Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben
Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker
Director: Gareth Edwards
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2017
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
When I was a child, it seemed like everyone’s big dream was to make his own Star Wars movie. Now, as an adult, it seems like too many of them can, and are.
There was something about the original trilogy…the archetypical characters, the wonder, and the morality felt like creator George Lucas was giving my generation its own mythology. And myths are always re-told and expounded upon, but not always in ways that give glory to the original creations.
Lucas himself fell short with his recent trilogy of FIRST stories in his franchise…all well-received and reviewed here at DMC, but not treated as well with the passage of time. I mean, if I’m flipping channels and The Empire Strikes Back is on, I tend to stop and watch, until completion, or at least until the commercial break. If it’s Episodes I, II or III, I usually keep surfing.
Even with all that was wrong about those films, they still ‘felt’ like Star Wars. They were still visually groundbreaking, populated with characters we could invest in, and filled with quotable dialogue (even if quotable for the wrong reasons).
Then came the continuation of the original six stories with The Force Awakens, which excited we fans anew. Much like the new “old” trilogy, I was enthusiastic upon first viewing it, but that enthusiasm waned to arguably even lower than I, II and III. After more thought, you begin to realize that it wasn’t so original, and worse, didn’t really “feel” like Star Wars.
Now that Lucas has sold his franchise to Disney, the money machine seems to be in full gear. Why stop at just three more films, to round out the original notion of a trilogy of trilogies? They can do whatever they want, including putting in a film that stands alone, like Rogue One.
None of this would be that big a deal, but after these two films, I’m still waiting for Star Wars to feel like Star Wars. Maybe I’m old and jaded, but it was really SOMETHING to see those original movies for the first time, and to have to wait three years (forever in kid-dom) to see the next one. Now it just feels like they’re rolling off the assembly line.
Rogue One has heart, but suffers from no memorable characters, no wit, no sense of wonder, and a story that seems more and more absurd the more you think about it. Suspension of disbelief was always a necessary commodity in the Star Wars universe, such as accepting that supposedly highly trained Stormtroopers cannot hit a bloody thing they want to shoot, but suspension only stretches so far until it snaps…and it usually snaps with dire consequences.
This story, is of course, the story of how the Rebel Alliance came into possession of the plans for the Empire’s dastardly Death Star. I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers, but in some cases, there are points that need addressing. I’ll tread lightly, but you’ve been warned.
It opens with Empire bigwig Krennic (Mendelsohn) tracking down escaped Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mikkelsen) on a farm planet. Why? Because Erso is the only man who knows how to design the super-energy weapons that will make the new Death Star able to destroy entire planets. Erso has a conscience and wants no part, but is taken away, with Krennic having his wife killed and hunting to find his escaped child daughter.
That daughter, Jyn (Jones) is originally looked after by Rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), but seems to grow up without either man in her life.
As the Rebellion grows more desperate, an escaped shuttle pilot Cassian (Luna) ends up in Saw’s custody, but swearing he has a message from Erso to his daughter regarding the Empire’s new weapon.
FORTUNATELY, he and Jyn end up in the same holding cell, so that Jyn can be brought to Saw and see the hologram message, which is essentially this: Erso, despite being hunted down for years as the ONLY person who could build the weapon, has reasoned he SHOULD build the weapon because otherwise, the Empire would build it without him (wait…what?), BUT he designed it specifically with a flaw that would allow it to be destroyed.
He then proceeds to explain exactly how the Death Star could be eliminated (see: Episode IV), and then says Jyn must track down the plans of the satellite to transmit to the rebels (but…didn’t he just explain in detail how to destroy it? Why do we need the plans? Also, he forgot to mention that his ‘ingenious’ fatal flaw is only two meters wide and can’t be hit by a targeting computer, and requires a Jedi-in-training with mad Force skills and the ability to bullseye wamprats in his T-16…not included).
The remains of the Senate of the old Republic of course, quibble and argue and stake out their own claims when destruction is at stake (“Senate” turns out to be quite a good choice of words). So Jyn, Cassian and other renegades decide to take matters into their own hands.
It involves a library of sorts…a big tall tower with stacks of computerized information that must be infiltrated, climbed, and the plans manually retrieved, and…fortunately, there’s a GIANT satellite dish to make sure the plans get transmitted to the Rebellion. Plans that surely could have been kept in something as small as a cell phone, but I guess it IS a long time ago. Or something.
