Star Wars: Rogue one was the first spin-off, stand-alone movie in the Star Wars franchise since the Disney acquisition. It was envisaged to kick start an expansion into the larger Star Wars universe through a series of similar movies, exploring what seemed to be an unlimited source of potential story material.
Rumors abounded about a Boba Fett movie? an Obi Wan movie? Yet the expanded movie series has ground to a halt after the box office faltering of Solo- A Star Wars story. So what happened? How did the wheels fall off the gravy train? To understand this we need to look back at what makes a great Star Wars movie…and how Rogue one got it all so wrong.
Star Wars was a global phenomenon unprecedented in the movie industry, it spawned a new genre of film-making with world building and total audience immersion. I grew up in a dust-bowl mining town in the Australian outback, the entire concept of Star Wars was a million light years from the reality of life. At seven years old I had yet to see a traffic light, elevator or colour TV, but sitting in our old car with the tin box speaker at the drive in I was a million miles away when that fanfare started.
That feeling of seeing a Star Wars movie as a kid is indescribable, it’s a fully functional universe you can escape into that part of you never truly leaves.
This immersion was not achieved solely through giant space battles, monsters and different worlds, but also through Mark Hamill’s sincerity, Harrison Fords charm and Carrie Fishers sass. These weren’t just characters in a movie, they were your friends, your role models and sometimes your first crush. They were real people because the actors were sincere and very personal in their performance.
There is no other Star Wars film where that audience/character personal connection is missing as badly as Rogue One, nor one where the story completely fails to bring life and depth to them. In fact, I would argue it is the complete failure of Rogue One to successfully express a cohesive narrative with genuinely interesting characters, plus the inherent problems associated with prequel or “backstory” movies, that has led to the box office failure of Solo- A Star Wars Story and the subsequent grounding of these expansion films.
First we need to understand that, while Star Wars has always had a large base of fans, the hardcore fan base that lives, eats and breathes Star Wars is only a relatively small portion. There is a much larger casual fan base or movie going public that will buy a ticket at the cinema, but little more. While Rogue one is popular with that hardcore fan who has an encyclopedic canon knowledge, this is really to be expected, as the movie is almost in it’s entirety written to pander to that exact demographic. Almost in the same but opposite way that The Last Jedi seemed almost deliberate in it’s subversion of fan theories and desires, and tearing down the mono-myth.
For the die-hard fan it has the nostalgia teamed with impressive visuals, it has an almost annoying list of call backs, shout outs, references and easter eggs which are in danger of derailing the plot. The film is almost saying, “Hey this is what A New Hope would have been if George had the technology.” And in one way that is correct, if George had the technology we would have got a visually dazzling film acted out by robots fed ridiculous dialogue.
It’s the casual fan that is left out of this movie, it’s stripped of important exposition and detail that makes a lot of what is happening make sense. At no point is there even a hint of explanation about what the force or Jedi are, the Jedi aren’t in the film…true, but Vader is. Vader force chokes Krennic, and goes on a hallway murderous rampage using the force and at no point in the film is it pointed out how or why that is. A fan know whats happening, but anyone who’s new or only seen one or two films may be left wondering. If you are going to make a stand alone film, it must stand alone. You should be able to take away the Star Wars framework and still have a film that makes sense.
It is a prequel film and in fairness, prequel movies are almost always problematic. We know the end, it’s just a journey on how we get there and tie it up. The most glaring issue of this movie being a prequel is the Death Star is sold heavily as a menacing threat that never reaches a resolution, because it can’t. The resolution for the film then needed to fall back on to the characters and particularly the conflict between Jyn and Krennic, but because of a haphazard plot, that conflict is barely touched upon. If anything Jyn should have a bigger grudge against the rebellion than with Krennic with what we are shown.
Despite appearing to be superficially glamorous, action adventure stories. Star Wars movies actually operate on a multifaceted, mythological story level. Each of the trilogies and individual movies use overarching themes that tie their characters together.
Solo uses a theme of individual freedom which is represented by owning a star ship, independence and how the reality of life can overcome personal idealism.
The trilogies carry arcing themes and individual themes for each movie, so while the prequels have an overarching theme of rising fascism, the phantom menace had a theme of symbiosis, Revenge of the Sith carries a theme of self fulfilling prophesy.
Themes are important to tie characters together, otherwise there is a danger of things just seeming to happen rather than showing causality as characters slip away from the central theme. There is no driving theme to this movie, it’s not a war movie or a heist movie despite being sold as both. It’s more suicide squad than dirty dozen.
A sign of good character expression and story telling is that the movie shows you the character personally, not have a third party narrate the character to the audience by simply telling you who they are. Characters need to be interpreted by the audience, not dictated to them.
If we look at the character of Rey in the sequel trilogy, a character often slandered for being two dimensional (somewhat unfairly). In the first fifteen minutes of The Force Awakens we have seen where she works, where she trades, where she lives, what she eats, why she’s there, how long she’s been there and what she dreams about, with barely a word spoken. If Rey is two dimensional then the characters in Rogue one are flat, bleached and sanitized.
