09 January 2017

FWS Movie Review: ROGUE ONE (2016) (SPOILERS!)

Since 1977, the cinema world of Star Wars followed a pattern of releasing films that corresponded to numbered episodes and the central story of the battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force. That all changed with the premiere of Rogue One in December of 2016. This film represents the vanguard of a new marketing strategy by Disney Corporation where stand-alone Star Wars are created to tell stories outside of the central themes and focus on specific characters or events. In this way, Rogue One is the guinea pig to see if the concept will be accepted by fans and be considered as part of the vast Star Wars organism. It is not a story we fans of Star Wars thought we would ever get to see in a canonized source: how the Rebel Alliance received the plans for the first Death Star. Creating difficulty in the task for the filmmakers was that there was only a line or two about the event and no canon source material. This liberated the filmmakers to forge a unique Star Wars story that fell within the margins of the previous films. It was also an opportunity to usher in a new type of Star Wars film that was more brutal and realistic, while be set into the familiar Galactic Civil War timeframe. While this film was released on December 16, 2016, I am only now able to see due a number of issues and barriers standing in my way to see it. My apologies.

The GOOD
The most inescapable element of Rogue One that constantly impressed me is the cinematography and direction, creating a wonderful atmosphere for the events and characters to live in, reinforcing the plastic-fantastic look of the Prequels and stylistically linking Rogue One to A New Hope. Seriously, there is a wonderful effort make to link this film to the original with  easter eggs, nods, designs, and bits of dialog.
Like many Star Wars films, the special effects are dynamic and transportive, sweeping into the world and resurrecting Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia with some of the best character CGI I've ever seen. Hats off to the crew that performed that miracle. When all of the moments fuse together in some key scenes and little moments, the film is pure sci-fi gold, especially the (mostly) thrilling battle over Scarif where the space battle makes all of us feel like six year old kids. I did appreciate the grit of this film with more of realistic angle to the battles, allowing us to see more of the intergalactic civil war being waged, and its cost. 
There is some heroic magic in the actions of some of the characters with actors that pull it off with drama and not cheese. Of course, the shining moment of the film is the return of Darth Vader to his status as a bad mother fucker of the Sith. When Lord Vader boards the Rebel taskforce command vessel and lights up his lightsaber, filling the naval soldiers with dread and their underwear with shit is a moment that most of us have been wanting to see to redeem Vader from the horror show that was the Prequels. Watching those scenes was a treat for all of us fans and reminds all of us how Vader was able to hunt down the Jedi and why he earns his own theme song. The mentioning of the GOOD elements of the film could not skip on the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2so, who steals the scene whenever in it. Truly another great droid has been added to the list.         

The BAD
This film is a fanatic mess and it rolls into that mess over and over again through the run time. There is no proper introduction to the world of Rogue One via the iconic crawl and it picks without nothing we are familiar with, making it difficult to settle into. This is only made worse by the jumping from planet to planet that are all new to the Star Wars universe. Much is left half-explained and undercooked with the manic pace of scenes coming and disappearing not helping at all. This fuels the audience to ask themselves: "what the hell is going here again?" Not helping this rapid pace is the amount of element crammed into each of these scenes, overwhelming and underwhelming.
All of this adds up to an audience that is pushed and cannot settle on emotional bonding with the characters or events. Some of this may be due to the reshooting and addition of new scenes, but it is also due to a fatally flawed script that needed some serious rewrites. One plotline that is hammered home is the power struggle between the Advanced Weapons Research Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin that is so badly written and muddy that I had no idea what Krennic's position was in the Empire until I looked it online...I am still unsure why this guy rates for Death Troopers close protection service. Being dragged into this power struggle is Lord Vader. When Krennic travels to the lava planet to visit Vader's dark castle that looks more at home in Mordor, I was left with the impression that this entire scene was beautiful, but pointless.
Adding to the pointlessness of the film was the over-complex bullshit Rube Goldberg machine Imperial record storage facility on Scarif, where Jyn's father has hidden his incorporated design flaw of the Death Star in a schematic. This is just one problem among many with the events on Scarif. The idea that the entire planet is covered in a shield with one entrance is bullshit and if the Empire could pull that off, than they do not need to worry about starfighters. And why would you need an entire planet to store the Imperial records? Ever heard of a removable USB drive? They have FTL travel, but no means of access data across distances?
Much of the battle and tactics make no sense and the majority of it is done because the plot demands it. During the space battle to open the shield and secure the data, the Imperial Star Destroyers and the Imperial TIE fighter squadron inside the orbital shield base do nothing for the first portion of the rebel assault. For that matter, nor do the rebel ships. Both act like the starfighters are the only active agents in the battle and park their vast array of shipboard weaponry. Someone needs to watch BSG. Then the rebels perform a unusual tactical maneuver and use a damaged Star Destroyer as kinetic missile. As the rebel forces are withdrawing, somehow Vader's Star Destroyer, the Devastator, exiles hyperspace, it wrecks every starship in the area with just a few turbo-laser strikes. Once again, because the plot demands it.

