously’ bullshit cinematography, complete with the customary shaky cam, and unending exposition. It’s a general tone we’ve all come to accept, and a modus operandi now seen repeated in film after film, since Casino Royale introduced it in 2007. And to some extent the filmmakers miraculously manage to make this work. But once you get beyond that, there are issues with this film that could never have been resolved, due to the way the story is constructed. And it all points to a singular idea, intended for a single sequence in a larger story, being padded out to fill the entire runtime of this one movie. Almost as if they looked at the original script’s structure and decided, ‘well we could make FIVE movies out of this,’ and earmarked the other five parts of the story, for five more movies. And personally, I dread the recognition of familiar material in subsequent films. I’ve seen this before, and it genuinely gives me a headache. I was the one who thought it was too easy and obvious that Lucas reused the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Now we have a total of 4 films, count ‘em, FOUR, featuring the freakin’ Death Star. (I’m including the planet killer in The Force Awakens; which was essentially the same plot device.) And while this one film does have a good excuse for that, given the conceit of the story, it manages to make the Death Star far less interesting, this time around. How the hell do you make a planet killing moon-sized space station, blasé and disinteresting?
And here’s a few more little touches of insanity that fell upon my head while ingesting this film:
When Diego Luna’s character (the Clandestine Rebel Agent) killed a trusted informer in one of the very first scenes … I knew the movie was in trouble. Because that could only mean certain doom for any protagonist character in any kind of Star Wars film. This was something that nagged at me for the entire first half of the movie. And to be fair, it is possible that his character, being who he is, was ordered to kill that individual by his Rebel Commander. But A) that was not conveyed, and B) that makes the Rebellion no better than the Empire.
Did they expect that the film would only be seen by audiences in 3D, is that the reasoning behind the slightly dodgy Liea and Grand Moff Tarkin effects. I mean, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but come on, man. They can do better than that on TV Commercials. You expect me to believe …
It was nice to have the cameos from the original film. Certainly in light of this film’s place in the timeline. But am I the only one who noticed a few issues with that? Where the hell are the characters from the wonderful, animated Disney show Star Wars: Rebels? When the impromptu Rebel Council – or whatever they called that inept roundtable debate – made a decision to surrender to the evil empire, and the female protagonist decides to go it alone, and suddenly Diego Luna’s character approaches her with volunteers … would this not have been a perrrrrfect opportunity to introduce the Star Wars: Rebels characters into the live action arena? In my opinion, that would have elevated the film to a B+, as opposed to a C-. And by the way, why is Walrus Man’s head so much larger in this film that it was in the original Star Wars? Did he get bit by a giant Fucking mosquito shortly before the events of this film, or something?
The score was ho-hum. Michael Giacchino is clearly no John Williams. To be fair, Giacchino was not the original composer, of record. Pun intended. The original composer was replaced, and Giacchino had to do a rush job on this one. But he ain’t no J.W. ‘Nuff said.
Why did the Game of Thrones mentality of ‘everybody dies,’ have to influence this film? I mean even the Robot dies. That’s overkill. Another pun intended. And placed within context – it sends a not so nice message to children that a bunch of ragtag, dirty, homeless, rogue rebels went through hell and died acquiring the plans to the most destructive weapon in the galaxy, so that pretty little rich kid Princess Leia Organa didn’t get her white robes messy.
Too much contrivance. I loved the small Rebel ship crashing into a Star Destroyer, causing it to collide with another Star Destroyer, and have both fall and crash into a shield generating spaceship, thereby destroying all ships involved, and deactivating the shield. Really made me laugh. There’s just one problem. Well, two if you want to get anal about it. There’s not enough gravity that far up in orbit to cause those ships to fall downward. Duh. 2. It’s too much of a stretch to believe that the Rebels didn’t know that shield ship was going to be there, and work out a method of dealing with it, beforehand. Maybe this would have worked in a more playful film, but positioned as a plot contrivance within a story told with the gritty tone this one is told with, it just stands out like a sore thumb.
There is really no main character, functioning within this plot. They’re ALL supporting characters, and only one of them even has an arc. Am I honestly the only one who noticed this? I was very excited to see this film. The premise seemed to be withholding much in the way of imaginative storytelling. And some of the critics who saw early screenings touted that the film did in fact hold surprises. But this was merely the Wizard behind the curtain. This new kind of movie seems to be the norm these days. Please don’t look to close, just enjoy the pretty pictures. It wasn’t dumb, by any definition. But it was an expert example of how to skip over the hard parts of telling a story.
They still haven’t fixed the issue of how easy it is to kill a storm trooper, even though they are supposedly wearing armor.
In summary, I did enjoy the film, Star Wars: Rogue One. Just not as a Star Wars film. I had trouble accepting that. And in the end, there were a few little things I did like. And Diego Luna’s character arc was one of them. At the beginning of the film, he kills indiscriminately. Possibly because he’s been ordered to. After all, he is a clandestine operative. But when faced with a moral dilemma, he chooses not to kill; which rings true with the morality that Star Wars was originally designed to impart to children. And while that doesn’t correct the problem of his character’s initial introduction, it does give his character a proper arc; whilst none of the other characters even have an arc. The female protagonist walks through the film and dies a martyr, whose name is only spoken of in hushed whisper, off camera for the remainder of the serial. The Blind Guy (really the best character) who really believes he’s one with the force, walks through gunfire, flips a switch then dies walking back — guess an actual Jedi would’ve seen that coming. The stoic rifle toting broad shouldered long haired guy … charges the enemy, gets shot, has a grenade roll his way, then just stares at it go off and dies, needlessly. The Clandestine operative is content with having accomplished his mission and dies. The former Empire pilot who just wants to make things right, has a grenade thrown at him, then just stares at it and gets blown to bits, too. And the Robot is given a blaster (apparently his life’s ambition is to hold one) moments before he gets to use it, then gets himself shot. Gets shot a lot, actually. Matter of fact, I think the last one went right through the center of his head. Guess those toys won’t be flying off the shelves. Oh well, everybody else dies, why not the stepin fetchit, right.
**Actually, I liked the Robot. Didn’t like that he was given artificial intelligence that practically acquaints to human intelligence, and then treated like a ‘sophisticated spanner,’ as writer Harlan Ellison once termed R2-D2. That dehumanizes the character. Another negative aspect of the storyline.