Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
PG-13 | 134 min
Director: Gareth Edwards
by Jason Koenigsberg
Rogue One does not feel like a Star Wars film, even though it is in the Star Wars macrocosm. It tries hard to break away from the colorfulness and fantasy elements of the previous films and approaches it with a more serious and realistic tone. The result is an interesting experiment in the Star Wars saga, but one that was not entirely successful. Rogue One feels more like an old fashioned war movie than any of the Star Wars films that have come before. It also feels painfully unnecessary and just an excuse for Disney to milk their Star Wars cash cow as much as it can. A Star Wars movie one year after The Force Awakens does not feel special.
We open up with a shot of the stars in outer space, as all other Star Wars films do, however this time there is no title crawl or epic John Williams fanfare. Everything in Rogue One is scaled down. Even the color palette in the cinematography was noticeably more gray and muted from what audiences have come to expect in all Star Wars pictures and the lack of a John Williams orchestrated score was apparent early on. No disrespect to Michael Giacchino who is an immensely talented composer, but this proves when it comes to Star Wars music, accept no substitutes.
The cinematography and plot really implied that Rogue One is meant to be a tragic war story and not the usual more whimsical space fantasy that this franchise produces. Even Empire Strikes Back, the darkest film in the series has more elements that make it feel magical and transport you to the same world all the other films are in. The result is that we are left with a poor mans From Here to Eternity (1953) crossed with Saving Private Ryan (1998) but not nearly as powerful as a myriad of other anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons films. Rogue One trades space and fantasy cliches for war movie cliches.
The plot is fairly straightforward as revealed in the trailers. A girl’s father is taken from her and forced to build a super weapon for the Empire, which we know becomes the Death Star. The girl grows up to be Felicity Jones, who is a beautiful and talented actress but reduced by this script to giving a one note performance. Seriously, she never changes her facial expression throughout the entire film. That look of bland intensity that she has printed on her face in every poster and tv spot is the exact same face she has the entire movie. It reminded me of Derek Zoolander and how he only has one look. If she just smiled or showed real anger or despair at least once it would have made her performance at least varied a little bit. What started off as a strong female hero that was reminiscent of Daisy Ridley’s character from last years The Force Awakens was squandered.
The other actors are all mostly forgettable with a few exceptions. Forest Whitaker was back doing his weird shtick as he does in all of his movies. This time acting as a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Robocop, with a touch of Frank Booth from Blue Velvet (1986) as he breathed into an oxygen mask. Whitaker gave his character a weird accent which is par for the course for Forest Whitaker roles. Donnie Yen was by far the most exciting performance in the film as a blind pseudo-Jedi with the ability to take down massive amounts of Storm Troopers. That was another problem with this movie, we all know that Storm Troopers are not the best shots with their laser guns but Rogue One took that to a new level of silliness with their combat incompetence.
The main villains also were deficient in a few areas. They spend key moments pointing their guns at the heroes and talking to them when they should have easily eliminated them. This happens in a lot of films, but more noticeable and irritating when you are not swept up into the world the movie has created. Even more irritating was the CGI Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarken. Darth Vader makes an appearance and he is simultaneously the best part of Rogue One because it is great to see him in action as a dominant villain and not a whiny kid, yet also the most disappointing and frustrating part of the film since he is barely in it with less than five minutes of screen time.
Rogue One is following the trend in cinema piloted by the new Batman and Superman films and it tries to be as serious as possible which backfires because it ends up being joyless and that is a travesty because the Star Wars franchise is one of the most fun and cheerful in the history of cinema. War movies are supposed to be dramatic because they have the responsibility to tell a gritty and realistic story and should conjure up emotions of pain and sorrow. Star Wars films can be as much of an emotional experience as the best war movies but the great Star Wars films conjure up emotions that make the audience feel thrilled, exhilarated and transported. They are pure escapism, and none of that can be found in Rogue One. The only humor really comes from a droid that helps Felicity Jones and her band of rebels on their quest to obtain the Death Star plans. Rogue One is trying to be responsible science fiction with obvious commentaries about war, terrorism, facism, nuclear weapons and our political climate. It ends up being mediocre in accomplishing it’s goals as a message movie and mediocre as a Star Wars adventure.
One of the only good aspects of Rogue One are its clever references to the first film A New Hope which takes place directly after the events in this one. Stay home this Christmas break and watch the original Star Wars from 1977, still one of the most exciting and fun movies of all time.