Thoughts on Rogue One …

So, I broke down and bought both Rogue One and The Last Jedi. I have watched both. I’m going to comment on both, but I’m going to start with Rogue One.

The overall summary of Rogue One is this: It’s an okay science-fiction movie, which is pretty much the most we could expect from it given its subject matter. But it would have been a better movie if it had been a standalone film and not a Star Wars movie.

Since this movie is relatively recent and I’m probably going to talk about things that are spoilers, I’ll continue below the fold:

The problem with this being a Star Wars movie is that this makes it a prequel, and for a prequel the best approach to take is to find an event that everyone is curious about and show how it happened. However, how the Rebels got the Death Star plans isn’t all that interesting in and of itself. Sure, it’s something that you could tell an interesting story about, but few fans watching Star Wars were really curious about what happened. And since it seems that it has to be a doomed mission — since we never see those agents again — we aren’t all that emotionally invested in it because no one else is emotionally invested in it. Mon Mothma mentions that many Bothans died getting the plans for the second Death Star, but no one makes reference to the heroes who died recovering the Death Star plans. I would almost have rathered that Rogue One not be a movie where they sacrifice themselves to get them, but instead one where they actually get away after doing their job. A group of people who, say, happened upon it and were trying to sell it to the Rebellion and just wanted to get back to their lives would have been an interesting touch. But by falling into the classic and expected story the movie runs directly into the problem that they’re just going to give us the expected story … a story that we didn’t really have that much interesting in hearing in the first place.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t do the story. The Legends Expanded Universe has told the story, and I think done so on multiple occasions, and has also done it as them making the ultimate sacrifice. But what it has generally done is focus on something other than the actual story itself, by focusing on characters and, often, on the greater link between those characters and the other characters in the Star Wars universe. One of the better stories was one that came up in the Han Solo Trilogy, where Han’s first love, Bria Tharen, was the leader of that mission and died thinking of Han. And that was only a small part of a large trilogy. If you’re going to make it the focus of an entire movie, and especially if that movie is going to end with them all dying, you need to build the characters up enough so that we get that emotional hit at the end when they all die. And that’s what Rogue One really didn’t manage to pull off.

The reasons are many. The first problem is that taking completely new characters and making us feel that strongly about them is something that’s going to be hard to do in a two hour movie. But it could be done if the movie focused on that. However, since this is set in the Star Wars universe and is a prequel, it has a lot more to do. It first has to tell the story of the finding of the Death Star plans, while linking it to what has gone on before. It also has to make cameo links to the rest of the Star Wars universe, which it does to Mon Mothma, Tarkin, Darth Vader, and Leia, as well as to some of the pilots from the original Star Wars movie. But the nature of those cameos — especially the ones that are CGI — means that they are somewhat disconnected from the main characters, which means that they take time away from the main characters that could be used to develop them as characters. The movie also ties the plot into the battle that the Rebels are referenced as winning in the opening crawl to Star Wars, which takes even more time away from the main characters and the plot of finding the Death Star plans. All of this leaves little room to develop the characters.

And so the characters end up being rather flat. Jyn Erso is probably the most important character, but in general the most memorable thing about her, at least to me, is that she’s kinda pretty and I would have liked to have seen her cleaned up a bit in the movie. That’s pretty much it. The rest of her character is a standard “Looking for her father” arc that falls into a “Get revenge for her father’s death” arc that gets resolved in a relatively satisfying way, but again isn’t deep enough to foster the emotional connection we need to really feel what we need to feel at the end of the movie. Cassian actually has slightly more character development, but only as part of what seems to be an attempt to add dark elements to the movie that go nowhere. Early in the movie, Cassian establishes his “dark and edgy” credentials by killing an informant that he was meeting with to ensure that he could get away, and then his mission is to kill Jyn’s father to hopefully critically hamper the Death Star project. Yet, when he gets that chance, he doesn’t do it. This could be seen as a critical moment of revelation for him … if we had any idea why he decided not to kill him. About the only thing I can think of at that point is that he finds Jyn Erso kinda attractive and knows that she doesn’t want her father killed. It seemed from stuff like that and from the ending — where they die from the Death Star’s blast holding each other — that they were hinting at a romance developing between them, and doing that would make the scene emotionally tragic … but it’s not developed enough to really hit that. And all of the other characters get even less development, which makes it so that we can see that their deaths are supposed to affect us, but we don’t really care about them any more than we cared about the generic pilots dying in the original Star Wars.

And the battle itself ruins the opening crawl of Star Wars. Supposedly, the Rebels won a great victory, which seems to be that they managed to destroy a couple of Star Destroyers. Okay, sure, that would be a success … if they had managed to have the fleet survive the engagement. But Vader jumps in and wipes out the entire fleet, or at least most of it. As far as I could tell, none of the capital ships survived, although we know that at least some of the fighters did since some of them were the pilots that participated in the attack on the Death Star, through the wonder of CGI. So, uh, how did they survive while none of the capital ships did? What were the capital ships waiting for that led them to fall into Vader’s trap? It’s hard to call this a great victory if the entire fleet was lost for little gain except getting the plans, nor did it prove any real strike ability that the Rebels had and they lost it anyway in the battle. It would have been better to have them destroy the Star Destroyers, try to attack the shield to break it so that the team on the surface could escape, have Vader jump in, have the fleet jump away to draw off the ships so that the team could sneak out later — with the ship with the plans jumping off in another direction hoping that the distraction will have them lose the Imperials — which would have worked … if Tarkin hadn’t decided to simply nuke the planet with the Death Star to destroy the entire facility and all copies of the plans, killing the entire team. As it was, their “victory” seems to be at best Pyrrhic and at worst an actual defeat, which makes its hopeful tone in the opening crawl of Star Wars far more bitter than it should be.

At the end of the day, the movie is … okay. Take out all the references to Star Wars and substitute character development and you’d have a decent science fiction movie. But as it is, it’s entirely “Meh”: not terrible, but not particularly good either.

One Response to “Thoughts on Rogue One …”

  1. Thoughts on “The Last Jedi” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] for Rey … there was a reason that in my thoughts on “Rogue One” I mentioned that one of my overall impressions of Jyn Erso was that she was kinda pretty, even […]

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