ROGUE ONE (Spoiler Free Review)

Having waited too long to write a review of DR. STRANGE, it behooves me to be more prompt to review ROGUE ONE.

Before any review, let me get one thing out of the way:

I freely confess I had precisely zero interest in seeing this film, but a friend who was visiting for the evening came by, and we talked each other into going to see it.

I was very pleasantly surprised. This was a good film.

As with many a film of late, my main reluctance was fear of some Leftwing sucker punch. Far too many shows I used to watch had the habit of pausing the action for a Two Minute Hate against all I hold dear, like a satanic version of a Public Service Announcement.

I had heard from several sources that the cast starred no white males except as villains, and I had even heard that the writer did this deliberate as a message to express hatred for America in general and for all Conservatives in particular. His vision was to portray the Empire as Trump-supporting, Make the Galaxy Great Again, White Supremacist Patriarchs, and the rebellion as the multi-culti proletarians rising up against their oppressors. Therefore this film had all the earmarks of being just one more  bit of Lefteroo Hate-Whitey bigot-prop, like Disney’s POCAHONTAS.

My misgivings turned out to be entirely unfounded.

I was a little surprised that the main male protagonist was Caucasian, and for a while I wondered what the writer’s comment that there were no Caucasians among the protagonists. The actor is named Deigo Luna.  I had not remembered (because I am not a psychiatrist) that in the delusional world-system of the Left, Spaniards are not considered to be from Europe hence are not considered Caucasians. Spaniards are considered by the Left to be oppressed by Whites, and are not considered, for some reason, to be responsible for the introduction of black slaves to the New World. Go figure.

So, there is no pro-Left nor anti-White nor Anti-West message in this film. If the film makers meant there to be one, they failed miserably.

On to the spoiler-free review:

Nothing can match the epic space-opera goodness of STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. So put that idea from your mind, dear readers. The question then is whether this film lends luster to the franchise or demeans from it. We have been so grossly disappointed before.

This is the best STAR WARS film outside the original trilogy. It does indeed lend luster.

First, however, it must be said that this is a spy film, an adventure film, a war flick, and not a space opera.

This is a dark story taking place in the STAR WARS universe, but it does not follow the lighthearted conventions of a Flash Gordon epic. The happy-go-lucky swashbuckling atmosphere of space opera is entirely absent here. It is morally ambiguous and messy, like a spy film, where we see rebels doing abominable things out of grim military necessity.

A single, small example will serve. In the original STAR WARS, space farmboy is trapped over a chasm on a bridge with stormtroopers behind him and above him, under fire. There is a trifle of comic dialog “I think I just shot the bridge controls!” He slings a grapnel over a projection; a space princess kisses him for luck when he takes her in his arms, and he swings across accompanied by the same flourish of trumpets as might have been with Robin Hood or Captain Blood or any other old-fashioned swashbuckler.

Here, by contrast, Adventure Girl and Bitter Spy Guy cross a similar chasm, each leaps alone, and the deep chords playing in the background create a mood of danger, but not excitement. There is no snappy dialog, no kiss, merely desperation. One of them is shot and falls into the dizzying shaft. The other grimly continues upward, rather than descending and attempting rescue. The mission comes first.

The main character is not with the rebels at first, and for good reason: they are not the good guys, not all of them, not at first, not really.

For some viewers, this might be a deal breaker: the Rebels being murderous and ruthless may simply be too alien to the Star Wars ethos to be tolerable, but there is redemption through self-sacrifice for at least some of these darker characters.

This felt like a movie taken from a Timothy Zahn novel, not taken directly from the first trilogy, if that comment makes sense. It was as if someone wanted to do to STAR WARS what Tim Burton did to BATMAN, and make it more realistic.

I usually rate movies on five things: style, plot, character, setting, and theme. For adaptations or sequels, I add or subtract an extra star if the film is true to the source material.

Style consist of several elements. For a science fiction spectacle, the visual special effects are the main component of style.

