Cinema Knife Fight: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A rebel hideout on some desolate planet in the STAR WARS universe. MICHAEL ARRUDA paces back and forth, anxiously. He suddenly hears the Imperial March theme music for Darth Vader, and L.L. SOARES enters the room.)
L.L. SOARES: I could get used to that.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: It sure took you long enough. So, can we start our review now?
LS: First, let me show you what I found. (Hands MA a disc labeled “Death Star.”)
MA: And what do we want with this? We’re here today to review ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016), not to get embroiled in their rebellion.
LS: Come on! Where’s your sense of fun? Everyone in the galaxy is searching for the Death Star plans, and who’s got them? We do!
MA: Yeah, and half the galaxy is going to show up here looking for those plans!
LS: What better way to build up our audience?
MA: I have a bad feeling about this.
LS: So, let’s see what we’ve got.
(LS pops disc into a futuristic looking Blu-ray player. The image on screen reveals Grand Moff Tarkin wearing a dress, prancing around a control room. CUTS to a group of Stormtroopers standing behind a distracted Darth Vader, flipping him the bird.)
MA: I don’t think those are the plans they’re looking for.
LS: This is even better! A gag reel! If the rebels were smart, this could be blackmail material. I gotta watch this! You go ahead and start the review.
MA: Sure. Just don’t get too distracted. We do have a review to do.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is the first standalone STAR WARS movie, which means it’s the first film in the series not to be part of a trilogy. It tells the intriguing story of how the rebels stole those Death Star plans, which they used to blow up the massive weapon at the end of the original STAR WARS (1977) movie.
LS: A NEW HOPE!
MA: Yes, yes. A NEW HOPE.
LS: And it’s Number 4 in the series.
MA: Why are you bringing all this up, since you despise all the numbers and subtitles?
LS: Because it’s fun to bust your balls.
MA: But you’re the one who despises those numbers and subtitles. So, how exactly does it bother me?
LS: Like this. (Picks up an R2D2 garbage can and hurls it as MA, who darts out of the way.)
MA: I see. Anyway, for the purpose of this review, let’s just call the first Star Wars of all time STAR WARS, and leave it at that?
LS: Sounds great to me!
ROGUE ONE also provides information to dispel that old joke about how stupid the Empire must have been to leave so fatal a flaw in their Death Star plans. We learn in this movie that the flaw was no accident.
LS: The Empire is still pretty stupid. Don’t they have someone check their work? Some quality control would be nice.
MA: Since this is standalone movie, it is chock full of new characters, and the film spends very little time introducing them, so hold onto your hats. There are plenty of new faces here. Here we go:
In the opening moments of ROGUE ONE, we see Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) coerced by main baddie Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to work for the Empire, a coercion that includes the murder of Galen’s wife, and the attempted abduction of his young daughter Jyn, but the girl escapes and is eventually rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
LS (laughs): Man, these are some incredibly silly names. I always thought it was hilarious that, just because these are science fiction movies, everyone has to have such mouth-garbling names. Whatever happened to names like John and Michael?
MA: And LL?
LS: I’ve changed my name to Crinkle Buttersnutch, I’ll have you know.
MA (laughs): I have to agree with you, though. The names here are pretty ridiculous.
The action then jumps to several years later, where we meet the adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and we find her briefly in a prison cell before she is rescued by rebel forces. Back at the rebel base, the rebel leaders are very interested in Jyn’s father, since supposedly he has helped the Empire design and build their new ultimate weapon, the Death Star.
LS: Oooh. Scary!
MA: But what the rebels want Jyn to do is find her old friend, Saw Gerrera, because Saw’s forces have apprehended a pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who has information vital to the rebellion. In return for her help, the rebels promise Jyn her freedom.
LS: What about Fronkata Pistarock?
MA (laughs): Stop it!
