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Rogue One – A Star Wars Story – A Review – A Reflection

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SPOILER ALERT: The rebels of “Rogue One” steal the Death Star plans. End of story.

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Not much of a spoiler, is it? Considering this fact from the original 1977 film is the jumping off point for the existence of the first stand-alone Star Wars movie…so this should hopefully come as no surprise.

Rest assured though, at face value, “Rogue One” is a highly entertaining film of constant momentum, one that barely gives viewers a chance to catch their breath between nonstop battles and the introduction of a whole new motley cast of sinister characters, as well as a house visit to Darth Vader and his malicious actions that follow–ones that would probably have to be edited were it to make its way onto HGTV.

Without getting too detailed regarding the specifics (that’s the fun part of watching the film), the relentless energy is first-class; the story, however, is made for mass consumption, not critique, which is an unfortunate trait shared by both new Star Wars films.

Director, Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) does a bang up job handling the flurry of action sequences and coordinating all the throwback weaponry and gadgets, as well as choreographing countless sci-fi fly-bys and skirmishes. Everything but the “hammerhead corvette,” that is. You’ll see what I mean.

The basic plot is pretty simple: Steal the plans, thwart the Empire at every step along the way, and throw in a father/daughter space opera–Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso and Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso–for, you know, the feelings.

What “Rogue One” does well is incorporate the mise-en-scene of George Lucas’ original trilogy—the sets, the props, the costumes, the 70s gadgetry—are all authentic in a way that was missing from his own prequels.

In fact, “Rogue One,” brings balance to the force as a prequel, more so than Lucas was able to do with three films. And, by the end, you’ll see that it fits in pretty neatly as a companion piece to the Star Wars films that most audiences consider the holy trilogy.

“Wars” is the operative word here though, as “Rogue One” is a war film, make no mistake, in fact it plays out like some of the best parts of “Empire Strikes Back.” However, it does so, without a true sense of being a wholly original adventure and without a real connection to its characters, which is why it skids into the gutter of mindless violence at times.

This is a true one-off, as Disney does not shy away from war being hell. That’s quite a departure for the Mouse House, but let’s face it…Marvel has brought them to this point.

Sure, it’s not “Saving Private Ryan,” with body parts flying and blood oozing, but the death toll is quite massive. This sort of wartime realism was absent from Lucas’ prequels, but takes center stage here.

In fact, what fans of “Empire Strikes Back” will no doubt appreciate is the dark shade that envelopes everything in “Rogue One.” There are no Ewoks, or even a wise sage like Yoda to lighten the load: this is the bleakest entry of the series, one that will be praised for its verisimilitude, yet possibly panned for its lack of earnest compassion.

The performances are all top notch though,  from Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen to Mikkelsen, and a few cameos from familiar faces I won’t spoil; however, it’s the CGI version of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin that feels vastly out of place.

Great to see him again, but the visual effects wizards, despite all their brilliant advances, still haven’t quite perfected the multi-faceted facial tics of real humans. Less would have been more, in this case, as he looks like a videogame character amongst real actors when the camera is on him for more than three seconds.

It’s interesting to note that one of the writers, Gary Whitta (“Book of Eli,” “After Earth”), was once the editor of PC Gamer and still contributes as a video game writer. This, in part, might explain why many of the scenes and locations seem to be straight out of a Star Wars video game–chosen for their stunning looks rather than to actually support the narrative.

Stormtroopers in paradise. Cool. Raintroopers. I can dig it. Black stormtroopers. Rad. This reeks of merchandising above all else. And we all know: the power of the dark side of capitalism is strong.

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One of the most glaring problems with the film is that the cast of characters truly are rogue figures, distant in such a way that we never really get close to any of them. Luna’s Cassian Andor, in particular, pulls off an “Of Mice and Men” scene early in the film that really isn’t motivated or needed, and his actions are very difficult to forgive.

I realize the filmmakers were trying to emulate the “hardness” of his character, like when Han Solo shoots Greedo first in the original 1977 film, but this requires more of a set up and follow through. As is, it’s just mindless murder…and plays like a cheap narrative gimmick.

After all, “Rogue One” asks us to take it very seriously,  without, itself, being constructed to sustain a serious test of logic and reason. In that way, it’s similar to the Death Star: It looks big and scary, but is easily destroyed with a single plasma torpedo.

I’m not sure what the reshoots were all about, but I suspect Disney executives expanded the role of the imperial droid, K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk), who provides the lion’s share of the comedy with his sarcastic and abrasive quips, which are much needed and, ironically, makes him seem the most human, and fully realized, of all the characters.

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The dire nature of the film means family audiences, especially young ones, will likely skip this episode, as there isn’t much there, except for parents to lean over and try to explain why everyone is actively engaged in guns blazing.

The elegance of the light saber battles are also missing in “Rogue One,” as it’s the first Star Wars movie without a true Jedi, and suffers greatly because of this. In fact, only Darth Vader whips out his light sword, viciously slaying rebels in an attempt to steal back the Death Star plans towards the end of the film.

