There was so much hype around Rogue One that when I finally got round to watching it, I was sure for a second that I had somehow mistaken this Star Wars film for another Star Wars film released around the same time. Then I remembered, that doesn’t usually happen I also considered the possibility that more time had elapsed than I thought. After all, I thought there was one Despicable Me, and now there’s a third in the making and spin-off.
Eventually, I had to concede this was the Star Wars film, the one and only, and was instantly confused. Was this really the same movie everyone had been raving about? It was visiually stunning enough, but what was wrong with it in terms of storytelling could fill several pages. I’ll try to limit myself.
Too much self-reference
It’s one of the hazards of prequels, that they’re too in love with their own franchise. As if we really needed to hear the origins of the fleet name Rogue. It was obvious. These are rebels, so the ships are rogue. Yet, Rogue One made a ponderous attempt to explain it to us, title dropping in a cringeworthy way.
Look, if you want to know origins of names and other trivia, there are whole books and websites dedicated to it. Putting it in the film dialogue just makes the dialogue needlessly bloated when it needs to be precise. No one enjoyed the cameos of recognisable extras and minor characters from the original franchise more than me, but there was so much copy-and-paste in Rogue One, it started to feel lazy. Most of the cameos lasted mere seconds, a tip of the hat to fans who are easily pleased.
I confess to being impressed with the accuracy of imitation. Most of the technology looked like the same stuff they designed for the original Star Wars. The only problem with that is, you lose points for originality. If I wanted to see the old Star Wars tech, I’d be better off watching the old Star Wars. It’s the same for the plot. It’s the same plot, just a bit before.
The Death Star exists, needs to be blown up, and we know how to do it. It made me wonder if this was a prequel, a sequel or a parallel universe. It just wasn’t that clear that none of this was supposed to have happened before. What was different were odd details… Like, I’m sure the Death Star was upside down. What’s that all about? Anyone?
Bad / non-existant female characters
Come on, Star Wars, you’ve had years to get this right. In the 70s, you’d expect everyone’s vision of the advanced sci-fi universe to be patriarchal, with all male fleets. These days, if at least 50% of the fleet aren’t female, people will scoff and turn away, straight back to Star Trek, which has been getting it mostly right for at least three decades.
The truth is, you can’t make up for a curiously unequal universe by making your main hero female. She’s still a cardboard mouse, shrill and lacking in interest, hanging off the arm of an equally shrill male cardboard mouse. Compare that to Leia, and you’ll find its an unfavourable comparison. People used to say Leia was like Princess Peach, waiting to be saved, but a careful rewatch of A New Hope shows that to be bollocks.
Leia wasn’t a warrior, and she wasn’t supposed to be. She had charm, common sense and leadership qualities. Her worth wasn’t judged by how good a fighter she was (or her ability to wield nunchucks in a silly outfit), so she had more complexity, more subtlety and consequently more worth. As far as I’m concerned, the Rouge One heroine is a regressive one. She’s indistinguishable from a petty goon that just wanders around shooting stuff until they are eventually killed.
Weird racial blooper
Isn’t it unsettling that, in the Star Wars canon, there are no people of colour by the time Emperor Palpatine completely takes over? It has… Startling connotations. But of course, that’s only because the films that are last in the canon just happen to be the oldest; and, as 70s films, not concerned with equal representation.
They addressed this in the first three prequels well enough, but fell down a hole with Rogue One. There are certainly enough PoC in different roles, and the world looks a lot more realistic for it. It’s weird to have only aliens and white people in all the known galaxy. But there is one particular character that they got quite wrong. It’s not a big deal, but it is an embarrassing oversight.
Jedi and the Force have clearly always been related to Eastern mysticism. No one’s denying that. But it’s supposed to be implicit. There’s no Taoism and no Buddhism in the Star Wars universe. So when you have a blind, wise Asian dude using the power of the Force to sense people’s dark auras, wielding a special martial arts stick while chanting, you’ve probably forgotten the “implicit” part.
Painful 21st century earnestness
This is a current trait of film and TV that I totally hate. I know where and when it came from. It’s the contemporary style, the generation snowflake See My Feels, I-am-on-YouTube-and-I’m-incredibly-important trend. This culture filters into films,and makes characters in their mid-thirties look like teenagers. Snore.
Instead of the adventurous, comedic, sometimes wry tone of the original Star Wars, all of the prequels to date have been saturated with a kind of overblown sincerity. See how she looks deeply into his eyes and tells him about her feels. See how he looks back, and talks about his childhood. It is all most serious and important, because these are dark and important times.
Well, balls to that. I want to see lightsabers and hear fastidious protocol droids complain about ridiculous things. Nothing begs “Sneer at me” like an action thriller or adventure whose characters take themselves completely seriously. In real life, the armed forces are full of people up to constant hijinks, because you can’t quell the human capacity to play silly buggers.
It also eases tension in stressful situation, which is needed in real life as well as movies about death and destruction and evil empires. Pull that poker out your butt and smile, man. Gallows humour. Sarcasm. The choice is yours. Just please to Jesus, put something in that has some vague semblance of real human interaction.
I actually pressed my fingers to my temples hearing some of the dialogue in this thing. Here’s a sample:
Her: “I have emotions about things, and you have betrayed me!”
Him: “You’re not the only one who has feelings and problems! I also have a life story, which I shall now briefly share with you.”
Her: “Through the course of this incredibly forced argument, we have shown that we do not get on!”
Him: “And yet there is chemistry, such chemistry. No doubt we are well set-up to share a special moment together later.”
Her: “Of course! What other conceivable type of relationship could two people of the opposite sex possibly have?”
Him: “Indeed, we are young and not related; let us consider mating, at some point in between bouts of impending doom.”
OK, I may have slipped in a bit of subtext in there. But it’s all the same. The words, “predictable” and “turgid” spring to mind. The action sequences are so spectacular, you actually get annoyed when the characters start talking to each other, because they waste so much time saying absolutely nothing.
You learn nothing of worth about the characters. They have no charm. It’s impossible to have any feeling about them whatsoever. It’s the sort of thing that makes you instantly root for the Empire, hoping that the main characters will be killed off so you don’t have to listen to them any more.
In a fast-paced movie, the dialogue feels ponderous in the extreme. Shaddap, guys, if you have nothing to say. I should take a moment to shout out for the reprogrammed imperial robot, though. He’s a good laugh. It says something when the one that comes across as most human is actually a machine.
So many characters, so little character. Who would have cared or even noticed if Rogue One was practically a silent movie, with the only spoken words being commands and maydays? You could cut out all the fat and the film would be feature length, rather than a good fifteen minutes over.
Oh dear, Vader, it’s all gone wrong for you. You used to be badass, now people keep messing you up. After the comical “Nooooooo!” at the end of the third prequel, it was hard to imagine what could go worse. But in Rogue One, he actually minces into his introduction scene. Watch the hips.
The suit also looks slightly wrong – it may be because a different person is inside the suit. Maybe it’s because the new actor is slightly shorter than the old guy was, in his time. There’s also breadth and perspective to consider. Anyway, Vader doesn’t look quite right.
Then there’s the odd voice. It’s still good ol’ James Earl Jones, but he’s got playful in his old age. There’s this strange ironical tone to his dialogue. I’m going to put this down to a bad script. Darth Vader is not cheeky. He’s threatening. You can’t strangle someone then wink afterwards. It’s just weird. Vader is not supposed to be that kind of weird.
I have more to say on poor old Darth Vader, so watch out for it.