5 Things Good and 5 Things Bad about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
So, now that the promise of an annual Star Wars film has been met with the year-to-year release of THE FORCE AWAKENS and now ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY the many fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi fantasy brainchild are quickly re-arranging their faves list like a fantasy football league and making bold proclamations as they’re (re)swept up in the Star Wars hype machine. And, it’s understandable to a point. Very few film series’ in rotation have as big of a cultural impact as Star Wars, which has a leg up on both Marvel and DC, the emerging franchise kings of cinema, in terms of long-term popularity and nostalgia fever.
With all that in mind, the release of ROGUE ONE is firing up both hardcore and casual fans as they squabble over where it fits in the overall Star Wars film universe standing and just how good or bad it really is. Some say it’s only second to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, while others claim it’s just a tad better than ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Before you get too worked up in being shocked at either claim, let’s keep in mind that many were making such bold claims after THE FORCE AWAKENS last year, let alone the trumpeting of EPISODE 1 being the best of the bunch from hungry fans leaving the theater in 1999. Time, introspection, and repeat viewings tend to shift opinion after that warm and fuzzy Star Wars high that resonates after hearing John Williams rousing score usher you out of the latest viewing of the latest film. No doubt, the same will happen with ROGUE ONE.
As a longtime Star Wars fan, I’ve come to temper my expectations and initial reactions when it comes to the franchise as I’ve noticed my own opinion skewed by that rush of a new Star Wars drug in my veins. Sometimes it takes a sobering view to really get to the root of how good or bad the newest film is and just where it fits in my overall order of best to worst, which is a pretty arbitrary thing to begin with. No list will ever be “right” as it’s a completely personal thing. And, as a result of that, I wholly accept that I could feel differently about ROGUE ONE as time goes on (always amazes me how dismissive we are about being able to change our opinion. It’s not carved in stone), but after two viewings and careful attention to each aspect of the film, both as a part of the larger Star Wars canon and as a standalone entry, I feel pretty confident in what’s both good and bad about the film. It’s certainly not a slam dunk of perfection, nor is it some kind of disaster created out of expensive reshoots. I think it falls somewhere in the middle, so here’s my rundown of the good and the bad of the latest Star Wars opus.
The Look and The Action – This is perhaps one of the most beautifully filmed films of the entire Star Wars series, which obviously benefits from being the latest to be filmed (i.e. utilizing the highest standard of big budget cinema). From the various shots of the many planets, lending a visceral, organic, and awe-inspiring view into the greater universe, to the vast array of creatures that inhabit the world, both in practical and CGI, the film gives us a more refined look into the Star Wars galaxy, while still paying homage to the 70’s-like feel of George Lucas’ A New Hope. If nothing else, Rogue One looks amazing. On top of that, the action is staged at a frenetic and rousing pace, from ground level shoot outs to space-bound starship battles, the film covers the bases in terms of the types of action we hope to see in a Star Wars film, including quite a few "holy shit" moments that will forever become part of the Star Wars greatest hits list.
The Music – Michael Giacchino stepped in for Alexandre Desplat at the last minute to create the score for ROGUE ONE, but you’d never know it while watching the film. Giachinno has been scoring all types of franchises for a while now, including MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and STAR TREK, and is perhaps one of the few composers working today that is most similar to the sweeping, exciting, and sometimes quirky work of John Williams for this genre. While echoing all the familiar themes of the greater Star Wars universe, Giacchino is able to create a new riff on each to help make ROGUE ONE its own animal, but just as thrilling and exciting as any of the other films in the series.
Darth Vader – Look, it’s real simple; Darth Vader is the Godzilla of Rogue One, which is both a jab and a nod to director Gareth Edwards (more on this later), who delivered about 11 minutes of the famed lizard in his own movie, which equaled the best 11 minutes of the entire film. I’d argue that we have about the same thing with ROGUE ONE when it comes to Vader. From the inspired coolness of seeing Vader in a bacta tank on Mustafar to his "choking" interaction with Director Krennic to the epic badassery that is his confrontation with the rebels fleeing with the Death Star plans (without a doubt my favorite part of the film), Vader steals the show and gives us a look at the Sith warrior as someone to be reckoned with again, rather than the whiny note he left us with in REVENGE OF THE SITH. If anything, ROGUE ONE restored Vader to his former glory (a friend proclaimed, "Vader got his balls back!") and, in truth, made me hungry for a Vader standalone film I never thought I wanted until now.
