Movie Review: Star Wars Rogue One
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When I was a child various fictional objects were advertised to me whose uncanny alien design
bespoke a thought-out, immersive world to get lost in. These objects (mostly vehicles) included TIE
Fighters, lightsabers, X-Wings, and other purchasable toys of the Star Wars universe. Now,
nostalgia for them and the unattainable potential of youth have brought me to Rogue One: A Star
Wars Story, a film by Gareth Edwards in which many of these objects (and familiar aliens) clash.
Strangely it focuses on sacrifices made during wartime. It does so while constantly reminding you
of previous Star Wars incarnations, through cameos of previous characters and new versions of
old scenes. This escapism seems at odds with the Dirty Dozen pastiche of its plot.
In the plot, the Empire is a huge machine that is stamping out our motley crew of heroes as
they fight to steal the Death Star plans and take them to Princess Leia. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)
must join a group of ragtag fighters to stop Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) before he begins blowing up
planets, as we know the Empire will in A New Hope. Edwards does better with characters here
than he did in Monsters or Godzilla, his previous films in which energetic action sequences were
constantly derailed by slow-moving cardboard people. The characterization is so minimal to be
appropriately funereal, but it is sidelined by modern blockbuster template: some lines about hope,
which lead to very insincere speeches about hope. When the emotions come they don't seem
earned. When the finale action sequences happen, they have a video game nature: go here to do
x in order to get y, just because.
The lyricism of Empire Strikes Back was a sucker punch. You thought you were watching a
kid's film: suddenly you were a grown-up. The emotions onscreen were complex but the imagery
they came to you in turned from fun to beautiful. I love the imagery here, it's both. I love the AT-AT
walker taking a missile to the face and shrugging it off, I love Darth Vader's God-like slaughter of
rebels, and the beautiful various planets we are rushed through (with onscreen text naming
locales, something the original trilogy never would have done). I didn't mind the CGI recreations of
Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher. I like Forest Whitaker's brief hammy appearance as a Vader-like
rebel. I wanted to hug Jimmy Smits, maybe just because he has a funny last name. Everything from
Diego Luna's haircut to the imperial alarm sound thrilled me in its detailed recreation of previous
entertainments. But the actual plot is strangely muted, chasing the dragon. Do you remember how
good it felt to imagine things when you were kid? Well, you can't go back.
You were a cog during childhood, in what was both art and a profit scheme. It can be both, and
it's always a pleasure to watch Disney's tasteful accumulation of funds. They put more thought into
their product than most. They have secured this intellectual property, added a dollop of risk, some
bullshit about hope, and attached it to a war movie that is enjoyable and palatable. We're going to
be watching Star Wars for a long, long time, and individually different for us all will be the moment
when we notice the blockbuster templates are less fulfilling. They're hobbled just a bit because
they're doomed to repeat more and more what made them previously successful, as the
marketplace demands. Compared to that the world of even an adult imagination is so vast and
broad, that it's a mistake to wed it to various exciting advances from 40 years ago. It's a trap.
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Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen