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***This article will contain spoilers for Rogue One***
“That was a really good film. The ending was great!”
As the bloke two rows in front finished the longest spiel of his life and got up to leave, I knew I was fucked.
Because I was always going to write this Rogue One review.
And I thought it was a bit shit.
It wasn’t irredeemable – it had some pretty shots, some almost believable CGI people, and even made me laugh once or twice. However, it failed at so many hurdles that, come the intermission (Louth cinema is old and cute, with a halfway break for ice cream), I knew my mind was made up.
The best way that I can summarize this Rogue One review is to say that it’s an elaborate (and shallow) version of George Lucas’ “fixes” to the original films – a feature-length picture which serves to do nothing except answer two questions:
- Why did the Death Star die in one shot?
- How did the rebels get the plans to the Death Star?
If you wanted to know the answer to those questions, and fancy seeing a bit of a throwaway film that wears a Star Wars t-shirt, then you’ll probably enjoy Rogue One. Unfortunately, I went in expecting something to build out the universe – to tell me more about the fascinating worlds, races, cultures, and lore that I know is out there but is all but absent from the main titles.
Let’s start from the top.
Things happen because “plot”
Ever sat in a film and thought “why the hell is she doing that?”, “I thought she didn’t trust that guy?”, “Why is he suddenly not killing that dude?”, or anything along those lines?
That’s Rogue One in a nutshell. Character motivations change on a dime because the plot demands it. Co-incidence rules the second half of the movie because it’s the only way to create even a veil of tension.
Nothing feels natural or believable.
There are two prime examples of this (and countless smaller ones). The first is the end of the final battle, and the other is Saw Gerrera.
“Tension” is created by random shit which makes no sense
The good guys have broken into some archives to steal the Death Star plans. They’re climbing up a column of these archives to reach a tower with a satellite dish on it (from which they can send the plans to the rebels).
How do we create tension? I know, let’s have a random-ass door halfway up the archive shaft so that the main villian can open it as they’re climbing in front of him, then let’s have him kill the “love interest” off (but he’s not really dead because of course he isn’t).
It’s a fucking archive. There isn’t a walkway from the random door, and the files (hard drives) themselves are removed by a robotic arm which spins around the column and posts them into a slot which leads to a control room.
Our main characters have to shoot out a pane of glass to get into the damn shaft – this thing isn’t built to have easy access.
Shit’s happening because “the plot” thinks it’s a good idea.
Later on, when Main Bint herself is setting up the satellite dish, an Imperial fighter decides to take time out of his busy schedule not dying in the aerial dogfight around him to shoot at his own base’s communication tower because he might’ve possibly seen someone up there who couldn’t possibly be one of his allies.
As a result, Bint has to run away from the ship shooting at her, with dramatic music blaring as she grabs onto the partially destroyed hand rails. Presumably the fighter shooting at her has fucked off, or has short-term memory loss, because he doesn’t come back for a second run.
Fuck this scene. Fuck the bad guy coming out the elevator and around the corner with his gun already pointed straight at Main Lass. Fuck the monologue of “I haven’t lost – you will die and I’ll win” and just fucking SHOOT HER ALREADY. Fuck the “love interest” bloke coming back to life and killing him. Fuck the ending.
Saw Gerrera is a wasted, contradictory mess
Saw Gerrera is an anti-Imperial extremist who even the rebel council call problematic. This is a man who has no trouble mind-raping/breaking an Imperial pilot on the offchance that the dude lied about defecting, despite giving Saw a hologram of his old friend telling him how to kill the Death Star.
This dude is entirely devoted to destroying the Empire, and is paranoid as fuck.
And you’re telling me that when the girl he seemed to think of as his surrogate daughter (who he randomly abandoned years ago, but that’s another contrivance for another time) rejects fighting the Empire he just does nothing?
Not only that, but the guy who wants to see the Empire fall so badly, who is also one of the first to see the Death Star destroy a nearby holy city, tells everyone to get out of the building whilst saying “No, I have to stay behind, you go now, live, and fight the Empire”?
He just fucking stands there without even trying to fly away before the shockwave destroys him? He just gives up and lets himself die rather than try to utterly wreck the new weapon that he’s just seen in action, and has just been told how to destroy?
I’m calling bullshit. If Saw was anything but a device to contrive a reason for Main Girl (Jyn Erso – Saw’s pseudo-surrogate daughter) to give a shit about taking down the Empire, he could’ve been one of the best chances to flesh out the Star Wars Universe.
Come on, you have a rebel fighter who’s considered a terrorist. This is a golden fucking opportunity to show some of the moral grey side that the Star Wars universe needs – not everyone has to be a Jedi or a Sith (in fact, not even the Jedi or Sith have to be completely bad or good).
I’m not saying that it has to go full Game of Thrones, but seeing some interesting characters go to monotone-goody-two-shoes was almost painful.
We’re given one of many characters who do things that make no sense and flip motivation on a dime.
Can’t see the film for cliches
Jesus Christ, fuck me with a barge pole, I don’t think I’ve been so painfully aware of so many cliches in a film for a long, long time.
