Rogue One Review: “Don’t…choke…on your aspirations.”

Hey, Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com and Happy May the Fourth! I know it’s been awhile since my last review but once again life has been particularly maddening lately and so I haven’t been able to get too many written out lately. However, this week I’m working on three new pieces in honor May the Fourth and of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story being released on blu-ray and dvd. This’ll be the first one, followed soon by Logan and then an editorial on Star Wars. But for now, here’s the review:

 

So the likelihood is that you’ve seen this movie already. And unlike a lot of my other reviews which have been right after seeing the movie in theaters, I’ve had a bit more time to form my thoughts. With that in mind, and those who haven’t seen this movie, here’s the story:

Former scientist, Galen Erso, lives on a farm with his wife and young daughter, Jyn. Their peaceful existence comes crashing down when Imperial Director Orson Krennic takes him away from his beloved family. Many years later, Galen is now the Empire’s lead engineer for the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, the Death Star. Knowing that her father holds the key to its destruction, a vengeful Jyn joins forces with a spy and a hearty band of resistance fighters to steal the plans for this horrifying space station and bring hope to the galaxy.

 

As always let’s start with the pros. The world shown in Rogue One is amazingly detailed and feels like a living breathing place that people actually live in and it helps bring a depth to the Galaxy Far Far Away that we haven’t seen beyond the usual cantina scene which I’ve always thought was a great weakness in the Original Trilogy, as sacrilegious as that might sound to die-hard Star Wars fans. The prequels, as maligned as they are, provided a showcase for what strange and exotic worlds the galaxy had to offer beyond the mundane desert planet, ice planet, jungle planet, etc. Rogue One does this expertly, especially in the case of a castle belonging to a certain Dark Lord of the Sith. Honestly, I’d love to see that location show up in future installments just to see more of it.

Rogue One builds on those ideas and uses them to logically and “realistically” flesh out the Star Wars galaxy in a way that we’ve never seen before and that is completely to its credit. The sets are grimy and lived in which we’ve come to expect from recent Star Wars movies but the people and aliens that are presented in those environments feel like they’re a legitimate part of the world being created rather than just a small sideshow attraction like they have in previous installments.

This helps make the Galactic Civil War and the Empire’s tyranny feel more present in the conflict because we see the effect that tyranny is having on ordinary people and how it’s making them harsher and more cynical even as they try to overthrow that tyranny. It also emphasizes how desperate the situation is for the rebellion before A New Hope occurs.

The movie also presents some interesting character returns in the form of Mon Mothma, overall leader of the rebellion, and Bail Organa, Princess Leia’s adopted father, played by Jimmy Smits who also played Bail in the prequels.

And lastly, I have to give props to this movie for its action. We haven’t seen action this good looking in a Star Wars movie in a long time and the sheer spectacle of the battles, both on the ground and in space is jaw dropping. One moment in particular that stands out is when the rebels literally push one Star Destroyer into another. The battles also showcase the might of the Empire by showing not just the Star Destroyers but the veritable clouds of TIE fighters that the Rebels have to hold out against making it clear how dangerous their foe is (even if they can’t shoot straight 90 percent of the time). And yes, there is one moment that some of you may be wanting me to talk about but I’ll get to that in a minute.

So those are all the things I loved about this movie. If that’s what you wanted to hear then there you go. Let me know what you liked about the film below and have a great day. Because, brother, you’re not ‘gonna like this next bit at all.

Rogue One is an expertly made film and Director Gareth Edwards has demonstrated his ability once again to give amazing action sequences in elaborate sets and environments. Visually his films are fantastic. However…

I have noticed that Edwards tends to favor grand action and gritty environments over storytelling and character. And I’m sorry but there has to be more to a movie than just the action. If there’s not an interesting story with compelling characters then the action is pointless.

This happened with Edwards’ most recent production, 2014’s Godzilla, wherein the action with the titular monster is amazing, but it isn’t very long and much of the film deals with a human character who we never really get to know other than he’s trying to get back to his wife and son. Seeing the monsters is cool but we’re seeing it through the eyes of someone who we don’t care if he lives or dies because we don’t know him from Adam.

The same thing is true of the Transformers movies and the recent Batman vs. Superman. Rogue One is certainly better in most respects than those movies-it actually has a story and one or two memorable characters-but it still falls prey to the same pitfalls. The main characters who we’re supposed to be rooting for are either bland or unlikable and it sabotages the film’s efforts to make us care about their struggles.

Ask yourself this, who is Jyn Erso? Who is Cassian? Who are Baze and Chirrut? If you’re wondering who I’m talking about let me rephrase, ahem: Who is the leader girl? The tall leader guy? The guy with the staff and the guy with the big guns? Who were they?

