Anghus Houvouras shares his thoughts on Rogue One and Disney’s Star Wars…
I’m over Star Wars.
That’s not an angry statement. I’m not standing with my arms crossed and a sour look on my face making this declaration in a snotty, snarky tone. It’s more like a expressionless sigh. The sound of defeat spoken with the least amount of energy I can muster.
I was excited by the prospect of new Star Wars movies. Back in 1999 during the build up to The Phantom Menace and in 2015 while we were waiting for the next trilogy to begin with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There will always be that part of me that gets excited by the idea of Star Wars: what it represented when I was a kid. The action figures I coveted and the movies I waited years between installments to see. The guy who bought the Original Trilogy whenever it was released on a new format. But that small part of me has been eclipsed by a Death Star sized dose of incredulity over a franchise that feels like it has no new stories to tell.
The Force Awakens was kind of terrible. A movie so rooted in nostalgia that it felt like J.J. Abrams was trying to molest your inner child. It’s not a great movie and is derivative to a fault. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is even worse: a movie that provided the filmmakers an opportunity to tell a new story with new characters and take us in a new direction. Unfortunately Gareth Edwards delivered a hot mess featuring new characters but a story we’ve all seen before. Rogue One felt like a greater disappointment, because I half expected The Force Awakens to draw highly from the Original Trilogy. Seeing as it’s the next installment of a serialized story, seeing Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker felt expected. This is a film that was comfortable going back to the well. Rogue One has no excuse for being repetitive trash.
Here’s a laundry list of everything I hated about the film:
1. Again with the Death Star
If you’re keeping count, seven of the eight Star Wars movies have featured the Death Star (or its steroid using big brother, The Starkiller Base). Four of them in a major way. I realize that the Death Star is cool, but does every movie have to prominently feature the planet-killing weapon? At some point, can we move on from this concept?
2. A large cast of poorly developed characters
In comparison to Rogue One, The Force Awakens feels like a master class in charisma. The Rogue One cast is made up of characters you never really get to know or understand. They are presented with the same level of care as the awful Suicide Squad: quick snippets of who they are and how they factor into the story. Things like motivations are spoken, not shown. And almost every character feels like a wasted opportunity. Especially when you consider the ending which should leave us in a despondent place. Since we never got to know any of these characters, their eventual fate is no more emotionally engaging than that of an X-Wing pilot we see in a cutaway shot as they are engulfed in a fireball.
Forest Whitaker felt so wasted in what could have been an amazing role. Felicity Jones is a passionless piece of driftwood floating from scene to scene. Even Ben Mendelsohn feels like a missed opportunity, having to try to deliver gravitas while having a conversation with the ghost of Peter Cushing. Speaking of…
3. Why would you do this to Peter Cushing? Why?
There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer befriends Alec Baldwin, Kim Bassinger, and Ron Howard. While on trial for acts of wrongdoing against these famous stars, Homer says the following: “In closing, you people must realize… that the public owns you for life, and when you’re dead… you’ll all be in commercials, dancing with vacuum cleaners.”
You’ve probably already heard about Peter Cushing being digitally created to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. Most people are going to discuss how unsettling and jarring his presence was: like watching a wax marionette interact with real people. I was more appalled by the idea that movies are going to start using technology to replace dead actors with digital replicants. Every time I saw the poorly rendered Tarkin in a scene, I winced. Not just for the errant creative choice, but for the lack of dignity displayed towards the late, great, Peter Cushing.
If you weren’t troubled by this, I don’t think I want to know you.
4. Darth Vader: User of Puns
Do you think Darth Vader’s most cringeworthy moment on film was breaking free of his shackles at the end of Revenge of the Sith and moaning “Noooooooooo!” like a little Sith bitch?
Well, it still is. However, Gareth Edwards tries to topple that moment with a pointless scene between Ben Mendlesohn’s Director Krennic and Vader where after a good force choke, Vader says:
“Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.”
You could almost hear the trumpets blaring “WAH WAHHHHHHHHHHH”. The horror… the horror…
5. K-2SO is the new Jar Jar
Remember when The Phantom Menace came out? People tried to defend the wretched Jar Jar Binks by saying “He’s no more annoying than C-3PO.” We all knew that defense was weak. However someone at Lucasfilm seemed to take that as a dare. Rogue One’s comic relief is a wretched creation of annoyance: a reprogrammed Imperial droid that takes every opportunity to sass it up. The humor is supposed to be derived from K-2SO’s snarky banter. You can’t really blame Alan Tudyk. Once again I think it falls to Edwards who doesn’t seem all that comfortable directing comedic moments. He’s a master of creating iconic shots, but terrible at working in a laugh.
6. It’s all been done
This covers so much of what is wrong with Rogue One. X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Death Star, Space Battle, AT-AT, AT-ST, TIE Fighter Again. It’s a movie stuffed with things we’ve seen before. But the most glaring of these copy/paste elements in the relationship between Jyn Erso and her father. Couldn’t we have ONE Star Wars movie where the parent/child relationship wasn’t the major motivator? I get it in The Force Awakens. This is the saga of the Skywalker family. Fathers, son, brothers, sisters, Great Uncles. I get it. But using that kind of same relationship as the emotional crux of the protagonist feels so lazy.
I think it’s easy to say “Every Star Wars movie is the same.”, but even if you dig deep you can find so many comparisons to every other Star Wars movie. Rogue One might be a shade darker but the basic story is the same as The Force Awakens: Heroes on a quest to find/deliver a piece of data vital to their cause. Thematically, it’s the same basic movie. The only difference is the colors of the curtains.
After two passable Star Wars movies from Disney, my anticipation has been met with utter disappointment. There’s so few original notes played in this ongoing symphony. The franchise gets worse with each subsequent release. Everything that was once special about Star Wars is marginalized when the stories are rehashed again and again.
Is there a new corner of the Star Wars universe? Or are we just going to explore these ancillary spaces of the unknown with characters and stories which we’re already stupidly familiar?
I think I know the answer. And that, my friends, is disappointing.