Last year around this time, I was blown away by the joys of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Even after just one viewing though, it was easy to find things to point out about the movie that were less than favorable. But I loved the movie so much that I wanted to write about it positively, so instead of a traditional review, I just wrote a post about the 5 things I really loved about The Force Awakens.
Rogue One will not get the same treatment. Positivity is a nice concept in theory, but 2016 was not a year of positivity, and I feel more negatively about Rogue One than Force Awakens anyway. So I’m going to do a post about the four things I loved about Rogue One, BUT.
I’m going to try not to compare the two movies too much, since they’re trying to do different things, but given that they’re the only two Star Wars movies to be released in the last ten years, it may be difficult.
I loved Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, BUT why didn’t she have any chemistry with Diego Luna?
Jones didn’t need Rogue One to prove she was a great actress, but she did anyway. She sells the pathos and stoicism of Jyn Erso, and in so doing she legitimizes the otherwise ridiculous things that are happening around her (more on that in a second). This includes the minor romance between Erso and Diego Luna’s character, Cassian Andor, which feels very much like a studio note. “There’s no love story! Get me a love story!” Luna has a hard enough time convincing me he’s a hardened rebel warrior that when the difficulty is raised to include something budding with Jones, he falls flat on his face.
Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, and Ben Mendelsohn make a great supporting cast, BUT why did Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, and Forrest Whitaker have to ruin it?
Riz Ahmed is expectedly great as Bodhi, an Imperial defector, and Alan Tudyk puts some great, sarcastic voice-work in as this movie’s droid, K-2SO. Ben Mendelsohn makes for a nicely slimy villain, even redeeming some of the scenes that include the worst CGI character since Jar-Jar Binks (more on that in a second). But they all feel underused. The three of them get far less screen time for some reason than Donnie Yen as Chirrut and Wen Jiang as Baze, who are…I’m not really sure who they are, actually. Chirrut isn’t a jedi, but he…uses the force? Regardless, they were annoying. And Forrest Whitaker needed someone to tell him when he was getting to ridiculous to take seriously. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac was such a grand slam of casting, it’s hard to enjoy just one home run in Rogue One with Jones.
The special effects are tremendous, even beautiful at times, BUT good Lord what were they thinking with the CGI faces?
I understand the impetus to use the technology at hand and the desire to maintain continuity with the old films, but the CGI used to make Tarkin and Leia look the way they looked in A New Hope is horrendous. I recoiled when Governor Tarkin’s face first appeared onscreen. I had always dismissed the complaints about “dead eyes” that have followed motion-capture technology since The Polar Express in 2004; those critics just couldn’t suspend their disbelief. But anytime Tarkin was in a scene, there was no way disbelief was going to be suspended, since he looked so obviously CGIed. It took me out of the movie every time.
The final scene is a brilliant action set piece, BUT if this is a war movie, why was that the only one?
That last action scene was truly worth the price of admission and more, and it tugged my heartstrings the way a more conventional war movie would. And most of what came before was just fine; this is more a complaint with the marketing around the movie. I’m tired of being sold a bill of goods on the genre of movie I’m seeing, and then experiencing something far more generic. Captain America: Winter Soldier was a great movie, but it wasn’t a ‘70s spy movie like they said. Doctor Strange wasn’t a horror movie. Rogue One has one scene that is reminiscent of a war movie, and that’s it. If you’re going to mess around with genre, commit to it!