In this case, the visuals are worth the ticket price. You will kick yourself if you wait to see this on a small screen.

Some of the images look like something out of one of my books, if I may be so bold as to make the comparison, by which I mean that the director here thought about the visual look of things like what it looks like when the shadow of a gas giant falls across its own ring system, or what those rings look like from the ground, or what it looks like when a battle station the size of a small moon is seen from the ground rising over a cloudy horizon, or when a starship emerges from the shadow of a parabolic dish miles wide, and so on.

Visually, everything that was in the original trilogy was as it should be and looked as it should, and more so. The sight of a Star Destroyer hovering above an occupied city, or the sight of an Imperial shuttle landing in the rain, all matched the look and tone of the Star Wars universe perfectly, or added new twists.

One example: The street scene in a city that is grown like a metal column and stalactite and stalagmite between two asteroids in an asteroid belt was visually arresting, and clever, and when the camera swings down into the street gutters, we see the same varied rowdies and nogoodnicks from the famous cantina scene in the first movie.

Other components of style include things like camerawork, dialog, and musical soundtrack.

The camerawork as good as anything I’d seen in, for example, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, or in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But neither was it artsy nor obtrusive. The fight scenes were blissfully free of shaky cam.

Since this was the dark and gritty version of STAR WARS, none of the lines were memorable, nor did any of the characters have the simple mythical stature of the first trilogy.

Sadly enough for a STAR WARS film, the sound track was mediocre and forgettable, except for the one or two places where a riff from the original score is played.

So I give ROGUE ONE one star for the style, which in this case means the visuals, which is the main selling point of a science fiction spectacle. No extra credit for camerawork, dialog, music.

For characters, no stars. No one was memorable. No one was the kind of person your child (or you yourself, you overgrown fanboy) will dress up as on Halloween. There was no space farmboy here, no space princess, no mysterious space wizard, no lovable rogue space smuggler, no Abominable Snowman.

The team consisted of Adventure Girl with a Kung Fu Action Grip, Bitter Spy Guy, Snarky Robot, Blind Zen Guy, Walking Arsenal Guy, and Crazy Pilot.

Snarky Robot is the best character of the bunch, and the only one whose name I remember: Kaytoo-Esso (I am guessing at the spelling). Unlike the rolling robot in FORCE AWAKENS, he was not simply a rehash of Artoo Detoo or See Threepio (again, guessing at the spelling).

Minor characters included Sad Dad, Dead Wife, Insane Cyborg with an Iron Lung But a Heart of Gold, Bad White Male Rebel Leader, Good White Female Rebel Leader. The bad guys were all Posh Evil Englishman in Uniform, as they were in the original film.

There is no hint of any of the love interest which livened up EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, or if there was a hint, I missed it.  That seems to be a thing with modern films starring Adventure Girls.

I did like that Adventure Girl was not the absurd Mary Sue that her counterpart in FORCE AWAKENS was. Sure, Adventure Girl could best multiple linebackers and thugs clearly than her in a fight, which was silly, bigoted and annoying. (Princess Leia never dirtied her hands with hand to hand combat with stormtroopers.) But the good side is that Adventure Girl here was not also a better pilot than Han and a better Jedi than Luke, stronger than all stormtroopers, and somehow able to best an evil Sith Lord on her own with a magic laserblade she just picked up that moment.

In terms of plot, one problem with any prequel is that the ending is known to the audience. In this case, that problem is not a problem. It is not as if any expects the Empire of Interstellar Evil to win in a space opera, or for the crime not to be solved in a whodunnit, or the girl not to get the guy by the end of a romance. The question here is not whether many Bothans will die getting the stolen data tapes to the space princess, the question is how do they do it.

The plot was not as tight as it should have been, but there were no plot holes or dangling threads as marred FORCE AWAKENS so badly. There were no scene where someone was doing something for no reason, or doing something stupid merely because it was in the script.

