I haven’t done movie reviews in a while. Wanna know why? It’s the same ole story. Most new movies are vapid efforts concentrating more on CGI than characters, on action more than plot.
I don’t know if it’s my advancing age or the fact that I claimed the mantle of “writer,” but one or both come with undesirable side-effects; no matter what I watch, I’m attuned to “things that ain’t quite right.” It kind of sucks to be me sometimes.
In the next few posts, I’ll review three movies we’ve recently watched; one that we saw at the theater and two released last year that we finally watched on Netflix and Amazon. The first review is of Rogue One.
Before I get to it, let me say something about Netflix. What’s with the huge influx of crappy foreign movie, many of them with subtitles, many of them obvious rip-offs of US-made films? I’m guessing it’s a result of Netflix wanting to cut its content cost. But, you know, the original reason I got the service is to get movies at home instead of going to the theaters to see them.
Any more, the streaming version of Netflix has squat-all when it comes to recent releases. And when it does have the occasional new release, it’s usually because it sucked and the studios are willing to let it go cheaply. At least I assume that’s how Rogue One made it to the Netflix queue.
Now, I know many people liked the movie. Them people are not me and they are not Melisa; we both thought it was a long two hours filled with implausible and far-fetched-plot-driven action, marginal acting, unsympathetic characters, and other stuff I’ll get to later.
Warning, there be spoilers here. Really, this was released eight months ago; I shouldn’t have to worry about spoiling anything, but since we just saw it, there may be others out there who are holding out for a special occasion. Also, and this is important, there are references to all sorts of different stuff, generally delivered with humorous intent. Yup, I wrote this for my own amusement, but I hope readers get at least some of the references.
One other thing; I didn’t know this was a “prequel” or “filler piece” when I sat down to watch it. Some might say “well, that’s why you didn’t like it!” Nice try, but Melisa knew, and she didn’t like it either.
In my defense, I’m not a Star Wars/Trek nut . . . I’m a Firefly nut. Meaning, I can’t name episodes of SW/T series, lines from SW/T series, and I barely know the main characters of SW/T series. Unlike with the jewel that is Firefly; the series and — to a lesser extent — The Movie; them I know well.
Well, then, color me surprised when the Death Star comes on screen. My first thought was “Again? They are building another one after losing two of them already? How much money do they have, for FSM sake!?”
Imagine, then, how I nearly lost it when Dead Va . . . er . . . Darth Vader rises from a giant ice cream maker and makes an appearance. At that point, Melisa informs me of my cognitive deficiency as far as Star Wars timeline goes and tells me this is where the plans were stolen; the plans that figured so predominantly in the original movie.
My mood darkened by a bad premonition, I continue watching the movie. OK, did I mention the characters were not likable? Nothing they did endeared them to me in the least. Except, maybe, the blind guy, his side-kick with the inexhaustible ammunition container, and the pilot. Oh, and the robot . . . voiced by Alan Tudyk, so you know it wasn’t going to survive to the end of the movie. By the way, the robot, K-2SO, is the character with the most personality and hence most likable.
So, anyway, here’s the plot . . . retired genius weapon builder with wife and daughter is recruited — rather forcibly — to build a secret weapon for Trump . . . er . . . I mean, the power-crazy and corrupt Emperor. It’s gonna be the best and biggest weapon ever, and the Rebellion is going to pay for it.
Side note . . . the movie opening immediately set my stomach in knots. This spacecraft — on the way to the farmhouse of the weapon genius — flies over this little girl who is out foraging for odd stuff. The craft must be doing 80-90mph (sorry . . . klicks-per-some-fraction-of-a-parsec) and yet the girl beats it back to the farm. Them little legs must have been motoring something fierce. BUT WAIT . . . the ship lands what looks to be a mile away from the farm and the bad guys proceed to walk the rest of the way. I knew right then and there I was in for all kinds of stupid.
