Note: I usually write serious analyses of the films I see. Not so much here.
I’m pretty sure I saw Rogue One. My two sons who don’t live around here, their spouses, and their combined seven children have all been staying with me and my wife over the holidays. My older son wanted to take some of his six children with him to see the film while he was visiting. After being told the show we wanted was sold out, we went the Fandango route and were able to get enough tickets, even if we were spread out a little in the theater.
I remember sitting down in the newly installed lounge chair that is far too comfortable, and can be made even more comfortable with the push of a button. There was a grandson to the left of me, a granddaughter to the right of me, and a can of soda that was being passed back and forth between them. I remember the film starting, and thinking that I had better start paying attention.
Full disclosure: I am not a Star Wars nerd. I don’t understand the intricacy of the Star Wars universe, its denizens, and its conflicts. I don’t hate or resist Star Wars. I just don’t get into it. I’ve seen all the films, and enjoyed The Force Awakens as a well-made action film with some good moments of comedy. Saw it twice, in fact.
So most of the references to place and circumstance went over my inattentive head. My well-versed seven-year-old grandson let me know that this planet was important because, etc. I just smiled, and lovingly thanked him for the info. I will confess that the general fatigue of so many guests, a cozy chair and a lack of intense interest often made my eyelids rather heavy. I had to keep mentally slapping my face, reminding myself that this was an action movie I should be paying close attention to.
In terms of story, the film apparently makes a good connection to A New Hope. It does explain well why the Death Star had a weakness, an explanation which is plausible and which fills in a rather large hole of logic in the series. Darth Vader arrives with the right amount of cleverness and pomposity, yet I shed no nerd tears upon his arrival, and in fact didn’t even experience a frisson of fan delight.
My most artistic child had pointed out to me that Felicity Jones was guilty of what I often complained I liked least about Jim Carrey’s early dramatic roles—that it was obvious to me that he always knew where the camera was, and that was something I found distracting. I didn’t notice that so much as I noticed that she was often poised in the frame, presented in a rather timeless “I am Star Wars Women, Hear Me Roar” fashion for us to admire.
A few times, I got confused as to who was who, and where are we, and what exactly is going on? That might have been the fatigue, those blasted lounge chairs, the passing soda, or another granddaughter who occasionally escaped from her parents to come down and walk back and forth in front of her siblings and grandfather.
I usually don’t pay attention much to special effects in that 1) I am not a nerd, and 2) they are usually all of a piece throughout a film—either great, OK, or cheesy. What I did notice, though, was funny and made me think of the comments made about The Social Network. In that film, the presentation of the Winklevoss twins was accomplished with an incredible set of effects. But the fake breath when the actors were outside speaking in the cold looked unreal. Here in Rogue One, the spaceships, explosions and otherworldly settings seemed real. But the breaking glass near the end (when the principals are working to get the essential information) looked fake. And then, that was that horrible effect at the end.
There were so many ways to get that shot right, and pretty much one way to get it wrong, and the latter way was chosen. The frontal facial shot of Princess Leia was god-awful. Now Carrie Fisher had died the day before I saw the film, and Debbie Reynolds had already passed, but I didn’t know it yet. So Carrie alone was on my mind, and I knew that the info in the film had to get into Leia’s hands. This could have added some tender poignancy to the last shot. Instead, we viewers were treated to a simulation of Leia’s face that did no one’s reputation or memory any good. It was like running a flawless marathon and then slipping over a banana peel near the finish line.
There are, however, a few thematic elements that lifted the film. (Spoiler alert). One was the issue of sacrifice for a larger cause, and the film rose above a mere action film several times when showing those sacrifices. And our human need for connection, especially during moments of pressure or loss, was perhaps never better pictured than the last action of Jyn (Jones) and Cassian (Diego Luna). Their brave embrace in the face of their end may well be the thing I remember most about the film.
My ticket stub, my grandchildren’s witness, and a few fleeting memories told me I did see Rogue One. Yet even so, one day later, it all fell out of my head.
I think I may have to see it again…