Monday, December 19, 2016
Rogue One: A Travesty Reviewed
“TELL ME YOUR ROGUE ONE THOUGHTS.”
It was 8:30 at night and I had just barely arrived home from the theater. Mirriam had waited up for me and pounced on me with those words when I came online.
“WELLLLLLLL,” I said.
“AHAHAHA yesssssss,” she replied.
I’ve paraphrased here but in a nutshell, this was the bulk of our sentiments about the eagerly anticipated newest Star Wars movie. Like me, she adores the Star Wars saga. It’s of my all-time favorite stories ever. But we sat there for twenty minutes and ranted over the disappointment that was Rogue One.
I did not love the movie. I didn’t even really like it very much, for a variety of reasons, but all coming back to the central point that there was not nearly enough emotional connection with the characters.
It was a flat movie.
The plot itself was good- as far as the plot points and how it ties into the overall Star Wars saga. But a basic plot is never enough to carry a story. The characters must make the plot come to life and it’s their chemistry with each other that carries or does not carry a movie, or even a book. Familiar faces Mon Mothma and Bail Organa from the prequel trilogy returned as did Darth Vader, Moff Tarkin, and Red Leader from the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, while Vader gave a classic performance, the new characters were flat and un-inspiring and not even Bail Organa and Mon Mothma did well with their roles.
I felt no emotional connection whatsoever with the characters. I’m used to not feeling as much emotion in a story as someone else might, but even my mother ranted over how flat the story was. Rogue One is a suicide mission. You already know everyone is going to die- the title crawl of A New Hope told people as much 39 years ago- so Star Wars fans enter the theater knowing that most of these people would die. Everyone else figured it out pretty quickly. And yet, at the end of the movie, as Jyn and Cassian hug each other and wait for the approaching death, I was not feeling moved nor did I feel the satisfaction tinged with sadness in reaction to deaths sacrificed willingly in a greater cause. I felt irritated and annoyed and was already mentally listing how many writers I know who could have written the movie better. [There were at least four names.]
We should have seen the tale of a survivor who didn’t give a green fig for the rebellion vs. a man who had been fighting for the Rebellion his whole life, their opposite views juxtaposing and clashing... until their conflict became a magnetic force driving them toward each other as their opposing small-picture/in-the-moment and big-picture-future viewpoints melded and they realized they needed each other; as Jyn came to believe in hope and the Rebellion and the greater good and Cassian remembered that love and belief in people counted for something and that once they lost sight of that, the Rebellion would be no better off than the Empire.
Instead? Instead the scene shifting was choppy with sidewalk flat dialogue and speeches, zero character chemistry that told you things without words, and no overall, grand, binding theme.
Jyn couldn’t care less about the Rebellion. All she cares about is surviving and keeping her head down. She agrees to take the rebels to Saw because it serves a purpose for her, too, not because she actually believes in or cares about any of the reasons given her. Over the course of the movie, she supposedly comes to believe in The Cause of the Rebellion to the point where she leads a voluntary strike team on a suicide mission for the sake of the galaxy.
Cassian believes in the Rebellion but twenty years of being a soldier in its cause have hardened him, evidenced by him coolly shooting an informant and escaping in the melee, his calm acceptance of the charge to kill Jyn’s father (even if he doesn't quite agree with the order) and then his single-minded determination (at first) to carry out his mission. He doesn’t trust Jyn, he thinks she’s a whiny brat, he regards her as a necessary nuisance, and he would love to drop her somewhere and not see her again.
Then, after a few short, stilted conversations with her, suddenly he cares about her. On Eadu, he doesn’t pull the trigger to shoot Galen, he is desperate to call off the Rebel starfighter attack, and he races pell-mell to save Jyn on the platform. WHY. Theoretically, it’s because he’s slowly been realizing that killing a person without being sure of the facts behind the reason to kill them is wrong. OR because he’s come to care for Jyn, who is a bit of a lost puppy.
BUT NONE OF THIS IS SHOWN OR EVEN HINTED AT. It’s implied but it’s badly implied.
