Some thoughts on Rogue One

By now we're probably all familiar with the controversy over the Hollywood Reporter review  of the new Star Wars spinoff prequel, in which the reviewer said "What the film really lacks is a strong and vigorous male lead (such as Han Solo or John Boyega's Finn in The Force Awakens) to balance more equally with Jyn and supply a sparring partner." I don't know that the film needs a male lead, but I do think the reviewer was onto something that maybe would be useful to state in a different way: what I felt Rogue One needed was to get rid of a dozen weak male characters and replace them with someone - anyone - interesting.

While George Lucas has his characterization flaws, one thing he's always been excellent at is providing mystery and depth to characters through very minimal on-screen interaction. That's a big part of what's provided Star Wars' staying power, and it's why Rogue One could market itself on the backs of Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma. Despite getting much more screen time here, those two are characterized less fully than they were in the original trilogy. 

And the skill goes deeper than them, to extremely bit characters who inspired fan devotion for decades after. Two lines from Boba Fett or Bib Fortuna were enough to make them household names, and even Salacious Crumb with no lines and Biggs Darklighter who was cut out of the movie entirely became favorites of significant groups of fans. 

The Force Awakens was also strong in this area, both in the mysteries of its main characters and in its smaller roles. Who doesn't want to understand more about Captian Phasma, hang out with Maz Kanata for a while, or know the story behind the criminal syndicates hunting Han Solo? 

Rogue One doesn't do this on a large scale the way the other movies do. Only two characters, Chirrut and Baze, generate any sort of narrative outside of the scope of this movie. Jin Urso is the main character and so is allowed to be somewhat straightforward and simplistic, according to the conventions of the ensemble war movie genre. But the lack of any depth to her father, or Cassian, or Bodhi really weakens the movie. And K-2SO wasn't all that interesting when he was Marvin the Robot in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

And as you go down the list of characters, it doesn't get better. Saw Gerrera isn't mysterious so much as confusing. They had an opportunity to show us something of Bail Organa and passed. Those two are particularly flagrant because of the quality of their actors. To quote a better Forest Whitaker movie, "I saw my life passing before my eyes and it wasn't even interesting." 

The villains don't have much going for them either. Tarkin offers nothing new over his 1977 character, except for a bunch of wink-wink mugging over having him at all. And Krennick is merely cardboard ambition. 

And then the bit characters, who might as well have been actual cardboard. The cannon fodder soldiers in the final battle weren't even considered worth giving characteristics, and Admiral Raddus is just a reskinned version of Admiral Ackbar they could sacrifice. In the Rogue One universe, all Mon Calimari are the same stereotype.

That said, Chirrut and Baze remain interesting, and I expect they'll be the focus of any fan attention this movie gets in the future. But the special thing about Star Wars has been that everyone gets that sort of attention, and Rogue One let us down in that.

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