Sunday, January 22, 2017

More Routine than Rogue: movie review of Rogue One

Now that most of the initial hype has passed, let's talk about Rogue One.

Rogue One (Image from IMDb)
Keep in mind that I gave the last Star Wars movieThe Force Awakensa positive review overall.  Yes, it lacked in originality (the plot was essentially the same as A New Hope, and J. J. Abrams' directing was almost a carbon copy of George Lucas' style), but the films characters, dialogue, and mythic themes were strong enough to make up for that quibble.

Rogue One, to its credit, has a great strength: a clever plot.  It bridges two previous filmsRevenge of the Sith and A New Hope—by smoothly weaving in a story about how the Rebels stole the Death Star plans.  Another strength of the movie, of course, is the appearance of Darth Vader, whom we don't see enough of, but when we do, it's like watching the terrifying return of a titan.
Darth Vader returns in Rogue One (Image from IMDb)

Other than nostalgic nods to Vader, however, not much happens in Rogue One.  Among its flaws, let me point out a couple that really matter.

First, there's no character development—none, zilch, nada.  Jyn has enormous potential as a character, but she's more of a plot device.  We have no idea as to her feelings about the Empire or extremist Rebels like Saw Gerrera.  We don't know how her tragic childhood affected her personality.  We're not even sure what her personality is.
Jyn (Image from IMDb)
The same could be said for Cassian Andor.  In one scene, he argues with Jyn by grumbling about how the Rebels have forced him to do many terrible things.  What were those terrible things?  How did they affect his views of galactic justice?  We never know, because the scanty dialog immediately dissolves into gratuitous explosions.
Cassian Andor (Image from IMDb)
By the time we watch Jyn and Cassian hold each other as the Death Star blasts them to pieces, it's like watching chess pieces fall.  There's no emotional impact, no reason to care.  It's not promissing when droids like K-2SO have more personality than people in the film.
Cassian and Jyn with K-2SO (Image from IMDb)
Which brings us to another problem with Rogue One: the characters have nothing humane to offer to the Star Wars saga.  In The Force Awakens, for instance, we see Finn start off as Stormtrooper FN-2187 . . . until he suffers a moral crisis.  Unable to bring himself to kill innocent people under the command of The First Order, he escapes from his evil overlords and undergoes a hero's journey.  His journey is more than a morality play; it's a question of what it means to be a human being with humane feelings, as opposed to a cog in a machine.
Stormtrooper FN-2187 becomes Finn (Image from IMDb)
Jyn and Cassian, in contrast, offer no humane thoughts about anyone or anything.  Recall, for example, the split in the Rebel Alliance, with Cassian representing mainstream Rebels, Saw Gerrera representing extremists, and Jyn stuck in between.  Rogue One missed its opportunity to say anything creative about what it means to be a Rebel fighting for humanity.  Should Rebels follow a moral code, draw clear lines in the sand, and try to negotiate when possible?  Or do the ends—no matter how ugly or immoraljustify the means, as torture does for Saw Gerrera?
Saw Gerrera (Image from IMDb)
In the end, Rogue One isn't a terrible movie—it's just not a good one.  It's average at best.  While it has a clever plot, the flat characters and lack of substance make for a pretty shallow film.  The result is nothing more than a pure action flick, which is entertaining but superficial.

One of the reasons I love science fiction is that it gives us modern myths about human beings and their technological creations.  My new hope is that Star Wars doesn't continue in the direction of Rogue One by forgetting the human and humane elements behind technology, thereby losing itself in the corporate machine of mass media.  That would truly be a disturbance to the Force.