'Rogue One' May Be Dark and Ambitious, But It's Really Just A Mess

Monday, 19 December 2016 - 5:31PM
Star Wars
Star Wars: Rogue One
Monday, 19 December 2016 - 5:31PM
'Rogue One' May Be Dark and Ambitious, But It's Really Just A Mess
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I went to see Rogue One with all the excitement, goodwill, and hope any Star Wars fan could have. I didn't buy the Special Limited Edition 40-Ounce Theater Cup With Death Trooper Straw Topper, but I was still looking forward to seeing a new kind of Star Wars movie, whatever that turned out to mean. From the first few minutes, the starships, the landscapes, the action sequences, the CGI (holy shit, Tarkin!), and the props all blew me away—but as the minutes wore on, the movie quickly built itself into a towering, confusing mess of people, places, and motivations that never came together the way a story should, and has to. People may ask whether Rogue One is a 'good Star Wars movie', but I don't think it's a good movie, period.

Here's a short list of the biggest issues with Rogue One.  Some plot spoilers ahead!

1. I Don't Know Where or Why This Scene Is Happening.

The most important thing Rogue One fails at is also the most basic thing: just giving us enough information to make sense of the setting, the characters, and the situations (as well as managing scene transitions). The beginning of the movie is the worst:  after we flash-forward to the present, with Jyn in a prison cell (how did she get there? Where's Saw?), we get a quick succession of four scenes on different planets at different times, ranging from Bodhi's apparent meeting with mercenaries (?) to Cassian Andor shooting a guy in some back alley. There's no intuitive logic to the transitions—they just seem to happen. This continues over the course of the whole movie (like when Krennic goes straight from Eadu to talk to Vader). A lot of people were concerned about news of reshoots after Suicide Squad turned out to be a mess, and I think those fears were justified: as a series of events that gives us enough info to understand it (aka, a story), the movie barely hangs together.

2. Are We All On The Same Side?

Case in point: good luck figuring out how all the characters and factions in Rogue One relate to one another, because even a UN ambassador would probably have trouble understanding the politics, motivations, and alliances. We've got the insurgents in Jeddah led by Saw(?) who are fighting the Empire after the fall of the temple in Jeddah caused an uprising (Chirrut and Baze are also connected to the temple at Jeddah, but they're just floating around), but the Rebellion needs Jyn to introduce them to Saw again because they cut ties with him because he's "too extreme," while Saw tortures and interrogates Bodhi, possibly because he's just paranoid and insane.

Rogue One seems to think that moral ambiguity created by having a bunch of different factions with no clear 'Good Guys' means its okay to leave their motivations ambiguous. There are so many times when I asked "why?": why is Saw torturing Bodhi? What exactly are the goals of the Jeddah insurgents, and who commands them? What's the balance of power between the Rebel Council and the Senate? What does Jyn Erso herself want? Why do the Rebels finally attack Scarif with the fleet after previously deciding they were in a deadlock?

Because the plot said so, I guess.

3. Now's Not The Time To Be Making Jokes!

In all these politics and heavy-duty plot events it felt like the writers and producers were trying to keep a certain level of wit throughout the movie, but in the end it felt as though the jokes were becoming perfunctory. On paper, Rogue One has a surprising amount of jokes, especially K-2S0, but when you see them in action, in the flow of the narrative, they just don't work. K-2SO is the worst perpetrator of out-of-character witty asides (to the point that I wonder why anyone programmed a security droid with such over-the-top sass). There came a point where K-2S0 is giving a call-back to C-3PO's "odds of success" line when the crew is trying to manage a rocky landing in their ship, but he dryly reassess his chance of failure in the middle of their struggle to keep the ship from crashing. C-3PO was scared going into that asteroid field, but K-2S0 just seems detached from the action, ready to act as the designated "jokes on tap" guy.

4. I Can [Blan]k If You Can Just [Blank]!

The movie also has a major problem with setting up challenges and goals for the heroes. Just the basic, initial goal ("We heard your dad, an Imperial scientist, has sent a message about a new superweapon...we need to get that message.") becomes complicated because Galen's messenger, Bodhi, is in the surprisingly hostile hands of Saw, who isn't on good terms with the Rebellion for no adequately explained reason, and Jyn may be the one he might talk to.

By the time we get to Scarif, the plot hinges on a series of "I can do [blank] if you can just do [blank]!" Jyn and Cassian can infiltrate the comm tower if the rest of the rebels can just create a distraction (the distraction "plan" is basically "shoot stormtroopers until you die.") K-2S0, meanwhile, can find the plans in the archive if Jyn and Cassian can just use the weird, manual handles inside the vault to actually retrieve them. After that, Jyn and Cassian can get the plans to the Rebellion if Bodi just hooks up his communication gear to the network and contacts the Rebel fleet to let them know to receive them. The Rebel fleet can receive the plans if the starfighters can just take down the planetary shield gate. If that's down, then Jyn just needs to adjust the antennae to transmit the plans through the gate. None of this is planned ahead of time, like an Oceans 11 sort of heist—it's all done on the fly, and it feels like more and more complications keep getting introduced (and half-baked plans being made) before we have a chance to understand what's going on. 


In the last few minutes, Rogue One ends right as A New Hope begins, just as promised. But all that does is end up creating some extremely important continuity problems with what Leia and Tantive IV were doing before Vader boarded them (hint: you can't claim to be on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan when a Star Destroyer just watched you take part in a Rebel attack on Scarif) and reminding you that Rogue One fails to evoke the same epic space opera that A New Hope did. People rag on the original trilogy for being too simplistic (Rebels=Good, Empire=Bad), but it still managed to take a huge, galaxy-spanning story and tell it in a way that not only hung together, but made us care about the outcome.

Hell, Episode IV was a better Rogue One than Rogue One: we have Leia resisting torture like a real rebel, a circuitous route for the Death Star plans that takes us all over the galaxy, and a story that ends up uniting a ragtag cast of interesting characters with the Rebellion, creating an inspiring united front against the Empire. But despite having all the same elements, Rogue One failed at almost every turn to make it work.

Rogue One is in theaters now.
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Star Wars: Rogue One