Meanwhile in a galaxy far far away…

Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

 

Tea: Sencha Almond

 

With Christmas behind us and a new year beckoning on the horizon, there are still a lot of games and movies to clean off the floor of my inner mind. Before Christmas, I managed to squeeze into a theatre and see the first of the surely endless Star Wars spin-offs, namely Rogue One. My liking of Episode VII is well documented and thus I went with fairly high hopes into Rogue One, expecting another solid nostalgia trip with the occasional chuckle. Take a short trip with me across the stars to find out whether this far away galaxy is worth visiting in between the big movies.

Rogue One – lacking the traditional title crawl – focuses on two characters since it can’t make up its mind who the main character is supposed to be. There is Jyn Erso, daughter of scientist and inventor of the Death Star Hanniba- I mean Galen Erso who was abducted when she was young, consequently she was forced to flee. Now she is a lone wolf with no interest in these petty conflicts only involving the freedom of every being in the galaxy (the pretentiousness is strong in her). And there is Cassian Andor, a Han Solo type rogue but not the actual one, with an imperial robot who often steals the spotlight of either characters whenever he lumbers into the scene. The plot is basically the entire reason why the rebels had the Death Star plans and why such a monstrous weapons has such a glaring weak spot. We follow the journey of Jyn and Cassian across the galaxy to the rebel alliance and to meet her old mentor Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker who might as well have the worst Darth Vader cosplay to date, but nails the breathing part pretty dead on. Of course, there is the elephant in the room, namely the just mentioned copyright holder of breathing himself: Lord Vader. The ads and trailers were not shy to boast with his appearance, but do not be deceived since some of those scenes are not even in the movie, the dark robot limbed inhaler himself is hardly in it. Roughly 4 minutes of Vader time is all you get this time around. Without spoiling, however, when he does appear it is more than worth it, especially his last appearance. I went to see the German version this time around and since the first time I saw these movies it was in German, I was a bit awe-struck that they managed to find a same-sounding voice actor for Vader. The German voice of the Sith lord is one of the few voice-overs I still hold in high regard, so this was my nostalgia moment right then and there.

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– Such a group of misfits, I have never seen anything like this at all… –

 

Keen readers may have noticed that I did not talk much about the plot, this is partially due to spoilers, but mostly due to the lack of it. Characters move from location A to location B and find out about object 1 which is found in location C and so on and so forth. The plot has very little agency of its own, since it awkwardly needs to bridge Episodes III and IV. Which is indeed one of the heaviest cruxes to bear. Effectively, the movie loses a lot of tension through this simple fact. In heart pounding moments of failure and success, I can always recall the fact that this must work out, since IV would not be possible otherwise. Not once does the movie try to surprise us with a sudden twist and throw us off the safe and comfort of knowing of the mere existence of Episode IV, a truly missed opportunity. On the other hand, they use the nostalgia of A New Hope rather than Revenge of the Sith, never does Vader scream a pathetic “Noooooo!” but rather the iconic imagery of the first Star Wars is used in excess.

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– With this picture alone you have roughly 3% of the entire Vader-portion of the movie. –

Actor-wise I was very unsure about the decisions made. Felicity Jones brings no emotion to the table whatsoever, every scene feels like a line-reading and basic facial training. A hilarious part is when she is supposed to look like she is crying, but her face only looks slightly swollen after a mild bee sting. Diego Luna on the other hand did an excellent job and brought a lot of interesting aspects to the character. It is not the easiest character to sympathises with and the fact that he could well be a villain in another movie with his looks only adds to this. His characterisation is far more subtle, also in his connection to the robot K-2SO (who I already mentioned is great). Jyn is characterised by having her rescue a child during a fire-fight. Outstanding…. I sympathise so much… The main villain is laughably cartoonish and overdone, but serviceable for the stake-less plot. He is an easy surface of projection for hate and the actor does the best he could with the script. Mads Mikkelsen is criminally underused and shines in every scene he is in. Sadly, he has just a little more screentime than Vader and thus remains underutilised. If the story had focused more on his inner plight and being torn between a family and the empire, I would have felt a great deal more connected to the plot. The problem lies in the fact that this movie is far too concerned with explaining of old plot details and world building that it misses the chance to create an anchor for the audience, one we can relate to and whose agenda we share. Through the lack of this, I am merely along for the ride, an uninvolved spectator taking in all the pretty shoot-bangs, but feeling no satisfaction from it.

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– Not only can Mikkelsen pull off more than one facial expression, he actually manages to be intriguing. –

All of this might be a matter of taste by the end, but what cannot be argued away is the soundtrack, since this is trash. There are some moments when the movie tries to nostalgia-bait you with some Williams tracks, which turn out to be only inspired tunes and not the original master pieces. The problem here is the lack of understanding. Star Wars music may be simple, but it is hard to copy. Only using a march-theme is not enough to evoke the power of the empire and thus it falls completely flat. Another glaring part is the choice of soundtrack in certain scenes where they do not match the imagery at all. A later scene is heavy on scale and impact and no music would have sufficed to simply let the images do the work, but oh no, we get relaxing documentary style music along this scene, fitting for a montage of dolphins swimming around in water. One track hits all the right notes, but it is one of the last and by that time I had already lost all faith in the composer, perhaps John Williams snuck in when the guy was taking a break.

And finally there is the matter of CGI characters. Peter Cushing is sadly no longer with us and thus a replacement for Tarkin had to be found, however, since no one seemed fit to take up this role, they just created one out of lifeless digits and this is how the grotesque depiction of Tarkin atop of a human actor was created. It is a truly unnerving sight, especially when he talks, since far too much of his face seems to move. It is so deep in the uncanny valley and completely breaks immersion. It is all the more baffling that a later shot of another CGI character is absolutely fine and serviceable. I would not have thrown a stone if it was merely an actor who vaguely looked like Cushing or even only sounded like him, as long as I was spared this Frankenstein’s monster. A final plus point has to be awarded to Disney, however, for the fate of the characters of the movie, I will leave it at that to remain spoiler-free.

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– This is the real Peter Cushing, of course. An actor whose face can only be described as skull-like. –

Rogue One is a true mixed bag, just like the name of the movie is inserted as smooth and seamless as socket wrench glides into a pile of rubble, a lot of the ties to the other episodes feel forced. Occasionally, the right note is struck and it feels wonderful, but at other times it simply makes you turn your head and raise a questioning eyebrow. The soundtrack is decentred to put it mildly and only once managed to work with the scene. Fans of blaster battles will get their fill, although even they might tire of it in this shooting fest. The movie could use 30 mins less content and a stronger character focus, but what we have here is still in no way a broken mess. It is serviceable and enjoyable for the most part. The occasional hiccup might only be due to the strain of having to work on such a fan-dictated project to begin with. Take my criticism for what it is worth and remember that even I had goose bumps during a scene near the end and only Star Wars could have pulled something like this off.

 

 

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