Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
First off, this movie has problems. Let’s get those out of the way.1. The characters don’t get much space to breathe and we don’t get to know them particularly well. This contrasts sharply with last year’s Star Wars movie, which existed primarily to introduce and familiarize us with a cadre of new, young, attractive, intensely likable characters.2. As a rule, prequels are pointless. A good character works because you feel you know their backstory without being shown their backstory. Example: We don’t see Han Solo womanizing, outrunning Johnny Law, and winning the loyalty of Chewbacca in what must have been a noble and humanizing way. However, because of the quality of that character and that performance, we understand those elements of his character almost as soon as we meet him (and certainly by the end of A New Hope). Similarly, we don’t need the plot events preceding A New Hope spelled out for us. All of the information essential to A New Hope is provided in the first two minutes (the opening crawl and the juxtaposition of the tiny rebel ship against the massive imperial ship). For this reason, the plot machinations of Rogue One are (by definition) wholly unnecessary sound and fury.3. The central team of commandos has too many members, most of whom remain so underdeveloped one questions their inclusion.4. Pointless fan service and cameos routinely interrupt the movie to contribute nothing. (Darth Vader, for instance, has little business making an appearance.)
Now, these factors would ordinarily sink a picture. However, movies don’t exist in a vacuum. One cannot watch this movie without thinking about what’s happening in the world today. This movie intimately depicts a group of timid revolutionaries coming together to decide to violently resist a fascist imperial regime. As demagoguery and authoritarianism begin to threaten first-world democracies all over the world, this Star Wars movie arrives to pitch a means of resistance. Hijacking the world’s most visible movie franchise to celebrate revolutionaries in front of a mainstream audience? Well played, Mr. Edwards.In one sequence, this movie uses imagery lifted directly from the Iraq war (turban wearing rebels taking on a tank in a desert city), but posits the insurgents as the good guys. That’s an incredibly subversive move on the part of the film-makers, and for most people watching this movie (kids), it will work on a subconscious level. Reshaping conventions in this manner will prove important as one of America’s all-time most vile figures assumes its highest office.Of course, revolutions get messy. Traditionally, Star Wars draws distinct lines between good and evil. That’s not how the world works, though, and this movie acknowledges as much. Good characters do bad things, question their loyalty, and question their orders throughout. From beginning to end, the movie hammers home the necessity of sacrifice in the face of oppression. Every defector, saboteur, and rebel in Rogue One loses something to do what they do (most commonly their life).Both Rogue One and The Force Awakens do a great job with representation. The human characters in these movies come from a number of different ethnic backgrounds. One cannot help but delight in the catharsis of watching this diverse group of commandos (people of color all, save the leading lady) make moves to topple a homogenous, largely faceless empire.The original Star Wars trilogy works as pure escapism. Primarily, those are simple action movies with great characters. Rogue One does not have great characters, and the action frequently becomes convoluted. However, movies can be good for a lot of different reasons. Since the first moment of the first film, Star Wars paid lip service to the idea of rebellion. Here, we finally FEEL that idea. Rebellion is the founding act of this country, and in times as dark as these, there’s value in remembering that.Rogue One is not the Star Wars movie we deserve, but it’s the one we need right now.
This movie has balls as big as the Death Star. It always been an interesting joke that the Rebels are terrorists, but Rogue One went all the way with the premise that the Rebels are a bunch of splinter groups who are trying to band together in the face of the Empire but aren't exactly sure of their way, yet. Some of them are ready to fight. Some of them are ALREADY fighting, but not under a united banner -- some are more mercenary, disapproved of for their methods and lack of regard for consequences and collateral damage; some are more official, but still not immune to making mistakes. Some of them want to avoid conflict for as long as possible, to keep giving peace a chance. Some of them would rather surrender than fight. There's a broad spectrum of Rebels in this Alliance, and that feels great. It also fits in REALLY well with the trilogy -- Yavin 4 doesn't have a fleet, and the Alliance is still basically a newborn (The Empire having only just then begun to unite them, by disbanding the Senate and announcing the Death Star). The Empire doesn't get fleshed out in equal portion, but we do get a Death Star engineer purposefully putting a weakness into it (A solid retcon for all the nerds who've rolled their eyes at the thought of being able to blow up a fictional battle station with a single shot), as well as bits of his backstory. That was great stuff! The Rebels killed Jyn's dad?? Everyone dies??? This is goddamn edgy shit, and I love it.Let's talk action. This movie SLAYS in that department! From stormtrooper battles on the ground (Of which there seem to be HUNDREDS), to starfighters playing Rogue Squadron, to big capital ship action... it's all fucking awesome. The blind guy is a superb Jedi-substitute (Clearly not far off from being an actual Jedi, but lacking some tools), his heavy-weapons bud is too cool for school, the slimy rogue gets some good shots off but also has some solid conflictedly-villainous moments, the Wash robot is fantastic at all times and I loved him, the Hammerhead into the Star Destroyer was damn fine, Vader chopping through grunts was a delight (Would've changed it slightly, myself, so that he swung his lightsaber less and just stopped shots with his hand, like he does in ESB against Han). The Mon Calamari guy was cool. It feels like there's more (And better!) action in Rogue One than in Force Awakens.The strength of a movie all comes down to how strong its story is, though, and Rogue One has a really nice story. It genuinely feels like it slots right into the rest of Star Wars, and mixes in a surprising dose of the suicide mission from Mass Effect 2 (aka, the best videogame mission of all time). There's a lot of heart that it wears all over its sleeve, which is an important Star Wars component. It shows believable complexities, heartfelt emotions, solid world-building, interesting characters, and awesome action. That means... if my calculations are correct... hey! This is a good movie!
