December 17, 2016
“Last year’s TFA is also functioning as the catalog for Star Wars brand. But, at least, it’s being honest in proclaiming itself as a platform of nostalgic. What hurtful about Rogue One is the movie betrays the concept of sacrifice and martyrdom as an act of barter for hope. To the contrary, this movie relies on nods as the foreground, but rarely lets our condolence to the unsung heroes touching the ground.”
In Star Wars Episode IV (with the additional subtitle A New Hope attached later on) signature opening crawl, it is said that the story set during the battle where The Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the devilish regime of Empire’s ultimate planet destroyer, The Death Star.
There’s a scene in the middle of the movie wherein a group of Empire highest rank officers gather in an internal meeting with Darth Vader also as a participant. The seemingly crucial meeting is about the possibility of The Rebel to defeat them, even though the extremely deadly Death Star is on their side. The meeting seems to have the highest level of urgency and, judging by the way they’re talking about it, it clearly shows that they’ve lost a top secret data related to Death Star’s weakness.
“If the rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it’s possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it”, says a worrisome Empire high ranks officer.
One of his colleagues, however, does have a high assurance and then bragging about Death Star’s mega powerful ability and how undefeatable it is.
The conceit then has earned Darth Vader himself to response. In James Earl Jones’s deep baritone-well-articulated voice, Darth Vader says, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of The Force.”
Darth Vader is right. For those who have been the loyal fans of Star Wars saga must know the end result and how The Force helps The Rebels to claim the victory. But Episode IV has us wondered about the mystery surrounding its plot-holes and the first question is, “How do The Rebels get the information of a supposedly super secretive Death Star blue print in the first place?”. It’s soon followed by other questions, such as, “How could a single laser blast blow up a massive gigantic planet-alike weapon?”; “Why would the architect of Death Star not thinking such a fatal and glaring error in his masterpiece?; “Isn’t it silly to let the exhaust vent and the core reactor linked?”; or “Why The Empire does not have a magnetic field as a shield to cover their most precious asset?”.
Episode IV and the rest of Star Wars movies may rely on The Force as the plot device to justify the illogical answer for unexplained driving force in its narrative. The using of The Force has the similar function as in using words like “God’s destiny”, or “fate”, or “fortune” to describe something that happens for no logical reasons. Some avid fans may have no complaints, but some others sure keep on questioning. And questions lead to conversations, conversations mean interests, and interests, in the eyes of studio executives is equal to the reflection of market opportunity.
So, “why don’t we create a Star Wars film to answer the questions in Episode IV?” way of thinking is the main reason why Rogue One: A Star Wars Story exists. Disney and LucasFilm call it “a spin-off’ and fans eat it up. The enthusiasm for this movie, following the commercial success of last year’s The Force Awakens (TFA), gets widened. I talked to some youngsters at a local IMAX theater in Jakarta who said that TFA was the factor why they bought tickets for the first show of Rogue One. They’re not Star Wars fans. They haven’t watched Episode IV yet and their only guide to the Star Wars universe was TFA. But the fact that they’re now starting to be familiar with Star Wars as a brand is undeniable and Disney/LucasFilm proves their marketing skill successfully kill the generation gap. In that context, Rogue One can be seen as a continuation of Star Wars as a brand.
A phenomenal brand that it is, Rogue One as the latest part of Star Wars brand, treated like a myth. For its first day releases in Indonesia and some other South East Asia countries, the studio and exhibitors agreed to cut the usual first time shows at 12 and started at 4 pm instead. Sure the decision sparked rumors and curiosity and it hasn’t yet answered. But my guess is the decision has something to do with the number of four as Rogue One shares the same timeline with Episode IV. But again, it is only a numerology speculation.
There’s a sort of conflict of interest among film critics and reviewers in seeing Rogue One. Do we see Rogue One as a film or as part of a phenomenal brand? Can we see it with an independent mind and let the dark side of our geeky sentimental go?
Star Wars movies are all about the family affairs of Skywalker clan, about the drama of members of a royal family with daddy issue. From that perspective, Rogue One actually has something unique because it’s a story of a group of proletarians who have nothing to do with any Skywalker bourgeois inner circle. What unites them is they’re fighting against the same enemy, the authoritarian regime of Galactic Empire.
