Rogue One: A Star Wars Opinion Piece

Spoilers ahead- please do not read unless you have watched Rogue One.

It’s currently 4AM on the 15th of December. I’m staring blankly at my screen hoping to put into words how Rogue One left me feeling.

 

Firstly I should let you, the reader, know what my history with Star Wars is. I’m a huge fan (oh my God, really? You never meet any huge Star Wars fans!). I mean really huge Star Wars fan. I first watched Star wars when I was 5 or 6. For the proceeding years of my childhood I would get up at 4AM each day to gain control of the TV remote before one of my siblings could get to it. I would watch a Star Wars movie every single morning, standing in the middle of the room reciting every line and, in my delusional childhood mind, performing each lightsabre move flawlessly with one of my many lightsabre toys. I watched nothing but Star Wars, I read nothing but Star Wars, I owned nothing that wasn’t plastered with lightsabres, Darth Vader and stormtroopers. I wound my mother up with my constant updates about each Star Wars game I played through. I once got banned from playing Star Wars Demolition on PS1 because I pronounced my Rs as Ws. Needless to say I didn’t understand why my father was so angry every time I shouted “Oh no! It’s the Rancor!” I still own hundreds of Star Wars figures, legos, books, games. I even own a £269 Rey and BB-8 statue after I fell in love with Daisy Ridley’s performance in The Force Awakens. I adore Star Wars, it has been a foundation in every stage of my life.

 

And so, being sat here at 4AM scoffing down ice cream between sentences, I feel a crushing misery in saying that I hated Rogue One. I didn’t just dislike it like I did the phantom menace. I hated it and I’m desperate not to.

 

So if you managed to get past that last sentence without calling me every insult under Tatooine’s twin suns, I hope you’ll take the time to read my reasoning and maybe let me know what you thought. Perhaps you have a possible solution to my many issues with the movie. Enjoy, or don’t. I don’t know anymore.

 

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Please Disney, stop ruining old characters

 

I loved The Force Awakens, it’s my second favorite Star Wars movie behind Empire Strikes Back. The only reason it didn’t make first was it’s over-reliance on the original trilogy. It’s a Goliath task asking any film writer to fit a new story into Star Wars cannon. The Force Awakens did it but it leant too heavily on A New Hope. The common complaint being that it “stole” the plot. Which it did, but I like to think of that as history repeating itself. There’s a nuanced beauty to the events recurring. My main point of contention was how the old cast were used. I thought Han Solo was fantastic, Leia was passable at best, Luke… wait he was in the movie? It’s Chewbacca that annoyed me. He went from being a lovable dynamic character to a punchline. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, next time you watch The Force Awakens pay attention to when he is on screen. He acts as a joke and a nostalgia device. The only scene that this doesn’t occur in is when Han dies . That bothered me. That’s not the lovable wookie I grew up with. I don’t want a clown, I want a badass, loyal, intelligent wookie. So when Darth Vader appeared in Rogue One I was scared. He was my favorite character in all of fiction until I read the Darth Bane trilogy (seriously, everyone buy a copy of Path Of Destruction, it’s amazing). Thankfully he isn’t on screen very long. I honestly don’t think he should have been included at all. But how hard can it be to get it right?

 

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Apparently very hard. Darth Vader appears in 5 scenes (I’ve only watched it once so forgive me if that’s incorrect). I take huge issue with 3 of them. In the first he appears in his medical chamber seen in the original trilogy. That scene in the original trilogy is superb. It shows you that under this terrifying, emotionless armour lies a broken human. Maybe one even capable of emotion? What does the same scene in Rogue One achieve? It’s there for nothing more than nostalgia. The iconic heavy breathing would have been a subtle and clear way of showing he was in the film. Less is more is very much the case. Another example where this was done poorly was the final Vader scene in Revenge of the Sith. I really like the second half of that film. It takes a great tonal shift and becomes a crushingly depressing descent into the original trilogy. And all they needed to do for Vader was show the helmet going on. Or better still, just have the breathing begin. Lucas did exactly that and it was beautiful. But then he starts talking, and he does a stupid Frankenstein’s monster stomp whilst screaming “NOOOOOOO”. That’s where it lost me. Vader is film history’s greatest villain. He’s a seemingly emotionless monster who has a sliver of humanity resting deep inside of him. But in the final Vader scene in revenge he is an overly emotional man in a suit.