Leading the mission is pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), but before they leave, we’re privy to Cassian’s private instructions from the rebel leaders, which is to find and kill their targets, including Jin’s father. On Saw’s planet, they are assisted by a blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) who worships the Force and seems to wish he were a Jedi, and his friend Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).
LS: You didn’t mention Coconut Muskrat!
MA: I should have. He sounds like an interesting character!
Anyway, once they find Saw…
LS: Oh, this is a horror movie?
MA: You wish! But no, it’s not that SAW (2004). The character played by Forest Whitaker here.
MA: …he privately shows Jyn a holographic message from her father, where he explains that he purposely built a flaw into the Death Star plans, which if exploited, could destroy the entire weapon. One explosion in the right place would set off a series of blasts that would destroy the entire Death Star.
LS: The Death Star. Scaaary!
MA: Are you going to say that every time I say Death Star?
MA: Of course, the rebels don’t trust Jyn’s father, and so they don’t believe the message. However, Cassian believes in Jyn, and, along with a small group of rebels, including K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, and the rescued pilot Bodhi, offers to help her seek out and steal the Death Star plans.
(MA looks at LS, but LS doesn’t say anything)
MA: They name their ship Rogue One and head off on their own to steal the plans for the Death Star.
LS (shivers): Spooky.
MA: I had mixed feelings about ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. For me, this movie took forever to get going, before ultimately reaching a very satisfying conclusion. If it were a weather forecast, it would be like a sunny day without a cloud in the sky before suddenly and quickly becoming very stormy, and before you know it you’re stuck in a full blown deadly hurricane. ROGUE ONE plays out like that. For two-thirds of this movie, I wasn’t overly impressed, and then just around the time where they name their mission, “Rogue One,” things pick up and pick up fast. The last third of this film is really good and goes to some dark places that work very well. While I wasn’t nuts about the beginning, I liked the ending to this one A LOT.
LS: I’ll take it a step further and say that I found two-thirds of this movie very, very boring. I didn’t care about the characters, or the storyline, or much of anything else. It was this one big, boring waste of time until the final big showdown. And knowing this was a standalone story, and that some, if not many, of these characters might not pop up again in other movies, made it even more disposable. I found myself wondering, Why Bother? And while I did enjoy the last third, I didn’t like it A LOT. I just liked it A LITTLE.
MA: The biggest problem I had with the beginning, was a lack of character development. We meet a bunch of new characters, but I didn’t feel I knew much of anything about them. I just wasn’t invested in what was going on. I don’t think the movie did a good job creating these characters at all. In fact, dare I say it? But during the first half of this movie, I was kinda bored, too. I was enjoying the visual aspects of the film, but the story was putting me to sleep.
LS: Right away, we meet a bunch of characters and jump around to a whole bunch of different planets and locations. I understand the plan, to take us right into the action and submerge us in what’s going on, but I didn’t find much to care about, so it just seemed like a big jumble to me. Eventually, it becomes clear, but the lack of clarity early on just made my boredom with the first part of the movie even more pronounced.
MA: I agree.
(Droids R2D2 and C3PO enter the scene, with R2D2 beeping and whistling)
LS: What did he say?
C3PO: He said that the movie would have been a lot more exciting if we had had major roles in the film, and I quite agree.
MA: But this wasn’t your movie.
CSPO (nods as R2D2 beeps): Well, maybe it should have been. R2 and I would have saved the day, gallantly. And we would have added a touch of class to the proceedings.
LS: If you say so.
MA: Can I continue with the review?
C3PO: Of course, my good man.
MA: Thanks. But then, like I said, the ending gets much better and actually forgets that it’s supposed to be a kid-friendly STAR WARS movie and becomes a much more adult story about war, and the film is much better for this switch in tone.
LS: It’s an adult story? All kinds of miniature space ships zipping around, fighting each other. Seemed kind of childish to me. I thought I was watching a Lego movie.
MA: I thought its war story was pretty adult, but I didn’t feel this way until the end. The first two thirds of the film I agree with you. It did feel like a Lego movie, unfortunately.
