Arrival Review & Analysis: An Understanding In A Full Circle

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is a glue that holds people together, and it is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”




That line is quoted by Dr. Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, from Dr. Louise Banks’ thesis (played superbly by Amy Adams), an advanced linguist, when they first meet each other on a helicopter trip arranged and led by a US military leader, Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker) for a mission to making a contact with 12 strange shaped unidentified objects contain a race of alien (which are later called, The Heptapods) that suddenly appeared in 12 countries on Earth. The brief, but keen-witted, scene is from Arrival—the latest feature directorial work from Denis Villeneuve, a French-Canadian filmmaker—a movie based on an award-winning science-fiction-existentialist novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang released in 1999.

The first time I watched Arrival in theater, I was not automatically connected. I knew it’s a film with the tremendous level of techniques and details. I understand the movie, but I found it was not entirely explicable.

It was the time on my way home when I was struck with some kind of consciousness. The imageries from Arrival lingered on my mind and they were getting stronger and stronger each time. The film was like calling me to come back to it. Like the line Amy Adams’ character repeatedly said in the opening sequence, “Come back to me… come back to me”. It was like a plea, solicitation, and even a prayer. But, I didn’t immediately fathom what’s so fascinating and exciting about the movie.

And then I went for a repeat viewing, a day after I watched it for the first time. I let go my imagination, I absorbed the details, and the most important thing was I dismissing my ego.

And then that was it, the moment of enlightenment. I reached an understanding, in a full circle. Now, I don’t only like the movie, but I’m awe-struck by it. Arrival is a rare movie, these days in an era of films with futuristic setting misinterpreted as sci-fi, wrapped by the accountable using of science and knowledge. It’s a movie with almost no gimmicks because every little detail counts. It trusts our intellectual to digest and to interpret. It’s not only a great sci-fi movie. It’s a great movie.

The story of Arrival is the story of Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  It follows her journey, a kind of spiritual one, to find the meaning of her existence. But, it ends up as an extraordinary spiritual journey that not only succeeds in revealing her fate, but also the core of human existence, through language.

I’ve read the novella on which Arrival is based. Although Arrival delivers the same energy and emotion like the novella does, the way it tells its story is unlike its source material. Arrival tells its story in the manner of non-linear orthography language. What is that actually? Orthography is a set of rules about the way a language is written including spelling, emphasis, and punctuation. Bahasa Indonesia and English, for instance, are linear orthographies since we write and read it from left to right. Arab language, even though it works in the opposite mechanism to English and Indonesia, also belongs to linear orthography category. Because those three languages have such clear rules about how and when a word or a sentence begins and ends.

A non-linear orthography language, contrariwise, has no clear guides when a word or a sentence begins and ends. The language of the heptapods aliens in Arrival is also non-linear orthography which is written in circular puffs of dark smoke produced by their tentacles, with no beginning or no end.  Their language has no alphabets or scripts. The creatures from outer space in this movie communicate with logogram, a collection of symbols formed a circle that can stand for a word, an entire sentence, or feeling. Since the aliens themselves don’t experience linear time, their logograms can put words in any order without changing the meaning of the message. Arrival gives us a series of information about the events occur in this movie like the logogram, as if it’s in a loop of Aristotle’s Theory of Causality, which is the beginning and the ending; the cause and the effect, and both of them exist at the same time. The words of “beginning” and “cause” represent the past, as both of them refer to the preceding events or the start. The words of “ending” and “effect” reflect the future, as they refer to the following events or the finish line. Arrival makes us experience its entirety of the thought, emotion, perception, and reason all at once in tandem with the past and the future, not just in an intertwining or progressive order.

Language is indeed the key word in this movie, a very powerful noun whose multiple functions, such: as a tool of communication, either written or spoken or using body gestures or signs or signals or even through a series of imageries; as one of ways of knowing (the others are included emotion, perception, and reason); and as the weapon, like the line quoted by Ian Donnelly. This movie even merges its functions since it communicates with us and, at the same time, provokes our ways of knowing through cinema as its language.

The concept of language and communication is even used in the attention-grabbing and emotional opening sequence montage which is accompanied by On A Nature of Daylight, strings quintet score by British composer, Mark Richter, which is also used in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island—that shows a brief encounter of the cycle of a young girl’s life, guided by the whispering narration by Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  The way she whispers her words is like a lullaby, an apostrophe, and a sonnet all at once. She is questioning the concept of existence in a lyrical, forlorn, personal and motherly way. She longs for something and wants it to return to her belongings, something that she is meant to be. And there’s no better music than Richter’s in substantiating the emotional element of the sequence.

But what is it she longing for?

I used to think it was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time; by its order…”, Adam’s Louise Banks starts her story.

The montage sequence whose structure like vignettes is a brief summary of a life: a baby is born, grows up into a young girl, and then suffers an unidentified illness before she finally passes away. It is the most emotional and heartbreaking opening montage only second to the dramatic Michael Giacchino’s waltz-esque score brought us to tears through the opening sequence of Pixar’s Up.