ROGUE ONE enjoyed neither a good plot nor a bad, merely a serviceable. The characters were for the most part one-dimensional, and the character arc was somewhat predictable: we knew the streetwise and cynical Adventure Girl was going to join the rebellion, for example.

Unfortunately, there is a little too much dark, gritty, realistic and bitter flavoring in this film to allow for much sympathy with the characters. They are all warped, broken, bitter people.

Having your protagonist betray and murder an innocent ally when convenient, or obey a secret order to assassinate a man the higher officers order him to capture, is too dark and evil an act for any later redemption to redeem.

It might be easy to forget that STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK actually had tightly-knitted and fast-moving plots, with several plot twists and reversals midmost, but nonetheless perfectly clarity of motive and action: the audience always knew who was going where and why.

The ROGUE ONE plot was slower and less tight, more unclear, with more angst and brooding moments, and only one major plot twist (but it was a good one).

All in all, the plot is just not that good. So, no stars for plot.

In terms of setting, the film managed to capture the look and feel of the Star Wars galaxy and even expand upon it. There are desert planets and mountainous planets, asteroid belts and gigantic Imperial bases. The castle of Darth Vader has to be seen to be appreciated: it looks like Mordor in Space.

Setting includes the whole mileau. in a science fiction film, where the setting is extraterrestrial, the challenge is to have a setting that seems solid and lived-in. As with the original, this was a battered, lived-in tomorrowland.

There are no Jedi in the film, aside from a brief cameo, as per the original film, but there are two temple guards of the destroyed Force temple, one of whom prays incessantly to the Force, and fight with a acute, superhuman skill of Zatoichi or Matt Murdock, so his faith seems justified.

The setting earns a star. The film did a good job here. It felt not only like a real setting, it felt like a real Star Wars setting. You could have run across this scenario in any Star Wars comic, tie-in novel, role playing game, or online computer game.

The theme was one of hope and stoicism. The story showed how hope is a virtue in hopeless times, and that having a cause worth dying for is the only thing that makes a life worth living for. At times, I thought I was watching an old fashioned Samurai film or reading a Greek epic: everyone had his moment of glory, bright, brief, and moving, in the desperate battle.

If anything, the theme of self-sacrifice, so common in war films and almost unknown in Flash Gordon style space operas (since Flash cannot stay dead when thought dead any more than James Bond Gandalf or Fu Manchu) was much stronger and more poignant here than in any other Star Wars film.

Again, this might be a deal breaker for anyone expecting a rehash of STAR WARS, but it fit with the grim and gritty approach, and gave weight to what would otherwise have been too light and slight a tale. I will give one star for the theme.

I am willing to add an extra star for nostalgia reasons, because this is a STAR WARS film that was actually respectful and true to the original material.

The film is peppered with little homages and grace notes to amuse fanboys. The chatter of bored stormtroopers standing watch, for example, discussing the VT-19 being obsolete, is part of the same conversation as Obi Wan Kinobi overhears when he is shutting down the tractor beam in the first film. As a sequel, the film was true to the source material.

There were also cameo appearances of old friends, brought to you by the magic of truly seamless special effects, that included some of the best scenes in the film.

If you have heard reviewers deprecating the special effects that were used here to revive old friends or foes, allow me to say that, having seen the film twice now, and studying the faces and lip movements of what I was sure were special effect created masks, all I can say is that the criticisms are unfounded. The illusion is perfect. I cannot see any flaws or inconsistencies even when actively looking for them.

I will mention only that there is a scene where rebel troopers, eyes wide with fear, are facing what seems a black and empty corridor, pointing their trembling weapons at an unseen menace. Then you hear a hum of power, and see a lightsaber red as hellfire slowly elongate to its full length, and in the reflection of the blood-red glow comes the glint from a skull shaped breathing mask, the black helmet, the glitter from dark lenses of the black caped figure.

Four stars out of five. This is a pretty good film, and a credit to the franchise. If only the Leftwingnuts can be kept away from the writing and casting, there may be A New Hope in Star Wars after all.

 

 

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