My take on Rogue One: A StarWars Story

SPOILERS! I highly recommend you see the movie before reading this. This isn’t meant to tell you whether or not to see it, it is commentary you might appreciate after you’ve seen it and know what we’re talking about.

I’ll admit I didn’t have very high expectations when going to see Rogue One. That is due in large part to how far short The Force Awakens fell. But, there wasn’t much in the trailers to convince me to abandon my cautious skepticism (I did get a little excited seeing that scene in the teaser with a classic star destroyer emerging from the shadow cast by the Death Star’s super-laser dish being installed.)

So, seeing the movie I was not disappointed by 80% of it 🙂 There was even a good 15 to 30% that I really, really enjoyed.

Lets go ahead and discuss what I didn’t like. I noted both major and minor faults with the movie. The minor ones are bound to show up in any movie and don’t seriously detract, but it doesn’t mean you don’t notice them.

MINOR AND and in some instances maybe nerdy nitpicky FAULTS:

Use of hyperspace travel: Like The Force Awakens, Rogue one suffered from ITS (instant travel syndrome). You might recall in A New Hope when Luke, Obi Wan, and the gang have arranged travel with Han and Chewy to Alderaan it has a sort of road-trippy feel. You see luke training with his lightsaber, the droids playing claymation chess with Chewbacca etc. It gives the impression that we are glimpsing a few moments of what is likely a minimum of a few hours of travel. Yet in Rogue One people seem to be able to arrive pretty much instantaneously. P.S. How  did they make the jump to hyperspace within Jedha’s atmosphere and gravity well?

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New (or old) trooper and tie fighter designs: It didn’t bother me much, but it does make you wonder why we never saw any of these trooper classes or tie fighters in the original trilogy which is supposed to take place directly following Rogue One. Yes, I did hear the troopers on Scarif mentioning that something or other had been declared obsolete and maybe the explanation is that the alternate trooper armor and vehicles are being phased out. That doesn’t really seem to jive with how it appears to be the more elite forces using the alternate designs, though.

Captain Andor coming back from falling 30 feet and conking his body and head on a bunch of beams on the way down so that he can save Jyn from  director Krennic at the last minute. It was kind of cliche and interrupts the feel of inevitable sacrifice that makes the Scarif battle so good.

Throwback(or forward) cameos: Ok there was a little too much fan service in this film. Maybe not as bad as TFA, but just as obvious. My friend pegged it well when he pointed out that the camera wouldn’t linger on a couple of droids conversing at the Rebel base if it wasn’t supposed to excite some kid who would go “hey look there is R2 and 3P0, so this is definitely a good Star Wars movie”.  Same goes for our cantina buddies who miraculously escaped the destruction of Jedha. I actually liked seeing some of the Rebel leaders and pilots, though I’m not sure Mon Montha would have been at the rebel base, or Bail Organa either. They were both heavily involved in politics and served as senators. It would make sense that their involvement in the rebel movement would have to be secret until after the dissolution of the Imperial Senate, which is the obvious explanation for why Mon Montha was not seen with the rebels in ANH, but was in ROTJ.

These were the minor issues though, and didn’t really detract that much from the movie. All movies are going to have a few things that weren’t perfect—like why did So-and-so not get shot after his friend was blasted by tons of storm troopers seconds earlier in the same spot when there was no force-guided plot-important reason for him to still be alive? Or why are they using moisture vaporators to farm on an already incredibly moist planet? Or why would experienced rebel pilots even bother to attempt to punch through the shield gate by hitting the actual shield with individual gun or bomb runs. I mean come on, a planetary shield system wouldn’t be much good if a couple of X and Y wings have a chance of disabling it. Why didn’t they coordinate volley’s, target the gate controlling structure, or pound it with sustained fire from the turbo lasers on their capital ships? Ok ok, I’m done.

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MAJOR FAULTS:

CGI Tarkin: Why oh why… I understand that Grand Moff Tarkin is an important baddie who is closely associated with the first Death Star. So, having him in the movie makes sense. But, why would you put a CG character on the screen for so long and right next to real people. Every time Tarkin was on screen I was just distracted by his fakeness. The sad thing is it would have been really easy to keep your plot, keep your dialogue and not have had the distracting Tarkin problem. If they didn’t want to make-up a look-alike actor, they could have just had Tarkin communicate with Krennic via hologram for most of the movie. He is a high ranking official who would have plenty of reason to be at other locations. Then when it comes time for him to take command of the Death Star we could see him talk to Krennic in the reflection of the glass, like when he was introduced, and maybe turn and we see him for a split second. It makes sense in the Star Wars Universe and in the plot. It would not only have saved money and time, but it might have saved certain scenes in the movie.

The Leia hand-off: This was the thing that irked me most, which is saying something when you have CGI Tarkin running around for half the movie. No, I’m not going to criticize  how Leia looked. I’m really let down by how Gareth Edwards, who claims to have watched the original Star Wars 300 times as a kid, would finish his movie off in a way that doesn’t seem to jive with the original Star Wars at all. Lets review the first meeting on screen meeting between Princess Leia and Darth Vader. This occurs very close to the beginning of ANH, after the Star Destroyer has overtaken Tantive IV and Vader and his troopers have boarded the ship and Leia is captured. This is basically one of the first Star Wars scenes ever…

Leia: “Darth Vader, only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this. When they hear you’ve attacked a diplomatic…”

Vader: “Don’t act so surprised Your Highness. You weren’t on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by  rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”

Leia: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.”

