Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: we saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the #1 movie in America! The previous entry was the requisite MCC review-not-review, but light on key developments and movements for the benefit of those fans hoping to see the movie with as few surprises spoiled as possible. The internet doesn’t seem to be trying as hard to ruin Rogue One as it did with The Force Awakens, but a few hyper, well-intentioned fans jumped the gun a little on the assumption that every “real” Star Wars fan would’ve attended a showing within twelve hours of release.
We had thoughts, some of which I remembered to write down before they faded. Here’s a COURTESY SPOILER WARNING in case you somehow overlooked the title.
WHAT I LIKED BEST ABOUT ROGUE ONE:
* “I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me. I am one with The Force; The Force is with me.” I need more Donnie Yen movies now, please, whether from his past or in the future. This, Hero, and his half-minutes in Blade II are all I’ve seen of him so far.
* Best Vader Ever. Reminder for new readers: my wife is the massive Star Wars superfan in our household. I like it and think it’s vast, fertile territory for connecting with other geeks and for spoofery, but I never quite formed the same unconditional devotion to it that many of my peers did. As a kid, Vader to me was always okay, not stupendous. Gareth Edwards’ version, on the other hand, brought the true menace, enshrouding him in darkness and keeping him in repose till time to strike. When Vader emerges from the depths with the film’s only lightsaber, it’s their scariest villain’s entrance since arguably the Rancor, if not the scariest of all. As a grown man I don’t write “scary” too often these days. In this case I mean scary. Also, deadpan snarky Vader works for me.
* X-Wings versus TIE Fighters with a vengeance. In particular, when that wave of dozens of TIE Fighters launches together from the same Star Destroyer and turns the skies into a fiery constellation of ferocious dogfights, shrapnel and lost spaceship parts flying in all directions. On that front Rogue One bests The Force Awakens, no contest.
* The aggressive visual poetry of those horrendous Death Star attacks. Power levels starting small-scale, taking their practice shots before turning full-bore on Alderaan. Planets dying not as an instantaneous explosion felt by no one except faraway Jedi, but as seismic tsunamis rolling slowly, unstoppably toward a helpless civilization with no escape. Jedha City exploding upward and outward through the atmosphere, firestorms of debris rocketing toward its heavenward assassin.
* Actually intriguing political intrigue. In the original trilogy, the Rebel Alliance was overseen by good guys who did good because the bad guys were bad. The Prequels trilogy gave us ineffectual Congressional hearings, NAFTA debates, and ponderous, pointless hallway walk-‘n’-talks that were like The West Wing of the Mirror Universe. Here the newly formed double-secret Rebel Alliance committee is still figuring out how to operate as a unified revolutionary army, how to revolt, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how capable their shared enemy is, and what their endgame is. That tense, ultimately futile meeting between Mon Mothma and the other heads of states was fraught with nuance and topicality in a world where political parties on every side of every aisle spend more time on internecine bickering than on cohesive strategies against their archrivals.
* Muddying the waters further is Diego Luna’s Captain Andor, the first true black-ops professional we’ve seen employed by the Alliance. From his introductory kill to his attempted takedown of Galen Erso, Andor’s mere existence hints at a deeper, darker galaxy beyond and beneath the superficial toy sales-pitch level of basic good-vs.-evil. I can’t prove which of the four credited screenwriters elaborated most on this angle, but I’m guessing it’s no coincidence the reshoots brought in Tony Gilroy, writer of four out of five Jason Bourne films and writer/director of the too-quickly-forgotten Michael Clayton. Subtle moral ambiguity wouldn’t have been a good fit on worlds covered in Ewoks or Gungans, but it’s a sadly logical conclusion in realms where humans are responsible for all the worst atrocities.
* If nothing else, the world’s worst misspellers are slowly catching on that “rogue” is spelled R-O-G-U-E. “Rogue”. If other chronic typo addicts like me take nothing else away from this largely thrilling Star Wars experience, they should at least learn how to spell “rogue” so Twitter can stop making jokes about makeup and/or Moulin Rouge. Honestly, I can’t believe we still have to have this talk after the first three X-Men films.
* The spooky similarities to Serenity, another sci-fi film nearer to my heart:
1. Our Heroes aren’t necessarily the Good Guys; their ship, claustrophobic and hardly state-of-the-art
2. Super awesome massive spaceship skirmish pandemonium at the end
3. The fuzzy-haired old black guy with a checkered past dies way too early, but kindasorta almost nobly
4. Alan Tudyk once again playing a smart-mouthed pilot who dies next after the black guy
5. The day is saved once again by an incriminating transmission from a giant communications tower, which requires a long climb up a laughably complicated design with very little thought given to maintenance accessibility
* Peter Cushing, OBE, as the end credits acknowledge him twice, both in the Special Thanks section as well as a Special Acknowledgment after the main cast list. I’m not a huge fan of using CG to bring back the dead, but the reanimation of Cushing’s chiseled visage deepened his crevasses and intensified that unnerving gaze, rendering Grand Moff Tarkin far more sinister than he was in A New Hope and nearly as supernatural as Lord Vader himself, but without looking like a soulless marionette escaped from The Polar Express.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE BEST ABOUT ROGUE ONE:
* The endless parade of all those other distracting cameos. One or two might’ve been cute, but they just wouldn’t stop. Beyond Tarkin we also got Jimmy Smits as the doomed Bail Organa, Ponda Baba, Dr. Evazan, Anthony Daniels cashing an easy check as C-3PO, just barely R2D2, several other droids from Kmart’s 1980s toy aisles, blue milk, and — in a creative repurposing of previously discarded archival footage — the original Red Leader and Gold Leader from A New Hope, Drewe Henley (who just passed away last February) and Angus MacInnes (last seen hanging around Captain Phillips). I remember when I used to like Easter eggs, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown more disgruntled with movies that try fan-serving me a four-course meal made from nothing but Easter eggs. And by tossing so many surprises at us ostensibly as a fun favor, that recurring “OH HEY –” recognition every three minutes really disrupted my concentration.
* Separate thumbs-down to the plastic mask in the final scene posing as Leia Organa, Princess of the Uncanny Valley of Planet Plasticenia. Frankly, I recoiled, not really the feeling you want as your takeaway from a film’s final minute.
* Planets’ identities are inconsistently revealed. Some get title cards, some don’t. “They were all listed in the script” or “You can check Wookieepedia” or “They’re fun trivia revealed on the backs of the action-figure packages” are not answers that point to thoughtful filmmaking.
* The giant death laser from space that literally erases all traces of evidence that this movie and its top-notch motley-crew cast ever existed. I understood this was a standalone with no sequels planned, but wiping out every last atom of every single new character seemed unfair and ridiculous enough that I laughed while the Death Star reveled in its final catastrophic sequel-killer strike.
* The biggest distraction of all: the too-close resemblance between “Jedha” and “Jedi”. Now I have to lie awake for days wondering if that’s intentional for some long-term payoff or if the writer in charge of naming stuff was too lazy to swap a consonant or two. UGH.
WHAT I CAN’T DECIDE WHETHER I LIKE OR LOATHE IN ROGUE ONE:
* They worked in “It’s a trap!”, one of my favorite old bits, but with no real zest. On the other hand, the tired “I have a bad feeling about this” is impatiently cut off. They giveth, they taketh.
* Before we saw the movie, our family had mutually agreed that we didn’t expect any of the main cast to survive and would’ve been surprised if any of them had. I jokingly predicted the ending would be exactly like Toy Story 3 except no Little Green Men to save Our Heroes from being dumped into an incinerator. I was later stunned when I realized I wasn’t far off at all.