Or how about Jyn’s speech to the Rebel Council where she repeats Cassian’s words: ‘Rebellions are built on hope.’ After having rejected the words earlier, speaking them now is supposed to signify her growing belief in them and (for the viewer) a triumph in the change in her. Instead, it’s eyeroll inducing and feels Mary-Sue. In fact, more than once I mentally contrasted Jyn with Rey and was annoyed that Jyn was coming across as more of a Mary Sue than a well-rounded female lead.
After she leaves the room, and determines to go to Scarif on her own even if no one else goes with her, all the sudden there are twenty+ men willing to follow her on a suicide mission. She’s shown no convincing change of character so far, but we’re supposed to believe that they aren’t just there because they believe in and trust Cassian but also because they trust her. Did I miss the memo on how to earn trust? The transformation of Jyn was too rapid and shallow to be believable.
A good story leaves something to be inferred, something hinted at that readers must think about or figure out themselves. It does not draw a skeleton and leave readers to put the muscles, flesh, tissues, skin, and clothes on the person. That’s an outline, folks, not a story.
Jyn and Cassian had absolutely fantastic opportunities for chemistry, they had great chances to bounce off of each other and instead, it was like eggs hitting a wood floor every single time. Contrast them to Han Solo and Princess Leia - Leia held a strong belief in the Rebel Cause, Han only cared about getting paid. Their feisty arguments became a pop culture legend. While no relationship could or should be the same as theirs, Jyn and Cassian had a fantastic chance to spark off of each other, instead of each just looking vaguely at the other in many of their scenes.
K2S0 on the other hand was one of the few characters who was good. His snark, his banter with Cassian and later Jyn, plus his commentary on events all made for a memorable, delightful character. Ironic, no? that one of the most emotive characters in the movie was a droid, theoretically incapable of emotion.
Chirrut is blind but has a strong faith in the Force, evidenced by his constantly chanted mantra ‘I am one with the Force, the Force is with me’. His high degree of attunement to the Force and his belief that good will eventually win provides grounding for the other main characters, but it could go no deeper than a certain just-below-the-surface point because the chemistry between everyone else was non-existent.
Baze, on the other hand, had great chemistry with Chirrut. Holding more faith in his gun and what his eyes tell him, he often scoffs at Chirrut’s seemingly blind faith and confidence in the eventual victory of right. Yet, he is ever at Chirrut’s back ready to defend his best friend and himself. The two bicker good-naturedly, they argue over faith and belief, but they balance each other perfectly, as shown by the scene in which Chirrut sets off down a rocky path under a pitch dark sky pouring rain to go after Jyn and protect her if need be. Baze scoffs ‘Good luck’ after him. Chirrut retorts calmly, ‘I don’t need luck, I have you,’ and Baze huffs and follows him. There is chemistry there: it’s a partnership, a relationship vibrant with their very opposite personalities.
Now contrast their first scene with Jyn and Cassian’s dialogue on board the ship before leaving for Jedha- when K2S0 was complaining about Jyn having a blaster but not him. Cassian asks Jyn where she got the blaster, she returns an evasive answer and the scene moves on. It's vague and unsatisfactory. Whereas when we meet Baze and Chirrut, we’re told in dialogue that they are Jedi Temple guardians, but now that the Empire has stripped the Temple of its invaluable crystals, there is nothing for them to defend and they stir up trouble instead. This is borne out by their involvement in the fracas started by Saw’s guerrilla terrorist fighters. Instantly, we feel a kinship with the oddly-matched pair and we’re hoping that it’s not just a one-time appearance; that these two will be around for a while and we can learn more about them. Sympathy, curiosity, interest are all immediately present.
The other secondary and minor characters weren’t much better than the two leads.
Bodhi was a decent character but again he wasn’t given enough depth for one to really feel properly attached to him. He knew Galen, he wanted out of the Empire, he wanted to fight for something he believed in and he fought hard to be someone worthwhile. But the way this came across was all surface emotion, it didn’t go beneath that.
