Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There are mild spoilers in this review.

I'm going to start my review with a two-part statement that may cause confusion and outrage: I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and none of the movies are very good. The original Star Wars has an important and hallowed place in cinema history, and it's not a very good movie. Empire, the golden child of Star Wars fans, is really pretty decent, but it has its problems. I have a soft spot for Jedi, but Ewoks, man. Ewoks. Force Awakens was enjoyable, but not really good cinema. Also, there were prequels. What I'm saying here is that Star Wars does not have a track record of making good movies.

There is something about Star Wars, though, that makes it great despite this. The grandeur, the wonder, the scope, the imagination, the Force, the bigness and smallness of it - and of course the music - add up to a cultural phenomenon that I deeply love. I have similar thoughts about Potter, but that's a different topic.

All of this introduction exists to give background and context to my one-sentence review of Rogue One: it's a pretty decent Star Wars-themed action film. It's not great cinema, but I was entertained.

As a Star Wars fan, I appreciated the many references to other Star Wars properties, mostly Episode IV. The digital effects that allowed them to insert characters that first hit the screen almost forty years ago without jarring the audience - impressive.

Of course, as a Star Wars fan, I knew how this film needed to end. Rather, I knew the state that the setting needed to be at the end of the film, and therefore the ending was, by definition, predictable. The journey of getting there was fairly well done, though, and I appreciate that the studio had the guts to make a movie with that ending. I suspect that the commentary I'm seeing comparing it to Empire is based in part on similarity in arc.

I do have a number of problems with the film. I was never convinced by the motivations of the main characters. The actors emoted well, and the writers tried very hard to give them depth, but most of it rang hollow to me. The pacing was off; I suspect tightening up the edit by five or ten minutes would have helped a lot. The movie was very dark; I don't mean tonally, I mean it wasn't well-lit, which often made it hard to see what was going on. And, large parts of the plot (mostly everything to do with Saw Gerrera) were forced/borderline nonsensical.

Despite that, I enjoyed this movie. K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) was great, as was Donnie Yen's blind monk. The space battles were fantastically good. The ground combats were also well done, and all of it felt like Star Wars. There's a large extent to which not sucking is a major achievement for a Star Wars movie, and this one passed that test.

Speaking of tests, it passes Bechdel but fails Mako Mori - arguably. The test calls for a female character whose arc is not about supporting a man's story. Jyn's arc is all about her father, from start to finish - but his arc is about her, always, down to the project name. It might be a gray area.

I'd have appreciated more female background characters (though there were some), but it was nice that there wasn't a forced romance between the male and female leads.

Performance: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Production: 5/5
Overall: 3.5/5
Bechdel: Pass (B)
Mako Mori: Fail

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