The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One


I liked it, but....

SPOILERS!

Let's start with the "I liked it..." aspect, because there was a lot in here to like.

Gareth Edwards puts together a lot of great visuals. This movie was beautiful to look at. Every frame was a work of art. From the use of shadows and the use of colors, to the locations.

We've never seen that many ground battles in the "Star Wars" movies before. Yes we had Hoth and the Battle of Endor (though, I have a ton of issues with that), but in regards to actual ground, guerrilla warfare... this felt like a World War II movie at times.

The film was well edited, and the pacing was very tight. This was a very competently put together film, and I absolutely loved that we got to see other aspects and faces in the "Star Wars" Universe outside of the Skywalker clan. Don't get me wrong, the Saga films should be focused on them since they are the heart and soul of the universe... but in a big universe like this one, there are a near endless amount of stories to tell. This took advantage of that, and I would like to see that improved upon going forward.

Also, like "The Force Awakens" before it, Lucasfilm have mastered the fine art of combining practical effects and CGI... obviously using the prequels as a reverse yardstick. I felt this way after watching TFA, and I feel this way now. Lucasfilm (under the brilliant leadership of Kathleen Kennedy) is obviously now made up by people who hate the prequels and understand why they were so poorly received. This is a good thing.

Now I dive into spoilers.

The fan service was great, normally  I would think they were trying too hard here, but I absolutely loved the fan service. We've waited a long time for Darth Vader to return to the big screen after "Return of the Jedi". The last time we saw him was in one of the most embarrassing scenes of the prequel trilogy. The moment three movies had been building up to, and then it was something out of a bad comedy. But here, this is what we've been waiting for. Lord Vader only has two real scenes in the movie, but they're worth it. His second scene in particular, I've been wanting to see Lord Vader in a situation like that for decades now.

The return of Grand Moff Tarkin. He was played by Guy Henry, but they used a lot of make-up, motion capture, and CG to transform him into Peter Cushing and it looked pretty damn good. I'm not going to say it was perfect, there were moments when it seemed a bit-off. But they did a damn good job. He's not in the movie very much, but he's in it a lot more than Lord Vader. And while he's not Rogue One's adversary in the movie, he looms large over everything.

I wanted more of Tarkin and Vader, but I understand why they couldn't be at the forefront. The same reason that Vader rarely shows up in "Star Wars Rebels". If they lose too often, you diminish their threat.

Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) was somebody I wanted to see more of. An anti-Imperial insurgent who the even the Rebel Alliance considered to be a dangerous extremist. This is the sort of character "Star Wars" has been missing. Someone who's fighting against the evil empire, but is hurting the cause more than helping it. We see figures like this over and over throughout history. Also, like Vader, he was more machine than man and relied on a breathing apparatus. He should have been in the movie a lot more than he was. I understand he was a character in "Clone Wars", but I haven't seen much of that show. Maybe I'll look for his episodes.

My favorite of the new characters, however, was the droid K-2SO. His design was great, and despite being a droid, he was the most human and lively of the characters introduced in this. I just learned that Alan Tudyk was responsible for bringing him to life, which explains a lot. The dry humor was hilarious, and I ended up genuinely loving this character.

I enjoyed Jimmy Smits' cameo as Bail Organa, and.... without spoiling it, I loved the ending of the movie. And I mean the very, very end. If you've seen it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. That was a great note to go out on.

The final battle was terrific. The opening crawl of "Star Wars: A New Hope" called this the Rebel Alliance's first victory against the Empire, and seeing it on screen was a joy.

And, of course, seeing more and more diversity brought to, not only "Star Wars", but massive blockbusters. Excellent, keep it up.

So yes, as I said before, I liked it.

But.....

The movie's greatest weakness, and I'm sorry, but this is a big weakness, was most of the new cast. There was a lot of potential in each one of them, but the script didn't explore any of them to the degree that it should have. Personally, I think there were too many new characters introduced here. Cut two of them out, and use that screen time to get to know our leads better. As it is, most of them ended up feeling like characters from either a piece of fanfiction, or a video game tie-in... granted this is a tie-in, but I still wanted more.

Don't get me wrong, not one of them made me think "this is a horrendous character", as the prequels did with boring piles of nothing like Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, Mace Windu, General Grievous, Jango Fett, Jar Jar Binks, Watto, Darth Maul (who was fixed later on in Rebels), etc. No one made my eyes and ears bleed. There just wasn't enough done with them.

"Star Wars" has always been full of colorful characters. Chirrut, the blind warrior-monk was a fun character most of the time. I didn't mind most of the "blind ninja" tropes, in hand-to-hand combat. But when he was able to shoot a TIE Fighter out of the sky, that was too much. I understand that he was a very spiritual man, and a believer in the Force. But they also stressed that he didn't have abilities like the Jedi... which is why his shooting of a TIE Fighter should have been cut. Also, considering how spiritual he was, and his faith in the Force was what motivated him, I think he should have been the one to deliver the motivational speech to the Rebels at the beginning of Act Three instead of Jyn.