Do you see what I’m talking about? We remember good characters because of who they are as people, NOT because of what weapon they carry or what role they fill. Luke Skywalker is an optimistic young farm-boy who dreams of greater things. Han Solo is the mercenary smuggler with a heart of gold. Princess Leia is an idealistic warrior-princess who desires freedom for her people. Granted these are characters that we as the audience know so well because of their longevity but they had longevity for a reason.

The characters of Rogue One don’t have the personality that they need in order to make us care about them, and (in case you’re wondering) I’m not talking about backstory. Backstory doesn’t give a character personality; it gives a backdrop for them to display their personality because of how they react to it. The closest this movie comes is K-2SO and that’s largely because he’s played by Alan Tudyk, a national treasure. Also, he’s what C-3PO would be like if he actually, you know, had a spine.

This brings me to another problem with this movie…its way too fan-servicey. This movie is billed as being “A Star Wars Story”, meaning that it’s supposed to be its own thing separate from the Skywalker Saga films. The problem is that this movie couldn’t exist without the Saga films and does everything it can to remind you that it takes place right before the events of the original Star Wars.

Do you remember the Death Star? Well we’re gonna take every chance to show it to you even if it makes no sense in the context of the original.

Do you remember Red Leader and those guys from the Cantina who beat up Luke? Well, it turns out they bumped into the Rogue crew the day before.

Hey, what about Tarkin and Princess Leia? They were in Star Wars weren’t they?

Here they are in all their CGI uncanny valley glory!

To be clear, I’m not against fan-service. It’s a great way to engage the audience, especially those who have followed a franchise for a long time. But it HAS TO BE…SUBTLE! If the audience is beaten over the head with fan-service then the hardcore fans start to wonder why they’re being so obvious and pandering, and people who aren’t hardcore fans won’t care!

The most egregious instance of this is the moment toward the end of the movie, when Darth Vader invades a Rebel cruiser, igniting his crimson saber, slicing down Rebels left and right as seen here:

Yes, I’m sure you remember it. Many hold it up as the epitome of Star Wars awesomeness and…they’re right. It is amazingly awesome to see Darth Vader in his prime, the force of destruction (no pun intended) that we as kids always imagined him to be, but were never able to see just because the technology of the time didn’t allow for it. It’s a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. Here’s my problem though, what did Vader accomplish?

He enters the Rebel cruiser, kills all kinds of rebel foot-soldiers (and looks awesome doing it) but they still get away with the plans even though he could probably use the Force to easily grab the disk away. They get the disk to Princess Leia who escapes with it, leaving Vader to watch and shake his metaphorical fist as her ship escapes.

Fanboy Side-note: Since Princess Leia’s ship was at the scene where the plans were stolen and Vader watched her leave, why did she even bother claiming she was on a diplomatic mission? That’s like watching your friends rob a bank, them putting the cash in your trunk, you making a getaway, and then claiming you were late for a dentist appointment. Who in their right mind would believe that?

But do you see what I’m getting at? As awesome as Vader is in his fight sequence, he doesn’t change anything in the story and so his fight sequence is completely pointless, especially since all the Rebels he kills are a bunch of no-name red shirts. Wouldn’t it have been so much better to have Vader be on the beach during the finale with our heroes, or them on the Rebel cruiser desperately trying hold him off long enough to give the plans to Leia, knowing that he’s going to kill them all? How much more powerful would that have been?

Yet they held back and reserved Vader for a moment that was just to show how awesome he is. It almost feels like the filmmakers were so afraid to overuse him that they overcompensated, and deprived us of something much better than what we actually got.

 

Conclusion:

 

Whew, glad I got that rant off of my chest. Rogue One is not a bad movie. Far from it, it’s probably one of the better made movies of 2016. From a technical filmmaking perspective it’s magnificent to look at and really captures both the grittiness and majesty of a world where space wizards wield laser swords and spaceships can fly faster than light. Rogue One introduces us to a Galaxy Far Far Away that is much more gritty and realistic and the conflicts it tries to portray reflect conflicts that we can all understand and relate to. That can be a very interesting story to tell. The sad thing is that in its efforts to capture that realism, Rogue One seems to remove some of the joy and freedom that made Star Wars so beloved in the first place. In addition it does so with bland and uninteresting characters and unneeded amounts of fan service. If you like Star Wars there’s plenty to love about this movie and even if you’re not a hardcore fan you’ll probably still find things to like.

But my question is, if we love this world so much (and even if we don’t) and want to keep coming back, shouldn’t we expect more from the people who maintain it?

 

Rating:

2/5 Movie Nights

 

So what did you guys think of this review? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? What parts stuck out to you? Let me know all about it on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below. Thanks and as always, May the Flick (and the Force) be with You! Always!

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