Rogue One: A Partial War Story

Clarice would like to make her formal apologies ahead of time to Cassian Andor for picking on him a lot this post. It was unintentional.

Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One released in theaters two weekends ago. And though the Moose were there, dutifully, that very first night to witness the latest Star Wars story, Cole & Clarice confess it’s taken a while for their feels to fully brew.

But brew they have! And now the time has come for Impolite Conversation’s take on this most recent Star Wars film.

SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW THIS POINT

Cole: Let’s talk about Rogue One, shall we? Because I have some feelings regarding this film and they are clambering around in my head ringing bells and knocking on my skull to get out.

Clarice: Well I’ll admit up front — I had a very negative immediate reaction. I walked out of that theater with a disapproving opinion of what I’d just watched. (You should be able to personally attest that the entire time I drove you home was filled with cranky complaining!)

Cole: Oh, yes I can indeed attest! We were both quite cranky. You were especially cranky whereas I was more of a sad and confused shade of cranky.

Clarice: Ahaha. True! Sorry about that. But basically I was cranky to the extent that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write anything about this movie.

Cole: Yeeeeeah, I get that. To be honest, I didn’t either, though I was scratching around for something good to cling onto in slight desperation.

Clarice: Since we saw it I’ve read many reviews (both from the circles of professional film critics and opinionated professional authors), trying to sort out my own feelings on it. I absorbed what lots of other people had to say (both favorably and unfavorably). And a refrain I heard repeatedly from many corners was something along the lines of “I liked it! But… *proceeds diatribe and/or list of problems/issues that makes it sound like you really didn’t like it*”

Cole: I think we read a lot of the same articles – most things I read were along those lines. Once I reach the end I always sit back and think: But I thought you said you liked it?

Clarice: And, hey, that’s cool! Nothing wrong with that. It’s possible (and yes, even encouraged) to critically engage with the things you love.

Cole: Absolutely! You should one-hundred-percent hold the things you love up to a high standard.

Clarice: You can like something and interrogate its weaknesses. Absofuckinglutely you can. And you probably should. I do this on a regular basis (and Cole, I know you do as well). But… ya know what else can be cool? You can also just… not like the thing. No really — that’s ok too! And I’m not being facetious (entirely).

Cole: It really is okay. This is something I’ve had to remind myself continually over the past days since seeing Rogue One. I’ve even caught myself, when asked what I thought of the film by family and co-workers, starting with something along the lines of “I liked it, but–” and I’ve had to really work to make myself not follow that instinctual prefix. So here it goes. A truth: I really wanted to love Rogue One. Another truth: Unfortunately, I did not.

Clarice: Your poor Star Wars nerd boy heart… 

Cole: It’s strange really. Rogue One is a movie full of possibility. It has strong bones spun out of a single line, written in yellow, at the start of A New Hope. A small but vital slice of Star Wars backstory. The story of those people who managed to steal the Death Star plans and get them to Princess Leia on the Tantive IV. Its core narrative is intriguing and draped in all the potential trappings of the tragedy and camaraderie of a war film: A band of disparate and ragtag rebels must join together to complete a seemingly impossible mission at any cost. It’s purportedly a war film with heist undertones, populated by characters ready and ripe for layers, depth and nuance. They are all ready to capture viewers hearts before shattering them into hundreds of pieces. It is a movie with all the material, ready and waiting, to be wonderful and brutal, searing itself irreplaceably into the larger Star Wars canon as the franchise’s darkest, most heart-pounding installment.

It is not any of that.

Clarice: Alas, no. After thinking about what many people have said, weighing it in my own head… after over a week of stewing… I’m taking a deep breath and saying: I simply didn’t like Rogue One.

Cole: I have to say, I’m pretty much at the same place. I think there are a couple of the small nods to the franchise as a whole that work for me and make me incredibly happy but they do not, in any way, make up for the rest of the film. Now, with that in mind, shall we get to it?

Clarice: Now or never. So! We’re going to break this up into our biggest, broadest issues (for the most part), and then follow it up with our other, rapid-fire random comments/complaints. (Come on — you had to know we’d have them!)

Cole: It wouldn’t be an Impolite Conversation if we didn’t!

 

Attack of the Tones.

Cole: I think this is where one of my biggest frustrations with Rogue One lies: I think you can literally see the seams where two competing tones are stitched together into a Frankenfilm.

Clarice: Yes, on one hand we have the purported ‘war movie’ that you mentioned. Cinematically speaking this is the movie where everyone is grim amongst lots of stark imagery… and they speak in gruff tones about war, death, weary resignation, hope and sacrifice. Lots of things explode… most (if not everyone) dies… and we are meant to contemplate both the flaws and nobilities of Humanity against the backdrop of War (as well as death and weary resignation and hope and sacrifice). There are so many Themes in the war film — deep and dark and real and complicated.

And on the other hand… we have our Disney ‘we need to sell Star Wars toys franchise film.’ Which is best represented by the sometimes awkward comedic shifts in random moments, and much of the type of fan-service that Force Awakens got away with because IT WAS NOT TRYING TO ALSO BE A WAR FILM.

Cole: Personally, I wanted it to lean more wholesale into being a war film set within the Star Wars universe. But the film does not deliver much of true substance beyond some initial scenes and ideas. It has a skeleton but there’s no muscle or flesh on the framework. Despite the grandness of its visuals, despite the spectacle of the final half hour of battle both in space and on land, it did not make me fall in utterly in love with any of its characters or push the boundaries of what my imagination originally spun out of the question of “What is the story of those rebels who stole the Death Star plans?” I actually think the weakest parts of the film are when it tries to emulate the tone, comedy and moral center of other Star Wars films.

Clarice: It’s a peripheral Star Wars film. So just let it be tonally peripheral.

Cole: EXACTLY. All of this clashes with its much stronger central premise. Making an excellent film focused on one or the other would have been far better than a subpar merging of the two. Rogue One doesn’t so much weave the two concepts together as it does slam them against each other and hope for the best.

Clarice: The biggest war going on is the one between the competing movies inside, and the result is a piece that I think fails to be a remarkable example of either.

 

Random monologues do not = character development!

Cole: No they fucking don’t. And it’s even more frustrating because each of the main characters gets a truly excellent introduction and hook that made me sit forward a little in my seat, excited about what was to come. And then….sigh….none of this get spun into something more interesting. It all just…falls flat.

Clarice: So much has been discussed about Rogue One’s commendable inclusivity in regards to men of color. This is a truth, and cannot be overstated. (For instance, just read what Kumail Nanjiani had to say.) 

Diego Luna (Cassian), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi), Donnie Yen (Chirrut), and Jiang Wen (Baze) comprise the majority of the main cast/team, and all are major speaking parts. Unfortunately there was never much personality, depth or complexity to any of them. While the simple presence of non-white faces is vital in its own right, they deserve more than merely existing in a story. There should be real effort put into writing rich, varied, specific characterizations — not the quickest possible character cues that imply characterization.

Cole: And this is where my frustration reaches its peak. These are characters that should break my heart. These are the people who literally laid down their lives for hope–for the mere possibility and not the absolute certainty–that the Empire could be defeated. They are the reason that Luke gets the chance to be a Jedi. They are the reason Leia was able to put those plans in R2-D2. They are the reason the plot of the original trilogy fucking happens. And even with all the unavoidable meta-narrative issues that brings with it, it should still be supremely emotive and interesting.

Clarice: I agree. Let’s take Cassian Andor (one half of our leads) as a quick example. Because he should’ve been a total catnip character for me.

Cole: The handsome and dashing but grim rebel captain? HELL YES HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN.

Clarice: It was disappointing when I realized the Captain Cassian Andor who, upon his introduction, shot a friend(?) ally(?) platonic informant(?) so he wouldn’t get caught or exposed wasn’t a character that would be around the rest of the movie. Any further exploration of that intriguing, ethically complex rebel character got subsumed into Plot Things Happening! … Except for one random speech he gets…? I repeat — GIVING SOMEONE A RANDOM MONOLOGUE DOES NOT = CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT!!

Cole: NO IT DOES NOT. Those are characters that deserve more due than this film provides. Somehow, despite all this potential, despite all these components that should add up to something exceptional the film does not succeed because none of that potential is backed up by good writing or a solid directing hand.

Clarice: There are the bases of great characters in there (or the hooks, as you said earlier). There are hints towards deeper personalities. But I don’t want mere hooks and hints at great diverse characters, dammit — I want actual great diverse characters! And the thing is much of doing that doesn’t require tons of added screen time to address. That’s the part that’s so frustrating. There was a reason the characters in Force Awakens worked so well and instantly became so memorable — and it’s called specificity.

