Rogue One

                The newest addition to the “Star Wars” library is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which is actually designed to fit between episodes 3 and 4. 

                Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is receiving an unwelcome visitor from the Empire.  He’s standing on his own property, and is trying to just lead a simple life as a farmer, but the Empire isn’t going to let him.  He’s too valuable in their huge engineering project, the Death Star.  It is the ultimate weapon, with enough destructive power to remove whole moons, or even whole planets, from the galaxy.  Once it is operational, the Empire is sure that they can at last quash the Rebellion.

                Erso has apparently come to the point where he no longer wants to help the Empire build such a weapon, but they threaten his family, and so leave him little choice.  He passive-aggression solution is to pretend to go back to work for them, but then help construct the device in such a way that it has a clear vulnerability, which he then tries to communicate to the rebel alliance.

                Meanwhile, his little daughter has escaped, but only to spend much of her childhood in confinement, anyway.  Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) grows up, like her Dad, to be self-reliant, self-motivated, and grimly determined.  In fact, she’s so independent that she even resists an attempt by the rebels to free her.  It seems the rebels want to use her to get to her father, and they aren’t even duplicitous enough to fool her.  But their operational leader, Cassian (Diego Luna), has enough charisma to get Jyn to play along just enough, as they go about trying to extract her Dad from the research lab where they have apparently completed their task.  This, of course, would make him expendable.  It also means the Rebels are even more determined to get their hands on the archived copy of the plans that would locate exactly where the designed vulnerability is.

                Many of the familiar Star Wars saga elements are here:  a droid with a droll sense of humor, a pacing alternation between macro and micro, that is, from small interpersonal dynamics to large-scale spaceship maneuvers.  The dramatic orchestral music.  And, of course, the presence of The Force, though it seems to be mostly confined to a blind man who uses a walking mantra to invoke it.  As in previous productions, there’s barely a hint of romance.  We’re too busy saving the Universe from tyranny, even at the price of interjecting some chaos.  And, of course, there are many creative types of fantastic creatures, most of whom converse with the humans, but they may well have their own agendas.

                There’s even some improvement in developing the context:  the soldiers of The Empire are shown to be imperious and bullying to the populace, so the viewer feels the repression, and thus the need for the rebellion in the first place.  And the rebels themselves show some of their humanity by being fractious, weary, suspicious, and well, rebellious.  We even have some foreshadowing cameos by some of the characters in Episode Four.

                But what this production lacks is charm.  The characters are mostly deadly serious, and lack the lively repartee developed in previous episodes.  There’s no real chemistry, and hardly even any affection.  The humans appear to be as devoid of imagination as the droids who serve them.  Yes, there’s some bravery, and some dazzling scenes of space combat.  But there’s no soul, nothing wistful, and precious little personal passion.  True, it’s an impossibly high standard for judging any movie, but here it is:  no magic.

                Yes, we “Stars Wars” geeks love it that we have a new episode.  And we’ll enjoy watching it more than once.  But we can’t expect the rest of the moviegoing world to be enthralled by this one.

Questions for Discussion:

1)      When is civil disobedience a moral imperative?

2)      Which countries should have the right to possess weapons of mass destruction?

3)      Is it possible for humans to build robots that are smarter than the humans?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association