Another thing I didn’t like about ROGUE ONE was its villains. The main villain here was Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and I wasn’t impressed with him at all. I found him very dull and boring.
LS: He’s kind of a typical Empire toady. Another whiny bureaucrat.
MA: Even the presence of Darth Vader (voiced once again by James Earl Jones and sadly sounding noticeably older) in a few scenes doesn’t really help things all that much. Of course, the big news here is the return of Grand Moff Tarkin, a combination CGI creation and motion capture performance using actor Guy Henry combined with CGI effects to recreate Peter Cushing’s original appearance from the 1977 movie.
LS: Yeah, what was that about? It looked incredibly odd to me!
MA: Initial word of mouth had been singing high praises about this effect, but I wasn’t all that impressed, honestly. Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge Peter Cushing fan. I mean, Tarkin here certainly resembles Peter Cushing, but he also resembles an animated Peter Cushing. Plus the voice was wrong. If you’re going to go to such great lengths to make the character look like Cushing, shouldn’t you go the distance and make him sound like Cushing? Maybe I’m nitpicking here, but I wasn’t all that impressed by this CGI Tarkin.
LS: I wasn’t impressed with him at all. All I kept thinking about was you, actually. You’re such a big Cushing fan, that all I could imagine was you squirming in your seat while watching this lame recreation of an actor who’s been dead a long time (since 1994). He doesn’t look like a real person, he doesn’t move like a real person. He was little more than a creepy-looking hologram. I actually thought CGI had gotten better than this – especially considering the huge budget a movie like ROGUE ONE must have. You’d think they’d notice in the dailies how bad it looked and just scrap the idea of including Tarkin here completely. It’s kind of embarrassing. And there’s another familiar face who pops up near the end, who is also a CGI construct, who looks just as odd and unconvincing!
MA: I can’t disagree with you here on either CGI creation. I thought they were both pretty awful. The Cushing one was fun to watch, but I kept thinking, like you, isn’t current CGI better than this?
I also wasn’t that interested in the power struggle here between Tarkin and Orson Krennic. I couldn’t care less that the two of them didn’t like each other and were vying for superiority over the other. We already know who’s manning the Death Star in STAR WARS, so this storyline did nothing for me.
LS: Poor Peter Cushing. He deserves a lot better than being remembered as some weird animated guy.
MA: Well, that’s a whole other issue entirely. In fact, it irks me as it is that many fans only know him from STAR WARS, but I’ll save that argument for another day.
The performances were fine, but for most of this movie I didn’t really get to know these characters all that well. I liked Felicity Jones as Jyn, but I don’t think she made as much of an impact as Daisy Ridley did last year as Rey in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015). Like the rest of the cast and the entire movie, Jones gets better as the movie goes along.
LS: Yeah, I liked her, but I didn’t think she was all that amazing. Daisy Ridley made a much bigger impression. She was dynamic, she had real screen presence. Jones, not so much. And it’s not her fault – I like her as an actress, but her character of Jyn seemed like someone we’d seen before. A one-dimensional rebel fighter. I never really cared about her or her quest to find her father.
MA: I could take or leave Diego Luna as Cassian Andor.
LS (yawns): Yeah, and I usually like Luna. I’ve been a fan since Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2001). But Cassian is kind of a nothing role. The typical handsome hero. As one-dimensional as a paper cut-out. Wow, when everyone else deserts her, Cassian is the one who has faith in Jyn. Big whoop.
MA: I actually enjoyed some of the supporting characters more here. I enjoyed both Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus throughout the movie.