Most of what we know about Jyn, that she is a hardened criminal/terrorist that lives by her own rules and doesn’t play well with others, is not shown. Rather it is dictated us to by the rebel hierarchy. The only example of being shown this is that when she is liberated from the imperial prison her first reaction isn’t thanks, it’s bam, see you later.
Yet despite this alleged rebellious nature, Jyn then fairly meekly accepts her assigned role as go between, even initiates a conversation about trust with Cassian, who has no reason to trust her. If Jyn was character consistent, she would have pulled her newly purloined gun on Cassian, emptied his wallet and demanded to be let off at the next planet.
Jyn is angry with Saw, because she believes he abandoned her, but I think even the least attentive in the audience saw the line “I had to abandon you for your own protection” coming a mile off. When the penny drops with Jyn it’s like nothing ever happened. Again, if she was character consistent she would have been either smart enough to know that there were probably other reasons behind her abandonment, or too stubborn to buy into a simple explanation.
Cassian is sold to us as someone with a dark past, someone who has done horrible things. This is prefaced by him shooting an informant and potentially shooting Galen. The problem is neither of these acts are particularly despicable, they are just pragmatic. Setting off bombs in a crowded street would have shown some of the ‘terrible’ things he’s had to do.
This is probably where the biggest issues develop as characters don’t hold true or don’t have adequate motivation for change. Things start to just happen, not because the plot foreshadows or primes them to happen, but simply because they need to happen. This is called plot convenience and it’s symptomatic of poor writing. The prime example here would be Saw Guerrera, there’s no motivation or logic behind his sacrifice, it just happens because he’s a loose end.
To keep these characters true there should be a lot more tension between them. These are two people who are polar opposites, one who will do anything for the cause, and one who’s given up and just looks after themselves. Two polar opposites being forced to do something they don’t want to should instigate flaring tempers and frustration.
Compare that to the outright tension and conflict of Han and Leia when they first met. Han’s trying to be mercenary but Leia’s reaction is born of her frustration because her rescuers are rank amateurs, then Han has his nose out of joint by her lack of gratitude. Their dialogue fed back volumes on the characters without interrupting the action. Cassian and Jyn just seem to be competing to see who is the more cool and mysterious, their dialogue is sparse and often just a setup for K2SO’s jokes.
The biggest part of any heroes journey story is a credible and menacing villain, judge me not by my friends but by my enemies.
A truly inspired villain should be somewhat mysterious and menacing, but should also have a relatable quality to them that could inspire a small amount of sympathy or empathy from the audience. Krennic starts really well, he’s snide and dispassionate, he displays a characteristic narcissism that actor Ben Mendelsohn carries consistently and brilliantly.
However the early insertion of a ghoulish CGI Tarkin and easily the most iconic villain in movie history, Darth Vader, completely overshadows Krennics position. Once upstaged Krennic becomes a childish parody. These two iconic characters should have been used sparingly and only at the end of the movie. Instead, because they needed to move Krennic to certain points at certain times the two are used as plot convenience devices. All of which could have been done so much better by having Krennic kidnapped by the team at Eadu.
A kidnapped Krennic makes the interaction more personal and gives Jyn an opportunity to build conflict and tension with him earlier in the film to build up to a climactic finish. Plus it gives her the opportunity to use him to infiltrate the Scariff base far more realistically and most importantly avoids plot convenience by giving solid reasons for them both to be there.
Direct antagonist/protagonist conflict is really the missing part from this movie and the final resolution of it is spoiled because Jyn has to be saved by Cassian, (who through the miracle of plot convenience has survived a fall that should have left him at minimum with a broken neck.) At which point the movie finally decides to coalesce some emotional investment, as the hero’s leave Krennic to be literally hoisted by his own petard and they die bathed in glorious sunset imagery.
While Rogue one garnered decent box office and fan reception, it would seem that it is still fairly divisive in that there is little middle ground in the movies support. Depending on who you talk to it’s either the best or the worst Star Wars movie ever. I’ve had many conversations and debates about Solo’s results and a I’ve done a bit of statistical analysis. I think there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that Rogue one simply wasn’t good enough to keep the majority of the casual fans onboard for future expansion material and that while Solo – a Star Wars story was by far a better character driven movie, it was simply never given a chance by a once bitten, twice shy fanbase.
What seems also obvious is the solution has presented itself.
The Mandalorian has shown that new, story driven quality material will work on the small screen, and the fan response to it has been overwhelmingly positive and bipartisan. It shows the format of serialised episodic streamed live action TV can be the future for the expansion material.
It allows the time needed for the characters and story to develop organically, for better pacing and better world building. Producing consistent blockbuster movie material from this franchise is only going to get harder in what is already a tough market.
Whats your opinion on the demise of the stand alone Star Wars movies? do you think that they have a better place on Television?
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October 6, 2020 at 12:24 pm
I thought Rogue One was a good movie