The Blind Guy and The Robot – While the weak iterations of just about every character in the film seemed to bog it down (more on that later, too), there were two standouts that left us with something memorable. Donnie Yen’s blind “force” warrior Chirrut and Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Empire droid K-2SO are absolute scene stealers and leave us with the most memorable lines and actions from the film outside Vader. “The Force is with me, I am one with the force” is sure to be a newer version of “May the Force Be With You” in years to come and K-2SO’s wit and banter make for a more fun and cynical version of C-3PO that’s also not afraid to get his robotic hands dirty in a fight. The inclusion of these two characters are what saves an otherwise boring and unenlightened cast of lead and supporting players.
The Potential – While the story and main characters did very little for me in this first standalone film, the overall potential of doing offshoot films like this within the Star Wars universe has more than proven its weight with ROGUE ONE. Audiences have obviously responded well with their pocketbooks, as well as their enthusiasm, so any doubt of doing standalone films should now be eliminated as Disney counts those receipts. Hopefully, though, we get more standalone’s for characters we actually care about. Han Solo is a good start, but if Disney isn’t at least entertaining or carefully planning a standalone Obi-Wan film (trilogy?) with Ewan McGregor then I’m just not sure they really get what they have at their disposal. Either way, ROGUE ONE proves that audiences are ready for more films that draw from material outside the Skywalker series. The galaxy is the limit at this point.
Jyn Erso – I remember when Rey from THE FORCE AWAKENS was being labeled a “Mary Sue” last year, as a character who seemed to overcome just about everything that came her way, but I’d argue that she actually has way more character, motivation, and personality than Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso could hold a lightsaber to. Jones is a fine actress, but her Jyn Erso has nothing about her that makes her special or particularly interesting. She begins the film as a “rebellious” criminal who seems to be a pretty good fighter, but she doesn’t really seem to care about anything or have any real motivation. She’s there, essentially, in service of plot (finding her father, Galen), rather than to witness her journey and arc.
Although she seems connected to her father because he calls her “stardust” and gives her hugs, there’s not much more in her character that tells us why she would embark on this mission or, in the end, have a change of heart in the course of it. Her motivations make no sense, all the way to the very end, which negates her final sacrifice. It’s unearned. After her father is killed on Eadu (where he tells her, of course, that the Death Star must be stopped) she confronts Cassian, accusing him of going to Eadu specifically to kill her father, which is true, although he denies it. She points out that it was alliance fighters that killed her father and continues to hold Cassian accountable throughout the confrontation all the way to the end of the scene. It leaves an air of bitterness and unresolved conflict, which is totally cool and ripe for her to have a "moment" or turning point.
Cut to the next time we see Jyn, at the very front of a meeting with the alliance council, with an entirely different demeanor. It’s as if a switch was flipped and she’s suddenly all gung-ho for the rebels and going after the Death Star plans, giving us a big fat “hope” speech that comes out of nowhere. She is suddenly a leader and a voice for the rebellion, deciding that she’ll gather up whoever will go, including Cassian who she just blamed for her father’s death, and head out on a suicide mission to retrieve the plans.
Both characters are suddenly cool and chummy with each other, even going so far as to giving them a twinkle in their eyes of romance, which wasn’t hinted at for any other scene before. This sudden shift in character and story feels so ushered in and out-of-the-blue that it took me right out of their conflict altogether. It’s inconsistent to everything before it. It’s played in that familiar “let’s do this” sequencing that’s meant to enthrall and rally the audience, but if you stop for a moment, you’ll see that there’s a HUGE chunk of story missing there that lessens that impact in a big way.
Jyn, in essence, is missing her “moment”. She never comes to a realization, never accepts a new path, never acknowledges her own flaws and how to overcome them. She simply has a completely opposite feeling within the cut of one scene, no explanation needed. Beyond that, she has no special ability or characteristic that makes you take notice and there’s no bond or relationship outside of "Saw Gerrera raised me and abandoned me" that gives her any weight. On top of that, she’s never given a true heroic “stand-up-and-cheer” moment. You could argue that not every character needs that, but I’d argue that a strong protagonist is made strong by achieving that moment. We don’t get it here. Counting her getting good WiFi and sending a galactic e-mail as her “moment” feels like a stretch and a half. If her arc was simply to make her father proud, well that wasn’t earned either. A cute nickname isn’t enough motivation to make me believe that was worth a suicide mission. I’d buy her hatred for the Empire in destroying her family, but she never so much as utters that contempt. And while we don’t need an entire life history, we need more than what was given to make her a memorable lead in a Star Wars film.