 

So imagine my utter disappointment when the second scene with Vader comes up in Rogue One. If you plan on watching Rogue One again, pay close attention to his scene with Orson Krennic. He makes a pun. Darth Vader, the symbol of fear, the hand of the most evil organisation in the Star Wars universe, makes a pun. Apologies that I cannot recall the exact line as I heard it through a prolonged groan and saw it through fingers desperate to preserve my love of this character. But I believe the line is close to the following:

 

*Vader forces chokes Orson Krennic*

Vader: Try not to choke on your aspirations commander”

 

Why? Just why? Not to mention the sarcastic tone in which Vader speaks throughout the entire scene. When the hell is Vader sarcastic? I can’t think of a single scene in the original trilogy (which is set mere moments after this movie) in which Vader is sarcastic. He is a straight talking, quick to the point villain. There’s no smarmy wordplay or cool-guy one-liners. Why is the dialogue going out of it’s way to portray Vader in a new edgy light? Is he not already loved worldwide by literally everyone who’s ever watched a movie?

 

The third Darth Vader scene that left a dark disturbance in the force for me was his final scene battling the rebels. The beauty of Darth Vader is his minimalism. He fights as though he knew nobody could defeat him. Watch his fight with Luke in Empire as reference. He one hands his lightsabre and takes very small moves to block and attack. There’s never any real aggression or flair. He does the bare minimum to get the job done. So when I saw Vader flinging rebels into the ceiling and twirling his lightsabre in almost prequel-like style I got wound up. You could argue that the reason for this is that he was in a rush to get the Death Star plans back. But why would he even bother to attack any of the rebels? He could slaughter the entire room in a heartbeat and taken the plans straight away. He could seize the plans with the force the moment he saw them. Instead he stands in the doorway for 10 seconds to light his blade for the sake of the audience. The perfect scene there would have been the smoke emerging from the door with the rebels eagerly awaiting the onslaught of imperial soldiers only to hear the chilling breathing of Darth Vader <fade to black>. Instead we got a scene which, if the films are watched in chronological order, makes the fights in all 3 of the originals feel out of place as Vader suddenly gives up fighting with any finesse or aggression after the events of Rogue One.

 

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The biggest insult usually hurled Lucas’ way for the prequels was his over-reliance on CGI. Rogue One’s action scenes, though rather boring, at least look interesting and somewhat real, but the CGI on return characters is truly awful. Grand Moff Tarkin has a melted face look about him as the CGI team desperately tries to make you hearken back to the iconic face of Peter Cushing. Rogue One’s massive overuse of the character was off-putting. It’s hard to focus on the content of his words when you’re wondering if his face is going to start dripping off at any moment. And just to really hammer home that “THIS IS JUST LIKE THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY!” a CGI princess Leia appears with the vomit-inducing line “this has given us a new hope”. Not only is the line awfully pandering but her CGI face is laughable. You may be asking how they were to show the young Carrie Fisher in this scene without CGI. The answer: don’t! Just show her from behind with Carrie Fisher’s voice. Everybody knows who it is, there’s no reason what-so-ever to show her face.

 

Now, it’s not all doom-and-gloom. There are 2 fairly decent roles reprised. The first being Bail Oragana, played by the wonderful Jimmy Smit. His role is very minimal and bar, yet another, pandering line about knowing a Jedi who is in hiding (oh I wonder who that might be), his role works really well. The other is Mon Mothma who is now played by Genevieve O’Reilly. Not only does she look like a young version of Caroline Blakiston, but she plays the role with a certain grace and respect that the other cameos fail to do.

 

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I understand that a lot of these characters and moments are intended as easter eggs and ties to the originals but they almost all feel too heavy handed and unnecessary. Yes, we know this is before a New Hope. You can tell a story without referencing another film every 2 minutes. A good example of how the easter eggs should have been used does in fact occur in this movie. The 2 rather grotesque gentleman who start a bar fight with Luke in a New Hope make a very brief appearance bumping into Jyn. There’s no big shiny arrows pointing at them saying “Hey, look! You remember these guys don’t you?!” That’s what makes it work, less is very much more.

 

Wow those deathtroopers sure are cool aren’t they?

 

I’m a sucker for a good character costume, even more so for armour. So the noise I came out with when seeing the death trooper designs for the first time was likely indistinguishable from a school girl being showered with cute little puppies. But where did the puppies come from? That is to say where did the death troopers come from? And where did they go after the film?