The UGLY
The music...oh god....the music. One of the most iconic elements of any Star Wars films is the music, even the terrible Prequel films had some incredible pieces of music. That cannot be said for Rogue One. Michael Giacchino was not the right choice for this soundtrack, because time after time, the music comes up short. Even when sections of John Williams original pieces are added into Giacchino's music, William's originals overwhelm Giacchino's and the difference is made obvious. Laying over the old Star Wars music would have been a better choice or just allowing some scenes to enjoy the full Williams' score without undercutting it and diluting it with Giacchino weak musical interpretation of classic Star Wars music. It is amazing how much John Williams musical genius is an critical element for Star Wars, and seeing and hearing Rogue One made me realize that. 

Bottomline on Rogue One
This film is fatally flawed and is a beautiful manic mess that apparently needed more reshoots than the ones already undertaken. The shame of this film is that all of the pieces were there and they were not assembled into a final film with much care or consideration, believing that the inclusion of cool visuals and battles would be the spackle over the holes. They are not. While I do celebrate the bold effort to finally make a Star Wars set outside the religious war between the Sith and the Jedi and the story itself is interesting, I just wish it had been better. There far too many plot point, set design, and events that are constructed around the trope of "the plot demanded it".  While Star Wars maybe fantasy, there has to be logic, and Rogue One runs short.   

Does ROGUE ONE Fit into the Star Wars Universe?
The core of the Star Wars universe is a struggle between good and evil with the Jedi and the Sith playing the roles respectively with the Skywalker family firmly centered into this conflict. The Galactic Empire, the Rebels, the Old Republic, the New Republic, and the First Order are all players in the game. With Rogue One being firmly focused on the Galactic Civil War, it begs the question: does this stand-alone film fit into the larger Star Wars universe? After seeing it, Rogue One is almost a behind-the-scenes story that closes some of the plot holes of the original film and constructs more of a richer story behind those plans along with a sadder one. I think it fits well into the Star Wars cinematic universe just fine.

Is ROGUE ONE Military Sci-Fi?
It is often said that Star Wars is military science fiction, I tend to disagree saying that Star Wars is mostly a space fantasy with elements of military SF woven in...but what about Rogue One? It comes closer to the label of military science fiction with the battle of Scarif being a nice addition to the list of sci-fi battles and some elements of military sci-fi, but I cannot classify Rogue One as military sci-fi completely. It is an hybrid as are many science fiction works that feature warfare and the military, but they are not pure enough to make it on the list of pure military sci-fi.  

5 comments:

  1. That's a great review, and I totally agree.

    There were a few things that seemed right in the first quarter, but boy did it all fall apart toward the end.

    I also feel a bit cheated, in that the supposedly 'heist' like scenes and interplay in the very first trailer, like the tie-fighter rearing up and the run across the beach, simply weren't in the movie!!! You're right of course - just what the hell was going on with the filing system?

    I was scammed...and I would like my money back :(

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  2. Well, to be fair to Michael Giacchino, he was given only four and a half weeks to compose Rogue One's soundtrack, right on the heels of composing for Doctor Strange, after reshoots of the film altered the post-production schedule, leaving the originally planned composer Alexander Desplat unavailable to deliver the intended music.

    As one YouTube commentator put it: "Hey Michael, can you come score the first anthology Star Wars movie and not make it sound like you're copying Williams but make it as iconic as Williams and then deal with people telling you how you're not as good as Williams? Oh, and we need it done in four weeks?"

    Still, the mention of the reshoots should probably have been the first sign that the finished product's plot wasn't going to be as refined as people expected.

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  3. No one at work could believe that I did not like Rogue One and they told me that I was too picky and it was just a movie. I am glad to have backup! I did not know that the composer was only given four weeks...I feel bad criticizing him now! He did fine job on Dr. Strange, but I think the Force is too strong with John Williams to repeal music of that magnitude.

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  4. 100% agree with your review.
    After watching the movie, I felt that they could have *easily* made a trilogy so that the characters, their motivations, and the galaxy could be fleshed out into meaningful things.
    As it was, the movie felt super rushed, incomplete and confusing.
    I found myself wanting to just watch K2SO verbally abuse people and hoping he'd get his own movie series...
    The amount of disbelief to be suspended during the tropical island battle was too much and I found myself pretty grumpy with how they did that fight.

    Remember Hoth? Where walkers were 'felt' and heard *MILES* away?
    Then how the HELL did TWO of them sneak up on the fight to 'surprise' foot soldiers? Who *doesn't* see BUILDING SIZED machines moving toward them? SHeesh...

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  5. I thought the film over-explained things and most of the people who complain about the movie said it was "too dark" or "didn't have enough jedi or lightsaber battles".

    I've seen the movie twice and I still think it's very good, mainly because the old Star Wars was just so freaking optimistic and simple in it's morality.

    I understood the power-plays and motivations effectively, because they were different but reminiscent of other playerplays and motivations I have seen.

    My own mother hated your favorite part of the movie, the first part that explains part of what is going on. This is the nature of a lot of moviegoers.

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