What I like about Rogue One is the movie offers the other side of the story of unsung heroes behind that famous attack on Death Star in Episode IV to us. The idea is to tell the story about a band of guerilla fighters who never receive any credits for their bravery and martyrdom.
The lead figure here is Jyn Erso (played by an Oscar nominee actress, Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls). Jyn has a baby fat in her cheeks that makes her having a raw beauty looks with soft-hearted persona, but with a certain determination of courage in her eyes. Just imagine the adult and dark-haired version of Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie.
Jones’ Jyn follows a new tradition in Star Wars saga after taken over by The Mouse House to continue their archetypal princess representation in movies. Jyn resembles Daisy Ridley’s Rey in TFA, since both of them share some similar characteristics: as the lead character, rebellion, and a natural martial artist. What separates them is that we know who Jyn’s parents are.
Jyn is, first seen as a child in the opening sequence, the daughter of Galen Orso (played by Mads Mikkelsen, an actor with a cold and ruthless look) and Lyra (Valene Kane). This small family of three is living in peace and harmony in a presumably rural savanna-alike planet until one day their existence is caught on Empire’s radar and they send out a spaceship led by General Orson Krennic ( Ben Mendelsohn) to capture Orso family. It turns out that Galen is a scientist whose competency needed by Empire to get Death Star completed—a job in which he undisguised refused since, to his knowledge, the project will only cause calamity and holocaust to the universe. While her parents are wrangling (“You’re confusing peace with terror!”, says Galen Orso calmly to General Krennic) with their would-be captors, Jyn hides away and later witnesses her mother’s death.
Jyn is supposed to be taken care by Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker)—I assume the name of Saw Gerrera was inspired by Che Guevara, an iconic Marxist and Cuba revolutionary leader—a close friend of his father, but for an unknown reason, Gerrera leaves Jyn in an underground bunker.
Saw Gerrera is, like Che Guevara, indeed an extremist rebellion who chooses to work on a different path with Rebel Alliance and going solo instead.
We see Jyn again later, after many years passing by, this time she is arrested by The Rebel Alliance for her connection to her father. In The Rebel Alliance’s opinion, Jyn must know something about her father’s work, a person whom she actually has had no contact with for a very long time. In fact, Jyn has no idea that her father is building an extremely deadly super weapon for the Galactic Empire.
As the story goes, Jyn reunites with Saw Gerrara in an unexpected event through a renegade Galactic Empire pilot named Bodhi Rook (played by Riz Ahmed, A Night of), who claims he was sent by Jyn’s father to hand a holographic message in which he explains why he decided to work on the Death Star and reveals the secret about how to defeat it.
To defeat Death Star and comply with her father’s mandate, Jyn needs a team. Later she is tossed by a band of strangers, including Bodhi Rook; an I’ll-do-whatever-it-takes Rebel Alliance assassin named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); K-2SO, a reprogrammed Galactic Empire analytic-strategy droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who is as peevish and pouty as C-3PO and Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory combined, but also has the ability to break a Stormtroopers’ bone with a flick of its hands; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a sightless but still lethal monk-priest and the protector of Kyber Temple who believes in the power of The Force and repeatedly chants the mantra, “I’m one with The Force and The Force is with me”, that reminds me of Padawan Ganodi from The Clone Wars; and Baze Malbus (played by Chinese actor, Jiang Wen), Chirrut’s loyal and stoic sidekick, but cynically (and playfully) mocks his belief for The Force.
Together this band of misfits (who later accidentally call themselves as “Rogue One”) is about to accomplish a suicide mission a la “Dirty Dozen” and sabotaging The Death Star from the inside. Of course, just like another monomyth narrative, we will witness Jyn’s and other character’s transition from apolitical survivors to active rebels to heroic martyrs.
Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards, a slow builder filmmaker who, as in his previous two feature films (Monster, Godzilla reboot), tends to build characters and their interaction with each other before finally bringing us to the big action in the third act. In his 2014’s Godzilla, for instance, he intercuts one character’s point of view to another’s introducing us their each perspective about what actually happens and Edwards patiently takes us to one understanding in the final act. Edwards works on the same pattern in Rogue One, although, more likely follows the same formula the previous Star Wars entries have done before (especially Episode IV). We get it that an established brand has a trademark to uphold.
But that’s the problem with Rogue One, or one of many problems.
The movie tries to separate itself from Star Wars movies. It somewhat displays a shade of dark in its visual palette that reminiscences of Scott Ridley’s Prometheus. It can be seen on the color of the wardrobe and K-2SO’s design, or the dim light of the exterior and interior sets. In spite of giving the impression of earthly life, the choice of coloring, in the result, also creates the much seriousness in its tone. Rogue One does ask us to take it very seriously. From the philosophical-poetic-encouraging-lines of dialogue (General Tarkin’s “We need a testament, not a manifesto”) to the quasi-parallel metaphor to current political issue (the setting of Planet Jedha where Saw Gerrera and his separatist group live resembles Jerusalem; Gerrera’s team brief battle against Empire’ troops; and the way they dress, will have our mind reconnected to the conflict in Syria).
But in contrast to its appeal of being serious, the screenplay for Rogue One—written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the later also directed some re-shot scenes in this movie)—merely works on a soap opera-ish mechanism and without being constructed to sustain a serious logical consistency and reason. For example, there’s a scene when Diego Luna’s Cassian kills an informant whom he receives rumor about Jyn. The screenplay may try to emulate Cassian’s threatening persona and emphasizing his character as an effective assassin, like when Hans Solo shoots Greedo in the original 1977 film. But there’s no proper set-up for this scene, neither is a follow through. As if it’s just a mindless murder or a cheap narrative gimmick.
As a movie destined to answer the plot-holes in Episode IV, Rogue One tragically suffers the same fate. It’s hard not to notice some of its logically flawed narratives. For example, the Death Star plans are described being transmitted to Group One of the rebel fleet who departed from Base HQ at Yavin 4 only to send them on a ship back to, guess what, Yavin 4. Why don’t they send them directly to Yavin 4? Or in the most ridiculous aspect is the using of communication technology. Rogue One is set in the era of spaceship travels at the speed of light, but why do they still use radio HQ communication?
Rogue One, in fact, has a smart creative decision in using the theme of sacrifice as the narrative bridging to Episode IV. As the events of this film is set sometime between Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and A New Hope. The main idea in Rogue One is how a group of multi-ethnic-strangers willingly to work together in a team, forfeit themselves in a fight against tyranny, and their acts are only bound in hope for a much better future (“Rebellions are built on hope”, says Jyn to Cassian). But to make us believe in this idea, we need to believe in them as a team. We need to believe that they trust each other and share the same faith. And unfortunately, Rogue One is hard to convince us.
One of the most obvious problems why the movie fails to have us invested into the characters is because all of them are rogue characters and they’re distant in such a way that we never get close to any of them. Rogue One has the similar problem with Suicide Squad, in terms of the failure in building on-screen chemistry, they don’t provide enough time for their characters to hang out and interact on screen.
Sure, Jyn and her unlikely buddies are seen being together for a couple of times, but when they’re being on screen, it rarely made it a few seconds before the camera cuts away to a series of close-ups of his characters. And this happens precisely in the crucial moments when they are in process of assembling. It’s important to notice that, during the assembling process, how often the camera shoots the characters separately, then cut between close-ups of all of them, which isolates them in frame with no real human connection. The end result is we feel the lack of process of emotional integration or earnest compassion.
This is why the focus of making Rogue One as the continuation of Star Wars as a brand kills its potency of greatness. Disney and LucasFilm are more interested in establishing this film as the window display for Star Wars universe trivia by putting a large number of characters from previous installments in order to provoke hysteria from the fans. As much I’m hyped as a fan, the idea of cramming those recognizable characters (from that Mos Eisley Cantina’s duo bastards of Episode IV to Jimmy Smith’s Senator Bail Organa from Revenge of Sith who speaks no words at all) costs the dynamic loss. So often, camera work is designed only to provide the glimpse of those familiar characters in the midst of interaction build-up between Rogue One members.