 

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Another issue with the prequels is the sheer difference in technology. If they are set before the originals surely the technology shouldn’t be as advanced. And yet we saw weapons far more advanced then the standard blaster rifles and now we see soldiers who are clearly superior to all the Empire’s best during the original trilogy. The deathtroopers wreak havoc during their scenes in Rogue One, why would the Empire stop using them after the events of the film? The designers clearly knew this continuity business was serious, people would complain (like I am). And in some regards they did a great job. The AT-AT designs are great. They are the same models but slightly more rudimentary in their production. The side panels are clearly weaker and they go down from being shot in the legs. Clearly the Empire improved upon this design for the superb Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back. But why was the same principle not added to the Tie Fighters? Towards the end of the film, three specialised Tie fighters are deployed which appear quicker, more mobile and a hell of a lot more accurate than the normal models. Even Vader’s Tie fighter doesn’t seem to be as advanced in a New Hope. Again, the Star Wars obsessive in me is forced to question what happened to these models of Tie fighters?

 

I know it feels as though I’m being very pedantic, but one of my greatest obsessions with the Star wars universe is it’s technology and how it expands over time. Now there’s suddenly an anomaly in the film series in which a master-race of technology emerged and vanished within the period of a few weeks.

 

Is this a joke? No really, is this an actual joke?

 

Humour is undoubtedly a cornerstone of Star Wars. Yoda is very funny at first with Luke and R2-D2 on Dagobah, Han Solo and Chewbacca are hilarious during the opening halves to each of the original trilogies the Revenge of the Sith’s opening act is meant to be funny (I stress meant to be). Notice how in each case it’s the introduction to either the film or a character. Never the end of the film. This works because it makes you like the characters thus, when they find themselves in danger, you fear for their safety. Humour does not work alongside fear if they are mashed in together in the same moment.

 

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Throughout the entire film, soon-to-be fan favourite K-2SO was making rather amusing quips and sarcastic remarks. I laughed at the first few. Then I saw through the two-dimensional character and started to get annoyed. The characters were being put in serious situations and humour was being dropped in throughout. My contention isn’t that humour shouldn’t have been present in the film, it’s that it was placed in all the wrong places. And by too few of the overwhelmingly large cast. Which brings me onto my next issue…

 

Who’s that pers…oh he’s dead

 

Going into the film, anyone who knew anything about the films was aware that all the main cast were going to die. The film director and writer had the task of making you care about the characters who you would only see for 2 hours so that their deaths would mean something to you. Granted, this was a colossal task which is likely the reason that it fell flat on it’s face. Never have I felt so unaffected by a death in a film as I did for each and every one in Rogue One.

 

The issue, as I see it, is the cast was too large and the character development too small. Sat here now I’m struggling to remember any character’s name but Jyn. Instead, each character is a caricature or over-the-top exaggeration. There’s the droid, the blind guy, the big guns guys, the pilot, the love-interest. Basically there’s a bunch of easily marketable toys. Yet none of the characters have a truly gripping story-arch or development. Every character follows the same path- they weren’t friends, they can’t work together well and then they decide, “Fuck it, let’s work together”. The film takes a huge leap in pushing all it’s main protagonists to work as a team. Think about how long it took Han Solo to truly start working alongside Luke and Leia. I would say there is a long build-up till he is frozen in carbonate which is the very summit of his trust and love of the team. When there’s no clear and believable motive to each character’s actions it’s hard to care about them.

 

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Beside the motives of the characters, there’s no real emotional connection. Each character gets so little screen-time that you don’t get a true idea of who they are, what their back story is, how they feel about the other rebels. But maybe the point wasn’t to care for each individual character. Maybe the focus was always on Jyn and that’s why we open the film with her back story. But why didn’t I care at all when she died? Probably because I’m sadistic, but here’s another reason.

 

During her opening with her mother and father (played by my favourite actor ever, Mads Mikkelson) Jyn watches her mother get shot (please can we have an origin story without relying on dead parents?). The mother decides to pull a gun on armed forces of stormtroopers despite any logic or her husbands wishes. I struggle to care for a character who’s motivations and actions seem completely absurd to me. From there, Jyn is taken from her home and her father. Later in the movie, when Jyn finds her father, she is extremely emotional over seeing him again, or maybe it was seeing him dying. I don’t know. There was no real emotional development, just an emotional switch. Off one moment, on the next. It would have been nice to see them bond shortly before his death. It would also have given Mads Mikkelson a chance to show a new fanbase how fantastic he is at portraying emotion. But alas, the scene ends almost as soon as it began.

 

What’s truly baffling is how the final battle scene mirrors the Order 66 scene from Revenge of the Sith, a scene I greatly admire for it’s quick kick-in-the-balls style emotional torture. As a huge Star wars buff I can tell you the name of every character that dies there but most people won’t be able to (which is fine). The difference however is that there’s a huge deal of emotion involved. The characters get slaughtered one by one with heart-breaking music playing all culminating in Yoda appearing as broken as the viewer. Now given that we had more development for Jyn and Cassian (that’s the guy with the goatee in case you can’t recall his name either) than we do Plo Koon and Ki-Adi-Mundi, why were the writers of Rogue One not able to conjure the same kind of emotional depth in their final battle?

