Interlude: Rogue One, Part One

Well, I’m off to see Rogue One this afternoon, which promises to be fun. Everyone seems to like it so far.

Oh, I should correct myself there. Everyone worth the oxygen required to keep them alive seems to like it so far. There are some film critics[1] who don’t, but that of course is natural. Film critics, after all, don’t have the job of reviewing films. That’s for film reviewers to do. I accept that there’s a grey area there. It’s just unfortunately never between the critics’ ears.

[1] I think I’ve ranted about the uselessness of film critics before, so let’s take it as read and move on.

My good friend Ilya pointed me in the direction of this gem (don’t worry about reading it, I’m going to pick it apart below), “Rogue One” Reviewed: Is It Time to Abandon the “Star Wars” Franchise?, in which Richard Brody of the New Yorker falls into the trap of calling his pointless criticism a review.


Amusingly, the featured movie under his by-line was Carnival of Souls, which Mrs. Hatboy and I just watched. I don’t know if it was about those things they said it was about. But okay.

This apparently reminded Ilya of another piece he’d shared with me back in days of yore. As such, I decided to give the review, if not as thorough a treatment as last time (I am even rustier now than I was ten freaking years ago), then at least a similar treatment.

If nothing else, we can call it a slightly new and interesting take on the Star Wars movie experience on this blog, which I hope everyone will agree has been quite diverse. And yes, each of those words was a separate link to a separate blog post. Except for “I hope”, which were two words in a single link. But let’s move along with this.

Quotes in bold, because that’s the way I did it last time.

Lobotomized and depersonalized, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the latest entry in the film franchise, is a pure and perfect product that makes last year’s flavor, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” feel like an exemplar of hands-on humanistic warmth and dramatic intimacy.

Translation: Rogue One makes Episode VII look good.

Sure, J. J. Abrams’s movie offered merely effectively packaged simulacra of such values—but at least he tried.

Translation: And Episode VII wasn’t good.

The director of “Rogue One,” Gareth Edwards, has stepped into a mythopoetic stew so half-baked and overcooked, a morass of pre-instantly overanalyzed implications of such shuddering impact to the series’ fundamentalists, that he lumbers through, seemingly stunned or constrained or cautious to the vanishing point of passivity, and lets neither the characters nor the formidable cast of actors nor even the special effects, of which he has previously proved himself to be a master, come anywhere close to life.

Hmm. Assuming “the series’ fundamentalists” refers to hardcore Star Wars fans, and “pre-instantly overanalyzed implications” refers to this movie’s place in the Star Wars canon…

Translation: The film’s director is usually pretty darn good, but in this case there’s just so much back-story – and future-story – resting on this film, he was basically afraid to do anything because it might piss off the Star Wars nerds.

Edwards’s “Godzilla” was both spectacular and preachy, a Sunday-school lesson cloaked in the kind of movie that the pupils get to watch when Sunday school lets out—but its moralizing seemed, at the very least, like Edwards’s own moralizing; it had a voice, albeit one far less authentic and original than the visual one that he conjured with the film’s colossal action scenes.

Translation: Like I said, Edwards is usually pretty good. Godzilla was fine, if a little preachy.

I’m not sure I’d describe Godzilla as preachy, but okay. I guess the old lesson “let’s stop being dicks with our radioactive waste” is a classic, and since I never attended Sunday-school I’ll have to trust it’s in the bible somewhere. It’d be a major oversight if it wasn’t.

I hesitate even to ascribe the deadness of “Rogue One” to Edwards’s failure, except perhaps a failure of executive authority rather than of artistry. Authorship of “Rogue One” may fall to its screenwriters, Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the latter was reportedly involved in extensive reshoots), or to the writers of the story on which the script was based, John Knoll and Gary Whitta—but I’d likelier ascribe authorship not even to the movie’s battalion of producers but to the “Star Wars” brand itself, since “Rogue One” has (with a few momentary exceptions) all the heart and soul of a logo and a theme.

Translation: This film’s failure wasn’t the director’s fault, wasn’t the screenwriters’ fault – in fact, they apparently did a lot to try to fix that shit – wasn’t even the original story’s authors’ fault. It was Star Wars‘ fault.

That there is actually an interesting premise for a criticism. Pity it got lost in the purple haze.

