Thoughts On The Dead

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Thoughts On A Second Viewing Of Rogue One

Right up front: still hated Rogue One; in fact, the movie made me angry this time around. Freed from the propriety of the theater, I yelled epithets at the screen whenever a character did something notably stupid. I have a sore throat now. It looked good, I’ll give Rogue One that, but everything else was a failure: character, tone, story, acting, and whatnot. Let’s take them one by one.

CHARACTER

Remember Luke? Blond, tunic, leggings, family on fire? You remember Luke. He was a farmboy who wanted to join the Academy to become a pilot. He had a friend named Biggs, and they were going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters. We saw him working on the droids that his uncle paid good money for, so he must have been handy. He was familiar with weird old hermits, and had a beat-up old landspeeder. We find all this out before Obi-Wan is introduced; we have time to get to know Luke and who he is, to empathize with him. (Same thing they did with Rey in The Force Awakens.)

Who, though, is Jyn Erso? She’s a black hole of nothing in the middle of the film and might be the linchpin to why none of this works. Star Wars movies need a hero, and she is merely the protagonist. (This is not helped by the casting of one of the least talented actresses on the planet.) We are informed that is some sort of lone wolf terrorist against the Empire by another character reading off her rap sheet, which I believe is a preset in Final Draft software: you hit, like CTRL+4 and the scene writes itself.

Who is Saul Guerrero? (It turns out that Forest Whitaker’s character is named Saw Gerrera, but I heard it as “Saul Guerrero” the entire movie and kept thinking he was a Cuban Jew.) He’s a former Rebel whose methods have become “too extreme” for the Alliance, we’re told. Then we see him and he’s hobbling around on robot goat legs and sucking from a gas mask like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. (Every time he did that, all I could think was “JEDI WANTS TO FUCK!” and I would lose the thread of the movie for a bit.)

The two Chinese guys show up. Literally.

“Hey, you! Pouty white girl! I have a magical feeling that you’re the hero of this movie! We’re with you, now!”

And don’t give me any shit about the Force. The Force doesn’t work that way.

There’s also a pilot guy whose dumb name I can’t remember, but he defects from the Empire out of loyalty to Galen Erso, Jyn’s father and the engineer behind the Death Star. Again: we’re told this. We are told everything in this movie.

The only time Rogue One shows us character instead of telling is with Casper Ambulance, or whatever the hell Diego Luna’s name was. He’s on a mission for the Rebels and, after extracting the information he needs from a spy, shoots the guy in cold blood. Unfortunately, this is precisely the wrong choice to have made for the movie. Why?

TONE

Because Star Wars movies are supposed to be fucking fun, that’s why. Star Wars movies are about friends having adventures in space. Sometimes they have to fight monsters. Generally, there is a castle with an evil wizard in it. There is a Light side of the Force and a Dark side, and the contrast is stark and defined. Yes of course when you stare into the abyss blah blah blah and be careful when you fight monsters harblegarble, but that’s not what Star Wars is. I don’t want to make the jump into lightspeed with bunch of mopey fucks in the first stages of PTSD.

Rogue One is a War Movie, which is not the same genre as a Fantasy. (Star Wars is not Sci-Fi in any way, shape, or form.) War Movies come to one natural conclusion–that war is hell–and anyone alive in the last reel is there because of luck. Fantasy teaches us that a hero will save the day, and that overwhelming force can be overcome through pluck and cleverness. These two worldviews are not compatible. Perhaps stripped of the Star Wars bullshit, Rogue One would stand on its own as a War Movie in space, but they curdle when placed in the same space.

STORY

As you know, Enthusiasts, Mr. Completely is my trusted advisor in all dealings; he has wisely counseled me to avoid picking the plot apart, and is correct as usual. To accuse one particular Star Wars movie of not making sense is akin to people slighting Mrs. Donna Jean for singing out-of-tune: all the others are committing the same sin. Plot is not important in Star Wars movies.

What is important is story, which is different from plot. The story of Star Wars (not A New Hope; you know I don’t roll like that) is this: A young man leaves home to discover a weird and dangerous new world. Along the way he makes friends and rescues a princess. In the end, by applying the lessons he has learned on his journey, he defeats the forces of evil.”

(If that seems familiar, it’s because it’s also the story to Harry Potter and the Matrix and just about a billion other movies and books and epic poems. You know all about Joseph Campbell; I won’t bore you.)

So: what is the story to Rogue One? You’re saying “A ragtag bunch of scrappy rebels steal the plans to the Death Star,” but it wasn’t. The story was “Several dour people look for another dour person, and then steal the plans to the Death Star.” First Jyn looks for one father figure with whom her relationship has not been established. Everything blows up. Then she looks for another father figure with whom her relationship has not been established. Everything blows up. Then everyone gets a completely unearned hero moment. Darth Vader shows up to screw up the continuity. Everything blows up.