Vader: “You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor, taker her away!”

Imperial officer (Daine Jir): “Holding her is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the Senate.”

Vader: “I have traced the Rebel spies to her. Now she is my only link to finding their secret base.”

Officer: “She’ll die before she’ll tell you anything.”

Vader: “Leave that to me. Send a distress signal, and inform the Senate that all on board were killed.

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Ok, now think about this exchange from the Original Star Wars in context of the end of Rogue One. We are supposed to believe that Leia was at a battle over the imperial archive at Scarif. That she was on board a rebel ship sitting in the hold of the rebel flag ship (which would be a pretty dumb place to keep a whole corvette during a battle, why wasn’t it out fighting?) That the plans were transmitted to the flagship, then loaded onto a disc and carried by rebel troops who are attacked by Vader himself, who’s had time to board the ship. That Vader Kills most of them but is slowed down enough by a door and some guys getting in the way of his lightsaber that another guy with the plans makes it on board the corvette, which escapes. Vader literally sees the disc with the plans go aboard her vessel. There are thousands of imperial witnesses that the corvette Tantive IV was at the battle. A battle where two Star Destroyers with thousands of men on board were destroyed by the rebels. Where the archive itself was besieged and probably hundreds more troops killed on the ground. After that, we are expected to believe that when captured, Leia would try to pretend she was just on a diplomatic mission and the Imperial officer would be concerned about how it would look to keep her in custody. That Vader would also apparently be worried enough to order that they fake a distress call and pretend that everyone was killed. Let’s be clear, like Mon Montha and Bail Organa, I don’t even think Leia would have been with the rebel fleet (which means nor would R2 and 3P0… why were they at the base again?). But if she was, she definitely wouldn’t be dumb enough to think she can just pretend like she is on a diplomatic mission when Lord Vader who watched the plans walk (not transmit) onto her ship, catches her. Again, you wouldn’t have had to change much to save your continuity. Rather than Vader chasing the plans onto a ship while other guys try to defend them. They could have had a guy uploading the plans to transmit to Leia’s corvette which could be hanging out at a nearby system because her dad told her to be ready. Vader could still cut some guys down in a cool scene. It could still be urgent and get the plans away at the last second. You could still see princess Leia at the end receiving the plans. And, we wouldn’t have to ask whether the director Gareth Edwards had bothered to watch Star Wars again as an adult, since seeing it “300” times as a kid apparently wasn’t’ enough. I’ll forgive him for not jiving with the Expanded Universe because his Imperial, I mean Disney, overlords dissolved its validity. But when you don’t jive with the Original Trilogy…

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Other than that, I liked the movie. I especially liked the battle on Scarif and the way the Rogue One crew slowly got picked off—the sense of doom for a small group, but hope for the galaxy was very nice. The battle also felt a lot more like a real Star Wars battle vs The Force Awakens where it seems like Poe Dameron is playing a video game rather than actually flying a complicated machine. I’m Glad Edwards was willing to commit to killing everyone, without (mostly) any Disney style “Oh wait, I’m actually ok” business.  So I guess I will have to wait for the special edition where they fix the Tarkin scenes and change the ending to match. Because that would actually be a great movie. (don’t get your hopes up)

(photos used under Fair Use as part of a film critique and review)

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One comment on “My take on Rogue One: A StarWars Story

  1. Shava Nerad says:

    I agree totally with the Leia bit — that was jarring. Should have been a ship jumping from Scarif to her location that Vader traced.

    But on Tarkin? I don’t know if you saw the movie in 3d, but in 2d, well…

    I had assiduously avoided any press and spoilers before the release and forgotten the actor was deceased (duh) — my gut reaction was that he looked like he was too old for the role in terms of continuity.

    But in 2d, I honestly didn’t notice he was CGI. And I’m an avid gamer and former CEO of a game/VR group, lol. I suck. I thought makeup and casting had blown it, and it was another fan service fail.

    So this is a place where 3D is an abyss the uncanny valley can’t cross yet, but we can fool ourselves in 2D just fine. And that’s basically it — there is a whole third dimension of cues that ILM has to deal with that’s actually an order of magnitude or so of difficulty in mummery.

    This stuff is so hard wired in our circuitry, most of us are not even closely aware of how intensely neurological it is. You can scare most infants and small children with bad makeup or strange elderly faces or scarred faces or clownface — that’s the uncanny valley, too, in a sense. It’s instinct. Not a safe face. Something’s not right, get me out of here. Face-vertigo.

    Even in adults, sadly, it manifests when many adults look at persons with certain disabilities. Certain facial malformations actually trigger aversion in many people, just the same way snakes do, and it’s likely those aversions prevent propagation of genetic errors, although it’s not PC to say so. Still, a function of the uncanny valley. It’s a reason we find it so jarring when a face is not right.

    Overcoming that in computer imaging, which is usually highly abstracted in terms of information from what we see when we process vision, is really very hard.

    Oddly enough we have a tight feedback loop now among gaming, f/x and surveillance (facial recognition). Devil’s bargain, isn’t it?

    Shava Nerad
    gaming/VR, cogsci, Tor Project, analyst, licensed entertainment merchandise, social engineer, digital divide, politics,… heh
    Thank God I’m retired

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