Is A Star Wars Story Rogue One-derful?

As the prophecy foretold, this is a real Star Wars: Rogue One review, unlike “This Custom Is A Rogue One.” (The secret theme of that one was symbiotic relationships, by the way.) Everything I knew about this movie ahead of time I learned from Jenny Nicholson. As usual, she’s right on the money.

The Wages of Cinema invited me to collaboreview this movie with them. I jumped at the chance to finally critique something that’s not a comic book adaptation. They even upgraded me from guest star Matt to Death Star Matt!

From this point forward there will be SPOILERS. Or as many SPOILERS as you can have for a story whose culmination occurs in a separate forty-year-old movie.

When I first saw Star Wars, I didn’t care how the Rebel Alliance obtained the Death Star plans. When this film was being hyped up, I still didn’t care. When I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, however, I was entertained. It’s still a completely inessential movie, but I didn’t want to un-watch it.

I think I understand why I had a better initial reaction to this than Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. (These titles all looks dumb when typed out fully.) That was a sequel, so it had unlimited freedom to take things in new & exciting directions. Aside from the casting, it squandered that potential by regressing the status quo. Contrariwise, prequels are supposed to be more constrained to fit into the established canon. They all wind up having continuity issues, but this one’s are less egregious than the X-Men films. Since I don’t like prequels, I went in with low expectations. So I cut Star Wars Episode 3.5 much more slack for matching up to my preconceived notions.

Recently there’s been an attempt to radically politicize this movie in the wake of the fractious Brexit & US Presidential polls. While Star Wars has always been political to some degree, most of the film’s relevant geopolitical allegories are accidental rather than intentional. Claiming this is a call to arms for any affiliation is grossly overestimating the film’s merits. Disney made the safest prequel it could so it didn’t miss out on fans’ money between numbered sequels. The most direct parallel is when the Empire destroys Jedha the Jedi Mecca akin to Daesh destroying ancient cultural sites in the Middle East.

Jyn Erso (no relation to the other protagonist named for alcohol or genies, Qui-Gon Jinn) starts off as nifty character.  Jyn is a career criminal uneager to help the Rebel scum, similar to Han Solo. It’s too bad that her roguish qualities get smoothed out so quickly. Also a bummer is that she doesn’t attempt to mimic the great Danish accent of Mads Mikkelsen even though she’s supposed to be his daughter. One of the worst scenes is when she abruptly transforms into a cheerleader trying to rally the Rebel commanders by saying “hope” as often as Supergirl. At least this Pollyanna mood swing doesn’t corrupt the successive action scenes. The tantalizing speculation that Jyn would betray the Rebels based on the image of her in an Imperial uniform turned out to be false. I’d still like a 6″ Black Series action figure of aircraft marshaller Jyn Erso. Since she had an earlier baton fight, I’m very disappointed she didn’t have a spectacular duel wielding the dual aircraft beacons holstered on her back. Felicity Jones beat out Tatiana Maslany for this role, highly coveted because The Force forbids there be a Star Wars movie with two lady leads.

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Jyn’s traumatic flashback origin is very tropey & dopey. Not only do her parents know Director Krennic is coming to abduct them, he parks his spacecraft ridiculously far from their home. Surely they all had time to hide. The Ersos have even less of an excuse not to dig a hidey hole big enough for the whole family than the Els had for tiny rockets. So Lyra Erso gets herself needlessly fridged in front of her husband & daughter. Krennic survives being shot because his Admiral Thrawn attire is the Empire’s best armor. The deathtroopers fail to find Jyn in the nearby hole because despite their black exteriors they’re sill stormtroopers at heart.

The new elements introduced just for this movie that don’t appear in the other movies bothered my continuity sense, especially the stormtrooper variants. In the original trilogy, the different types of trooper uniforms, like snowtroopers & speeder bike troopers, made sense for specialized tasks. Here they just exist to sell toys, & I’m usually in favor of toys. Why do stormtroopers need different gear just to drive tanks? Do shoretroopers’ colors make them fight better on beaches? The deathtroopers that were hyped up as the killer elite of stormtroopers tun out to be just as ineffectual. At least their armor remains consistently useless.

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Speaking of which, the Empire could’ve used more K-2SO droids in the original trilogy. They’re built to be strategists with bodies like wookies. As sassily voiced by Alan Tudyk, the reprogrammed K-2SO was my favorite character for reminding me of a less depressed Marvin.