ACTING

I believe Felicity Jones suffers from facial paralysis. She has a default expression that reads as “Yes, I’m here but please don’t ask me anything complicated.” Her little rouse-the-troops speech reminded me of a little girl clip-copping around the kitchen in her mother’s shoes, and she couldn’t even squeeze out a tear during her father’s death scene. Plus–and this may have more to do with the editor than her–she often sounds as if she’s having a slightly different conversation than the people she’s talking to. She is–for the whole movie–flat, monotonous; her face is like crossed arms, and there’s no inner life to the character at all.

On the other hand, she has a lovely chin.

The rest of the cast acquitted themselves professionally, except Jimmy Smits. HOLY SHIT was Jimmy Smits bad. He was probably drunk. Jimmy Smits likes to party.

WHATNOT

After the prequels (which do not exist) came out, people were fond of saying “George Lucas raped my childhood.” I believe South Park did an episode about it. This is a crass overreaction, and simply isn’t true of Rogue One. I believe this movie raped me with my childhood.

“Hey, remember the guy with an ass for a face and his ugly friend?”

Sure, why?

SHA-SHPLOIK!

(That’s the sound it makes when you’re raped my your own childhood. Trust me.)

“Hey, remember blue milk?”

Please don’t–

SHA-SHPLOIK!

“Remember your droid friends?”

No! I don’t!

“I don’t believe you.”

SHA-SHPLOIK!

And so on.

The Force Awakens did far more of the cutesy-winky bullshit than Rogue One did, but that movie has to be seen as a meta-commentary on itself, as well as a soft remake. TFA was also more entertaining, so I’m prone to forgive its fan service and theft from the OT.

PLUS the structure didn’t match the genre. The structure was half Star Wars/half Jedi: first hour was Luke’s call to action and the gathering of allies; second hour was ships going PEW while people shoot at each other on the planet below. But that’s not a War Movie.

AND Digi-Tarkin and Cyber-Leia were still jarring and creepy. You didn’t need Tarkin at all, and you could have shown Princess Leia from the back. We would have recognized the buns. This wasn’t an uncanny valley you needed to ski down, Disney.

ALSO I promised not to nitpick, but Vader didn’t sound right.

That’s nitpicking.

Wow, I almost got through a post without talking to myself.

Don’t nitpick.

There is SO MUCH nitpickery to avail oneself of. There was a chomper door. Like in Galaxyquest.

You said you wouldn’t nitpick. Sum up and do something productive.

To sum up: if Rogue One had fun characters I enjoyed going on adventures with, then I could have lived with the disjointed story; if the story were more compelling, I could have overlooked the underwritten, unmotivated characters. Felicity Jones can’t act.

Feel free to disagree in the Comment Section.

5 Comments

  1. Fair enough, you gave it a second chance. For the record –

    The story is “sometimes the good guys all die” aka “noble sacrifice” which is a war movie story. In Noble Sacrifice war movies most of the story is gathering the people who die at the end and giving them just enough screen time for the deaths to matter.

    “Because Star Wars movies are supposed to be fucking fun, that’s why”

    says you. you’re battling your expectations.

    “These two worldviews are not compatible. Perhaps stripped of the Star Wars bullshit, Rogue One would stand on its own as a War Movie in space, but they curdle when placed in the same space”

    The only same space is your mind. The whole point of it is the contrast with the other movies – recognizing all the deaths that are implied by the fantasy movies that all have “war” in the name.

    So I get why you don’t like it but I think it’s totally just your own perception and expectations. I specifically enjoyed the things that bothered you the most

  2. You can understand the movie in terms of it exploring the fact that the resistance to the Empire is a movement that shares much with the anti-imperialism of our times; from the multi-ethnic/”wretched of the earth” casting of the resistance, to the scene where the stormtroopers patrol what looks like a Middle Eastern street in a tank (and it turns into Fallujah), to Fishburne’s Frantz Fanon-esque take on the role of violence in revolutionary times to the ways in which the good guys are forced by the needs of their struggle to do horrible things (another nod to Fanon), the movie is a commentary on colonialism as much as force Awakens was a commentary on sexism.

  3. Valid points, but what did it for me was that this story led directly to New Hope and gave you the visual of everything referenced decades ago.
    How the plans were stolen, how the empire built it, who built it, what was Vader doing since obie wan had melted him…
    Add in all the old uniforms, bases, and ships for nostalgia, and then give it a gritty dark feel miles from the prequels, and I loved it.

  4. SmokingLeather

    April 16, 2017 at 2:21 am

    My biggest problem with Rogue One was totally a nit pic. In retrospect I should not have watched the David Prouse biography on Netflix the night before seeing this.

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