I feel bad for criticising this movie. Really, I do: I even feel guilty. More then ever, the challenge of making a new Star Wars movie was on display. They tried so dang hard – you can tell – and they still didn’t quite get it right.
The truth is that with Star Wars being “mainstream” now, it is impossible to please all the different groups of movie watchers. The attempt to please all of them, once again, killed it.
Rogue One is a slavish, obsessive monument to those-like me-who worship the original movies, and only the original movies. The costumes and outfits are copied directly from the original movies; even some clips from A New Hope are spliced into this new movie. Never has so much effort been put into recreating the look and feel of a movie made so long ago. Another nice touch is that they noticed that in making the original movies, Lucas cribbed off of the WWII movies that where being churned out at the time (ranging from Casablanca to 633 Squadron, The Guns of Navarrone and The Battle of Britain); and so they did the same. Certain scenes, certain characters and costumes riffed (visually) off of Saving Private Ryan and any movie that has been made about the Battle of Britain and the Resistance.
Did they succeed here? Sort of: it proved to me that they had done their homework, that they appreciated why original fans of the movies loved the originals so much.
Another plus is that “the Force” is a religion/philosophy again, rather than a crude, biologically-driven magic. The visuals are rich and they succeeded in creating new worlds for Star Wars fans to explore. The space battle scenes were for the most part very well done; again, they went through and asked themselves: “What made it good?” And did their best to recreate that.
Here’s the problem: there is no character development, no depth in the plot, no meaningful ‘message.’ Put another way, Rogue One still hasn’t figured out that Star Wars is mythology. Rogue One is a Star Wars adventure, hoisted by its own petard of catering to lowest-common-demoninator movie audiences. Seriously: I can’t remember a single character’s name, nor could I describe their personality/motivation. No character growth. Nada. We have all come to expect this from Hollywood, but it’s worse because all of the characters are treated to dramatic, emotional deaths (oh, spoilers alert). This falls flat when you can’t even recall why they are their in the first place. Some major characters literally appear out of the blue. No explanation or backstory at all. All the characters are treated like we are already totally familiar with them.
The other item that bears some comment is the CGI insertion of characters from the original movie. Thus a young Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing appear digitally rendered with voice actors. Aside from the creepy “uncanny valley” effect that’s in full force, it shows a certain laziness in the movie makers who probably could have at least given a college try to tastefully excluded the characters. Carrie Fisher’s digital appearance is especially forced and annoying. Peter Crushing, as Grand Moff Tarkin, was also poorly done….could they not have simply shown him from behind; have him stare out a window or look at a screen or something?
Darth Vader makes a few appearances, and on the whole was well done. In the ending scene, Vader is in full attack mode on some hapless Rebel soldiers. It’s super cool. Except that it’s basically an orgy of instant gratification syndrome. There was no sense of build-up or restraint.
And that’s really the whole deal with this movie: it’s instant gratification.