We are now a year removed from the release of The Force Awakens, and for those like myself who were unimpressed with Disney’s first at-bat, this was the company’s chance to redeem itself. Taking place right before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One would be free of Rey, Fin, and Kylo, so for someone like me who found the new cast unbearable, this was a blessing. However, this did not free me of my trepidation. After feeling so incredibly high leading up to the release of Episode VII only to be shot down, I was having a hard time feeling anything other than apathy leading up to the film’s release.
I should have taken this wariness as a sign. Because although I tried my best to feign excitement as I was sitting in my seat, I couldn’t shake it. It was like a black cloud looming over me, and with every second that passed, I became cognizant of the fact that this was not going to end well for me. It wasn’t negativity or pessimism, it was a feeling in my gut, and as we made our way through the dude-bro previews, this total misunderstanding of the franchise’s core audience became readily apparent, and it was only downhill from there.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying the previews dictate the quality of a film, but they’re supposed to cater to the audience that chose to see that movie. So in that case, why did we see Planet of the Apes, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Power Rangers? In a way, I can see some possible overlap between Transformers and Power Rangers, but that overlap only exists with the old material. Everyone knows the Transformers movies are garbage, and based on that trailer, Power Rangers doesn’t look much better, but I digress.
Beware: Spoilers Ahead
No, the real slap in the face happens less than five seconds after Rogue One officially starts. We get “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and immediately cut to the first scene. There’s no opening crawl, no iconic John Williams music, nothing to indicate that this is, in fact, a fucking Star Wars movie. I know I wasn’t the only one, too, because I felt it in the theater. This really awkward energy, where if it was socially acceptable to talk out loud, people would have yelled, “That’s it?” or “Where’s the opening crawl?”
So we’re off to a sketchy start, but that’s fine. I force myself to let it go, get my head back in the game, and try to focus on the movie itself. However, while something as seemingly insignificant as the opening crawl shouldn’t matter in theory, it was a great indicator of everything that followed, because Rogue One is nothing more than two hours of uninspired drivel. From the characters, to the performances, to the music, there is very little that is redeemable, let alone enjoyable. It so devoid of everything that makes a Star Wars movie good, despite being crammed to the teeth with intellectual property.
Like The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One is a clear example that Disney fails to grasp the fact that Star Wars is more than TIE fighters and X-wings, it’s more than Storm Troopers and AT-ATs, and it’s even more than the Empire and the Rebellion. When you watch the original trilogy, those movies have this spirit that carries them past the technological limitations of their time. In addition to telling a great story, they make you believe that these characters and their predicaments are more than fabrications of a creative mind. They’re real.
Of course, they’re not really real, but that’s not the point. That overarching story is told so well that, in some ways, it doesn’t even matter. Those characters, despite some imperfect performances, have a certain soul that make them feel like more than simple caricatures. At its core, this is what is so blatantly absent from both of these movies. The characters don’t feel real. Hell, they don’t even feel human. Instead of a compelling group of characters, the audience is given a collection of puppets, with little-to-no personality, who are pranced about on screen in a poor attempt to entertain you.
This may not be the only issue, but it is by far my biggest one, because it’s not something that can be taught, and it’s not a mistake that can be addressed in future installments. You can’t suddenly understand what made those first three films work so well. Because in all honesty, if you asked me to spell out what needed to be done to capture that feeling, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. No one would, because if we’re looking at the prequels, it’s obvious not even George Lucas could tell you what you needed to do to captivate the Star Wars fanbase en masse.
There is one exception, however: Chirrut Imwe, who is brilliantly played by Donnie Yen. Chirrut is a blind warrior who believes in the Force, to the point where you constantly hear him chanting, “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me.” Chirrut is easily the most compelling character in this movie, not because of his ethnicity or condition, but because he embodies the idea of the Force as a religion of sorts; one with its own set of followers, believers, and disbelievers. For me personally, this has always been one of the most fascinating aspects of this universe, so to see it portrayed on screen was a treat.