Anyway, short story from long, the wife gets killed (they could have made the wife the weapon’s expert and have the husband get killed; I’m tired of wives dying all over the place so as to give motivation for the husband to . . . well, to come up with an incredibly convoluted revenge plan with near-zero odds of succeeding) and the little girl runs away and gets rescued by Ghost Dog.
Next we see her, she’s in prison. Obviously, being raised by outlaws leads one toward less than optimal career paths. She gets rescued from captivity by people who want to find her father because after 15 years, they all of a sudden figure he might be important. And because he’s important, he should be killed. I mean, as a plan it’s not bad . . . if it were 15 years ago. At this point in the movie, it’s kind of pointless and just makes the Rebellion look like assholes.
Meanwhile, a pilot sent by the weapon-genius-father (the father is played by another actor who often dies in movies and is recognizable by his permanently dour-bordering-on-desperate-victim expression) has news for the Resistance. The news is that he has a message from the weapon-genius-father and it’s important.
The message is this: “Hey, I helped the bad guys build a weapon capable of destroying worlds. But, it’s OK because I put a flaw in it. All you have to do is steal the plans from a heavily fortified place that for some reason houses the plans of the Death Star and also has a secret file of mine that also has the plans for the Death Star and get the plans to someone whom I don’t know but I assume is capable of reading the blueprints of a moon-sized spaceship and find the flaw I hid in such a way that the people I work with don’t realize there is a flaw and yet any backwater-world dweller can look at it and plot a course for a well-placed bomb to trigger the explosion of the core. What? Yes, it’s a moon-sized space station ship thingy with all sorts of protrusions and stuff and you have to identify this two-foot opening. Yes, I’m serious; why do you ask? What? Why didn’t I include the plans with this message? Well . . . I mean . . . sonofabitch! . . . Sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight.”
But, you know, as important as those plans are, it’s more important to leave a long and rambling message to his daughter even though he has no idea if she’s even alive.
Anyway . . . the non-hero dude and the daughter and the pilot and some sidekicks go to this one planet to find the father. It’s a secret facility that now everyone knows about. The non-hero is supposed to kill the father, and the daughter goes there to . . . I don’t know what she planned on doing. Luckily, the rebels realize they should launch an attack to kill the father, so they provide enough of a distraction so that the daughter can reunite with the father just in time to watch him die. By the way, the attack on the base ends as quickly as it started, without accomplishing anything. No wonder the Rebellion is struggling.
Not that the Empire is any better. Let me tells you a few things about the Empire. They are massively incompetent. This base that houses the main dude for the Death Star, as well as all the Engineers (played by old white dudes who look more like Wal-Mart greeters in white lab coats than any engineers I’ve ever worked with), is remarkably lacking in security measures.
Against all reason, the daughter — unaided — climbs up to the loading dock, gets rid of a Storm Trooper without anyone noticing, and slinks around some crates that . . . wait, what are crates doing out there in the rain? And how did she cross this massive chasm to get to this inexplicable ladder that gives access to the base from ground level and has no barriers of any kind to keep unauthorized climbers from, you know, breaching the base? Never mind that . . . how the heck did she get there so fast?
Wow . . . this is getting long . . . let me speed things up. Father dies; daughter warns rebellion of Death Star; rebellion leaders are a bunch of spineless whiners and also — after being adamant about killing her father because of the threat he posed — are now reluctant to believe said daughter of the guy that is known for one thing: building massive weapons.
Disgusted, daughter and non-hero dude and a few other people we don’t know or care about — except for blind guy, unending ammunition guy, and pilot . . . we care about them; oh, and the robot — plan an attack on this fortified space port; they attack and in so doing prompt the rebellion to also attack which pisses off Vader who comes to clean up matters but not before the plans are stolen and transferred to Princess Lea who then runs off in a ship with Vader following in a star cruiser and form the seamless segue to the opening of the original Star Wars. Whew!
Oh, and all the good guys die. Every last one of them. But they won. Sort of. Maybe. I mean, they got the plans to the Rebellion, right?