 

One suggestion might be that this is just one stand-alone film so there wasn’t time to form an emotional development. But there are so many examples in Star Wars where this just isn’t the case. My personal favourite is Rey, from the Force Awakens. I adore her, as anyone who has had a 5 minute conversation with me will know. I’d never seen Daisy Ridley in anything before the Force Awakens and it took a mere 5 minutes of screen time for the character to pull me in. I understood her backstory, without saying a single word I knew exactly how she felt. And then it just got better. When told about Luke Skywalker, she responds with the child-like enthusiasm every kid had when they were convinced they could use the force. When finding Luke’s lightsabre, she displays an understandable fear of leaving her old life, something all of us are likely to have experienced when leaving a job or a home. Where was that level of character development and emotion in Rogue One? It was pretty much the same playtime yet there wasn’t a character I remembered fondly, and very few I could even recall the names of.

 

 

Who shot first? Nobody. They just talked.

 

Okay, hear me out on this one before you crucify me. There wasn’t enough good action in this film. I’m taking my younger brother to see this film for his birthday (if you happen to be there, we’re the idiots dressed up as Jabba and BB-8). I honestly don’t know if he’s going be able to pay attention to the story for that long. So little happens throughout and when it does it has no real impact because all the characters just seem so shallow. I couldn’t find myself identifying with any of them enough to feel excited when they narrowly dodged death and kicked ass. There’s no character for the world to build up around, like Luke or Rey. So all the action just felt incidental and passive. What glued me to the TV when I was little was how I felt like Luke. I was trapped in a boring life and out there was this fantastic world to be explored and bad guys to fight. So when he finally starts to fight (especially when he fights Vader for the first time) I would have a rush of excitement and jump around the room mimicking every move to near 0% accuracy.

 

Rogue One fails to capture that excitement and joy of the Star Wars universe. There’s no moments of wonder or beauty. There’s just a depressing (for all the wrong reasons) world with no light at the end of the tunnel. I understand and agree that the film should be dark and miserable because the story calls for that. But as an adult with an appreciation for film I struggled to be entertained. I honestly don’t have a clue how an 8 year old is supposed to get excited about battles with no flair.

 

 

Riddle of the day: How much does a Star destroyer weigh?

 

This is where I hope I can be convinced the most. Please someone tell me what this was all about.

 

The end of the film sees a Star Destroyer, you know, those huge heaps of metal, being pushed by a very small ship (forgive me for not recalling what kind of ship as I was watching through clenched fists) into the shields around a planet. The justification for this is that the small ship went into hyper-speed so had the force necessary to push the star destroyer. No. The small ship would break apart almost immediately. It certainly couldn’t push the much larger predator into it’s own defenses. Calling upon Ex Machina to solve plots is the mark of poor writing. But of course the plot called for the shield to go down so what were the writers to do but have a miracle occur?

 

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I spent a few minutes thinking of any interesting ways for this to occur. Here’s my suggestion (remember the film has only been open for 6 hours now so this is a very early suggestion). During a New Hope, Mon Mothma says that many rebels gave their lives for the death star plans. We now know she was talking about the small group on the ground during the battle. But why stop there? To take the shields out, the rebels in space with their fleet of ships could have made the ultimate sacrifice and kamikazed into the shields outer ring to destroy it, thus allowing the plans to be sent to Leia’s flagship.

 

I haven’t had suitable time to research how much force is required to destroy those shields in the film but I would assume 30 fairly large ships flying straight into them would suffice. Would that not have provided a suitable level of emotion whilst sustaining a believable plot?

 

Take me back to a long time ago

 

I went into this film filled with nothing but excitement. I love everything Star Wars and this film broke me. I was in tears for the Force Awakens because of how much I loved it. I was close to tears for Rogue One because it just wasn’t Star Wars. I like that they went with a different approach, the focus on normal people rather than Jedi was a smart move and the tone would have been great if they hadn’t flip-flopped between humour and seriousness. But the main concern I have is that it just doesn’t fit. The childlike excitement, the wonder and awe, the fear and dread, none of it was there. It was a shallow fill-in-the-blank story with no lasting impact. I can still watch Luke losing his cool with Vader and beating him to the ground and get emotional and excited. It’s the culmination of a beautiful world filled with threat. It’s the result of a character who you see yourself in and a villain you can empathise with. Rogue One wasn’t a good Star Wars movie. I don’t know if I could even say it was a good movie.

 

And saying that has made me incredibly upset.

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