Thursday, December 29, 2016
Considering the basic premise couldn’t be simpler — a band of rebels plan a break-in of Imperial headquarters to steal the Death Star plans and get them to safety — it’s a mystery why the plot credited to Chris Weitz (ANTZ) and MICHAEL CLAYTON’s Tony Gilroy (more on him in a moment) is so needlessly complicated. The first twenty minutes or so take place on five different planets, and the story becomes so jumbled that the names of the characters are easily missed. Director Gareth Edwards (GODZILLA) has a tough time keeping important story points clear, but what we do know is that Galactic Empire baddie Krennic (BLOODLINE’s Ben Mendelsohn, looking cool as hell in white duds with a cape) snatches engineer Galen Erso (CASINO ROYALE villain Mads Mikkelsen) and forces him to build a planet-killing device to be known as the Death Star.
Erso’s abandoned daughter Jyn (Jones) is recruited by the Rebels fifteen years later to accompany spy Cassian Andor (Luna) and find Galen (it’s unclear to me why they needed her), whom Cassian is secretly ordered to assassinate. Along for the ride are blind swordsman Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), bowman Baze Malbus (Joe Mari Avellana Lookalike Contest winner Wen Jiang), space pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and smartass robot K-2SO (voiced by SERENITY’s Alan Tudyk). Though K-2 is meant to be a fan favorite, it only left me wondering why these badass Imperial robots never showed up in “later” films — a plot hole more egregious than blowing up the Death Star with one torpedo.
Darth Vader (once again voiced by James Earl Jones, but not played by David Prowse) is here too, but more surprising are appearances by CGI-animated versions of Peter Cushing (who died in 1994) as Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. The CGI Cushing is overall not good — the voice portrayal by actor Guy Henry is all wrong — but some shots from behind or as reflections in a window are passable. The CGI Leia is frankly awful, clearly unusable, so bad that a 1976 George Lucas would undoubtedly have sent the footage back to the effects team until they got it right. The worst special effects shot in STAR WARS is more convincing than that CGI Leia in 2016.
Perhaps some of the weaknesses of story and visual effects can be explained by the film’s hectic post-production, which involved Disney sending director Edwards to the bench in favor of Gilroy, who wrote and directed massive reshoots — so much so that ROGUE ONE’s original trailer looks almost like a different film. The film’s lengthy action climax, easily the best part, appears to be almost all Gilroy’s work. Gilroy can’t be blamed for the film’s casting — only Mendelsohn, Yen, and Jiang turn in good work, and Forest Whitaker (who may be wearing his BATTLEFIELD EARTH costume) is downright terrible — but his best writing and directing efforts weren’t enough to make ROGUE ONE a creative success.