Dan Klein reviews *Rogue One* (with spoilers)

by on December 28, 2016 at 10:54 am in Film, History | Permalink

He emails to me:

I thought it great. It brings something strikingly new to the Star Wars universe – new in a number of ways, good ways:

1. It’s a self-contained heroic tragedy. You know the new characters are doomed. A useful comparison is the Obi Wan-Anakin battle in III: The Rogue One feeling of tragedy is less powerful but more comprehensive.

2. The plot and the character development are based on dissension, conflict on the rebellion side. Even the “extremist” plays a vital role in the success.

3. The dedication of rebels to the rebellion is depicted as the best of bad options for making one’s life meaningful, and as something that one gets locked-in to.

4. Rebel activity appears brutal, as though the conventional IV-VI image of the rebellion is but the fanciful illusion of those caught in the day-to-day misery of prosecuting the rebellion. But still that illusion is sustained – in Rogue One we have the drama behind a piece of that larger story, a tragic, engrossing aside.

5. On the rebel side, the Force persuasion appears, not the sage wisdom of Alec Guinness, but more the religion of deplorables, a resort of desperation. Some of the rebels come across as fanatics.

Darth is sparse but still the heavy, more chilling than ever.

BTW, the “Pappa, pappa” scene was, I think, a tribute to the 1995 Cuarón masterpiece A Little Princess.

Here is a good piece on Star Wars and geopolitics.

1 Todd December 28, 2016 at 10:58 am

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me four or five times in a row….

2 Sam the Sham December 28, 2016 at 12:05 pm

… and you have a franchise!

I liked Rogue One. It didn’t really preach at me, and aside from how the crew assembled in the first place, was a fairly simple bit of storytelling.

The prequels had very complicated and inconsistent storytelling. The Force Awakens had a paint-by-numbers story. This was in the goldilocks zone. I suspect that the one-off movies will continue to outshine the trilogy movies.

3 Scott Mauldin December 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I felt that Abrams, being a lifelong Star Wars fan, had a great weight of responsibility on his shoulders and tried to very conservatively follow some templates from the original trilogy to be sure it would be a decent movie and better than the prequels. To that end I think he succeeded.

4 Alan December 28, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Except for the missing Bothas.

5 prior_test2 December 28, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Second Death Star, not the first. After the design flaw had been corrected, as noted in that notable source of Star Wars lore, BtVS –

‘JONATHAN: (scornfully) Thermal exhaust port’s *above* the main port, numb-nuts.
ANDREW: For your information, I’m using the Empire’s revised designs from Return of the Jedi.’ – Life Serial

6 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly December 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Yes, Abrams was boxed in by expectations for TFA in a way Edwards was not for R1, but the fact that it’s understandable he produced a mediocrity doesn’t make it any less mediocre. I am interested to see whether Episode VIII takes advantage of the good will TFA and now R1 have built up to avoid being a beat-for-beat rehash of Empire.

7 Ray Lopez December 28, 2016 at 11:13 am

Never was into Star Wars, which I understand originally George Lucas intended as a children’s SciFi movie. I suppose since then the screenwriters have gotten better, and I notice the modern trend in cartoon animations is to give an underlying adult plot to the movie, for the parents watching with the kids.

8 Ray Lopez December 28, 2016 at 11:18 am

The Politico piece was good, but I detect (understandable) self-censorship in this sentence: “Here’s where I hit the emergency brake. Equating the rebels of Rogue One with Islamic extremists is simplistic and inappropriate and, despite the parallels I have drawn, I will not take that analytical leap” – I see the writer is writing for an American audience.

9 N.K Anton December 28, 2016 at 11:22 am

I find most Star Wars films tedious but I enjoyed Rogue One for the very reasons Dan mentions. It’s grittier, less moralistic/religious/new-agey, and has a bit of politics involved.

10 collin December 28, 2016 at 11:47 am

If anything about Rogue One, I remember is there really was “Film Noir” impact of the characters. Not quite the impact of b/w Burt Lancaster in the Killers or Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity but it is there in the film. This is something past Star Wars, especially the prequels really relied on ‘cute’ supporting characters in battle that always appear to survive. (Really how did Jar Jar Binks make through the battles? His fighting was lots of bad gags within intense battle sequences.)

Here, You do get the sense of the impending doom for the rebels here. Especially since the film-makers showed the actual impact of the planets hit by the death star.

11 Sam the Sham December 28, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Uh, dude. Jar Jar Binks is a Drunken Master style Sith Lord. What do you think was the Phantom Menace? Who do you think set up the puppet Palpatine as ’emperor’, and who was working safely behind the scenes of the Empire?