Rogue One is indeed a corporate effort of incorporating George Lucas’ original trilogy mise-en-scene (the set, the props, the weaponry, the Stormtroopers, even some famous shots)—although it’s a very open-handedly welcome by fans like me—that feels like sacrificing the theme of sacrifice.
The level of seriousness in this movie’ tone also ruins the interaction dynamic between main characters. What makes the process of human interaction between characters in Episode IV seems to be believable is that they appear to be a group of cool persons who love to hang out around. The key is the lighter and humorous tone of the movie. We tend to blend nicely with someone we barely know if we share some laughter. That what happens in Episode IV, since Hans Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, C3PO and R2D2 meet in a hilarious and relax way. The result is their chemistry feels fluid and organic. Compare to the depressing and serious tone of Rogue One, that’s the reason why the character of K-2SO the droid appears as the scene-stealer since he provides a plenty amounts of comedy with his sarcastic and abrasive quips and he turns out, ironically, being the most human and fully characterized, even compares to his human companions. We as the audiences are attracted to K-2SO character and, not surprisingly, when he must die in the line of duty, we feel the loss and the grief, but we don’t feel the same way towards other characters.
As a Star Wars movie, Rogue One has no Jedi, nor the iconic lightsaber battle. But it has a plenty of The Force. The screenplay needs to use it as the usual plot device to make us condoning the deus-ex-machina moments. Jyn, our heroine, has a necklace with Kyber Crystal as the pendant. In Star Wars universe, Kyber is a rare Force-attuned mineral as the source of energy for Jedi ‘ or Sith’ light-saber. That’s the only reasonable answer why the deeply spiritual and an affirmed believer of The Force like Chirrut îmwe gets immediately emotionally connected to Jyn Erso.
Aside from its tragically indisposed first and second acts, Rogue One somehow manages to surpass the previous Star Wars movies failed to do. Visually.
The space battles, the x-wing dogfights, and the third act action scenes feel logical and magical. Hatched by LucasFilm/ILM visual effects supervisor, John Knoll, and shot by d.o.p Greg Fraser (Foxcatxher, Zero Dark Thirty), Rogue One is a kind of collaborative effort that impossible to execute before. Fraser’s photography feels functional and uses a lot of wide shots to evoke majestic views. Fraser also utilizes the perspective scale to intimidate audiences. What’s interesting is he differentiates the heroes and villains with his camera. He uses low angle shots to determine the villainous character, as if they look down at you under their nose, creating the impression pomposity and haughtiness. Meanwhile, Fraser shot the heroes from high angle shots, causing the illusion of self-effacing.
Fraser’s camera also brings us to see the vulnerable side of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones lends his voice again).Here, Darth Vader abandons his usual economic words and it feels so off-balance with his menacing aura.
Michael Giacchino’s score is another state of perplexity. His score feels anemic and hesitates between the needs to dissociate itself from Star Wars and to be in-line with the mandatory for the purpose of branding continuity.
Last year’s TFA is also functioning as the catalog for Star Wars brand. But, at least, it’s being honest in proclaiming itself as a platform of nostalgic. What hurtful about Rogue One is the movie betrays the concept of sacrifice and martyrdom as an act of barter for hope. To the contrary, this movie relies on nods as the foreground, but rarely lets our condolence to the unsung heroes touching the ground.
When a movie supposed to be a paean to a tragic heroic story or a gratitude to the unsung heroes, but we end up cheering instead of cherishing, we know this movie has a huge problem.
And that’s the problem with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A story of the forced gratitude in a mise-en-scene incorporated.
Reviewed at IMAX Kelapa Gading on December 14, 2016, in 3D
Running time: 138 minutes
A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Lucasfilm Ltd. production. Producers: Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Executive producers: John Knoll, Jason D. McGatlin. Co-
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Story: John Knoll, Gary Whita based on characters created by George Lucas
Camera (color, widescreen): Greg Fraser
Editor: John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, Jabez Olsen
Music: Michael Giacchino
Casts: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Beau Gadsdon, Dolly Gadsdon.