LS: Donnie Yen is a legend in Chinese cinema, having previously appeared in such classics as DRAGON INN (1992), IRON MONKEY (1993), and IP MAN (2008), and its sequels. I like him, but his Chirrut Imwe didn’t seem all that original, but just a second-rate Zatoichi (the blind swordsman from tons of Japanese samurai flicks). And I found it pretty sad that he could so easily take out lots of highly-trained Stormtroopers with high-tech weapons, just using a staff. I know he’s supposed to be an inspiring, heroic character, but he didn’t move me. I liked Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus more. Jiang is another actor with a long resume of good movies, like Zhang Yimou’s classic RED SORGHUM (1987), DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP (2000), and WARRIORS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH (2003), and his Baze is a scruffy, gun-toting warrior—the kind of role someone like the late Toshiro Mifune could have played in his sleep—who at least seemed more believable to me as he took out the Empire goons.
Considering how one-dimensional just about all the players are in this movie, at least Chirrut and Baze stand out as colorful characters. But neither role is all that amazing.
MA: I always enjoy Mads Mikkelsen, from TV’s HANNIBAL, and we just saw him as the villain in DOCTOR STRANGE (2016). I also really enjoyed him as the Bond villain Le Chiffre in the first Daniel Craig Bond film CASINO ROYALE (2006). Mikkelsen is fine here as Galen Erson, even if ultimately the role doesn’t allow him to truly showcase his talents.
LS: Galen is another weak role for a great actor. I think Mikkelsen is terrific, but just like his role in DOCTOR STRANGE, where he played one of the weaker characters, I think he’s way too talented to get these second-rate roles. He deserves better writing. But DOCTOR STRANGE was a much better movie than ROGUE ONE.
MA: ROGUE ONE was directed by Gareth Edwards, and I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of his work. He directed the Bryan Cranston GODZILLA (2014) which I thought was just okay, and he directed MONSTERS (2010) a film you liked better than I did. Edward’s films are always visually interesting, but I find he tends to struggle to tell a story. ROGUE ONE struggled to draw me in, and I wasn’t all that interested until the final third of the movie.
LS: I loved MONSTERS, and thought GODZILLA was good, but could have been better (give Godzilla more screen time, dammit!), so I went into this one hoping for a really enjoyable movie, but ROGUE ONE really disappointed me.
MA: Visually there is a lot to like about ROGUE ONE. I enjoyed the various worlds we visit, and some of the shots in this film were very cinematic. I liked the sequence near the end of the film where Jyn and Cassian have to climb the massive tower. It was suspenseful and visually exciting.
LS: But I’ve seen tons of scenes in movies that were just like it. It wasn’t anything new. And I found the spaceships flying around and shooting each other pretty tedious after a while. I think it’s incredibly hard to do a battle sequence well, and ROGUE ONE didn’t wow me at all.
MA: That being said, I saw ROGUE ONE in 3D, and I can’t say that the 3D effects really added all that much to the film.
Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz wrote the screenplay, and it’s OK. The actual story is very good, and my favorite part just might have been the plot point of Galen Erso purposely building a flaw into the design of the Death Star, which finally explains what had always seemed like a big glaring plot hole in the original STAR WARS.
(MA stares sharply at LS)
MA: I’m waiting for you to say A NEW HOPE again.
LS: Not me.
MA: But the characterizations here were weak, and for most of this movie I didn’t feel like I really knew these characters, and that’s not a good thing.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is visually pleasing throughout, and while hardcore STAR WARS fans might not mind the threadbare character development during the first half of this movie, it left me feeling cold and disinterested in what was going on, until the end, when things pick up big time for one very exciting and near perfect conclusion that just might be the most memorable STAR WARS ending yet. It’s certainly belongs in the conversation.
I give it two and a half knives.
LS: You didn’t talk much about any of the things I actually liked about this movie.
First off, I liked the droid in this one, K-2SO, a lot.
MA (laughs): See, I thought he was just another droid. Seen one, seen ‘em all!
(R2D2 produces some rude sounding beeps and whistles.)
C3PO: R2! I had no idea you used such profane vocabulary! (R2 beeps.) Yes, I know what he said about droids. And I’m well-versed in multiple languages. Let me give you some words that are even more offensive. (R2 beeps enthusiastically.)