There was also a point near the end of the film when our anti-heroes were being knocked off one by one where Donnie Yen’s blind warrior, Chirrut Imwe,  chants his mantra: “The force is with me, I am one with the force” and walks straight through a spray of blaster fire without getting hit. This might have been poignantly funny and amazing to see him fire up a light saber. A Jedi hidden amongst the ruins. Another in a series of missed “a-ha” moments.

It was certainly a much-needed step in the right direction though, to include a multi-ethnic cast, which is nice to see. But how on earth in a galaxy of a jillion species, are we left with zero extra terrestrials on the Rogue One team? #alienlivesmatter. The xenophobia is real in “Rogue One” and that seemed very strange and out-of-place, indeed.

I’m not saying the Star Wars universe has become anti-alien, but I can’t believe that with all the scum and villainy, and let’s not forget diversity, that we’ve encountered in this galaxy far, far away, that the filmmakers chose to use only humans in their band of marauders.

If the mission is to expand the universe, the Star Wars collective is well on its way with “The Force Awakens” grossing $2 billion worldwide and “Rogue One” on course to join the Billion Dollar Club. In fact, Disney is estimating an opening weekend gross in the USA and Canada of anywhere from $120M-$150M for the prequel, which would make it one of the top openers of 2016.

Ah, the prequel. The swan song of dramatic tension.  That may be a dire outlook, but studios that continue to churn out the latest action/adventure prequels, for the most part, ignore a very relevant fact: audiences know the outcome. That matters. That matters all the way to the core.

I realize a Han Solo movie is next in the cannon, and possibly a Obi-Wan Kenobi film, too, but I hope the executives in charge at Disney realize that going backwards is rarely a good way to go forward. It’s nice to visit, aka flashbacks, but I do hope they ascend out of their fascination with backstory.

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SPOILERS FOLLOW!

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Like “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” is entertaining as all hell, but when you step back and poke at its structure, it’s as flimsy as a house of cards.

Besides having the most important secrets of the Empire on a tropical wonderland, I mean, who in their right mind would store the entire library of secretive data in, or right underneath, a giant phallic tower for everyone to see? Okay, maybe the Trump-led American democracy isn’t so out of touch.

Just like “The Force Awakens,” the premise of “Rogue One” is based on stolen data that sets the narrative in motion, but rarely digs into the hard questions. Everything is merely a means to an end, and we, the thinking audiences, are politely asked to dull our brainwaves.

Important questions like: If the Empire’s most vital blueprints and files are stored in one place, and guarded by only one person, wouldn’t you want, oh, I don’t know, a Sith lord or someone trained in the dark arts protecting them?

Instead, a reject from Spaceballs seems to be in charge, and the consequences of that management decision are catastrophic, as he is literally bonked on the head. You can almost hear the Three Stooges sound effect.

Other integral plot moments: 1) How do the rebels transmit the plans with the shield up; and 2) How do the rebels radio to the alliance armada that they are ready to transmit, were both solved by basically the same scene–pushing a lever that was ridiculously far away from our characters.

I realize this is being a bit harsh, because I really did enjoy the movie as gratuitous entertainment, but when you truly engage your mind, it’s about as thought-provoking as an episode of “Wheel of Fortune.”

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Is it too much to ask that we stop Abrams-izing the Star Wars Universe? That, perhaps, instead of having scenes that enchant the eyes with POP-BANG-WOW, they also stand the tests of science and logic, instead of being hollow and used primarily to serve as plot devices.

Because if this is the case, we need to have another movie as to why Paradise Planet, which held all the most confidential plans of the Empire, including the coveted Death Star plans, was so easy for the Rebel Alliance to find.

The difference between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance? The willingness to adapt with the advances of technology. A secret hologram message is delivered by rebels to the main heroine on a flash drive, whereas the Death Star plans are held on a clunky tape drives.

Lessons learned: Always invest in the latest telecommunications and upgrade to the latest and greatest in data storage. If the Empire would have followed these simple rules of business 101, the Rebel Alliance would have never had a chance.

I’m not saying Star Wars films need to be hard-core sci-fi, but the new scripts suffer from the same dangerous machinations of many blockbuster films of this era: heavy on flash, light on substance.  It’s a toxic potion that plays to the sponge-soaking masses, but rarely attempts to expand minds or linger as a work of art.

It’s painfully obvious after watching “Rogue One” that we need “Spaceballs 2,” now, more than ever.  Help us, Mel Brooks, you’re our only hope.

“Rogue One” is first of what will become a massive movie catalogue that expands the Star Wars universe. Expands and contracts. With that in mind, it’s a much better piece of filmmaking than “The Force Awakens,” so  there is hope…and blockbuster rebellions are built on hope. That…and popcorn sales. Let’s not forget that.

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STAR WARS FANS – 4 of 5 stars.

CASUAL FANS – 3 of 5 stars

FAMILIES – 2 of 5 stars

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Jeff Bock, NewsWhistle’s movie editor, is the senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Jeff@NewsWhistle.com.

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Poster Image Courtesy of Disney; Poster Design By B O N D

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