There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Rogue One (the team that infiltrated Scarif for the Death Star schematics) is fighting Empire forces and a switch needs to be flipped in order for Jyn Erso to send the schematics to the Rebel Alliance. During a barrage of crossfire, Chirrut hesitantly, but calmly walks to the desired destination, all while repeating his chant. The scene itself is so tense and ominous, and it was at that point I realized Chirrut was a character I not only liked and respected, but actually cared about
Unfortunately, for a film with around 10 new characters, having a single compelling personality is not enough. Instead, the rest of the cast ranges from boring (Jyn Erso) to campy as all hell (Saw Gerrera). Furthermore, although it’s easy to give the movie props for its diversity, I can’t applaud them too much when most of these characters feel like they’re all in their own movie. I had the same issue with Fin last year, whose character felt like he was pulled out of some generic “urban comedy.”
Take Cassian Andor, for example. He was another character I wanted to like so bad because I felt he had some genuine complexity, at least in regards to his motivations, but time and time again it seemed like Diego Luna couldn’t figure out which direction he was supposed to be going. The problem with this is I don’t know if I’m supposed to fault Luna, the script, or both, but either way, the lack of commitment on whomever’s at fault ruins what could have been one of the few redeemable characters in the film, which is a shame.
If the script was to blame, then this wouldn’t be the only offense. Because whether we’re talking about the actual events that occur or the stiff dialogue, Rogue One’s script is a complete and utter mess. Everything that is done or said throughout the film feels disgustingly unearned. We see successes and failures where the opposite should occur, we have romantic tension where none exists, and these characters have conversations that, again, don’t even feel human. Worst of all, they take Darth Vader, someone who’s supposed to be the most terrifying guy in the galaxy, and have him use a pun while he’s Force-choking Orson Krennic.
“Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.”–I almost gagged.
On the topic of Vader, though, I must say the Party City outfit they used was seriously one of the most distracting things in the entire movie. I have seen better Darth Vader costumes from cosplayers. For a film that’s being produced and distributed by Lucasfilm and Disney, the fact that they couldn’t even get a legitimate suit and helmet for one of the franchise’s most fearsome and iconic characters is incredibly disrespectful. First I noticed the red eyes in his helmet, then the bulkiness of the helmet itself, then the plastic control panel on his chest, and at that point I almost burst out laughing.
And since we’re talking about bad design choices, I have to bring up Tarkin, whose digital face not only took the award for the most distracting element of Rogue One, but it was also, in my opinion, tasteless. I understand he’s an important part of this story, but there were other, more respectable ways around it. I mean, if anything, the bigger crime is the fact that Tarkin’s face looks weird and grotesque while Leia looked almost perfect, which may have simply been the result of only seeing her a brief moment at the end. Either way, it definitely killed any immersion I had.
If the comparison needs to be made, Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens, but only marginally. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One oftentimes feels like a space movie with Star Wars elements, rather than an actual Star Wars film, and that’s where it loses me as a viewer. There may be more genuine Star Wars moments in this movie, but they are still so brief and infrequent that they leave you more frustrated than if they never existed at all. Whether that be the 100 TIE fighters that get dispatched in the big space battle above Scarif or K-2SO cracking a dumb joke during a poignant moment, it’s like the movie’s constantly trying to disgust you.
I’ve seen many online praise Rogue One for being “different” and reminiscent of a “gritty war” movie, and if that’s what you’re looking for, great, but that’s not what Star Wars is to me. I don’t want someone to challenge the form, and if I wanted a war movie, I would have bought tickets to see Hacksaw Ridge. What I want is Star Wars. It’s possible that the idea of Star Wars is changing from what it used to be, and maybe I no longer fit into their target demographic, which is totally understandable. However, knowing this doesn’t make it hurt any less, and I don’t know if I can keep supporting a production company that doesn’t even understand the importance of something as simple as the opening crawl.