Jeez. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qAKXK_aLeA (probably NSFW)

12 WC Varones December 28, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Saw it yesterday. Disney >> Lucas.

13 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly December 28, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Interestingly, I read that R1 is heavily influenced by ideas Lucas had already developed whereas TFA was made without his input.

Of course, Lucas’ problem was always in execution of the finer details rather than in imagining the broader story arcs, so Disney’s involvement probably nevertheless protected us from furry comic relief.

14 Ted Craig December 28, 2016 at 12:35 pm

“BTW, the “Pappa, pappa” scene was, I think, a tribute to the 1995 Cuarón masterpiece A Little Princess.”

Or Shirley Temple.

15 The Anti-Gnostic December 28, 2016 at 12:53 pm

It is a serviceable children’s film. There were actually a lot of children under 10 at the theater when I saw it. Several of them cheered and clapped when they saw Darth Vader. Otherwise, the skimpy plot, simplistic dialogue, busy, fast-paced visuals and numerous logical flaws and contrivances will spoil it for any adult. I am not sure why Tyler is humping this series. It is very sloppy science fiction.

16 tjamesjones December 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm

my boy didn’t like Rogue One as much as previous Star Wars films, but then he’s now 11.

17 Cliff December 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm

I thought it was entertaining. Better than TFA for sure.

18 Cliff December 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Fewer Niggers for one thing!

19 kinda curious why December 28, 2016 at 4:57 pm

If sarcastic: why?

If honest: I’m sorry your childhood was so terrible.

20 Chris s December 28, 2016 at 7:40 pm

How long until this sort of thing is socially unacceptable again? Worst part of Trumpism so far.

21 ladderff December 28, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Cry! Cry! Cry! Cry!

22 DJF December 28, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Its acceptable now, you just have to put it in a rap song

23 Urso December 30, 2016 at 9:55 am

You realize this is a “parody” post, right? It’s not written by the usual Cliff.

24 A Definite Beta Guy December 28, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Tough comparison to make. I felt the same, but the more I think about it, the more I want to give the edge to TFA. TFA had much more fun, entertaining characters. I thought TFA characters were pretty damn lifeless, until I saw this movie. Ugh. Jyn.
True, a lot of TFA felt like a Happy Days reunion special, but the movie was solid before they ran into Han Solo. Not that Han’s bad, but the movie just felt like a joke after that. Kylo Ren is no Vader, but he was at least okay until he got bested by an untrained girl.
TFA has a much better atmosphere and does a lot of really cool things, but the characters are still lifeless and the first half is a complete mess.

25 FYI December 28, 2016 at 1:07 pm

The linked article (“Star Wars and geopolitics”) is truly terrible. Of course, any rebellion can be compared to some of the insurgencies we have now a days. But the Rebels in star Wars are trying to restore Democracy…. Unless you think that is ultimately bullshit, you cannot compare them to ISIS! In the same way, you cannot compare the USA to the Empire unless you believe that our Democracy and everything that we do around the world is just a façade.

Now with Trump being President I expect more of such terrible articles to come along. Did not expect Tyler to fall for it, but that is probably my bad.

26 Anon December 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Yes, the key difference is that the Rebels in star wars have the “correct” religious beliefs.

27 Tom December 28, 2016 at 1:16 pm

I saw the first two Star Wars and have never had any interest in the rest of them. They’ve become so formulaic now, it makes me cringe.

28 jseliger December 28, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Here is a good piece on Star Wars and geopolitics.

Most semesters I teach a great, underrated, and underappreciated Neal Stephenson piece called “Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out.” I may add the one that’s linked as a kind of companion piece; while it’s not as structurally fun (and useful) as “Turn On,” it does help demonstrate the way movies comment on the societies that produce them.

29 Andre December 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm

I thought it was great, makes the original trilogy better.

The absolute best part is now I can confidently never ever watch the prequels again. I feel 100% better about pretending they don’t exist. Start from Rogue One and go from there and you are just fine.

30 Lexical Mentat December 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I could not be any happier with Dan Klein for using the word “great” to describe the movie and with Tyler for publishing the sentiment.

I thought it was great too. I would only add that the movie has, along with the many tragic notes, a thread of “the miraculous” emerging, an epiphenomena, from the many tragic situations and characters.