The humans are pretty one-note by comparison, so whether you like them will depend almost entirely on how your relate to their actors. Cassian Andor is the male lead who’s boring despite being haunted by all the shady things he’s done for the Rebellion.  Chirrut Îmwe gets points for being space Zatoichi with a funky name then loses points for trying to justify The Force as a legitimutant religion with only one mantra. Baze Malbus has the best name I don’t remember hearing & a space Gatling gun but the least personality. He’s a bit more interesting if you you consider him Chirrut Îmwe’s husband. (If you’re offended by  homosexual shipping in Star Wars, tell Disney to add more noteworthy female characters so the numerous guys have more flirting options. Then don’t complain about women actually doing stuff in Star Wars Adding some explicitly LGBQTIA characters onscreen like Moff Mors would help too.) Saw Gerrera as Colonel Kurtz by way of Immortan Joe who’s too militant for the Rebel Alliance was intriguing, but he doesn’t stick around long. Bodhi Rook is an Imperial defector with a quirky comic relief vibe. The film misses a golden opportunity with him to show us why the Empire doesn’t deserve loyalty.

Much of the plot revolves around errors in communication. Galen Erso sends a message with Bodhi Rook to Gerrara, but he’s no longer on speaking terms with the Rebel Alliance. The Rebellion hears about this dispatch & dispatches Jyn to retrieve it for them. Jyn neglects to take her dad’s hologram with her, so the Rebel leaders don’t believe her summary of it. The climax is all about how difficult it is to transmit Death Star plans. This just makes me realize this galaxy needs a Moist von Lipwig to sort out its courier woes & stick it to the clackers consortium.

I did appreciate how the slightly darker tone helped it feel distinct from the previous installments. Of course there are already plenty of gritty war movies, so your mileage may vary on how much dropping the swashbuckling fantasy appeals to you. I loved that they killed off the entire Rogue One crew definitively instead of keeping them around for sequels. (Although there is the possibility Jyn could star in a prequel to this prequel!) There was never any doubt that they’d smuggle the plans, so fatal consequences were the right dramatic counterbalance. The Rebellion getting a little moral gray around the edges was refreshing, but its & the Empire’s tenets remain vague as ever. The Rebels remain the heroes primarily because they don’t wield a weapon of planetary destruction. At one point robo-legged Saw Gerrera even tortures Rook with a psychic hentai monster. (This scene just happens unexpectedly, & then nobody talks about it, as if being raped by a lie detector is  just something that tends to occur in long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.)  Unfortunately they don’t dwell on moral relativism in wartime for as much as I’d like, but at least it’s finally there.

Unlike Prometheus, this prequel largely resists anachronistically updating the available tech. Having to remove the Death Star plans from a giant file spiral via crane game had a nice analog vibe. (It also looked a bit like the climax on Bespin.) One of my favorite parts was seeing AT-ATs back in action. (Why call them AT-ACTs just because the mid-section is a different color besides blatant merchandising?) Seeing a Rebel ship plow a Star Destroyer into a floating shield generator was great too. There’s no action scenes as exhilarating as Rey beating Kylo Ren’s punk ass down though.

The Grand Moff Tarkin has been resurrected via CGI trickery like the Totenkopf of the monstrously underappreciated Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow. The effects work is very good, although, as a Farscape fan, I would’ve preferred they just asked Wayne Pygram back. They got Genevieve O’Reilly  from Revenge of the Sith to reprise Mon Mothma instead of a digitally de-aged Caroline Blakiston, so why not him? A youthened Carrie Fisher also cameos.

Darth Vader lives on Mount Doom. It’s the only planet that lacks an ID tag, so that’s what I’m sticking with. The alternative is that he moved to Mustafar so he could longingly reminisce about not having the high-ground. For all the effort put into necromancing Peter Cushing, it’s odd that Darth Vader’s costume is a bit off. Him punnily force-choking Krennic was cringeworthy. The horror scene of him grisly slicing through rebel troopers while failing to halt their relay race was much better fan service. It’d be a stronger movie, however, if they cut Tarkin, Leia, & Vader to enrich the brand new stars of this entry.

Of course the events in this film don’t match the the convoluted & contradictory ways the Death Star plans were stolen in the Expanded Universe. Why was Galen Erso so crucial to the Death Star when the Genosians already designed the whole thing in an earlier prequel? How did Dr. Evazan & Ponda Baba escape Jedha City in time? Why didn’t the Jedi holy land ever factor into anything before or during  the Jedi being Order 66ed? Wasn’t Princess Leia’s shuttle on a separate mission in the original movie instead of being ejected in mid-dogfight? Are banthas indigenous to Lah’mu or did the Ersos have to specially import their milk?

So I just typed a lot of words to say that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a decent movie. There are some interesting elements on the periphery, but they’re not developed enough to make this a crucial guide to understanding the franchise. (Adding context is definitely the job of the films, particularly since Disney made the supplemental Expanded Universe non-canon.) It’s not quite as rewatchawable as The Force Awakens, but it did exceed my lower expectations for prequels.

Next week is my 100th blog entry! This is the part where you suggest what happens in a 100th blog!

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