Monday, December 26, 2016

Rogue One: A Review (from a disillusioned Star Wars fan)

A bit of background.  I saw the original film thirteen times in the theater.  This was before VHS or DVD so if we wanted to watch a film again our only option was to return to the theater before it quit playing.  Maybe it would show up on TV in a few years but with only a few TV channels that wasn't likely.  I also had the whole script memorized.  Somehow a friend of mine got hold of a copy of the script, probably through a local comic store, and we memorized it.  Word for word.  I think it's fair to say that I was and remain a fan of the original trilogy, Ewoks aside.

Disillusionment sets in.  Phantom Menace et al.  Jar Jar Binks may be the most annoying character in the history of film.  He made the Ewoks look like a brilliant bit of character development.  The acting, well let's just say that it was a bit of a stretch to call what Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen did acting.  The plot was thin and the story lines unbelievable (and don't tell me it's fantasy, I know that).  Lucas basically relied on CGI generated graphics to make it exciting instead of worrying about little things like casting, acting, directing, stories, etc.  Well, that's old news.

Enter The Force Awakens.  Imagine that you were doing a remake of Star Wars but instead of Luke you had good old whatsername.  Instead of story development where Luke has to learn to be a Jedi to battle the dark forces, you have good old whatsername learn as much as Luke did about how to use the force in about fifteen minutes instead of three movies spread over about four movie years (at the end of which he only didn't lose to Darth Vader because DV was his father and didn't kill him).  Whoops, SPOILER ALERT.  To continue, instead of the Death Star they have a planet with a large energy weapon, instead of Darth Vader they have an evil guy in a mask (wait, what?), instead of the bad guy being Luke's father the bad guy is Han and Leia's son, etc, etc.  They don't even let the bad guys show you how bad they are, they just have them wearing Nazi uniforms in front of a giant red, white, and black banner, that way you'll know how bad they are without having to have that whole "plot development" thing going on.

Whew.  So I probably hated Rogue One, right?  No.   It was excellent.  Character development where the characters actually do stuff that let's you know what kinds of person they are and how they are growing; plot where stuff happens for a reason and you have a decent idea of what the reason is; exciting battles where ridiculous things don't happen just because they are exciting (more on that in a moment).

So a couple quibbles (Def: a trivial objection) and a push back.

Quibble 1: Supposed to be really dangerous to jump in and out of hyperspace inside the gravity well of a planet, but it happens dozens of times in this movie and not one ship is ever destroyed by it.  How hard would it have been to have one character say "It's too dangerous" and higher ranking character override them by saying "We have no choice". 

Quibble 2: Stupid lines like "Prepare for attack" after the rebel fleet jumps into close proximity to the imperial fleet.  You jumped there for the sole purpose of attacking, why not make that clear before you leave and then just attack as soon as you see how the enemy is arrayed.

Quibble 3: The Empire allowing themselves to be attacked for about a half hour before launching swarms of Tie fighters that should be able to completely overwhelm the sixteen or twenty rebel x-wings.  I may be counting low on X-wings but since Star Destroyers carry 72 Tie fighters each and I think we can safely assume that the gate fortress has it's own complement, can we agree on over 200 Imperial fighters?

Quibble 4: A Star Destroyer hovering just above a city?  I don't buy it.  If it could be done why are shipyards always built in space?  I think they added this because it looks incredibly cool and didn't give much thought (or care?) to the conflict in storyline.

Pushback: I keep hearing the phrase "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" attached to this movie and more specifically to Saw Gerrera.  Let's be clear.  I don't believe this statement to be true as terrorism describes a tactic, that of attacking civilian populations indiscriminately to cause fear; and freedom fighter describes a philosophy, the overthrow of an oppressive government or ruling structure.  One can employ terrorism as a freedom fighter but the definition doesn't change just because you view yourself as a freedom fighter.  If you intentionally target civilians without a military rationale then you are engaging in terrorism (I insert the words "without a military rationale" because the Dresden bombings during WWII resulted in about 25,000 casualties (notwithstanding falsified propaganda campaigns by the Germans that 200,000+ people died) yet the rationale at the time was that Dresden was an important staging area for the German army to stage for a counter attack).

Second point, this phrase is never used in the movie.  We don't have any idea what Saw actually did that caused the Rebel Alliance to reject him, only that he became "extreme".  Several characters talk about the horrific things that they did, but again we aren't given any details, so any specifics are left up to our imaginations.  Real war is horrific enough and so it is entirely possible that those specifics include assassinations and killing that doesn't rise to the level of terroristic killing of civilian populations (unlike, for example, the Empire, which destroys the city of Jedah to test the weapons of the Death Star).

That being said, excellent movie.  If I had to rate it on a 5 point scale I'd give it a 4 with the caveat that this is the "wow this was a fun movie that really entertained me for a couple hours" scale, not the "great movies that will stand the test of time" scale.

Oh, and if you finished ready this review and thought "You ruined the movie for me with all those spoilers, how about a spoiler alert?", come on.  Get with the program.  The Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans, gives them to Princess Leia, the plans end up on Tattoine where Luke, a young moisture farmer with dreams of becoming a pilot, joins the rebellion, helps destroy the Death Star and overthrow the Empire, then becomes a Jedi.  How's that for a spoiler?  We've known all that for almost forty years.

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