31 Jeff H. December 28, 2016 at 3:17 pm

What’s interesting about the grittiness or moral realism is that it seems to have been toned down during the infamous reshoots, when Tony Gilroy was brought on to rejigger the movie. The early trailers provide fun forensic evidence of this, the more succinct evidence being Jyn’s line changing from:

“This is a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel”
to
“Rebellions are built on hope”

Among many changes, it’d seem Jyn was clearly a more cynical, perhaps han-like character in the original cut (just check out the original teaser trailer). She got Disney-fied!

32 Dan December 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm

I wonder if we’ll have a director’s cut!! 🙂

I like the idea of arty Star Wars.

33 Paul December 28, 2016 at 4:06 pm

I’m really out of sync on this one. Formulaic, way heavy on the CGI, and cardboard dispensable characters. Not one new thought.

Makes the first Star Wars movie look like Tolstoy.

Oh yeah, the Williams score was abysmal.

34 Norman Pfyster December 28, 2016 at 9:25 pm

Williams didn’t do the score for R1. Michael Giacchino composed the score (on apparently very short notice, which is maybe why it sucked).

35 Paul December 30, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Thanks. Apologies to Williams.

36 Mattbrown December 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Dan’s requirements for a good movie: 1. Dark; 2. Everyone dies.

37 Jacob December 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Less powerful than the Obi Wan-Anakin battle in Episode III? I would have guessed that would have been impossible, given how dull and uninteresting the prequel Obi Wan and Anakin characters were.

38 efim polenov December 28, 2016 at 11:51 pm

At some point some artist, somewhere, will achieve the most dull and uninteresting expenditure of his or her artistic talent on something that nobody… seriously, nobody…. not even his or her mother or best friend, could claim is not dull and uninteresting. That will be something. A million years from now, almost all of the rest of the artists ( or, more likely, all the artists – I will go with ‘almost’ all for now out of respect for my own in-born lack of facility with large numbers, whether arithmetical in general or simply chronological – but I was probably more correct in my first instinct to say) ( “all the artists” God bless their ambitious little hearts, each and every one) , the interesting ones included, will not be remembered (as ‘artists’, that is to say – they will, of course, be remembered as human beings, which is an equally triumphant thing to be) : the triumphant and happy winners of what used to seem dull and uninteresting will be swept up and adored, like the wet puppies the rich people in their sports cars saw at the side of the road and who, after they slowed down and pulled over, became a member of the family. George Lucas is kind of a funny and interesting guy there is no way he could ever be the most dull and uninteresting artist ever, the very idea is preposterous. Seriously, if he was not a very rich guy, we would all think of him as under-appreciated, quite rightly. For the record, every single Spencer Tracy and Kathleen Hepburn performance now seems, to those who care, dull and uninteresting – and I could add a hundred names – but that is not what is important in this more than technicolor world. Most employees are below average. They can still be wonderful people. (Of the ancients, only Sophocles and Homer lived a real long time without Decline). (Philadelphia in the Rain: Four Stories: Mountain Dew from the tap: Chartres viewed from the train, compared to not viewed at all). When I hear of Obi Wan Kenobi I think of Cardinal Mindszenty and all I want to do is wish for a better world, flabbergasted by the courage of so many people who were so much braver than I would have been.

39 Boonton December 28, 2016 at 6:05 pm

I liked that the film tried to explore what the galaxy is like for more regular people under the Empire. I for one would like to know more about what supposedly happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It appears to me the characters spent the last 30 years of their lives essentially being rebels. Did the Republic rise and fall again or were they rebels all along never quite defeating the Empire despite destroying two Death Stars and two Sith?

I’m unclear what exactly the Empire’s purpose was. It was clearly in a hyperactive military mode but who were they fighting? Not so much the Rebellion as the scroll in Ep IV says the Rebels just won their *first* battle. So at the end of Episode III the Emperor has declared total military victory over the separatists and the Jedi bringing ‘peace’ to the galaxy and about two decades later in Rogue One and Episode IV the Empire appears to be expending massive resources maintaining a huge army that isn’t actually fighting anyone. How long has the Rebellion been going on and if the first actual victory hasn’t happened yet then how serious are they?

Of course it was also strange that the planet the Rebels attack here is so heavily manned when it’s essentially just a big archive. And what was the point of blowing up the base on the planet when the handful of Rebel ships and troops had already been all but defeated. OK perhaps the Empire doesn’t care about its own troops but if the archive had so little value why was it so heavily protected?