There is a story to “Rogue One,” one that I overheard a viewer or two describe as “dark” on the way out, and I suppose that, despite the inevitable happy ending (or, at least, successful mission), some serious unpleasantness occurs along the way—mainly the death of some major characters. But it’s a sign of the narrow constraints or limits of Edwards’s artistry, or of the script that he was handed, that the scenes in which such unpleasantness occurs have all the emotional impact of a checklist or a call sheet that simply says whether an actor will or won’t be needed the next day.

Translation: I heard some viewers describe the film as “dark”, and I suppose it was – but even that darkness seemed to be Forced[2] into a plastic mould, making the story seem sterile. I blame Disney[3].

[2] I’m not only translating, I’m adding lame in-jokes. Because who gives a shit about a review that has no lame in-jokes?

[3] Real talk, isn’t that what the previous paragraph was about? That the movie was bland and antiseptic because of the requirements of the brand to please everybody and upset nobody?

Whether the downplaying of the formidable cast’s charismatic energies is an intentional downplaying of the potential risk to the characters that they play—whether it’s a matter of not actually allowing viewers to get too attached to characters or actors, not allowing viewers to be bummed out by bad news but rather breezing past it in a spirit of fealty not to these characters or performers but to the franchise—is the kind of corporate Kremlinology that would rightly take the place of criticism in assessing the substance and tone of the movie.

Translation: I don’t know why such a great cast had to wind up portraying such two-dimensional characters, but I blame Disney. And I know, I’m repeating myself, but that’s the problem with this franchise in a nutshell. In leaving nothing for us to criticise, the creators of Rogue One have left us with a single all-encompassing gripe.

Additional translation: I’m so sorry I said Kremlinology. I’m going to put my genitals on the table and hit them really quite hard with a 1:8-scale Jar Jar Binks replica now.

The protagonist of “Rogue One,” Jyn Erso, is first seen as a child, living in extreme rustic isolation with her parents, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and Lyra (Valene Kane), when a drone susses them out

Hold up, I’m not translating this because it’s actually more or less fine … but this is where I began to smell a rat. Susses them out? Really? This slang does not belong, if what you’re trying to do is legitimate academic bullplop.

and a spaceship bearing officers and soldiers of the Empire comes to capture them. Galen is a scientist whose talents are needed to complete the Death Star—a project in which he wants no part. But, while her parents are wrangling with their would-be captors, Jyn gets away. Many years later, as an adult, Jyn (played by Felicity Jones) is arrested by the Rebel Alliance on the grounds that her father (with whom she has had no contact for fifteen years)—who had in fact been working all those years on the superweapon—was a collaborator with the Empire.

Okay. This is the actual plot-part of the review.

Though Jyn had never exhibited any spirit of revolt—she’d had enough trouble surviving, even pseudonymously, merely keeping her head down—she’s thrown together with a venerable figure from her past, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who huffs with a breathing mask seemingly borrowed from David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and reminds her of long-standing affinities.

Translation: Jyn wasn’t actually rebellious, she was just a survivor. She’s reunited with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), something something, reminds her of something something.

Again, this is just plot. It can certainly be simplified though. Not having seen the movie yet, I can’t specify further.

She’s also tossed together with a band of outsiders, one of whom brings her a holographic message from Galen in which he explains why he worked on the Death Star and conveys his insider knowledge about how she can defeat it. The drama, such as it is, involves Jyn’s transition from an apolitical survivor to an active rebel, and the movie builds to the climactic battle, ranging from the cloak-and-dagger to the conventionally military to the space-Wagnerian, to realize Galen’s grandly subversive plan.

Alright. Actually sounds cool. I’m quite glad I’ll be going into the movie knowing this.

If Galen’s plan isn’t grandly subversive, I’m going to be disappointed.

Actually, “Rogue One” is unusually dark, but only in the literal sense—its cinematography enshrouds the characters in a surprisingly murky depth of shadows.

LOL, okay. Probably legit criticism, in the “J.J.Abrams lens flare” style.

Translation: Oh yeah, the film’s “dark”, alright. I couldn’t see half of what was going on, it was like a bad ’80s movie where they didn’t want you to get a good look at the monster.

The cinematographer, Greig Fraser, has quite the résumé—several of his films are notable mainly for their cinematography, such as “Foxcatcher,” “Killing Them Softly,” and, above all, “Let Me In,” in which the camera work is more or less the movie’s main character and certainly its main appeal. When, late in the film, the galactic combat bursts into the brilliant baby blue of a seemingly bottomless atmospheric dome, the impact of light and color is momentarily stunning—the sole moment of sheer sense-pleasure that the movie offers.