The opening sequence, shot in Terence Malick’s Tree of Life aesthetic, also shows an evolution of language as a means of communication through the speaking voice or the facial expressions: from the moment of happiness of a mother in welcoming her newly-born-baby; the moment of togetherness of a little child and her mother while they’re playing in a grassy yard and sharing some laughter; the moment of intimacy when the little daughter says, “I love you” to her mother; the moment when the little kid yells, “I hate you” angrily to her mother; to the moment of grief and sorrow when both of them are facing the hardest time of their life. The sequence shows us how language evolves along with the development of the brain, physical and emotional of the daughter with her mother, Louise Banks. But camera focuses its shot on the daughter, following her evolution in adapting language and expression as a tool of communication. The mother is her audience.

But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived”, by these sentences, Louise Banks gets her understanding about what actually happens.

But, we’re still looking for what the movie is talking about as scene by scene goes by.

Louise Banks’ whispery voice over performs the function of the epigraph, which is commonly found in the preamble of a book or in a chapter whose intention to suggest its theme or even the entire of the story. Arrival is a Villenueve’s film, which means there are a lot of his cinematic trademarks in it. The way the opening sequence is being presented in this film reminiscent of Villeneuve’s cinematic demeanor.

Villeneuve is well known for his tendency to approaching film in the same way we write an article or story. In writing, the first sentence should be something that grabs the reader’s attention. Villenueve uses his first scenes or sequences to establish a tone and draw in audiences immediately. Or in literature we call it epigraph. Typically, his opening sequence is very important in the context of the entire film, but the real meaning or value of it is not always apparent or obvious until much later.

In his Enemy (2013) — coincidentally resembles the theme of alien encounters –, for instance, opens with a line that functions as the epigraph from Jose Saramago’s The Double, the novel on which the movie is based.

Chaos is order, yet undeciphered”

The epigraph in Enemy actually suggests that there are some senses of clues of it if we only know how it can be deciphered. The opening line, then, is followed by an intriguing and provoking scene, which takes place at a sex show, the kind of show we also find in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. Later, in the same scene, we see our first spider (I assume it’s a black widow spider), crawling out of a golden shiny tray and then we see a lady’s foot is about to step on it, intentionally and consciously. For you who have already watched Enemy will understand the connection between the epigraph, the opening scene, and the mind-blowing ending.

The aforementioned illustration exemplifies how Villeneuve utilizes his opening scenes to hint at a reoccurring theme and message in his films.

Arrival is no exception.

His preference for maximizing the technique of editing mixes up the conscious with the subconscious in his narrative. He unfurls the underlying message in dialogues or unexpected extreme close-up shots on, we might think at first, a random object. Villeneuve also often features music or score while the camera gradually tracks away from a scenic shot into a more structured one, by alternating shots with contrasting ones in order to bring audiences into a forced perspective. Without context, his creative decision would get audiences confused, but he combines it with music, cinematography, camera movement, and facial expressions on the actor to make a powerful statement. The result is, instead of being disoriented, audiences will anticipate many important aspects to come throughout the entire of the movie, because Villeneuve’s opening scene establish important aspects of his films such as setting, the topic, and the tone. In short, every little detail in his film counts.

Another Villeneuve’s signature technique we can find in Arrival is the exertion of mystery. He always purposely restricts the perspective of his films to his main character(s) to create a puzzle. With this set-up, his characters are searching for the answers, and so are the audiences. This set-up also helps to bring a twist forth at the end of the story, where, if we once reach the end of the story, we would get the comprehensive understanding about the previous events shown in the opening sequence. It means that most of Villeneuve’s films have a full cycle.

The camera works by Bradford Young (cinematographer for Selma, A Most Violent Year) is brilliant here. He uses Amy Adams’ face as a canvas of observation, continuing Villeneuve’s cinematic traces, and inviting us to study her contour of emotions.

There’s a riveting scene in Arrival of which showing why Amy Adams, 5 times Oscar nominees, is the perfect actor for the leading cast in this movie. The scene is when Adams’ Louise Banks and her students first finding out about aliens encounter. One of her students asks her to turn the screen into television as breaking news program reporting the unusual events. In typical using of news footages in films, the camera will shoot the television. But, in Arrival, Young’s camera chooses to observe Louise Banks’ reaction and put her in a separate blocking with her students while the voice of news anchor is echoing and giving us the information, but also isolating her character. We can see how Louise Banks as a respected linguist absorbs the information and digests it through Amy Adams interpretation.

The scene continues Villeneuve’s tradition of shooting his main character in isolation shots. Before the aforementioned scene, Young’s camera follows Louise Banks as she enters the campus where she is lecturing. She walks straight and adamantly, even she is passing through some boisterous and curious crowds who are watching breaking-news programs. The camera isolates her from the crowd to indicate that she is a very focus lady. She once looks toward the crowds, shows some curiosity, but she keeps on walking to her class. This series of isolation shots establish Louise Banks’ character status, that later on, be revealed in a conversation.