Cassian - Diego Luna’s Cassian is no better. The most we learn about him is that he has the ability to be cold and cruel as a result of choosing to fight for the rebellion since he was a child. That’s it. Again, no specific characteristics or abilities that make you stand up and root for him or simply invest in his character. The other issue with both Cassian and Jyn is that they exhibit barely any charisma. They are fairly joyless overall and while we don't need a joke a minute or anything, some engaging banter that reveals their character would've been nice. By contrast, you look at someone like Han Solo, as played by Harrison Ford, who created a character that had flaws, characteristics, and quirks that made him instantly memorable. His interactions with every character in each film was consistent to his personality. You remember him and how he was. You’ll likely walk out of Rogue One with little memory of who these characters were, let alone their names. Luna is a fine actor, but the character of Cassian is as cardboard as they come.
Krennic - Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennic falls in the same category as every other Empire villain we’ve seen in all other Star Wars films. Mean, greedy for power, and cruel in his actions, Krennic at least has some energy from Mendelsohn, a seasoned actor, but we learn nothing about him or what drives him. He’s simply an antagonistic presence, but not one that we’ll ever really care about, especially after a fairly dull final fate and confrontation. Ultimately, the lead characters of ROGUE ONE serve as plot devices rather than characters for us to care about and Krennic will fall into the halls of wasted villains. Say what you will about the one-off of Darth Maul in EPISODE 1, but at least I wanted to see more of him in other films and I most certainly remembered his name and deeds.
Recreated CGI Characters – Look, we’ve come a long way with special effects. We all know this. Some amazing stuff has adorned our eyeballs in recent years and that’s commendable as hell. However, here’s a truth we all know: When it comes to recreating a believable human being with CGI we just aren’t there yet. We’re close. We’re on the cusp. But, it’s not done. It’s not unidentifiable. And, sadly, the recreation of Peter Cushing’s A New Hope villain, Grand Moff Tarkin plays way more Polar Express than Ant-Man (re: Michael Douglas’ de-aged scene). While I think it was a bold choice to add Tarkin in, I think they should have used a similar actor instead and perhaps used some minor CGI enhancements as needed. As a full CGI character, that’s actually a full-on supporting character here, he is more distraction than anything. The eyes and mouth are off in every scene and it takes you out of the moment, rather than into it.
The same can be said of the Leia scene at the end. Sure, it’s really cool to see these “characters” again as they were in 1977, but ultimately they don’t register as the real deal. It’s far too obvious and makes it less genuine, even if the nostalgia feels come rushing in. A better way to portray both would’ve been either with realistic stand-ins or a more ambiguous presentation, either from the shadows or angles that aren’t reliant on a close-up. I would’ve appreciated that approach much more than the attempt to recreate actors from that era directly in a computer.
The Story – Okay, so we’ve basically known this story since 1977; to a point. But, in essence, ROGUE ONE is an expanded explanation to one of the biggest issues of Episode IV, namely the critical flaw in the design of the Death Star that allows Luke Skywalker to take it down with one shot. And that’s fine, really, but there’s obviously some confusion in how that was brought to life in ROGUE ONE. While there’s been arguments over the reshoots and rewrites of the film, it’s very obvious that it was reworked in many ways, from the sudden shifts in character motivations and attitude (or lack thereof) to the overly complicated and yet overly simple aspects of the finale. These things simply don’t flow together as well as they should and in many ways are just perplexing. But, hey explosions and AT-AT Walkers! Some will try to sell you on the "Hey, man, it's Star Wars, what do you expect?" argument, but I think that's the copout to end all copouts. There's still a standard for ALL films.
While some were wrapped up emotionally in this one, particularly the Dirty Dozen style fate of many of the characters, I felt flat. Quite simply, the heart was missing in many of these characters and I didn’t feel the resonance of their sacrifice anywhere near as much as I should have. Perhaps that speaks to Edwards as well, who pulled a similar move with GODZILLA. The best parts of that film were the few moments with the lead monster, just as the very best parts of ROGUE ONE are spent with a classic villain. Throwaway leads (such as Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen in GODZILLA compared to Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and Ben Mendelsohn in ROGUE ONE) seem to be a thing in his films thus far. He’s an otherwise talented filmmaker, but he simply hasn’t gotten a firm grip on the driving force of these spectacles: the characters.
In the end, ROGUE ONE is absolutely an entertaining film and one worth seeing in theaters, but the bold claims of it being the best ever in the series or filled with the best characters to ever grace a Star Wars film are just that: bold claims. It’s got that Star Wars vibe, to be sure, but it doesn’t have that Star Wars heart, which is something Lucasfilm/Disney need to make sure they chase in their next standalone adventure. Otherwise, we’re going to be saddled with a heap of spectacle without an ounce of character. We all like the fireworks, sure, but it’s the people making those fireworks happen that matter the most.
So, let us know what YOU thought of these points or if you have some of your own to offer. We always love to talk some Star Wars, so let’s hear what you took away from ROGUE ONE and what your hopes are for future standalone pics!
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