There are two colons in my title and I hate it.
Also, it’s Christmas, so I’m going to use that as an excuse to keep this short.
Film: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story), George Lucas (characters)
Primary Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker, Genevieve O’Reilly, Valene Kane
US Release Date: 16 December 2016
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story feels a little too much like a cinematic snack; it’ll tide viewers over as they wait for Ep VIII, but it doesn’t make for a very satisfying meal on its own. And while Edwards’s addition to the Star Wars universe is “better” than a large number of recent cash-grabby blockbusters, it’s not particularly interesting, and its flaws are hard to ignore. The film fills a gap in the Star Wars universe, but it doesn’t do so with enough charm or emotional weight to feel significant.
Rogue One taps into the existing Star Wars mythos while also attempting to strike out in new directions. The results are uneven at best, and downright cringe-worthy at worst. In its efforts to expand the franchise, Rogue One breaks from the Star Wars template in a number of ways, but none of them are especially groundbreaking. The decision to begin the film without a text crawl is hardly compelling or innovative on its own. At times, Michael Giacchino’s darker, more contemporary score works well; at others, it simply sounds wrong (such is the weight of John Williams). And while something like the lack of jedis at the center of the film isn’t a problem, it’s not really an improvement either.
After a certain point, one gets the sense that Rogue One‘s title is an excuse. An excuse for the film to do whatever it wants (which usually involves sticking to the script). If it truly rebelled and gave viewers something fresh, powerful, and interesting, that’d be one thing. But this is the land of Disney-owned-mega-franchises we’re talking about; any nods toward cutting-edge departure are merely a smokescreen and are (probably) motivated by money more than anything else.
None of the performances in Rogue One stand out much, in part because the film suffers from an overabundance of shallow characters. There are plenty of faces to turn into action figures, but there isn’t much personality behind them. That said, Diego Luna’s charisma and Riz Ahmed’s expressiveness both add some depth to a few scenes. Mikkelsen and Mendelsohn are also both memorable, though that probably has much more to do with their talent and presence than it does with anything Gareth Edwards or the writers did, and both actors are noticeably under-utilized by the film.
I didn’t have a bad time watching Rogue One. In fact, there are moments when it’s pretty fun. That said, the film didn’t leave me excited about any of the characters or narrative elements contained within it. Instead, I found myself hoping that Ep VIII will be much better. Unlike The Force Awakens (which made my ‘top 10’ last year lol), Rogue One left me underwhelmed and wanting. Edwards and the film’s script fail to give viewers new, well-developed characters for them to connect with and to care about. Its cast is plentiful and diverse (at least, where the men are concerned), but Rogue One also tries to present too many characters in too little time. Rogue One also discards some of its characters in ways that feel clumsy, cliched, and thoughtless. The result is a film that lacks emotional impact, even as its plot is overflowing with tragedy. Rogue One is more of a straight action film/war movie than its predecessors; the battles sequences and the fight scenes are fine, but its heart is too weak for a beast of its size.
The best part of Rogue One is Darth Vader, largely because audiences already know who he is. And that his short scenes have much more impact than the rest of the film isn’t a good thing at all. Vader’s presence also calls attention to the fact that Rogue One lacks a well-developed (or even threatening) villain of its own.
Rogue One also lacks the heft of The Force Awakens (and of the original trilogy), because the stakes are so low. If viewers don’t know or care about the characters in a film like this, then they need to care about the cause they’re fighting for. Unfortunately, those watching Rogue One already know how the story goes. The Rebel Alliance gets the plans to the Death Star. A lot of people die in the process. Luke eventually blows the thing up. Yay for the galaxy. None of this is news.
Rogue One doesn’t belong at the very bottom of the Star Wars heap, but that’s largely because The Phantom Menace is such a mess.
And one more thing: Grand Moff Tarkin should have been recast. Period. End of story. Giving viewers a CGI version of Peter Cushing (who died in 1994) isn’t only upsetting to look at, it’s also creepy and gross. On top of that, there really is no reason for it. A New Hope came out nearly 40 years ago. People age and die. If movie magic can convince millions to care about lightsaber battles in a fantasy-version of space, surely it can convince them that two different actors represent the same fictional character.
Until Next Time
Thanks for stopping by! If you like listening to me blab about movies, you should follow this blog on twitter. I also track my movie-watching over on letterboxd. Hooray for the internet.
I will eventually post a ‘top 10’ for 2016, but I need to see a few things in January first. As a sort of sneak preview, here are a few films that I expect to be on the list: The Lobster, Jackie, American Honey, Moonlight, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Toni Erdmann. Maybe.