The whole movie is filled with things that drive the story that make no sense like this. For example, why do laser guns have to be cocked? And a question that’s bugging me more than ever…who finances the Rebels? They have a ton of ships and weapons…is there a United States somewhere in this galaxy far, far away that’s funding these contras?
Then there are touches that are just plain creepy, like fully CGI-rendered appearances of young Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin, that look more like their Japanese animation counterparts than living persons.
When necessary, the films pay homage to the originals, mostly in terms of “AH” moments, like, AH, there’s C-3PO and R2-D2! AH, there’s Darth Vader! AH, he still sounds like James Earl Jones! AH, there’s Senator Organa! AH, there’s that tiny black rolling robot that Chewbacca once scared the crap out of! AH, they said "It's a trap!"...and so on.
But also when necessary, the film re-writes the mythology. Remember the Death Star obliterating Alderaan in the blink of an eye? Now the planet destruction is so slow and methodical, our heroes can RUN from and ESCAPE the destruction. So much for millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror and suddenly silenced.
Not to mention a slew of X-Wing fighters attacking Star Destroyers, which in the original trilogy, was said that fighters couldn’t bring down, and was only finally attempted as a matter of sheer desperation. Here, they can literally ‘nudge’ them into destruction.
Oh, and the AT-AT walkers, which had armor ‘too strong for blasters’ in the first films. Here, they are easily dispatched. We’ve not only re-written history, but kind of lost the David vs. Goliath feel of the Rebels against the Empire…this is more of a Goliath vs. Goliath.
And still, I kept wondering about Erso and his grand idea…build the weapon with a self-destruct mechanism, but in the meantime, millions or billions will die as a result (I never did get a copy of the Alderaan census). That, and his plan hinged on his daughter still being alive after a decade (very iffy, considering when he was taken, Krennic was hunting her down), AND the hope that she would grow up like Katniss Everdeen and not Rosie O’Donnell in order to be able to pull off the daring heroics.
The real flaw is that overall, as mentioned, it doesn’t feel like Star Wars. Where’s the wonder? The feeling of something epic? The characters who were so distinct and memorable? The originality? Here, we even have a clone of Daredevil…a blind fighter using sounds to battle his enemies, and a clone of Marvin the robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to supply the only bits of levity.
Instead, we get a gritty war picture, more built on explosions and fire and smoke than lasers and lightsabers. Oddly enough, we even get a climactic battle on a beach scene, complete with ocean and palm trees. Why? I guess it was the one earthly terrain not yet represented in a Star Wars movie.
The actors are weak…I don’t know the rest of Felicity Jones’ work, but she’s absolutely lifeless as Gyn. None of her cohorts bring any sense of character TO their characters. Even reliable veterans like Mads Mikkelson, Jimmy Smiths and Forest Whitaker are reduced to banality. Come to think of it, maybe the CGI of Grand Moff Tarkin was actually the best performance in the film.
As stated, there IS heart here, but ultimately, there’s no fun…and that’s a fatal flaw for any Star Wars movie, standalone or not.
Despite the lack of visual flair, this is a terrific looking Blu-ray from Disney. The high definition images are crisp and clear, from the brightly lit beach battle to the vast darkness of space. Colors are purposely muted, but still deliver with well-defined clarity.
No complaints here either, as there is plenty of action and dogfighting to keep your surround channels busy. Dialogue is mostly well-balanced against the bigger noises, and the music (though the opening title tune is gone) sounds solid as well.
There is a bonus disc of features, which includes 11 total short featurettes on the making of the film…the most entertaining is the “Rogue Connections” one, which shows the Easter eggs and facts that connect this movie to the rest of the Star Wars universe.
There is also a bonus DVD and digital transfer disc.
A friend of mine recently remarked that George Lucas didn’t like the direction that Star Wars was taking without him…yet, he did choose to sell his franchise, and now, like the rest of us, he has to watch as others with big plans and big pockets to fill churn out what so far seem to be substandard imitations of the original. Rogue One doesn’t measure up to the original trilogy. It doesn’t even measure up to the newer trilogy…and that’s really saying something.