Would I have changed some minor things? Fuck yeah, I'd have made MAJOR minor changes. Remember the music? No, you don't. It's just as dumb, forgettable, and sad as the music in Force Awakens. Just like all of the hours of music from Disney's Marvel movies. The music isn't there so that you can hum it or remember it. It's just basic shit with no purpose beyond underscoring the intended emotional beats. It really burns me up inside that DISNEY (A corporate behemoth that arose from lively cartoons with incredible musicality) and STAR WARS (A franchise born from legendary movies that are pretty close to the final word when it comes to memorable scores) have come together to drizzle this fucking weak shit of a soundtrack into my earholes. This is a bigger crime than overuse of CGI characters. Disney and Lucasfilm are pretty famous for being pros at movies, but they are SHOCKINGLY inept when it comes to music. I mean, it's competent...? But SoundCloud is full of solo musicians who can deliver this same level of product on their home computers.CAUTION: SPOILERSCAUTION: SPOILERSCAUTION: SPOILERSLet Whitaker be his crazy Rebel zealot self and die assisting in the plan heist, instead of dying by standing around. Mebbe replace that lame Imperial pilot with, oh, let's say, some guy called Kyle Katarn (BECAUSE I'M A NERD, WE GET IT). Couldn't we at least get his sickass Moldy Crow ship in the background somewhere? Cut Tarkin's face out of the movie. Cut Threepio and Artoo's scene blip out, plus the cantina guys. These aren't huge things, they aren't remotely on the same level as "Maybe don't say that the Force is a bunch of tiny bugs" and "Leave out the part where baby Vader builds C-3PO by hand from scrap as a slave child". Just spitballing a few things that could've made the movie a little stronger. I liked the movie!People seem to be having very different reactions to the Tarkin and Leia in here. This mirrors my own experience, where I thought that Leia was fine but my wife thought she was worse than Tarkin. In any event, I guess we're now officially living in the age of "It's fine to make CGI versions of old/dead actors now", and I don't think we're ready for it yet. They could (Or, in my opinion, SHOULD) have used it much more sparingly. I was thrilled to see Tarkin's back, and his reflection in the window... because I thought that's all they were going to do, that they wouldn't then go on to make him a central character with a really weird Snoke-face. He didn't need to be written into the plot so heavily. And how the fuck could they not find a voice actor that sounds like Cushing? They weren't even CLOSE with that; he looked better than he sounded (And, in case this isn't already clear, I don't think he looked that great. He had a few moments where he was passable, but overall he stuck out from the human actors like a Snoke thumb). By contrast, Leia appears for two seconds and says one word. Winner! Now let's move on to the dozens of OTHER Star Wars characters who wound up in this thing. Say whaaat?
The edited footage of those X-Wing pilot chaps (I realize that one is a Y-Wing pilot, SAVE IT YOU FUCKING NERD) fit in a lot more smoothly than the CGI faces, but could also just have been written out with ease -- did we need anything more than to hear their voices on the comm? Nobody cares about them, and in the meantime NOTABLE HOTSHOT PILOTS Wedge and Biggs are WHERE EXACTLY? Weird choice, Rogue One. Weird choice. Besides, who are these fucking hacks that think they need to cram as many familiar characters as possible into Star Wars movies? There are CERTAIN CHARACTERS whose appearances feel like a natural part of the story (Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and shit -- even Darth Vader). But a couple of Mos Eisley cantina patrons? Fuck you, that was dumb. Congratulations, movie -- you shoehorned so many known characters into a DIFFERENT story that it literally started to not make sense. Ponda Baba is in a city right before the Death Star blows it up, then... a day later is on Tatooine?? Why the fuck did you do that? R2-D2 and C-3PO are on Yavin 4, watching ships leave... then they're somehow on Leia's ship running from Vader, hours later?? Jesus fucking Christ, what are you doing to me! You went way overboard on this, Rogue One. You nearly went full-on Lucas prequel on this. Your one saving grace is that these characters weren't brought in for you to cram piles of excrement into their backstories, ala Episodes I - III. A small silver lining, but it's there regardless. There's a bunch of even smaller cameos, but they're all like "Background Droid #3" type shit that's not worth noticing. Lots of droids in the galaxy.But it's not all old characters in new settings -- Rogue One also introduces a cast of thousands of fresh-faced newcomers to the franchise. Hundreds? OK, I don't know how many. Lots. There's Jyn, and a blind Force-sensitive guy, and a heavy-weapons guy, and a roguish jack of all trades, and a really tall robot, and Forest Whitaker, and I don't know any of their goddamn names. Those were all fantastic characters, though, in my opinion! Some are underused, but that doesn't make them less good. There's also some Imperial pilot guy that I hated, though. My problem with him is largely based on his appearance -- he wears really cheap-looking safety goggles on his head for some reason (Is that supposed to make him look like a pilot? Because no other pilots seem to have those), and has a haircut that seems VERY non-Imperial standard. Yeah, we don't see a lot of what Imperial pilots actually look like, but judging by the hundreds of officers and techs in the franchise, as well as the helmets and suits of all the rest... I'm pretty sure Imperials don't get to have huge scraggly ponytails! He also doesn't seem to be all that competent AS an Imperial pilot. And there's no real reason for him to even be in the movie -- wipe him out, cut his scenes that keep interrupting the flow of the film, and any one of the other characters could have taken over his mild duties. Pay one line of lip service to the fact that Forest Whitaker got a message through a pilot from Jyn's dad, and you'd have saved yourself ten minutes of wasted downtime. And then, uh, maybe don't kill off Forest Whitaker right away. He seemed interesting! I guess we'll never know now if he really was.
Remember names like Han, Luke, Ben? Put some fucking names like THAT onto your characters once in a while, Rogue One! Oh yeah, you sorta did, for the one name I remember... Jyn. Why are all of these characters so memorable, if I can't even remember their names? Even the background characters are excellent. Absolutely tons of great background aliens, sets, technology, and costumes. Holograms and technology COMPLETELY married both the look of the original trilogy AND made it look fresh. That's a huge shortcoming of the, ahem, OTHER prequels. There were no glistening slivers of chrome flying around space here. I wish one of the little aliens had been a main character, I loved them. Even the tentacle monster was good, even though the scene was a waste of time.
I'm going to jump in here with my own brain vomit. Rogue One is a completely and wholly unnecessary Star Wars prequel that manages to be a fun, enjoyable action/adventure flick without the usual need to prep the characters for multiple sequels, since, as noted, this is a prequel, and one which leads right up to the very original movie, Episode IV. Seeing as we already have an Episode III, I guess this is more Episode III(b). The best thing this movie did (minor spoilers) is explain why the Death Star had a massive design flaw and make Darth Vader cool again. Sure, Darth Vader was cool, but his image took a hit with the first three prequels. It was kind of like learning that Johnny Cash liked to masturbate to My Little Pony, but then he released the American Recordings, and you're like, "hey, he's okay again" (note: this is a made up example; I have no concrete evidence about Johnny Cash's masturbation habits, but if you contribute to my GoFundMe I will continue to investigate). The characters are all two dimensional stereotypes from other movies and media, but the actors really sell what little they have, and that is the saving grace here. Also, we are distracted by LASER BEAMS and SPACESHIPS and ROBOTS, and you're all pew pew and having a good time. I am still annoyed that Disney can drop $200m on this but couldn't find a way to punch up the script. Some of that budget was used on the unforgivable sin of taking CGI to recreate younger (or dead!) actors. I absolutely admit, it was very well done. While Looper and other movies have made horrible use of altering humans with CGI to look younger or different, this was as close to flawless as one can reach. And yet, it was also wildly and completely unnecessary. You may remember a movie franchise from the 60s featuring a character named James Bond. The first few movies were big hits and starred the great Sean Connery. When Connery left, the studios hired this other guy named Roger Moore to play James Bond, but he didn't even look like Connery. Audiences were confused and the franchise fizzled out. Oh, wait, that didn't happen! Audiences can figure shit out. Hire new fucking actors, Disney. When it comes to Grand Moff Tarkin, I'm sure some white actor in some English speaking country looks like Peter Cushing. In fact, Guy Henry (Rogue One body actor for Tarkin) already sort of looks like Cushing. Just dye his hair grey and put a little make up on him, and I am confident I can figure it out. Hell, you could even bring back Wayne Pygram (Tarkin in Episode III) for continuity's sake (but with less awful makeup).Overall, I liked the movie, but I worry about any other Star Wars prequels (like the Han Solo one) because apparently Disney is more concerned with cool laser beams and less with having a coherent story with rich, vibrant characters.
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