Monday, December 26, 2016

"Rogue One" Q&A Review

Q. Should I see Rogue One?
A. Yes. Yes, you should.

Q. Star Wars has burned me before. Like, three times AT LEAST. Is Rogue One really good, or is it just "good for Star Wars"?
A. It's good, period, full stop. It's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Certainly better than The Force Awakens.

Q. Okay, neat. So, how many Jedi does it have? Is it true there's a Busby-Berkeley style light saber duel on a rickety bridge over an infinite canyon while flying droids buzz overhead and zap things?
A. Umm, no. That's not
true. Where did you hear that? In fact there are no Jedi at all in Rogue One...and that's a good thing.

Wait, wait, hear me out. I know everybody loves a good Jedi - the comfortable yet stylish robes, the mystic epigrams, the Force-chokes and saber duels - but let's admit it: The Jedi are played out. They have been for a long time, at least since Return. Why? Because we stopped learning anything new about them after Empire. For the next four movies - Return, Phantom, Clone Wars, and Sith, the Jedi remained unchanged: their philosophies, abilities, backstory, everything. There were no new developments, with the exception of one negative one (>cough< midichlorians >cough<). Of course they got stale.

In Rogue One, there are no Jedi. Although for what it's worth, there is, in the background, something more interesting - a priest of the Force who uses it to replace his sight. Kind of  the Force version of Daredevil. And the Force is explicitly religious. (The priest's mantra is "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.") I like it. Let's see more of this: More ways of thinking about the Force, more ways of interacting with it.

Q. Let's circle back for a moment. You said this is BETTER than The Force Awakens? Dude, you be trippin'!
A. No, I do not be trippin'. The Force Awakens was what yo might call an obligatory movie. All of its story elements were there because they had to be: another Death Star. Another young Jedi in training. Another Vader (What was his Sith title? Darth Wannabe?) More light sabers. More planet killers. The story itself was built around those ancient, reused story elements, using the same approaches that have been used for years, instead of pursuing other, more interesting possibilities.

That's not true of Rogue One. Yes, Vader and the Death Star are there, but they take a back seat to other villains, heroes, and settings. Ben Mendelsohn as Krennic is deliciously bad, even when he's being shit upon by Darth Vader. The finale isn't one more run against the Death Star. The protagonists aren't squeaky clean and virtuous - this movie clearly, defiantly belongs to the "Han Shot First" school of Star Wars ethics. The plot is simple and clear from start to finish. The fact that Rogue One doesn't have to provide fan service like the main movies freed up the filmmakers to tell a different kind of story: grittier, darker, more surprising. Better.

Q. Cool. So it's a flawless masterpiece! I'm going to buy my ticket right-
A. Hold on there, cowboy. I didn't say it was flawless.

First of all, this is a dark flick. DON'T go to it if you're looking for something that will send you out of the theater with a heart full of wonder. The movie's end is meaningful and dramatic, but it is definitely not happy. That's not what the movie's about. (Remember the line the entire story is based on: "Many Bothans died to bring us this information.")

Also, this is more of a military action flick set in the Star Wars universe than it is a Star Wars movie. You will get a story that moves forward fast. You will get a lot of action. You will get an occasional chuckle. And it IS visually exciting. But if you're looking for something that will blow your mind, this is not that movie. The visuals will be familiar to anyone who has seen Star Wars before.

And if you like aliens, this isn't for you. Most of the characters are human. Frankly, after Jar-Jar Binks, I find that a relief. No more cartoonish, CGI grotesques that are just stereotypes in alienface.

Finally (and this my biggest criticism) Rogue One deals with a lot of characters, and moves at a breakneck pace. The emphasis is on action over character development. The actors do solid work, but we don't have much time to bond with their characters and see their arcs. You want to know more about these characters, but you never will. And that's kind of the point.

So there it is - there are worse ways to spend your time and money than Rogue One.

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