Saw had enormous potential that again wasn’t elaborated on. Why was he so vicious against the Empire? We are told that he broke with the Rebellion because they weren’t radical enough for him. But the wrongness or rightness of his actions is never dealt with, nor are the reactions of the Rebel leaders toward him- aside from him being an inconvenient annoyance who they need at times.
Galen was stilted, lacking the passionate character undertone that signified both the depth of pain he’d been through as well as the iron determination to fix what he had done wrong. His death scene was a good attempt but it wasn’t poignant enough to motivate painful, sad emotion.
Krennic was... Krennic was boring. Instead of being worried about how he would obstruct the mission, what his actions meant for the Rebels and whether he’d be suitably punished in the end or not, he left me wanting to smack him and push him into a puddle to see if he’d stomp and throw a fit about it.
Vader was excellent, although his body language and walk differed a little, which was only natural considering that a different actor was wearing the suit this time around. His sass is unchanged and he lit up the screen in his brief appearances.
Mon Mothma lacked the emphasis her character had had not just in A New Hope but also in Revenge of the Sith. She might as well have been ordering pizza for dinner as telling Jyn she could not sanction a mission without the full approval of the Rebel Council.
Bail Organa was too lighthearted. This is a man who lived through the Fall of the Republic, who raised one of the only two hopes to eventually defeat Darth Vader and who has gone for nineteen years covertly helping rebels while he pretends to be a part of the Empire. His wife is a queen and has ruled a planet for at least two decades, his adopted daughter is a diplomat, he knew Anakin Skywalker, Obi Won Kenobi, Padme Amidala, Mace Windu, Yoda. The greatest Jedi and statesmen of their time. Of all of the Rebels, he and Mon Mothma had the greatest realization of the gravity of their situation. Yet his lines are delivered with light smiles and barely any heaviness behind them.
Do I blame the actors for the pancake flatness of the movie? No. From what I’ve seen of Felicity Jones’ acting before she’s a decent actor, Donnie Yen is an amazing actor, and I’d love to see more of Diego Luna’s work- because his facial and body language could be fantastic given the right script. It takes a lot for any character of Mads Mikkelson’s to feel stilted, but Galen was. Jimmy Smits was fantastic in the prequels and in other works but here it was like he kept trying and just couldn’t quite reach the correct level. Which tells me that it’s definitely a writing issue and possibly a directing issue, and has nothing to do with the actors themselves. Had they been given better dialogue and overall script and possibly a better director (I don’t know much about this director so I can’t say this for sure, but I suspect he had something to do with it feeling like a flop), they could have made one heck of a movie. But they weren’t given enough to go on. A movie can stand or fall on its actors but it also sinks or floats based on who’s helming it and the writing in Rogue One was pathetic.
The space battles were okay (and the hammerhead ramming was genius and fantastic) but most of the dialogue was taken right from A New Hope. I did enjoy the tiny touches that tied it to ANH such as: Red Five being shot down, leaving that call-sign open for Luke to use a few short days later. All of the Easter Eggs were fun, but they should have been the icing on top, not the cocoa in a chocolate cake.
Music, sets, scenery, and cinematography were pretty good but all of them were far eclipsed by the horrible writing.
At the end of Rogue One, people should have felt an elated triumph engendered by the Rebellion and galaxy now having a chance to defeat the superweapon, mixed with a deep sadness and realization of the price paid for that chance... not ‘oh. well. that was okay.’
And lest you want to say ‘well, you’re just very picky and hard to please anyway, you never think anything is good enough’ allow me to point you to the other SW posts coming soon to my blog, because I love most of the other Star wars movies and The Force Awakens was fantastic- as I’ll illustrate in my follow-up post contrasting Rogue One with TFA.
I was thrilled I got to see the movie- I had not expected to see it in theaters, so I was euphoric when Mom surprised me with the tickets and I will always be grateful and overjoyed that I got to see it- but as far as Star Wars movies go, it was a travesty.
[Also, this should hardly need saying, but in case anyone needs reassurance, yes, we can still be friends even if you liked and/or loved Rogue One.]