Translation: For all my complaining about the gloominess, though, cinematographer Greig Fraser is damn good at his job, having established his chops in a bunch of other films. And he provides some highlights to this one, too.

Although personally I wouldn’t translate this, it seems pretty much on point.

To the producers’ credit, “Rogue One” offers an international cast that, along with Jones, Whitaker, and Mikkelsen, features Diego Luna (as the rebel captain Cassian Andor, who is Jyn’s main cohort), Riz Ahmed (as the band’s intrepid pilot), and Donnie Yen (as a blind martial-arts spiritualist). But it seems as if the condition for assembling this diverse group is not letting them say or do anything of note, anything of any individual distinction, anything of any free-floating or idiosyncratic implication.

Translation: The cast is great, the diversity is through the roof – can I thank Disney’s offend-nobody philosophy for that, instead of blaming them? No, apparently my mission statement says I can’t – but they’re prevented from doing anything by that same focus-group-meeting mentality that turns characters and script and plot into plain oatmeal. Hey, some people like plain oatmeal, and that’s fine. I don’t want to watch a bowl of it for two hours.

I’m branching out in my translations, this was once again more or less okay but some of that wankery at the end has to go. Also, I had a sudden craving for oatmeal and so that’s where the paragraph went. Funny how the mind works in a crisis.

There’s none of the Shakespearean space politics, enticingly florid dialogue, or experiential thrills of the best of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” entries (“Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”).

Translation: Kill me. Seriously, kill me before I do real damage.

The script of “Rogue One” is so flat and inexpressive, the direction of the actors so methodical, as to render these artists nearly robotic and synthetic.


There’s no translation, it’s a repeat of what he already said.

The one character with any inner identity is, in fact, a robot, K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, and the only performance with any flair at all is a C.G.I. incarnation, or, rather, resurrection.

I’m not going to translate this either, I’m just squeeing over the knowledge that one of the best characters in the movie is once again a droid, and is in this case voiced by one of my very favourite actors.

This is basically a Star Wars staple, so it should definitely count in their favour.

On a related note, I was taking the bus to work the other day and I noticed a Rogue One poster on a bus stop. It was basically a portrait-shot of K-2SO (assuming that’s the droid’s name), main-character-style. So awesome to see an actual robot on a poster, as main / only subject. I want one.


A poster, that is, not a droid. Although if there’s a droid on the market…

Even the climactic battle scenes, in which the band of rebel warriors risks all to disable and destroy the Death Star according to Galen’s instructions, pivot on an unintentionally comical plot point—centered on the transmission of an exceptionally large packet of data—that seems ready-made to be reprocessed as a series of commercials for an Internet-service provider or a cell-phone plan. It makes perfect sense: “Rogue One” isn’t so much a movie as a feature-length promotional film for itself; it’s a movie that is still waiting to be made.

Translation: Why have you not killed me yet?

Meh, I don’t know. I’ll have to see the movie to know whether this “final” plot point is a weakness or not. At the moment I’m just confused as to whether they actually destroy the Death Star. Maybe the Empire builds a new one for Episode IV. That’d make Rogue One kind of pointless, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, if they manage to tastefully retcon the Critical Weak Spot trope, that would be amazing.

Still, I don’t think the idea of Star Wars plot points and characters as marketable commodities is really a new thing.

See, having read this whole “review”, I am convinced it is a cynical (but successful!) attempt to troll the peasants, get us all riled up about them thar hifalutin’ words an’ such. It’s taking advantage of a nasty and ever-growing anti-intellect sentiment in the general population, to get people talking (or at least shouting), and sharing New Yorker articles and brand around the place. Lots of clicks, can’t argue with clicks.

Do I approve? No, not really. I admire the brazenness of it, if this is what Brody was doing. And it paid off, didn’t it? But I have too much respect for the gift of language and communication to really sign off on his use of it here. And yes, I’m all for cutting out the wankery and making things more readable, but not dumbing shit down, and I know there’s a very blurry, very mobile line there … but that line is where I live.

If, on the other hand, he was really trying to pass himself off as a member of the literary elite, and genuinely expressing his honest opinion of the movie in as high-brow a manner as possible … hmm. Well, I respect him for going balls-out in doing so. But at the same time, fuck that guy, fuck him up his stupid arse.


Because this is the Internet, bitch.
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One Response to Interlude: Rogue One, Part One

  1. Pingback: Interlude: Rogue One, Part Two | Hatboy's Hatstand

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