Say what you will about George Lucas’s second Star Wars trilogy, but at least it had a certain affectless charm about it. The sense of wonder from the first trilogy disappeared, but Lucas tried to provide some sense of adventure, with eye-popping sights. Bright pastels, bloodless action, broad characters; it was all in goofy, safe fun.
I’m complimenting those films up front so you can safely say to yourself, ‘Ugh! He has nice things to say about the second Star Wars Trilogy? Clearly he’s quite mad, with awful taste! I can definitely ignore this hack’s opinions about the new movies.’ And you may wish to do so, because if you keep reading, you’re going to learn that Rogue One is awful. Just awful. There is no imagination here. No spark. Not a single memorable character, scene, or line of dialogue (not even ‘I don’t like sand…’).
The Force Awakens, which I merely disliked, tried to ‘correct’ some of the imagined sins of Lucas’s prequels by returning to the techniques of the original trilogy: 35mm film, practical effects, character actors. Of course, it went so far as to simply carbon copy whole swaths of A New Hope, in the process neutering any benefit the other techniques would have provided. Well, even though it began filming before The Force Awakens even opened, Rogue One seems intent on correcting the corrections.
For Rogue One, at the level of filmmaking, doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie; at best it plays like a gritty reboot of the Star Wars franchise. Even worse (to me), this movie doesn’t feel anything like a Gareth Edwards joint; corporate interests gelded, flattened his personal style. Every action sequence—and let’s face the fact that the whole film is basically an action sequence of unvarying pace—is flat. There are explosions, expository shouts, blaster shots, but everything is so general you might as well be watching Guardians of the Galaxy.
The word I’m dancing around is generic. Divorced from some Star Wars-related proper nouns, there is nothing in Rogue One to differentiate it from any other corporate tentpole. The movie, shot dully on the Arri Alexa 65, even looks generic. It’s just keys a corporation is dangling in front of your face, hoping it will provide enough of a diversion until the next set of keys.
It does not matter, at all, who the actors are in this movie. Not one iota. None of the cast are given much to do. Diego Luna runs about looking scrappy (which he’s good at). Forest Whitaker runs about looking half-mad (which he’s good at). Jiang Wen plays as close to a Klingon as we’re likely to see in Star Wars. And Donnie Yen ‘gets’ to be a variation on the Magical Asian, just a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. (I guess some stereotypes never die.) The only actor to get a good scrap of character is Riz Ahmed, looking kinda galactically strung-out as a converted Imperial pilot. The only semi-memorable newcomer is the droid, K-2SO, and he’s basically the lovechild of C-3PO and Marvin, the Paranoid Android. They all do the best they can.
Well, almost all of them. Of all the thin characters in Rogue One, Jyn Erso, the main character, is the thinnest. Like Rey, she’s not even a character; she has absolutely zero flaws or discernible human qualities whatsoever. Like Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones doesn’t have the screen presence or chops to fill out such a thin cipher. The result is like looking into a Jyn Erso-shaped black hole every time she’s on screen. When was the law passed that Mary Sue characters could have zero negative characteristics? Luke Skywalker was the very definition of one (according to some outlets—this is apparently a hot topic), and Lucas allowed him to be a whiny little bitch. Gene Roddenberry let Wesley Crusher be an annoying know-it-all. These flaws gave their characters somewhere to go, in terms of dramatic arcs. Maybe female Mary Sues have to be flawless, so no one complains.
But I’m digressing. Let’s talk about the most egregious sin of Rogue One: resurrecting Peter Cushing to reprise his Grand Moff Tarkin role. What an embarrassing, squirm-inducing misfire this decision was. It’s clearly a CGI concoction, yet just lifelike enough to make you physically uncomfortable. Christ, the Uncanny Valley just opened up to the centre of the earth. I don’t think it would have been all that difficult to write around his character, and use Tarkin sparingly, tastefully—like the lone shot of Leia. Note to filmmakers: never, ever do this again.
Oh, dear. I’ve not said a word about the plot. Do you even need to know? Either 1) you’re a Star Wars fan and will see Rogue One anyway, or 2), you’re not and won’t. I cannot stress this enough: if you’ve never seen Star Wars before, don’t start here.
There are people who will love anything Star Wars, and will love Rogue One accordingly. There are people who will like Rogue One for political reasons, in which case a diatribe against its filmmaking is beside the point. For me, though, I’ll say this: Star Wars has one more shot with me. The wearisome filmmaking wasteland that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe caused me to swear off all MCU movies forever—a vow I will never break. The one-two dreggy dick-punch of The Force Awakens and Rogue One have similarly soured me to this franchise. If Rian Johnson can draw me back in with a stellar Episode VIII, great.
However, I suspect that any unique touch Johnson brings will be pacified by the Disney execs. It’s too important a franchise to give to auteurs, right? If this happens, it may be time for Star Wars and I to go on a break.