Wait, not everyone we recognize dies. There are these two guys who eventually confront Luke in the bar scene where Solo definitely shoots first and Obi-Wan Kenobi slices off the arm of the one guy. Wait, those two aren’t good guys, but they were in the city that got destroyed. They were there as Easter Eggs for “true fans” and must have escaped the city right before it got destroyed.
OK. So, if you’re confused, two things: one, you’re even less of a Star War fan than I am, and two, welcome to my world; this was two long hours with very little making any sense. I mean, we’re told stuff, but it hangs together as well as Frankenstein with a few bolts missing.
I suppose we are meant to admire the self-sacrifice of the people dedicated to a cause. Except, you know, they were idiots. It’s difficult to admire idiots.
Now, what I described pretty much matches the lack of depth and lack of cohesiveness characteristic of the plots of most modern movies but rest easy . . . there was decent CGI to be had instead of relatable characters, cohesive plots, or convincing action.
But there are additional things with Star War that always grate on me. Let me tell you of a few of them.
First, sound in space. For the love all that’s not holy, there’s no air in space, and hence no sound waves. Now, to be fair, this is a common mistake with most series that wear the mantle of Science Fiction but only fulfill half of the requirement (the fiction part). Still, I tire of it.
Second, slow lasers. Look, if you can see segments of what is supposed to be laser blasts as they make their way from the muzzle of a weapon to the intended target, that’s not a laser. It’s not even a bullet — the eye is not fast enough to track a bullet in flight. At best, whatever we’re seeing is the equivalent of an arrow. An arrow of red light.
Third, inconsistent lasers. I saw lasers tear holes into steel plates and poke holes the size of a baseball on robots, but I also saw those same lasers hit human and said humans get up and continue fighting. Unless, of course, they are Storm Troopers. One hit anywhere on their supposed armor is enough to permanently take out a Storm Trooper. I’d be asking for better armor.
The next thing I tire of is watching Jedi Knights block laser blasts with their light sabers. The blind guy does this as does Vader when he charges a group of rebel soldiers. This is where the old British soldier’s formations with lines of fire would really be useful. Let’s see Vader stop 20-30 simultaneous laser blasts. There is no possible way the light saber can be in multiple places at the same time. Although, of course, he could pull a Neo and stop the blasts using the Force. We’ll talk in a later post about Wonder Woman doing the same thing with actual bullets.
I’m now going to mention other things that just plain irritated the crap out of me. Keep in mind, I was trying to be generous and suspend disbelief, but the movie kept grabbing me by the neck and shoving disbelief down my throat.
In no particular order, because I’m on a tear . . .
Tape?! Are you kidding me? The secret plans are stored in a huge storage facility housing data tape drives. Drives you have to physically retrieve using a complicated hand-operated system. A system that then fails, necessitating the non-heroes jump a large gap and climb to the exact spot of this huge storage vault and grab the (groan) cassette tape.
Why does the system fail? Why, the power goes out, of course. But, it only goes out to the storage retrieval system. The rest of the place has power. Power to open and close doors, power to operate a big-ass antenna, power to run the elevator so that the bad guy can confront the non-heroes at the climax of the scene.
Speaking about the antenna . . . apparently, you have to manually load the data you plan to send. Guess what? You do that at an outdoor terminal at the base of the antenna which is atop this huge tower. BUT WAIT . . . to properly align the antenna, you have to do so at a terminal at the end of a catwalk jutting out from the tower. What you do is manually rotate the antenna. Why was it out of alignment in the first place? On the way back to the antenna, an Empire fighter shoots at you (how would they know you aren’t authorized to be up there?) destroying the catwalk and then wandering off without finishing the job (why not shoot the antenna?)
So, you send this message — presumably, some sort of radio message since it’s a dish antenna — but the shield has not dropped yet. But, that’s OK; the message patiently waits for the shield to drop and is then delivered in its entirety to just one of the many ships up there. It would’ve been nice if multiple ships retrieved the message and then all scattered away. Nope. Then, the message is put on another tape-like thing and hand-carried around, only at the last moment and by the skin of its teeth making it out of Vader’s grasp.
