Thoughts On: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The daughter of the engineer leading the construction of the Death Star must steal the original plans.
** SPOILERS THROUGHOUT **
This is an astonishingly bland film. Watching this film I was completely dumbstruck with how pointless and mediocre it was. However, you can’t say that this is a bad film. I know some people will like it, but… I don’t see how. For me there was only two particularly good things about this movie. The first was getting to see Darth Vader destroy a few motherfuckers – something we had to wait a long while to see, but a great scene that will have me see the next movie; one that implies the sheer potential power these films can, if done well, possess. The second great thing about seeing this film came when hearing Imperial alerts and sirens blaring. It’s on the cue of this noise…
… that the bored-out-of-her-mind, little girl behind me perked up and shouted at her Dad: “Elephants are coming!”.
Surely one of the funniest and heart warming things I’ve ever heard in the cinema.
The other positives of this film are obvious. It looks quite good, there’s a light-saber or two and a few good battles. These are the things that keep this film from being completely boring and so just about all right. But, this film has two major issues that I didn’t really expect.
The first issue is made clear in the opening seconds of the film. We see…
… and are expecting the crawl text, the iconic theme tune, the tingles you can’t help but feel…. but, no. We don’t get that. This isn’t something bad though, it was something I was eager to embrace as this is a film that clearly means to set itself apart from the others in the franchise; the lack of classical Star Wars scores and tropes being indicative of this. However, Rogue One sets itself apart by abandoning the clichéd, but irrefutably brilliant parts of the rest of the series: score and tone. Whilst the score is a slightly trivial detail, the highly anti-climactic few seconds of this film foreshadow the greatest fault in the direction, acting and editing. This film has no emotional weight. The scenes carry no arc of emotions and you are never immersed into the story nor cinematics – even when there’s flashy lights and big explosions. And on that note; the camera directions aren’t as fluid, dynamic or long as we saw in Abrams’ Force Awakens. As a result, there is so much scope lost in this film – something in dire need of if we’re to feel that we’re in space, that we’re in a battle. Moreover, the toned down, zoomed in scope of this film isn’t executed well and doesn’t have a positive effect either. This film is not Saving Private Ryan in any way shape or form, we’re not pushed into battle, we’re certainly not made to feel a speck in an implied ocean of calamity. This is all because Edwards (director) has to control of the scope of this picture. It is neither confined or sprawling, and so we’re left at a weird middle-ground where the choppy editing of action is both distracting and boring as we never see what is implied to be happening in the set pieces with poignant cinematic language. This points to Edward’s inability to be truly expressive with his camera and direction. This immediately hurts the editing of sequences and leaves the film tonally bland. What doesn’t help this tone is also the unconvincing and entirely forgettable performances provided by every single actor.
The last point on character, however, isn’t one solely down to actors. What we see with Rogue One is a poorly written script projected onto screen: the second major fault of this film. We see this in two respects. The first is the plotting. Rogue One, as seems to be the case with way too many blockbusters, is an overly plot-centric movie. This is the source of all that makes it so mediocre as all we are experiencing with this film is a movement from plot point to plot point to plot point. There is no emotional poignancy in any of these transitions, nor is there a tonal change or something that grabs you and sucks you into the narrative. As mentioned, the only saving grace in this film is the fact that it’s in a galaxy far, far away. But, without the Star Wars setting around it, this film would be nothing. The worst thing about this plot-centric narrative, however, is the lack of focus on character.
Each and every character in this film is flat and disinteresting. There’s points at which Donnie Yen’s character, the blind guy, shines. There’s also a few moments with the robot, K-S02, that are quite amusing. However, all these characters do is embellish what is wrong with the rest of character work seen throughout the film. In short, the characters are words on a page that serve a plot – little more. We see this in the necessary, but banal dialogue and the fact that everyone in this movie dies by the end–and that that does nothing to the audience. With this film being about a final stand, a tragic and bitter-sweet sacrifice, you expect character to be the most important thing; the singular element of the script that the screenwriter would obsess over. However, the screenwriter clearly had his mind on the plot and really didn’t give a shit about the characters nor the tone they give a film.
To understand all that’s wrong with the characters in this film, you merely need to look to the opening. The film starts with Mads Mikkelson’s character being taken away to work on the Death Star and his wife being killed. This leaves behind his daughter, Jyn, our main character. This scene is the crucial point of character work for her and… what an idiot you’d have to be to leave this as such. Characters are their pasts, yes, this is true – people are, in large part, an amalgamation of experiences. However, showing someone’s past isn’t characterisation. This is why we never really give a shit about her. We see what shapes her, but, as Cassian, the rebel, says: we’ve all been through something terrible. That’s not a quote, just a loose paraphrasing. Nonetheless, there’s a point in this film where Jyn is told that people have been through harder shit than she. We as audience members in a cinema can understand this criticism. We’ve seen a thousand films with tragic openings – a great many more tragic and more poignant than this one. What this says about Jyn’s ‘character work’ provided by the opening is: what makes this special? (I think that’s what Cassian says in fact; ‘you’re nothing special’ – I could be wrong though). The reason why back stories aren’t good enough as a crucial piece characterisation is that films are often concentrated on the present – Rogue One being a good example of this. This isn’t a film focused on how the past effects the present, which leaves Jyn’s childhood as a necessary side note, but also a weak attempt at characterisation that merely seems like a bit of plot. What we should have gotten after the opening scene was just a few minutes in prison with Jyn. This scene needn’t do much, it only needs to facilitate time in which Jyn can just exist and we can observe her. With this observation comes characterisation as we would see how Jyn behaves. By seeing her interact with a few people or just get on in her day, we’d begin to know who she is and what she’s like. We’re not given this time, merely told that she’s sad and in prison before the plot continues to hurtle forward.
This is why plot-centricity is so damaging; it doesn’t give characters time to just be. When we look to Donnie Yen’s character, we see a stronger process of characterisation. We like him because we get to learn about him; learn his behaviours to the point of being able to predict them as an individual’s choices. In such, we know Donnie Yen’s character as the blind guy who’s deep into the force, who repeats himself in a religious way. Not only is there some comedy in this, but we’re brought closer to him, made to see him as something like a unique person. The same may be said for the robot. Despite it being clichéd, this is a robot that’s starkly honest. Here we again have humour, but this isn’t all – we get to know this robot to the point of predictability. If you look to C-3PO, R2-DT and even BB8, you see stronger characters though. This is because, once we get into their narratives, these robots don’t really need to do or say anything for us to start giggling, knowing what they’re about to do. This doesn’t happen with any character to such a degree in this film. And this isn’t to say that all characters should make us laugh – certainly not. I only mean to suggest that we need to know these characters as to empathise with them, as to actually care. It’s undeniable that we don’t get to do this in Rouge One. We get a bit of back story, but nothing of true characterisation.
Whilst there’s a few more faults and points of discussion to be had on this film, this is all I feel is worth saying. Rogue One isn’t a bad film. It’s not a particularly good one either. This all because of characterisation and the fact that this film has no entertaining substance to it; no emotional weight; nothing to be sunken into. Whilst this film holds an interesting narrative tantamount to visual Star Wars trivia, it really is little more than a mediocre movie. Nonetheless, what did you think of the film?
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