Cole: And that specificity was maintained throughout the whole film as well. In Rogue One you get one specific moment for each character–their intro; their hook–and that’s it. After that, it’s dropped. And it’s dropped hard. Force Awakens keeps giving you those moments, however small, from beginning to end.

Clarice: Details! Details are all I ask! Here, ultimately everyone felt painfully shallow. Unexplored. Broadly sketched. By the time they’re all dying, I didn’t feel like I knew anyone enough to care much.

Cole: And that’s a MASSIVE failing. As I said above, these are characters that you should care about. But it’s the film’s job to do the work to make them stick into your mind and heart and Rogue One simply did not make that happen for me.

 

One Rogue Lady  

Clarice: One. fucking. lady. is all we get. And it’s white lady on top of that. (And yes, I say this as a white lady who was, technically, represented by the tepid oatmeal personality of Jyn Erso.)

Cole: Yup. One lady. One, very bland, lightly sketched, barely developed as a character, lady.

Clarice: Yeah ok, sure, we have a couple non-essential characters who get a spattering of dialogue thrown in here and there. But considering the scope and large main cast, the severe lack of women anywhere (in the rebellion or The Empire) is disturbing. Because apparently there is no room for ladies in war films…?

Cole: WHICH IS BULLSHIT. Seriously. And, honestly, any one of the other team members could have been a woman. I mean, think of their basic descriptions for a second. Intractable, attractive and (supposedly) morally grey rebel officer? Imperial pilot who wants to defect? Blind, martially skilled Force adherent? Badass toting a giant gun? Glib and sarcastic robot? ANY OF THESE COULD HAVE BEEN WOMEN.

Clarice: Let’s talk about intersectionality for a quick second. So being inclusive to men of color is great! And fucking important. Please please please write aaalll the diverse men of color! Write those who are morally questionable and weary from fighting all their lives… those who are loyal, badass friends… those who possess unflinching faith… those who are broken and trying to snatch any last-moment fragment of redemption… But hey, while we’re at it… maybe try writing that stuff for diverse women too?

Cole: A-fucking-greed!

Clarice: This isn’t a fucking “Check A or B” option — where do you want your diversity this time? In race or gender?

As a woman it kinda feels like “We’ll stuff a movie full to the ceiling with men of color roles before we dare add women.” And like I mentioned earlier — I’m a white woman. So what about the representation for women of color??? Where are they in this film?? They’re totally absent. Forgotten. (Oh, sorry, save for that one politician who, honestly, just kinda acts like a bitch in opposition to White Oatmeal Lady’s moment of rebellious inspiration).

Cole: It would have been so easy for this movie to have both. So fucking easy. The fact that both gender and racial diversity are not present is infuriating.

Clarice: And this isn’t even getting into all the potential intersections that continue on even further beyond race or gender! Sexuality… ableism… etc… Sigh. Intersectionality, folks — it matters.

Cole: I read a statistic on Twitter that said there were seventy-five speaking roles in Rogue One. Six of them were women. (Jyn, her mother, Mon Mothma, other lady politician and two female pilots.) 

Clarice: Ugh. That’s depressing. Ok, here’s a question for you, Cole → Why couldn’t Jyn’s father be her mother?

Cole: Yes! Thank you! Seriously though. Why in the hell was this so damn hard?!

Clarice: Umm… because Disney had Mads Mikkelsen under contract and wanted to throw him in there? Wait — did I just answer my own question?

Cole: Yeah, I think you did. I’d be very curious to know some of the reasoning here. Because starting off Rogue One with the tired old trope of a murdered mother was already a notch in the ‘con’ column for the film.

Clarice: Hell yeah it was. I rolled my eyes so hard! Why wasn’t Jyn’s father shot in the first minutes (and proceed to be entirely emotionally forgotten for the rest of the film)?? Why couldn’t we see an older woman engineer taking the ethically questionable path of working-for-while-trying-to-undermine The Empire? Where’s THAT lady?? The woman who wavers on the edge of whether or not to let Krennic mow down scientists in a long game bid of ‘the good of the many might cost me my soul.’ That lady sounds flawed, complex, interesting.

Cole: That lady sounds fucking fascinating. She sounds like someone who belongs in the Star Wars universe beside the likes of Leia Organa and Rey. I want that character. I’m pissed at Rogue One for not making her part of the canon.

Clarice: Here’s a suggestion… STOP DEFINING WOMEN AND WHAT THEY DO BY THEIR RELATIONSHIPS TO ALL THE MEN AROUND THEM (and especially when it’s your only woman.) 

