d – Gareth Edwards
w – Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta (Based on the Characters Created by George Lucas)
ph – Greig Fraser
pd – Doug Chiang, Neil Lamont
m – Michael Giacchino
ed – John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, Jabez Olssen
cos – David Crossman, Glyn Dillon
p – Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Tedious set-pieces, drab characters, flat staging, banal writing, sloppy editing, over-length and a cynical raison d’etre are what make Rogue One a bad movie. I – not only in my capacity as a critic and historian of the cinema but merely as a citizen of a free country who takes it upon himself to regularly attend said medium as an audience member and endeavours to gleam entertainment and artistic enlightenment to pepper my life with – am able to suggest that with complete confidence, because, subjectively, anyone could.
But for now, I’d like to focus on not what makes Rogue One a bad movie, but what makes it an abomination. In order to do this, I need to discuss various components of concoction that some readers may not want marred. If you are such a reader, stop now. If not, I will assume you have heeded my warning.
Grand Moff Tarkin was one of the prime villains of the original Star Wars (1977), where the Empire designated him as Commander of the Death Star. Rogue One, a movie that tells the story of how exactly the Death Star plans got into the hands of the Rebel Alliance in the original film (a prequel, if you will), decides to be as cute as it possibly can and give its audience the ersatz thrill of a game of connect-the-dots and inch itself right up to the very second that the 1977 film begins. Therefore, Tarkin is a chief character the screenplay requires. Now that, as an artistic decision, is not necessarily asinine. Any idea on paper can be rendered sensible with smart execution. But the decision to resurrect Peter Cushing, the actor who played Tarkin originally, through the use of computer graphics via motion-capture, is reprehensible from any angle you observe it. It is an insult to not only those who commit their blood, sweat and tears for the cinema in a professional capacity, but also to the intelligence of audiences and movie lovers everywhere.
Firstly, I would love to hear the argument from anyone out there as to how this is not grave robbing? To process old images from movies and then stitch them together toward an airbrushed result that can then be applied over a body-suited actor in order to recreate someone’s likeness? Huh?
Mr Cushing, who died in 1994, isn’t even credited on the film, but rather his estate. “Online sources” indicate that Mr Cushing’s family were heavily involved with the digital process, which is fine. How and what Mr Cushing’s descendants feel is none of my business. What concerns me is the moral tape measure we now use at a time when everything has its price. I can’t help but envisage how many legal advisors over at The Walt Disney Company sifted through every single piece of paper that Mr Cushing signed back in 1977 (when Disney didn’t own the franchise) in order to justify their own latitude.
Which brings me to my second point: Those who have known me personally are aware of my background as both a professional actor and a qualified scholar of the craft. I was not at all shocked by my contempt for Rogue One. What shocked me was how much contempt Rogue One had for me; me and all other hardworking actors everywhere. If Disney is implying that this is the future of the profession then SAG better do something quick. We have had many poignant warnings from humorous sources that one may merely have wrote-off as transparent satire. Such as an episode of 30 Rock involving Jerry Seinfeld, or an entire story arc on the second season of Bojack Horseman, or an entire feature film by Ari Folman starring Robin Wright as herself.
What’s even more shocking to me is that Disney’s assumption that audiences would prefer pasted footage of the past that has been technologically altered rather than the real flesh and emotions of an actor exhibiting his technique hasn’t made more professional actors mad. I certainly haven’t heard any objections from any friends of mine. This saddens me.
It also saddens me that a corporation like Disney feels that actors themselves are so expendable that once you’ve signed your likeness you are no longer considered a human being, but rather an instrument for the corporation itself. I am fully aware that this has existed in one way or another for decades now when it comes to the corporate pocketing of artists, but remind me how this applies to people who are dead? Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, is given the same treatment in the film’s final shot but at least she is able to say something about it. I am also aware of examples like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker and Oliver Reed who died as they were filming their final movies and had to undergo the same process, but they signed on the dotted line to appear in their films. That’s what an actor who accepts work does: signs off their commitment to a film in exchange for payment and a credit. And again, their digital appearances were minor in length, which would also apply to the resurrection of Sir Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004).