40 Sure December 28, 2016 at 7:57 pm

As far as the archive was destroyed for the same reason it was so heavily protected: its value came from providing secure access to information. Once the security was breached, it was no longer providing that value and had, in fact, become a net negative. Picture it like an old school embassy in time of war. They have a lot of extremely valuable resources – off code pads, detailed diplomatic instructions, and intelligence reports from espionage activities under official cover. If the embassy is going to be overrun, then you would burn all of that valuable stuff to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. You can recreate many of these items elsewhere in secure locations, but the risk of the enemy gaining access far outweighs the convenience to you.

41 Boonton December 29, 2016 at 8:37 am

OK except reinforcements had arrived and the battle was won. This wasn’t like blowing up an embassy that was about to fall into enemy hands. A typical military response would be to secure the area, investigate what data had been breached and then decide whether to reinforce the area or move the data storage off world. The one thought I had was that Tarkin blew up the station because he wanted the plans destroyed. The Imperial fleet clearly was jealous of the Death Star and perhaps he suspected it did have a weakness but would have rather it remained hidden. However, what was Tarkin’s plans then if Darth Vader had recovered the plans? While Vader seemed junior to Tarkin in the chain of command, he also was skeptical of the Death Star. If he had recovered the plans he would have no reason not to have them examined to see if there was a fatal flaw.

42 Sure December 29, 2016 at 11:30 am

How exactly would you secure the area?

The Rebellion has clearly compromised the facility and transmitted the plans which we know can be easily carried inside a random droid. What would stop the Rebellion from transmitting additional copies, storing them in multiple droids below the water’s surface, or even simply hiding them on some collaborator (like say a shuttle pilot unloading troops to secure the area)?

That is the nasty thing about civil wars like the Rebellion, it is often far too difficult to trust your own people to actually secure the area. This sort of thing was a perpetual problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, the locals all too often were at least sympathetic to the other side and it is fiendishly difficult to maintain secure operations when your friendlies may be directly feeding information to the other side.

Now sure it is hideously costly to secure communications like that, but when exactly has the Empire ever been afraid of paying high costs? They repeatedly have destroyed high value real assets (like planets) in order to secure propaganda advantages. Paying a high butcher’s bill to maintain security of the archive’s content, which like most archives contain a lot of information besides the technical plans that might undercut said propaganda, is no less rational than destroying Alderaan.

Or to paraphrase from another franchise:
Nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

43 Boonton December 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm

“How exactly would you secure the area?”

By killing and capturing rebels on the ground in addition to the capturing of the rebel ships in space that had already happened. The ability to transmit the plans offworld was limited to the ships in orbit and once the space battle was done there was no additional opportunity to transmit. You’re saying the base had to be nuked because maybe during the firefight some rebel made an additional copy to be stored by a random droid to get picked up by some other rebel some other time in the future (and how would the future rebel know about it if everyone was killed?)

Put it in perspective like this. Imagine a suicide bomber blows up some people at a US base in Afghanistan, several dozen Taliban fighters start a firefight killing some US troops. Then the terrorists are killed but the US decides to nuke the base just because….

44 Sure December 29, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Transmission is not the problem. Hard copy data storage is. Rebels on the ground have little better to do than to copy additional data and seek to get it off world for eventual dissemination.

After all, you, the nice gentleman in charge of the Death Star know that one of your pilots on this highly secure project has already defected. You know that very large amounts of data can be trivially written into droids. Exactly how far out would your stick your neck that rebels could not place information from the very secure archives into droid which a defector might then physically smuggle off world. The very troops you intend to use to capture or kill the rebels may well be the rebel’s method of getting information off world. The odds that a major breach occurs in an air-gapped facility without insider subornation is just vanishingly small.

What I think is difficult for you are two major issues: the clear value placed by the Empire on propaganda and the difficulty of telling who will search and destroy the rebels vs who will aid them. For the former, the Empire destroys Alderaan, presumably of rather more economic significance simply to be able to more credibly make their populace fear the government. Destroying a military installation with a far smaller economic cost which might completely offset the propaganda value of Alderaan dying is not a huge leap. Who knows what else is in the archive, but presumably like all major such archives it has a mix of mundane, but damaging things that you do not want have let loose to sway your subjects. The Empire repeatedly shows itself willing to sacrifice huge real economic material to achieve PR goals. Following the lead of your boss here is completely rational.

A more apt Afghanistan analogy would be something like the Taliban taking over a server farm from the ANA. On said server farm might be incriminating evidence, say that Ghani works with drug dealers or that Hekmatyar is gay. The ANA unit used to recapture the server farm likely cannot be trusted with that information – some of the enlisted may be Taliban sympathizers, some may be willing to sell such state secrets for money. How exactly would you tell which soldiers can be trusted with the highest level of state secrets in moments? It would be completely reasonable for an ANA commander to simply burn the place to the ground rather than risk that sort of PR damage.