 

Cassian doesn’t get busted when undercover at the base

Clarice: I know what you’re probably thinking… this doesn’t sound like a very broad complaint does it? This sounds very specific — shouldn’t it be in the random complaints section? Well too fucking bad. I have things to say, dammit.

Cole: She really does! And it’s all very valid, I assure you. That being said, you might want to brace yourselves —  it’s about men’s grooming after all, so Clarice has feels!

Clarice: … Vaguely bitchy of you, Cole. …But accurate.  

Cole: Bitchy but true, darling. Bitchy but true!

Clarice: Let me ask you another question… Have we ever ever ever seen an Imperial officer with facial hair?? Because I sure as fuck don’t remember seeing one! Imperial officers have always been consistently, visibly clean shaven with slicked hair.

Cole: I can say with almost one-hundred percent certainty that a scruffy Imperial officer has never existed in the cinematic side of the Star Wars universe. We’ve had impressive sideburns to be certain but certainly not scruff.  I’d need to do some research into EU/Legends and the new comics to be sure about the wider canon…

Clarice: Ok then. So you’re telling me Cassian Andor openly wanders around this base with his scruffy face and hair sticking out everywhere, AND NO ONE NOTICED??? Bullshit! BULLSHIT I SAY!

Not to mention the Imperial officers are also shown as fairly uniformly white. Seriously… NO ONE NOTICES the scruffy brown man cagily wandering around with hair sticking out from under his cap?? NO ONE stopped and went, “heyyy, wait a second…”?? NO! I CANNOT ABIDE THIS!

Cole: It’s such a small detail to mess up! And having him shave and slick back his hair would have just added to the savviness of our lead characters. DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT!

Clarice: Yes! Therein is the devil, folks! DETAILS. Believe it or not, I do acknowledge this Cassian snapping point of mine might sound irrational and kinda silly… And sure, it is to an extent… 

Cole: LEAN INTO THE RANT!

Clarice: … But to me this is somewhat representative of Rogue One’s problems — a silly detail that could have so easily have been fixed. For instance — if they knew this was the plan, why couldn’t Cassian have (as you suggested) shaved real quick beforehand? Smoothed his hair perhaps? OR maybe we show other Imperial officers occasionally who look a bit more like him? Even just wandering in the background? It doesn’t take an explanation. It really doesn’t take much more screentime. It’s a detail that just seems outright ignored.

Cole: These are the kind of details I wanted. There weren’t those in between moments that let us get to know the characters both as individuals and as a group. There was no real camaraderie beyond a few obligatory lines. And when those lines don’t have any foundation underneath them they come across as forced or out of place. The film is trying so hard to move the plot and fit in ALL THE THINGS that it doesn’t stop to actually let us get to know the characters we’re supposed to care about.

Clarice: Those skipped details… those passed-over ‘in between moments’ that you mention… they pile up high in this movie. The diverse men of color aside… the truly stunning cinematography aside… I sit through this film and I see nothing but ignored opportunities and lazy writing. Uncreative writing. Unspecific writing.

Cole: Unoriginal writing.

Clarice: I see so much writing that is dependent on standard, well-worn cinematic language as emotional shorthands for any kind of specific character development. As audiences we are conditioned by movies to have certain emotional responses to certain scenes/conversations we see in movies. And some movies (especially the swath of recent franchise films) build too many of their emotional cores solely on this conditioning, and not through actual character work. We often feel something in these scenes because movies have taught us that’s the way we’re ‘supposed’ to feel when <<insert trope or cliche moment of choice>> occurs. But it’s hollow. An echo. The faint remains of something copied so many times, but our brains automatically fill in what isn’t there.

Cole: I want all films to be better than that but I particularly want my Star Wars films to be better than that.

Clarice: And for me, at the end of the day, that is largely why I did not like Rogue One’s particular Star Wars story.

Cole: Seconded (if that wasn’t already abundantly obvious)!

 

Our Other, Actual Random Comments

Krennic’s cape

Clarice: It bothered me immensely that Krennic’s supposedly “fab” cape was always wrinkly. Iron that shit, man! Better yet — have a sniveling minion iron that shit! Surely you must have a few of them?? Or pick a different fabric.

Cole: I think if the character had been developed with more clarity the wrinkly cape could have been an interesting visual details. But…SIGH…this was not the case.