Off the top of my head:
- A crying child mid-battle for the main character to save from a crossfire
- “Let’s attack the blind guy (who has a stick) by running at him one by one to shoot at him point blank”
- Character sacrifices self / dies to provide motivation for the party
- Unflinchingly loyal man with orders disobeys them because he’s suddenly grown a conscience
- Explosions kill everyone instantly except main characters (this happens two separate times, to three main characters)
- “Noooooooooooooo!” scene
- Motivational speech with accompanying music from the main character (Jyn)…. Twice in two scenes, back-to-back
- “I’ll repeat a line someone told me earlier to make it poignant / use it against them (‘Rebellions are based on hope’)”
- The comic relief is the first to die in the last fight, after a last stand to protect the main characters
- “Main character is dead” fakeout (that no-one buys anymore)
First up, saving a crying child in the middle of a firefight doesn’t endear us to a character – great, they did what any decent person would try to do. Doesn’t make me like them. In fact, without any extra development (or seeing that scene go somewhere beyond just saving the kid) it just makes them look like an idealistic idiot who can’t figure out that a gun can kill you.
The blind guy is cool, and gets a laugh here or there, but anyone with a gun wouldn’t just fucking waltz up to him mid-fight and expect it to go well.
The “Noooooooo!” scene.
STOP. FUCKING. DOING. THIS.
This, along with the “main character death fake out” plot device gets under my skin like nothing else. Why? Because it shows that you have nothing interesting or individual to do with what could be one of the most emotionally charged moments in your movie.
Oh, a character is dead and their friend/family member sees it happen/is standing over their body? That’s a hell of a setup – what are you going to do with it? How are you going to develop the surviving character from this?
Oh, you’re just going to have them shout a little. Oh, you’re going to negate everything that scene did by re-introducing the “dead” guy 5 minutes later. What a fucking masterpiece of artistic expression.
There’s no humanity
What could you do instead of the cliches to make a character death meaningful? It’s funny, but all you have to do to find your answer is take a look at The Force Awakens (spoilers for TFA ahead).
When Han Solo died, it wasn’t a surprise. As soon as he stepped out onto the walkway I knew he was copping it. However, his death still had an impact on me because of what was done with it.
Solo died not with a shout, a huge explosion, or even one of his ever-present wise cracks. Instead, they injected one of the very few serious and tragic moments in Solo’s screen time by having him reach out and touch the face of a son he lost many years ago.
This isn’t Han Solo: Smuggler Extraordinaire, quipping a final line before going out in blazing glory. This is a father grieving for the twisted thing his son has become. It’s quiet. It’s fast. It’s vicious. It has no fanfare, it just happens.
This is something that Rogue One missed – it was so busy trying to drop names, references, and the odd cameo of a classic character that it forgot the humanity which made the original trilogy so compelling. They try to make every character death a huge event, but the lack of humanity ruins any chance we have of feeling any kind of impact, and so I walked out almost feeling like the majority of the film was a waste of time.
If you want me to feel something when a character dies, they need to have been developed more than “the blind guy’s bum-boy with a big gun and trashcan on his back”.
Why? Maybe because his character is more consistent than the rest of the main cast. Maybe because he’s genuinely funny (through writing or Tudyk’s delivery/improvisation, I’m not sure).
Either way, when a fucking droid feels more human than your two main leads, you have a problem as big as the stick up both their asses.
This is far from building the universe
As I said earlier, I love the Star Wars universe. I find it fascinating to delve into the various disciplines of lightsaber fighting, the theory behind some of the machinery, the innumerable creatures and races, and even the massive-scale wars that almost decimated entire races.
This is a universe which is begging to be shown off on the big screen, and it’s almost entirely squandered in Rogue One. I said “almost”, because there’s one thing which is almost glossed over, but provides another piece with which to flesh out the puzzle of the Star Wars universe – the mention of kyber crystals.
In what’s told/shown of kyber crystals, we learn that they are what power a Jedi’s lightsaber (with different colours giving the different coloured blades), the Death Star’s laser, certain large vehicles (such as what seems to be an Imperial light tank), and forms the core of some stars.
We’re also told that an old Jedi-related temple exists called the Kyber Temple, and that it’s guarded by a bunch of force-sensitive monks called the Guardians of the Whills – this is where the blind guy with a stick and his bum-boy trashcan are introduced from.
To me, that’s infinitely more fascinating than where the rebels got the fucking plans for the Death Star. You have piece of lore here which is begging to be explored and explained, but we don’t even get to see the temple – it’s dangled in front of our face before we get the next action sequence, like being promised an interview but being met with a cardboard cutout.
Why explore something new that can breathe life into this world when you can show off that, hey, you also remember A New Hope?
The final verdict in our Rogue One Review: It’s far from perfect
I’ve ragged on at the movie for a good 2,000 words now, but despite what you may think, I don’t absolutely hate it.
Like I said, it has some beautiful shots, some decent humour, lots of good action, and plenty of references that will get the nostalgia flowing.
Sadly, it’s also a cliche-and-coincidence-ridden mess. Maybe that’s my fault for expecting a film which could stand alone and explore one of the most criminally under-exposed universes to a popular franchise.
Or maybe it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Rogue One is feeling the combined force of my annoyance at so many films that subscribed to these lazy trends.
Either way, I really want to hear your thoughts on this too in the comments below – I fully expect this (seemingly rare) opinion of the latest Star Wars movie to get a fair bit of hate. Still, before you can accuse me of it, no, I’m not a basement-dwelling Star Wars geek who knows everything about the extended universe.
The only thing I’ve done beyond watch the main movies is play around half of KOTOR, but even that was enough to show me that there is plenty to work with in the universe.
“A rebellion is based on hope” my arse.