This sort of thinking makes very little sense to an American perspective – PR is simply not that valuable and the US has few truly explosive skeletons in the closet to reveal (even the Pentagon papers were exceedingly tame by autocrat standards). But in a society with known massive fraud (the whole let’s start a war to elect me dictator for life thing of the prequels), a low loyalty society (with a running civil war and multiple defectors), and an autocracy that values PR highly … the military decision is not irrational.

45 Boonton December 30, 2016 at 11:51 am

Still this seems over the top. Star Wars was created before the Internet revolution so we have to pretend that even terabytes of data can’t easily be stored and copied millions of times in a cloud or dispersed over the Internet. Copying data is hard in this universe and transmitting it even to a ship in orbit is equally hard. Note that in orbit the Rebels don’t simply transmit the plans, they make one copy and it’s a race to get that off the ship onto Leia’s ship.

So given how limited the amount of time the rebels had on the planet combined with the fact that making a copy isn’t all that easy this doesn’t seem like a huge concern. But on top of that given how difficult it is to store and move around important information, blowing up the archive has an even larger cost than it would in our world. Presumably this data is important and it is needed frequently which is why it is guarded so heavily and there’s so much back and forth transit too and from the base.

46 Boonton December 30, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Ohhh and second thing why did they miss the base by hundreds of miles allowing the blast radius to (slowly) encroach and destroy the base? Recall there were ships flying about so if some copy of the plans was put into another droid that provided the opportunity to fly away from the explosion and deposit it on a safer part of the planet. Shooting the base directly would have at least vaporized all the most likely places a copy of the plans might be.

Would have been more effective to just use an actual nuclear bomb, at least those explosions would be instantaneous rather than the slow moving explosion/fire ball that can be easily outrunned by anyone with a ship.

47 Daniel Weber December 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Destroying the compromised base was Tarkin’s ostensible reason for firing.

The real reason was that his rival was there. The rival’s death could easily be written off as a casualty of war.

48 cw December 29, 2016 at 1:43 am

It was pretty good but it wasn’t really a star wars movie. There was not much humor, no really cool machines or monsters, very few interesting locals. It was much more o a mainstream adult hollywood movie. I took my eight year old son and I am pretty sure he doen’t realize that everyone sacrificed their lives for what was on that eight-track cassette.

And like a typical adult hollywood movie it had a whole bunch of tire tropes, especially all the battle scenes. How many times are we going to see guys hiding behind things shooting at the faceless enemy? Very unimaginative.

On the other had the characters and their motivations were real good. You could believe why they did what they did. And the acting was great. I was moved at the end, despite all the dumb ass BS. The actual story survived all buried under all the lard.

What I wonder is if Star Wars will become like Batman with all these adult movie applications. I don’t know if I would like that or not. Probably not. The thing about star wars when it first came out was that it was different (I recently watched the movie and found it kind of terrible). If Disney can’t some how find some newness then it will just be another entertainment product like all the other franchises.

49 lolz January 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm

The rejiggered imperial droid was quite funny.

50 Peter Akuleyev December 29, 2016 at 10:11 am

As a stand alone movie R1 is a decent action flick. As a prequel to “A New Hope” it is a disaster and nonsensical.

51 CW December 29, 2016 at 10:48 pm

I thought the film good for what it was in itself, but not great by any means, and certainly not in terms of what the original first film meant (and how limited are our expectations at this point, in 2016, that we would consider this SF film to be a “great” SF film?).

With this film, we firmly and with definitive finality lose any of the original film’s moral clarity and simplicity, where previously we were happily allowed to just assume that the intentions to steal the plans were uniform and purposeful and “right” on the part of the Rebellion, now recovering the plans is simply a rejected potential operation by an feckless confederation of all-too-real (for the audience at least) politician-class chip-counters; and one which is only saved by the contrary actions of equally compromised anti-heroes, and in one central case a cold blooded calculating murderous one. And thus we lose any lingering vestiges of the fairy tale quality of the first film.

Of course, Lucas had already done a lot of the preliminary work with his bureaucratic/guild/regal politics muddled drama of the prequels. But I myself was a bit saddened that one of my great fan-boy experiences was nuanced to death by this thing.

Again, a (merely) good film in and of itself. But I’ll rewatch many other better SF films before I’ll ever watch this one again.

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