Clarice: Yeah. Because I suppose I can almost manage the argument that the wrinkly cape suits Krennic. It’s the idea that he’s not actually fabulous, after all — he’s a sneering Imperial Poseur of the highest degree. He picks the cheap white cape that flaps about dramatically, without noticing how fucking wrinkly it is all the damn time. But I don’t think the movie itself put enough character detail to make this concept as clear as it could’ve been.

 

Ok. We’re going to pick on Cassian again.

Clarice: Question! WHY. THE FUCK. didn’t Cassian shoot Krennic with the sniper rifle when he had the chance???

Cole: That is a very fucking good question.

Clarice: I mean… it’s not like killing Krennic would’ve stopped anything at that point… but that’s not really the point, is it? You’re telling me the same rebel/rebellion ready to assassinate a former ally for conspiring with The Empire on a weapon design wouldn’t like a shot at the Imperial Director standing right there?? He was in all white! Easy shot! This literally makes no sense to me.

Cole: But Clarice…how else are they going to show that Cassian is really not so grim at heart?

Clarice: He does have feelings!!! I see it now!!

 

Darth Vader

Clarice: Darth Vader talked waaaayyy too much. Sorry. I think it destroyed a lot of what made him great / so iconic. It feels like he talked more in his one scene with Krennic than we heard through a whole trilogy. It didn’t feel like Darth Vader… it felt like James Earl Jones speechifying.

Cole: I agree. I wanted him silent or nigh on monosyllabic while letting Krennic just dig his little hole deeper and deeper.

Clarice: Oh, and I 100% reject Vader choking puns.

Cole: Hah! Yeah…that…wasn’t great. Come one. He’s Darth Fucking Vader. He’s better than puns. However, I will say this: They got Vader right at the very end.

Clarice: Sure! Cutting a merciless path through rebels is totally Vader! Speechifying politics is not Vader.

Cole: Absolutely agreed!

 

The final battle is straight out of a video game

Cole: But seriously for a moment. It’s just like a mission or a quest in a video game!

Clarice: Ahahaha. To do this very important thing you need to run over there and flip this switch! To do this very important thing, you need to go aaaallll the way over there and do this other thing first! Apparently The Empire took its cues from Mass Effect 2.

Cole: If they ever make a video game they won’t have to create extra steps!

 

… And one more time with a Cassian complaint! (sorry, Cassian)

Cole: When Cassian fell down the vertical shaft I wanted that to be it for him. I wanted Rogue One to be that unflinching and brutal with its leading man. BUT ALAS.

Clarice: Oh hey there, handy landing! Good thing you were there so I can crawl back up and save Jyn a little bit later! Convenient!

 

Everyone dies the same goddamn way

Clarice: Literally! Every single person dies with the exact same silently-noble-and-accepting expression.

Cole: They do. I clenched my jaw and rolled my eyes at the same time with that final shot of Jyn and Cassian.

Clarice: Right?! Not one person is even the slightest bit pissed off about dying?? You can accept the inevitably of your death and the greater-good… and still be fucking furious about it! Fuck, even Krennic only calmly stares at the Death Star!! You’re telling me that character wasn’t furious and/or panicking? He wasn’t last-second-scrambling for escape because how dare he be murdered by his own death machine?!

Cole: INCONSISTENT CHARACTERS!

Clarice: Because we never put enough layers and individual distinction into our characters, they all die with the same expression on their face. Even the droid!

 

Don’t you fucking dare mess with Leia Organa…

Cole: Okay. WHAT. THE. FUCK. HOW DID NO ONE NOTICE THE ADVERSE EFFECTS THE ENDING WOULD HAVE ON LEIA’S CHARACTER IN A NEW HOPE?! It’s a really stupid continuity issue that MASSIVELY undercuts Leia’s character in the original trilogy.

Clarice: Ah! Do you mean how she essentially goes from being a badass politician and undercover spy to being retroactively rendered as nothing more than Daddy’s messenger who got chased down by Vader?

Cole: YES. Her insistence the Tantive IV  is on a diplomatic mission is suddenly stupid, not savvy double agent-y, when Vader LITERALLY WATCHED THE TANTIVE FLY AWAY FROM THE BATTLE AT SCARIF AFTER SEEING THE DEATH STAR PLANS GET HANDED THROUGH ITS BLOODY DOOR. And it wouldn’t have taken much of anything to fix! And you could still have her final line about hope!

That’s it for us, folks!

And hey — if you’d like an entirely different opinion on Rogue One, please hop over and read what our fellow Moose Brad had to say about it!