LS: As usual, K-2, as he’s called most of the time, provides some of the comic relief for the movie. But the ironic thing is, he’s the most fully-developed character here, at least as much as Jyn is. As voiced by Alan Tudyk (who has acted in movies like WONDER BOYS, 2000, SERENITY, 2005, and TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL, 2010; TV shows like FIREFLY, 2002 – 2003, V, 2009, and DOLLHOUSE, 2009 – 2010; and has done tons of voiceover work in such things as ICE AGE, 2002, ZOOTOPIA, 2016, and the show AMERICAN DAD, 2011 – 2016), K-2 is funny, smart, and sarcastic, as opposed to some of the cute droids we’ve gotten in past movies, and he steals every scene he’s in, especially in his interactions with Jyn.
MA: I thought he was just okay.
(R2D2 beeps wildly)
MA: What did he say?
C3PO: You don’t really want to know.
C3PO: I’m sorry to say he took exception to your previous comments about droids, and to your colleague’s comments just now. R2 thought that this K-2SO fellow was clearly second-rate compared to droids like us.
(R2D2 continues to beep emphatically)
LS: I don’t know, I liked him better than you two. He really should get a spin-off movie of his own, don’t you think.
C3PO: I most certainly do not! And R2 agrees.
LS: Well, bully for you!
I also really liked seeing Darth Vader again, and wish he had been in this movie a lot more. We could have used less of Orson Krennic and more scenes of Vader in action. He seemed a little bit off, though, being played by a different actor than the original David Prowse, who brought a more physicality to the role, and James Earl Jones’ voice does seem a little different due to the passage of time, but why put such an iconic villain in the movie and then just show him in tiny spurts? A more prominent Vader would have been a good thing.
MA: I have to agree with you there. I would have liked to have seen more Darth, and I do agree that there was something “off” about the character in this movie. He just seemed way less imposing.
LS: But overall, I found the story mediocre at best, the characters mostly forgettable, and the pacing very slow for most of the movie. I was actually irritated during the first hour or so, as I kept waiting for the movie to finally sweep me up in its plot, and it didn’t. It was way too long, took too much time getting to the good stuff, and dragged its feet for big chunks of the movie’s running time.
The ending that you seem to think was so perfect was just so-so. We knew how it was going to end from the start, so there are no big surprises.
MA: I’m talking about the fight sequences at the end, not the actual ending, because you’re right, we know how this one ends. They steal the plans. The sacrifices made by the characters here really lifted this one to some memorable heights, I thought.
LS: Right away, there was all kinds of hype about this movie. Some critics were saying it might be the best Star Wars movie yet, but I thought it was one of the weaker entries in the series.
Hardcore fans of the series will eat it up, and gush over every little reference to previous movies. But if you’re not a fanboy, this one is not going to convert you. I give it one and a half knives. Considering the budget for a movie like this, it should be an exciting, fun ride. We don’t go to these movies for answers to the meaning of life, after all. But I found this movie neither exciting, nor all that fun.
MA: While I liked it better than you, you’re right, it’s not even close to being one of the best Star Wars movies. This is the eighth one. I’d rank it somewhere around fifth or sixth on the “Best” meter.
C3PO: Once again, I must state that, with R2 and I in the leads, this movie could have been a much superior form of entertainment.
LS: I really don’t think it would have helped.
(R2D2 rolls forward and rams into LS’s knee)
LS: Oww! You little brat!
C3PO: Serves you right.
LS: I’m done here. I have an alien cantina I have to drink dry.
MA: Yeah, the review’s over, boys. Time to go.
(R2D2 beeps and whistles)
C3PO: You’re right, R2. We never get any respect.
LS: Hey, Rodney Dangerfield, are you two coming with us? I’ll buy you both a Valvoline martini.
C3PO: We might as well, R2. It’s not like we’ve got any pressing engagements.
© Copyright 2016 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY ~ two and a half knives!
LL Soares gives ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY ~one and a half knives.