"The specter of the fuming President-elect railing against fake news, this from a man who had promoted for years the lie that President Barack Obama was not American and whose speeches on the campaign trail were often Briar patches of mendacity - was an irony verging on Shakespearean tragedy. But if Mr. Trump and his inner circle think that this type of authoritarian behavior will cow the press, I think they will find it will only embolden us."
Two days after "Rogue One" opened, I submitted this review to a movie site I used to write for. Three weeks later it still sat unacknowledged and unpublished, so I removed it and am publishing it here instead. Please keep in mind these are my initial reactions to the movie and I am planning to go back and see it a second time. This is the first "Star Wars" film I haven't seen more than once within nearly a month of its release, so it should be obvious I was underwhelmed.
A second, likely shorter review, will follow this one once I've given it a second chance.
Ever since George Lucas sold
the Star Wars franchise to Disney for a, in retrospect, ridiculously low sum of
$4 billion, equal amounts of fans cried foul and raised their glasses in
celebration. What would the House of Mouse do to the beloved space fantasy
franchise. Would it be the savior for those who disliked the prequels or would
it take a concept that was specific to its creator and start churning out
by-the-numbers films every so often?
We are now two
movies in to the Disney Era and it’s still too soon to answer that question.
What we do know is there has been a successful saga relaunch in the form of
Episode VII and a stand-alone adventure that appears poised to once again make
gobs of money at the box office. At this point, it’s a built-in
moneymaker. But is it any good?
Well, yes. And
are certainly all there. The film takes place between Episodes III and
IV, at the very end of that twenty-year period where Emperor
Palpatine is cementing his hold on the galaxy with the help of his
physically and emotionally damaged apprentice Darth Vader. This is the
story of how the Rebellion got ahold of the Death Star plans,
eventually succeeding in blowing it to hell and showing the galaxy they meant
It’s a story
many Star Wars fans wanted told. And in this era of nobody seeming to
believe there should be any mystery in life and that every moment and nuance
needs to be expanded upon, this was a wise move on Disney’s part regarding
launching a stand-alone series of movies. It’s also painfully
One” isn’t a story that had to be told, it feels suspiciously like fan
fiction. Certainly there’s a different tone to this one; it’s a war movie
featuring the requisite disposable characters based around a deadly, hopeless
mission that will change the tide of the war. The stakes are suitably high, the
battles are executed with great skill and the dialogue is serviceable without
being memorable. So, why isn’t it a better movie?
Story- Tony Gilroy
who write the first two Jason Bourne movies as well as the stand-alone The
Bourne Legacy has never been known for his breakneck pacing. He also tends to
take long, unnecessary side-trips in his narratives. And while he is one of two
writers of Rogue One’s screenplay, his earmarks are all over it. Thus we get a
story that is somehow plodding yet moves too quickly without ever establishing
motivations beyond the superficial needs of the Rebellion and the Empire and
the supposed main character Jyn Erso (more on her later).
Directing- There’s no other way to put this now
that he’s been given three chances to prove himself: Gareth
Edwards is a sub-par director. He frames his shots well enough, although
he tends to have an over-reliance on close-ups during scenes where a larger
scope would be more effective. His major fault lies with the performances he
gets from his actors. In a word, they’re terrible. Nobody expects Edwards to be
a Kubrick or Ridley Scott-type director tormenting his actors with take after
take, but Edwards’ takes seem almost Ed Wood-like in the settling that takes
place. He also has a rare talent for taking what should be the most exciting
portion of a film and rendering it about as interesting as watching C-Span.
Acting- There’s a lot
of online chatter about the quality of acting in the Star Wars movies,
especially the prequels. However, since this is a completely different type of
film in the franchise, it’s fair to judge the acting in it without comparing it
to the other Saga films. Felicity
Jones is Jyn Erso, the daughter of the scientist whose work and
research helped make the Death Star operational. She is supposedly a tough,
take-no-crap orphan who was rescued by a militant rebel extremist named Saw
Whitaker). Jones is unconvincing and unlikable in the role and never
once does it seem like she’s there for anything expect to collect a paycheck.
Whitaker is just weird and off-putting. Deigo Luna is
flat and uninteresting as Captain Andor, Riz Ahmed
is laughably unconvincing as the defecting Imperial with no motivation ever
explained, Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO has insured that Jar Jar Binks can
no longer be called the most annoying franchise character and Donnie Yen and
Jiang Wen steal the show. Basically, with two exceptions, the main rebels
as Director Orson Krennic is a wonderful Imperial villain. Mads Mikkelson
is utterly wasted as Galen Erso, but that’s clearly an editing issue.
Characters- One thing Star Wars movies have always
done well is give us characters we care about. Until now. This particular band
of doomed rebels is about as interesting as watching Whiteout dry. This is
probably the best example of the lazy filmmaking on display here. Obviously
it’s assumed that the concept overrides the characters, so even in a film
populated by clichés and dullards, the viewer is so consumed with how those
Death Star plans were obtained that we’ll all be riveted.
Saga Tie-ins- This film is easily the one most filled
with fanboy porn. There are more Episode IV cameos than one should expect, from
a decidedly creepy Peter Cushing
to all the pilots from the original to a certain main character whose CGI
appearance at the end if bizarre and jarring. Darth Vader is on hand, although
criminally under-utilized, and his appearance adds more bafflement to the story
than it clears up. Still one cannot deny the utter coolness of his final scene
in the movie.
Third Act- Disney demanded some reshoots of this
film and it shows. The third act, which should have been a smaller, guerilla
warfare conclusion, turns into one of the largest space battles in the
franchise’s history. Why is that a huge miscalculation?
this movie goes too big. It should have never been a film with a huge climatic
battle sequence. This was supposed to be about a small tactical group of rebels
ready to die in service of their cause. Instead, years of Star Wars history is
reversed as we suddenly realize there was a pretty sizable rebel fleet before
Episode IV. This renders the whole concept of there never having been much of a
rebellion until after the destruction of the Death Star meaningless. Not to
mention the pedestrian way the whole thing is dealt with at the end of the
film. More lazy filmmaking on display. Also, there’s the issue of the
prequel-level skillset of Darth Vader on display that is suddenly absent in
Episode IV and the inclusion of Mon Mothma who is nowhere to be found during
the Battle of Yavin.
“Rogue One” is a mediocre side-trip into the Star Wars universe that feels more
like watching someone play a video game than a film with any dramatic stakes or
relatable moments. It cements Gareth Edwards as a journeyman version of Chris
Nolan and reminds us that what makes these movies work isn’t just a bunch of