Rogue One, Star Wars Zero

I want to start by saying I loved The Force Awakens, and that it is rife with some of the same things I complain about in Rogue One. The Force Awakens is not a perfect movie, and it obviously imitates other Star Wars movies to a fault… but it is still a good Star Wars movie. I’m going to use The Force Awakens as a counter-example, but I want you to understand that I don’t think any Star Wars movie is perfect.

1.) Characters.
I cannot tell you a single character’s name in Rogue One that was introduced in Rogue One. This is not by my design, I just could not care about any of them. None of the characters left so much as a mark. Ask anybody who their favorite character was, and the vast majority of them will mention the large killer robot voiced by Alan Tudyk from Firefly. He was funny, and also the only character that seemed to have any real development over the story arc. He was also the only character that didn’t spend the whole movie sad or in prayer.  Do I know the names of the the Force Awakens’ Characters? Almost all of them, down to Finn’s Stormtrooper number. Seriously ask yourself the names of the Rogue One characters, and which was your favorite and why. Was it, “that guy that kind of sounded French that almost pulled the trigger but didn’t.” or “That guy that was a pilot. And was also scared.” Now compare that to what you know about any of the main characters from, say, Episodes IV or VII. Han Solo. Did he prefer a blaster to a light-saber? Was he religious? Favorite ship? Enjoy robots? Motivated by? Swagger much? Rich or poor? Have a companion? Is his ship fast? Is it new? And I could go on, but you see my point.

I don’t know if any of you watch “Star Wars: Rebels” the show on Disney XD? But it has brilliant characters compared to Rogue One. In fact, they should have replaced the characters in Rogue One with the characters in Rebels and you’d already have ten times the movie.

2.) Music.
I walked out at the end of The Force Awakens being able to hum Rey’s theme… and knew that when I eventually bought the soundtrack that the title of the song would actually be Rey’s theme because it was used exactly as it should be: You see Rey pull a characteristic Rey move, and boom, you hear a small variant of her music… and it flows. I recall stepping out into the brisk night after Empire Strikes Back wondering how quickly the next movie could come, while one half of my brain also thought back to Han and Leia’s theme, Yoda’s theme and The Imperial March. And I knew every note – on the very first watch! Can you hum a bar of anything from Rogue One that wasn’t pulled from Episode 4? No, I’m serious when I say this, I literally KNOW that you can’t possibly remember a single note! It was garbage!

3.) Plot.
Ugh. The opening minutes of this movie had us whisked across the galaxy back and forth and around so many times that they had to use subtitles to tell us the planet name AND give a brief description. (That’s what happens when you skip the text-crawl, I guess.)

I can’t even remember the locations very well, but there was a part with a Star Destroyer pulling out from above a city that just lost 50 Stromtroopers. No retaliation from the Empire? Just “Hey we’re leaving now, we’ll avenge you TK-427!” This was stupid but somewhat handy, because later a CGI Tarkin would ask for a test of the new Death Star… *shrug*

Everything about the beach scenes bothered me. From hastily mounded sand for cover from AT-ATs, to the amazing blind-guy with near-magical sensing ability not being able to sense the AT-ATs until they were in view… to the master switch being on a console in the middle of the beach, to the death of the blind-guy’s buddy not serving any purpose whatsoever. He could have done anything. Could have cleared a path for blind-guy so that blind guy could make it to the Master Switch. Nope.

4.) Tech and nit-picking.
Ok, so in The Force Awakens, Han comes out of light speed IN atmosphere, right? This is the kind of change in story canon that can really screw with the Star Wars Universe, but the difference is? Episode VII came after all of the others. If every movie going forward has a “come out of light speed in atmosphere” maneuver that they refer to as “the Solo.” I’m all over that. Good call.

I can nitpick all day long, but at the end of the day, as a film writer, you CANNOT go back in time to before Episode IV and have somebody do something new like go INTO light speed from IN-ATMOSPHERE without sucking the urgency, the drama, the very interest out of all the times between IV and VII that this same maneuver should have happened. I’ll start the bidding at leaving Mos Eisley spaceport… and quickly raise you to “all of the shuttles full of people trying like hell to get out of Hoth alive” that clearly would have used that maneuver, were it available.

Or what about “A large object has just dropped out of light speed” and it turns out to be the Death Star within spitting distance of the Florida planet which has a name I can’t remember. Again, call me a nitpicker if you like… but Episode IV spends 15 of the most spectacular minutes in film history getting the Death Star to finally peek around the edge of a interfering celestial body in order to get a clear shot at Yavin IV. They could have gone into LIGHTSPEED? Hell, go into light speed while the little ships are in your trench and show up on the other side of Yavin IV from that whole fleet!!! It pulls some of the weight from already established scenes. (Did you ever see the opening credits of Alien3? I was FURIOUS.)

5.) Cameos.
Loved the cameo of the two guys from the Cantina scene. It was good. They’re wanted in 5 systems. Well done. Rogue One should have stopped there.

End of the film. The Death Star shows up on the horizon and it shows up at a specific time. It shows up after the entire Rebellion leaves with the plans, but before the action on-planet has finished up. Why is that? I’ll tell you why. Because in Episode IV, nobody has seen the Death Star… they say things like “what use are snub fighters going to be against THAT thing?” and/or “Look at the size of that thing!” right? I’m not going to get into more than this, but I want you to realize that they wrote themselves into a corner with their pilot cameos, and it did not work smoothly. Think about if they hadn’t had to do this. Think about the tension that could have been had climbing up that column of data-tape holders if the Death Star had already been getting ready to fire at that point. Instead they had to use a chomping trap-door to add tension.

6.) An editor’s tears.
Ok I loved that scene where Darth Vader is taking out fools like nobody’s business at the end of Rogue One… but I want you to think about this. You saw the guy that thought up the Death Star… almost as far back as coming up with the idea. Executing the idea. Making plans for the idea. Getting the plans to his daughter. Now… up until this point, not a bad slice of film-making honestly. But did we need to see them get transmitted? Did we need to see them end up in the rebel’s hands? Did we need to see them transferred over to the actual Corvette from the beginning of Episode IV? And did we need to see them actually handed to Leia? Give the audience SOME credit that we can come up with where this was going, or skipping any of those steps between, right? Example possible ending: Whatever her name is hits “send…” Next we see a ship coming out of hyperspace with a pilot that is looking nervously at what appears to be the plans sticking out of their space backpack. As the ship comes into a space port, we see again the pilot – he/she notices something and smiles as they power down the ship and grab the plans. We pull out the camera and in the background we see the trademark corellian corvette has been waiting at the same port. Done. Yes, we can be done there.

So what DID I like.
I liked that Tarkin screwed over the main antagonist to get the Death Star project under his control. This felt like something that would happen within the Empire, and it enriched the story of IV without hurting it. Tarkin doesn’t seem to know much about the Death Star in Ep IV… now we know why! Well done.

I did like the Vader scene at the end, but he was in the film far too much. (On the flip side of that, I’m not sure why Vader sent in a small group of troops at the beginning of Episode IV as he can apparently handle clearing out such ships with ease by himself, but it was still a nice touch.)

I like that robot character whose name escapes me because I sort of have to like him by default over all of the non-characters in that film.

Visuals. The movie was a joy to look at, for the most part. If you could really turn off all of the other crap in your head, it was pretty. But, like Barbie, it was only pretty on the outside, and pretty empty on the inside.