Now, Jyn Erso was our lead. And she wasn't that good, but she could have been better, and should have been better; Felicity Jones' wooden performance didn't help. She sometimes felt like the protagonist in a piece of fanfiction... and don't crucify me, all the new characters felt that way. But, like pulling back on Chirrut shooting a TIE out of the sky, I would have given her motivational speech to him, and had her focus continue to be revenge on the Empire over believing in the Rebel cause until farther into Act Three when she embraces her heroism, and realizes that this is all bigger than her. As is, she was the weakest link in the whole thing.

There are more examples with the other characters, but a little bit of editing to the script and we'd have had a far more interesting and memorable cast.

Overall...

My current rankings are: The Empire Strikes Back > A New Hope > The Force Awakens > Return of the Jedi > Rogue One. I'm not going to even bother ranking the prequels.

Gareth Edwards is a director with a good eye for photography, pacing, and constructing a story. But, his ability to characterize people continues to be his greatest weakness. This was an improvement over his "Godzilla" where nobody felt like a human being. I saw actual life in these people, but it could have and should have been brought out to the forefront.

I had a good time at the theater watching this (I am considering going again), I will buy it on Blu-ray. So, yeah, go see it and have a good time. But don't go in expecting "the best since Empire Strikes Back" because it's not.

Grade: B

4 comments:

  1. Did you catch the Star Wars Rebels references?

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  2. I know its not the best. But I have to say its nice to have good Star Wars movies again. Im really glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. I enjoyed "Rogue One" quite a lot. There were actually some things (not all things) I liked more about it than about "The Force Awakens" (which I also liked, and was good). Some ambiguity with the Rebels being one of the key things. One of the things which has been a staple of Star Wars, at least in film, was very black and white morality. The Empire is ALL BAD, the Rebels are ALL GOOD, and that's that. It wasn't just Saw Gerrara who represented the idea that the Rebels are not perfect, nor is every act in their rebellion correct or flawless. Cassian was under orders to kill Galen, after all. It was only his conscience and what he's actually learned of Galen from Jyn which convinced him to spare him. And even then, Galen's death was caused by the Rebels anyway in their attack. Speaking of Galen, Mads Mikkelson had a great year at Disney in 2016, appearing both here and in "Doctor Strange". He plays a bit against type here, as Galen's actually not a villain at all (just a man put in an impossible situation who saved what he could) and I thought he gave a great performance (alongside Forest Whittaker, of course). I agree I could have used more of Saw too. Wooden acting has unfortunately been a staple of Star Wars (even in the original trilogy in some moments with some characters), so Felicity Jones didn't phase me. I actually liked that her character represented what one could call a middle ground for a while. I agree that her shift from outcast to rebel fighter was a bit abrupt and forced (pun intended), but one landmark of this new era of SW films is rushing some development to get to the pay-dirt faster. Part of that is establishing more characters of color and especially heroic leading ladies as key to the franchise going forward. It's part of trying to erase the memories of the prequels from the audience's eyes and also part of the diversity march. I could have used a lot more of Chirrut. In fact, I'll go further; I could have used him as actual Jedi, rather than a "Force sensitive". Much of the entire philosophy behind the Force and the Jedi, as well as their garb, stems heavily from Eastern philosophy (the samurai in particular), so it was about damn time an Asian got to be a Jedi character sometime in film. Chirret was the closest we got; I just think they didn't go far enough. And I think K-2SO's appeal is universal by this point. He got nearly every funny line in the movie. I also would have preferred that Jyn had been the one to kill Krennic rather than Cassian, but that's kind of minor (and more of a pet peeve about how a lot of times heroines still need a man to save them and/or kill their enemies in a lot of stuff I watch, but that's neither here nor there). The direction was very good and I was impressed by the tense D-Day style caper/battle in the finale. I was also impressed that a franchise which has tried to be as cuddly safe as SW has often been would basically make a "suicide squad/dirty dozen" movie. It would have been easy to have one of them live (especially the robot) to sell more toys, but they didn't go that route. And yes, Darth Vader had some great cameos, but I sort of expected it. This was Disney's first chance to use Vader in a movie and I doubted they'd waste it. And the ending was bittersweet. I imagine the next SW film, which Carrie Fisher had finished filming, will be even worse in that regard. For the moment, though, the big takeaway from this is that Lucas selling the franchise to Disney has been the best thing for it. I know some expanded universe fans (like my mom) are a bit pissed that some of those characters (like Mara Jade) aren't there, but I wasn't surprised. Disney is proving that it doesn't need to rely on Marvel alone to make films which are outside of their usual wheelhouse (and intended to sell things to boys/men). There is a definite risk of overdoing it, but that hasn't happened quite yet.

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