Which brings me to my third point: The CG itself is appalling. Both Tarkin and Leia suffer from uncanny-valley syndrome in which their movements are like characters in a cut-scene from a video game and their eyes are completely devoid of believable consciousness. No one with half-a-brain would ever believe that those two bloodless creatures actually existed on set. So why is this necessary at all?
Which brings me to my fourth point: Why are audiences so gladly worshiping at the altar of a corporation that clearly couldn’t care less about them? Rogue One has absolutely no respect for the intelligence of its audience. The filmmakers apparently feel that audiences are so stupid and are so used to being coddled and nursed that they can no longer believe – or, let’s say, accept – the presence of another actor playing a character that appeared in a previous film. Really? Was anyone up in arms when Ewan McGregor’s face wasn’t congruent to Alec Guinness’s? Disney is basically assuming its role as the shepherd who picks up one sheep and throws it off the cliff, as it watches gleefully (or possibly, not) as all the other sheep jump intuitively off the cliff likewise.
Apparently we just do whatever the corporation wants us to now. They tell us to buy the merchandise, we do. They tell us to endorse it on social media, we do. They tell us we love the film and we believe them. We are no more human than Tarkin and Leia. Audiences have become merely the sheep that follows the rest rather than buckle under the scrutiny of others.
By which I mean Rogue One is a film that rewards obsession and punishes insolence. Those who read my review of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) will recall the hostility I had toward that film incessant glorifying of its own universe. Every five minutes (not literally, I’m sure) was devoted to puerile referencing and attribution. And if you don’t get it, well too bad schmuck. That’s not a movie. That’s not anything. It’s a snake eating its own tail. Again, Rogue One is hardly the first film to do this, but it’s the first one, at such a large scale, in which I can’t bend the diagram in any other way to defend its objective.
As for the film itself, it’s garbage. It was “directed” by Gareth Edwards who I have no doubt had little authority on what was going on (the film’s production problems and reshoots have been heavily promulgated). He is not to blame for this. The script is sloppy to the extreme. None of the characters have any discernable personalities or drive, none of the battle sequences are coherently staged (with the exception of about 45 seconds in which Donnie Yen gets to kick ass because he’s Donnie Yen and he knows how to do that), and the performances are all uniformly lifeless. I have yet to understand the success of Felicity Jones’ career, whom I feel has the empathic abilities of a plank of wood – though that might just be my own problem.
But what is her character? She begins the film as a mistrusting rebel prisoner and ends the film a valiant group leader with no palpable growth or shift in ontology in between. The same can be said for Diego Luna’s character, who in his first scene is shown to be capable of murdering loose-threads without remorse and later has a problem doing the same thing from a much safer location. Why?
Or Riz Ahmed’s character, who claims to have some kind of relationship to Mads Mikkelsen’s character that is never explained and who, during the film, undergoes some kind of horrific torture from Forest Whitaker’s character that seems to matter a whole lot until…it doesn’t, for some reason. And don’t get me started on Whitaker’s character, who apparently was disowned by the rebel alliance for being an extremist yet the how or why of that is not nearly as important to the filmmakers as it is for Whitaker to do his impression of Frank Booth from Blue Velvet (1986). And of course we get an ironic robot, played by Alan Tudyk, who can’t help but be ironic because he’s so aware of the foibles of humans that he must point them out at every opportunity with all his brilliant irony.
My colleagues have given credit to two aspects of Rogue One that I’d like to dispute now:
1) The diversity of its casting, which many, bafflingly, have found to be rehabilitative or something and I find completely manipulative. Again, people turned into product; all markets represented: A Brit, a Dane, a Hispanic, an Aussie, a Pakistani, an African-American and two Chinese guys who basically play boyfriends. How could anyone not like us!
And 2) The boldness of the decision to have all its main characters perish by the film’s end, which is meaningless to me if there aren’t any actual characters. Why give any heft to any of these people if we’re just going to kill them off at the end?
I was initially eager to experience Rogue One because it had been selling itself as a “Stand-Alone” entry in its franchise, which is a lie through and through. It’s a prequel, and one in which removed from the context of everything that came before it – and I mean everything – completely collapses. But none of that sickens me as much as the Peter Cushing stuff. And I must confess to you here and now, dear reader, that if I ever find myself living in a future in which there is a Casablanca 2 starring a digitally restored Bogart and Bergman, I will quit watching movies.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.