You should get this, by the way

I finally, recently got around to watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and I was actually kind of stunned by how bad it was. My basic reaction to The Force Awakens was, “Well, the movie didn’t get me to feel anything, let alone think anything*, but it was skillfully enough done and fun enough, I get why people like it.” My reaction to Rogue One was, “What is this shit?” Or perhaps, what isn’t it:

  • It’s not a heist film. Heist films tend to be very tightly plotted and feature certain character types (the charismatic leader, the oddball, the wild card, etc.). Such films have well thought-out plans that are explained carefully to the audience so that they’ll be able to understand when the plan fails. And the theme of virtually any heist film is greed: what it makes people do, what it leads to, which is (spoiler alert) nothing good. See: Rififi, or Kubrick’s The Killing. Hell, even the remake of Ocean’s Eleven is a good reference point. Needless to say, Rogue One lacks any of these elements. Just because it’s about people trying to acquire something at great peril doesn’t mean it’s a heist film. The Maltese Falcon has the same basic idea and it’s no heist film.
  • It’s not a war film. There are lots of different kinds of war film and Rogue One is none of them. It’s not a meditation on what war does to people like Breaker Morant, or of the essential madness of war like Apocalypse Now. It’s not a docudrama-level look at it like The Battle Of Algiers. It’s not even really an action-adventure film set in a wartime setting like Three Kings. There’s no real examination of the murkiness of battlefield morality, no look at what war does to people, which is just sort of entry level stuff to be a war film. There is a war going on in it of course–one can hardly ignore the setpieces! But there may as well not be.

What it is, ultimately, is a western. A space western. If you compare it to, say, For A Few Dollars More, it matches up nicely if you diagrammed it out. It’s episodic, with characters who roam around looking for a treasure of some sort or other, trying to evade the people who want to keep it for themselves. The protagonist is stoic and taciturn. The movie’s admittedly lovely cinematography is a giveaway: beautiful nature and landscape shots are a staple of westerns but typically do not figure into war or heist films, unless it’s intended to comment ironically in some way (like the ending of The Asphalt Jungle, when a dying character trying to make it back to the country gets his wish at the end of the movie). In heist films particularly, the gritty urban environment–preferably with as much brutalism as you can capture–is more how it’s done. Anyway, as a western, Rogue One is just awful. For A Few Dollars More features varied characters, but virtually all the characters in Rogue One are the same: gruff, taciturn, and jaded. It would be as though everyone were Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, which predictably gets tiresome quickly. Killing them all off at the end, therefore, has little impact. Honestly, this really just shows how superficial peoples’ problems with the prequels really were: this is, The Phantom Menace, essentially a bunch of setpieces with obligatory connective tissue featuring shallow, unengaging characters, but minus even the ambition of trying to do something slightly different with Star Wars than had been done before. Which makes the result much more dispiriting. “How the Death Star plans were stolen” is definitely a hook for a movie, but this is a tremendously poor embodiment of that idea. I wonder how long until these standalone movies are phased out and it goes to a once-every-two-years film franchise. If the Han Solo movie is anywhere near as bad as this, maybe not so long.

* Well, sort of. With derivative junk like this, my brain spends too much energy trying to track down all the lifts from earlier stuff, so watching a brainless sequel is actually the most tiring thing there is.

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