Arrival is a compact and elegant film. Its pace is slow, as it unveils its mystery steadily. This movie builds the conflict and tension through communication, debates, and arguments surrounding the meaning of heptapods’ writings. The conflict is based on “lost in translation”. This movie is also involving a geopolitics issue, like we once saw in Eye in the Sky, as the heptapods landed on 12 different countries. Audiences who expect some spectacled combats between aliens and humans will get disappointed. But, once again, this movie is aimed as the nutrition for your brain, not only as a feast to your eyes.

I’m intrigued by how the heptapods space crafts are designed. These 1500 feet black monolith-alike space crafts resemble sloping half-ovals (a line and a circle at once) and each spacecraft is a detached entity. They’re like 12 separated-pieces waiting to be united. The number of 12 symbolizes the time. The clock which has the form of a full circle. In my theory, those 12 spacecrafts represent a variety of big cultures on Earth and together they will form an enormous full circle. Like the mechanism of time that always repeating itself or like the heptapods’ language, or like the structure of this movie.

I read this insightful book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, in which Terence Deacon noted, “In this context, then, consider the case of human language. It is one of the most distinctive behavioral adaptations on the planet. Languages evolved in only one species, in only one way, without precedent, except in the most general sense. And the difference between languages and all other natural modes of communicating are vast,”

Arrival provokes the same topic as Deacon’s book implies. The main idea is questioning the concept of language to influence someone’s behavior and personality, mannerly or culturally, by which one changes his/her pattern of action to better suits the new environment.

I speak fluently in three languages: Indonesia, as my native language; English, the language I started speaking when I was 10 years old; and French, the language I started to learn when I was 14 years old. I rarely use it on a daily basis, but French influences how I interpret art and food, as my fascination for French began to develop since I attended a ballet class in my childhood.

I feel that my personality can be split into three different cultures and the way I express myself, more often than not, is only able to be channeled through a language only. For example, when I enjoy a product of high art (beaux arts/art majeur), I would use French to express myself. Otherwise, I would speak or write in English to express my ideas about mass art (pop culture) and I would use Indonesia to have a conversation about daily life, as the majority of my friends speak this language.

I also tend to sing better in English or French. But mastering three languages have helped me to understand three different cultures comprehensively. There were many times when I burst into laugh watching a French movie, while the other audiences didn’t laugh at all. My point is there is a barrier in language as a means of communication. The way humans languages evolving have their own flaws, as they require the speakers and the recipients to agree on every part of the process, including the interpretation which needs a whole understanding about the context and the culture all at once, instantly.

Deacon’s book and Arrival intrigue me with the basic question I once had when I was younger about, “What was the first human language like before it evolved into thousand of languages we find today? Is it possible that someday, in the future, our languages going to merge into one and universal language? A language sans frontiere?

As Amy Adams’ Louise Banks gets a better understanding of Heptapods language, she begins to envision her future. Does it mean mastering Heptapods language help her to be a clairvoyant? I’m not sure. But, in my theory, the ability to see beyond the time is a part of Heptapods culture and the way they’re thinking. Like when I got attuned to the French language, I could understand them.

My hypothesis is that the Heptapods intentionally making appearances in 12 different countries to seek for someone who can learn their language. As two friendly Heptapods, Abbot and Costello (they were named by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly after linguistically challenged famous duo), said to Louise that, “they need humanity help”.

This moment when Louise meets with Abbot and Costello without any barrier (previously they communicate to each other through an invisible wall), and the friendly Heptapods are finally able to transfer their knowledge without any hesitation from Louise. This is the moment when a language becomes universal. This the moment when Louise realizes that she’s able to experience the future while still living in present time, and the time she has to see her destiny and she apparently has to accept it as well.

This the time when I’m aware that Arrival works on a theory of linguistic relativity, called Saphir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory which proposes the idea that the language we’re speaking reflects or shapes the way we think.

A friend sent me a private text questioning whether the Heptapods performed a function as a deception to the whole story or not. I cannot agree, but I don’t fully oppose to his perception either.  In my interpretation, the heptapods is the trigger for human beings to unite as one voice, without any barrier. It’s a metaphor of an idea to conceive a tranquility and harmony using language as a tool, not as a weapon.

That what makes Arrival transcends beyond its traditional role of a movie as an art or just as a mass entertainment. It not only offers an idea but also a solution. It starts with questions, but also gives us the answers. All at once. At the same time, in a full circle.

Like Hannah, the name of Louise Banks’ daughter, the film purports to use flashbacks and forwards in subsequent viewings by the way of a palindrome. It carries us to feel the emotion, perception, and reason in order to get a whole understanding. Again, in a full circle.

(5/5)

Reviewed at Epicentrum XXI, on January 7, 2017

Running time: 116 minutes

A Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures International release of a 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films production. Produced by Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, Karen Lunder, David Linde.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Based on novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang

Camera(color, widescreen): Bradford Young

Editor: Joe Walker

Production designer: Patrice Vermette

Music: Johann Johannsson

Art director: Isabelle Guay

Casts: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Forced Gratitude in A Mise-en-Scene Inc.

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“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 AhmedA 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 testamentnot 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 IVRogue 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 OneA Star Wars Story. A story of the forced gratitude in a mise-en-scene incorporated.

(2,5/5)

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.