Let me step back a moment and talk about the attack on this base. So, you have explosives and stuff, but you are a small force infiltrating a huge base which I assume houses thousands of troops, security personnel, and security robots. The last thing you want to do is directly engage the enemy. Blow up stuff, move, blow up stuff, move, etc. etc. If, however, you decide to fight, don’t be idiots and all stand in a small area where a well-placed explosion will take you all out. Honest, these guys were just lucky The Empire is incompetent.
So incompetent, in fact, that the Empire commander decides the best way to resolve the situation is to . . . destroy the whole base. Imagine a military force that when one of its bases is breached by what amounts to no more than 10 guys with hand-weapons decides the best course of action is to destroy the whole base. Not only that, but to do so when the intrusion is pretty much contained and almost all the rebels are dead. Yeah, I would certainly be loyal to that Empire.
I could go on . . . not killing the bad guy so that we (the audience) can witness and revel in his realization of having failed; using some sort of huge octopus to “examine” the pilot who brought the message to make sure he’s telling the truth (how about just listening to the message, instead?) How about the attack on the patrol in the city (pulled straight out of the current stuff happening half a world away to our troops in the Middle East)? Why were those troops there? And why weren’t they using drones? Drones that would have easily spotted and countered the rebels waiting in ambush atop various buildings. Rebels that were easily spotted by our non-heroes but not by the incompetent Storm Troopers. Storm Troopers who rushed to the scene in convenient waves, giving time for ample dialogue and discussions about stuff.
How about the bad guy killing all the engineers involved with the design and construction of the Death Star? I mean, is he ever going to need revisions, updates, and stuff? Is he sure he wants to kill all the people with the history of the project and operational knowledge of the design? What if one is destroyed and he wants another? I mean, yes, many companies get rid of their old hands, the ones that know everything, thus loosing program and projects memory, but this was monumentally stupid and pointless. Plus, there were only six engineers. I worked on the ’95 J-Car, Cadillac Allante, Saturn, and a number of other car programs, and each program had hundreds of engineers handling all sorts of details. Here, they built a frigging moon-sized space weapon using only six engineers . . . and they killed them without a second thought.
And it’s not just engineers who have poor working conditions. We repeatedly see techs — what I presume are techs — standing at some control station literally a few feet from this ginormous planet-killing ray. I hope they are wearing strong sunblock. Really, why not use droids? How about the people manning the controls — controls with lit buttons you push — who are required to wear these huge helmets that are all blacked out? Man, I sure hope they aren’t hitting the wrong buttons; I’m thinking their ability to see things is greatly impaired.
There was another monumentally stupid scene . . . apparently, Vader built his lair over a river of lava. And, get this: as mentioned above, he spends his time in a huge ice cream maker. Honest! I wouldn’t lie to you. I mean, how stupid can one be? The ground is obviously geologically unstable. Plus, it’s got to be hot there. I mean, it’s hot here, but sitting atop 2,000° flowing lava? Man, your A/C units better be pretty good. Or, you spend your time in a giant ice cream maker. Maybe he’s not stupid after all.
Also, people flit about the galaxy without any time compression or expansion. Pretty much, they leave one place and end up in another with little delay. They are either just around the corner from each other or . . . nope; they must all be around the corner from each other.
Honest, I could keep going for another few thousand words. What gets me is that the lead actress was lauded for the role . . . a role she played — in my opinion — without emotion or conviction. Not once did she sell me on her character. But, I don’t fault her . . . other than the blind guy, his friend, and the robot, none of the other characters came across as little more than cardboard cutouts. Why should she rise about the norm?
I’m getting tired of these kinds of movies . . . as will be seen by my review of Star Trek Beyond, another piece of drek that we made the mistake of watching and deserves a closer look.
Anyway, if you made it this far, I applaud your fortitude. I’ll also tell you the full-size versions of the above photos are in THIS SmugMug gallery. You can also click on the photos to open up a larger version.
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