We saw Rogue One last week. Thirty minutes into the film, I already knew I was going to hate it. But, there had been instances when a movie starts badly but ends magnificently, so I stayed in my seat and watched ’till the end. The battle scene was great but not good enough to carry the entire film.
Why didn’t I like Rogue One? I wasn’t exactly sure at the time. It was both an emotional and mental reaction that defied articulation. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until days later when we were watching Episode 11 of The Big Bang Theory‘s 10th season that someone finally put into words exactly what I was feeling and thinking. It was Amy’s birthday, she and Sheldon only have sex once year on her birthday but, with so many interruptions, Sheldon’s libido started going kaput. He said, “Earlier tonight, things began organically, and now it’s feeling forced, like all the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.”
That’s how I feel about Rogue One. It’s everything that’s wrong with sequels. Heck, that’s how I feel about Episodes I, II and III of the Star Wars saga. Forced. Trying hard. And calling them prequels doesn’t change anything. Despite the better visual effects made possible by ever-evolving technology, none had the charm of the original trilogy and The Force Awakens.
What, in particular, didn’t I like about Rogue One?
For starters, it didn’t belong in a movie house. It should have been one episode in the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The plot—how the Death Star plans came into the possession of Princess Leia in Episode IV—was good for a 45-minute run and extending it to 133 minutes to make a feature-length film was insane. That’s why the first half was dragging. Too thin story line being stretched like a rubber band and stopping just at that point before the rubber band breaks.
Then, there’s the very little emotional depth in the film. Star Wars is a epic story about rebellion. It is a story of freedom fighters brimming with idealism who are engaged in a war against a tyrannical galactic empire. In a story like that, emotions run high—from the euphoria of battle victories to the gloomy depression of losing comrades, friends and family, and every emotion in between. And all that was successfully relayed in the original trilogy and even in The Force Awakens where even moments of humor were strategically written in.
But in Rogue One… except, perhaps, for the scene when Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is dying in the arms of his long-lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), there are no emotional highs and lows—there is only, for the most part, a wide and long anemic plateau. To borrow the words of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the story of Rogue One has the “emotional range of a teaspoon”. If the intended audience of Rogue One consisted of droids, that might have worked. But it is us humans who are meant to watch it, and it just didn’t work for me.
And what’s with the additional characters?
In particular, there’s Ip Man Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe and Jiang Wen as his partner Baze Malbus. They’re both good actors but the characters they played were superfluous to the story. The story would have been complete without them. And I wondered… Was their inclusion merely a marketing ploy to get Asians even more engaged with Star Wars? Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus are to Star Wars what Seraph (a role originally offered to Michelle Yeoh and, after she declined, to Jet Li) is to The Matrix. Get big Asian stars in to penetrate the Asian market even more. Good strategy, sure, but are Asians only good for token scenes that don’t really add much to the film as a whole?
Was it a director or a story issue?
Rogue One was directed by Gareth Edwards whose only noteworthy prior directorial job was in 2014’s Godzilla (which I didn’t find impressive at all).
The screenplay was written by Tony Gilroy (the Bourne quadrilogy, Dolores Claiborne, Proof of Life, The Devil’s Advocate, Michael Clayton, Nightcrawler) and Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, Cinderella) from a story by John Knoll (a visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic and one of the original creators of Adobe Photoshop) and Gary Whitta (a video game journalist whose screen credits include The Book of Eli which put me to sleep amazingly fast). Since I never read the original story, it’s hard to say whether it was the screenplay that failed or whether the best screenwriter could not remedy a mediocre story.
In comparison, The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and the legendary J. J. Abrams (Regarding Henry, Diabolique, Alias, Fringe).
With a budget of 290 million dollars, one would think that hiring more seasoned (albeit more expensive) writers would be justified. But I suppose much of the budget was spent on visual effects including the CGI resurrection of the late Peter Cushing to reprise the role of Grand Moff Tarkin. Yes, it was impressive (somewhat) but the fish eyes of the CGI-Grand Moff Tarkin were as lifeless as the body of the actor who once played the role to perfection.
Does all my disappointment mean I’ve had it with Star Wars? Probably not, but I think I’ll skip any future film with a story set before A New Hope. On the flipside, I eagerly await the still untitled Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga.