Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 photo rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_ver5_zpsp5ilvmau.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgFilms can make us laugh, cry, tremble and shout. Some of our most intense feelings occur when we’re at the cinema. I can cite reasons as to why I loved a given movie, but ultimately, it comes down to the emotional reaction I had while watching it. That’s why I can assign the same rating to a picture like Vertigo as I would to Team America: World Police. The reasons may be very different, but my enjoyment is the same. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first stand-alone film in the Star Wars anthology series. Chronologically it happens sometime after the events of Revenge of the Sith and immediately before the events of A New Hope (or Star Wars for those born before 1977). It’s a shining example of a production that did not engage my emotions in any way shape or form. I simply didn’t care. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t a satisfying experience either. Now in writing this review I have to assign the reasons why.

1.) The saga is overburdened with minutiae. There’s a lot going on here. We hop around to various locales and characters introducing a lot of people, places, and things but never concentrating on any one thing long enough to make an impression. We even get different time frames – a flashback of when our central hero was a little girl. There’s a lot of names being thrown about too. The messy screenplay by Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) is jam-packed with Easter eggs. The script includes so many little in-jokes and winking nods to previous installments, that only the most obsessive Star Wars aesthete will get all of the negligible details. In and of themselves, these inside references aren’t bad. They can be amusing, but too many can take away from the importance of telling a meaningful narrative. There’s an art to telling a simple, good old fashioned story. Oh sure, the screenwriters know their Star Wars history. They’ve done their homework. The adventure has the brains but it lacks heart and a soul.

2.) There’s a ridiculous number of bland characters.  Too many parts mean a lack of focus on a motivating protagonist. Felicity Jones’s warrior, Jyn Erso, teams up with Diego Luna’s rebel spy, Cassian Andor, to steal the plans for the Imperial Death Star. Yet neither Jyn nor Cassian inspires our passion with their lethargic charisma. They just exist to recite their lines so they can advance a dense plot. Without a galvanizing presence to arouse our sympathy, it’s hard to care. Maybe that’s why we also get a veritable backstory of secondary people each one more undefined than the next. Donnie Yen is slightly more invigorating than the rest as a blind monk guided by the Force. However Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker all have “key” roles that are so undeveloped that they barely register as personalities. Come see an international cast of great actors portraying insubstantial parts! The screenplay doesn’t have the desire to have them do anything to incite our affection. There’s one exception but it doesn’t even involve someone human. The very best (and he is a delight) is a droid, K-2SO. He’s been programmed to be incredibly honest and speak his mind. He’s like a sassier version of C-3PO portrayed in motion capture and voice by Alan Tudyk. I wish the entire movie had been about him.

3.) Rogue One is a depressing slog. This is a dour affair with surprisingly little humor. It’s telling that even most fans pick K-2SO as their favorite thing about this.  The convoluted tale doesn’t have a narrative to stimulate the emotions. I could go into specifics but that would involve revealing plot details which are apparently verboten when discussing these kinds of pictures. Translation: movies with an overzealous fan base. Words wasted encapsulating what happens are superfluous anyway. That’s why you watch the film. A good review should explain why it succeeds or fails.  Let’s just say the drama is dark and joyless. Not just in spirit but in its presentation. The gritty cinematography has the feel of a documentary about a war-torn country. A dreary blue-gray color palette underscores the gloom.  Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Let Me In, Zero Dark Thirty, and Foxcatcher) has lensed some pretty bleak features. In those, his technique worked because the subject matter demanded it. This is such a grave exercise. I thought Rogue One was part of the Star Wars world,  a thematically hopeful series that’s easy to follow. An adventure of when good triumphs over evil. Granted a little bit of optimism is shoehorned in when a cheesily inserted reference to A New Hope is spoken by a CGI Princess Leia of all people. Last year’s’ referential The Force Awakens may have been Star Wars redux, but at least it was an exciting hybridization. It succeeded because it was unbridled fun. Rogue One is cobbled together from other chapters as well, but it’s so serious it’s didactic. If I wanted to sit through an academic exercise, I’d take a course at the local community college.

Rogue One is well done from a technical standpoint. It has awe-inspiring special effects, meticulous production design, and a rousing score. It draws from a universe of films that I already adore. Well, 4 out of 7 anyway. (Those prequels are pretty weak.) The epic long battle, which comprises the second half, is impressive but it lacks a key component – our emotional attachment. Probably because the script hasn’t engendered our love for these individuals. That’s a key dilemma. The original trilogy embodies three of the most entertaining movies ever made. The grim Rogue One doesn’t even feel like the same universe. Luke, Han, and Leia were captivating, but there’s not one person here to make this story interesting. The chronicle certainly isn’t necessary. It’s merely an assembly line product efficiently produced to make money. You don’t need this other than to answer a lingering question. Why did a design flaw exist enabling the Rebel Alliance to launch torpedoes into a tiny exhaust vent and blow up the Death Star?  Rogue One uses 133 minutes to basically give us an answer. Thanks for the fan fiction, but you could’ve just told me.

12-15-16

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12 Responses to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

  1. I am totally, 100% with you on the lack of interesting characters on display here. It very nearly crippled this experience for me. Not even the reliable Felicity Jones emerged from this with a performance worthy of remmebrance. And to be totally honest, K-2SO just got on my nerves. It was pandering. I had a lot of fun down the back stretch, though. The final grandstand felt like vintage Star Wars to me, particularly the last time we see Darth Vader. That scene really grounded the power and the hatred embodied by that ultra-villain. But for me half of this was just a total bore. Unfortunstely.

    • I’m beginning to re-think my love for Felicity Jones. She was incredible in The Theory of Everything, but her performance in everything since has been a letdown. She lacks an engaging personality in Rogue One and then she’s essentially wasted as a human prop to manipulate the audiences’ emotions in A Monster Calls.

  2. I gotta say I had a great experience with this one. It surpassed my expectations. And I liked the characters far more than I expected. Granted, the movie could have gotten into more detail with some of them and I do get the criticism, but I didn’t need it. I never felt they were true enough focal points to warrant it. Anxious to see it again next week to see if I have the same feelings.

    • Looks like it should easily make at least $400 million, but probably won’t reach $500 million. Definitely a huge hit, but not even close to the $936.7 million of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now THAT movie I loved.

  3. Hey Mark!!
    I just got out of watching a late showing. I am disappointed by your review of this film, but I get it…all your point are valid.
    This film is not for a new audience or the casual fan….It is pure fan service…it speaks to those of us who have an inexplicable emotional connection to this Universe. It feels almost like an apology for the calamities that were the prequels.

    To someone like me – who watched A new Hope and Empire ad infinitum at home then had their first cinema experience with Return of the Jedi….a major part of my latter years were spent imagining what came before and in between. I read through the expanded universe of comics and novels that were never made canon by Lucasfilm and played the video games.

    The Prequels were the ultimate betrayal, were completely out of kilter with fan expectation, which is odd considering that they were created by the author of the universe we love so much.

    Rogue One is the film fans like me have been waiting for, it expands the universe through detail both little and large. It fills in a much needed blank space that we spent countless hours speculating about that were not answered by the prequels….and it managed in 2 scenes and 5 mins of screentime to give us a proper Darth Vader!
    Finally, in keeping with my fatalistic self, I love that EVERYBODY DIES!!!

    I loved Rogue one more than I loved The Force Awakens. That movie was safe and had a lot wrong with it, case in point – I haven’t re-watched it or bought the blu-ray. I’ve already booked my 2nd viewing of Rogue One…..Ultimately, I was programmed to love this film, it was done right and this is why its doing so well – for we are legion!!! 😉

    Talk soon my friend!

    • It’s been a long time my friend. So glad to hear from you!

      I am neither a new audience nor a casual fan. I saw Star Wars (I won’t call it A New Hope) at a drive-in with my parents in 1977 and my little eyes were opened to the wonder of film.

      I agree that The Force Awakens is essentially made up of parts from the original trilogy. It’s a remix essentially, but a very entertaining one. I just wasn’t entertained by Rogue One, particularly by the first 2/3rds of the film. It gets better by the end, but by then it was too little too late I guess.

      I appreciate your insight though. It helps me understand why people enjoyed Rogue One.

  4. I rather enjoyed this movie. It was long but went pretty quickly. I do agree, the characters weren’t very memorable, but it didn’t matter to me. I just enjoyed it. 3 1/2 stars

  5. I didn’t think there was any reason this movie needed to exist. I didn’t need a Death Star origin story, which I feel like Rogue One is. I feel like stand-alone is a term a lot people tossed around to describe it, but I couldn’t disagree more with the label. It directly ties into the first Star Wars movie and features appearances from overlapping characters. I don’t consider that a stand-alone film. Overall I found the picture highly overrated and like you, I didn’t care for its overburdened minutiae or its bland underdeveloped characters. Kind of sad that the droid is the most human, interesting character. I was impressed with its technical achievements and I enjoyed its climactic battle. I personally felt that the movie conveys the magnitude of death and sacrifice in war, something the other Star Wars films don’t do as well. So I thought it had that going for it.

    • Thank you! Nice to find someone else who agrees with me. I’ve mostly encountered unadulterated love for this film with some people even championing it over 2015’s The Force Awakens. Now that’s just crazy talk!

  6. Connor Kunz Says:

    PERFECTLY written review. This is th least engaging Star Wars film to date and I felt overwhelming boredom and apathy all the way until those last two minutes. I was disappointed by TFA, but this takes disappointment to a new level. Here’s to hoping that The Last Jedi corrects course for this struggling franchise.

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