On the eve of its Blu-Ray release, Terry digs in on the letdown of 2016.
Back in August of last year, I sat aghast in my sticky theater chair at the Starlight Cinema in Whittier. I'd just gotten a producing job that I didn't really want, and instead of finding solace in a big blockbuster release like I usually did, I found only existential panic. I found myself asking what the point of pursuing writing for film really was. I wiped the cold sweat from my face, and just sort of sat in disbelief as the lights came up.
In hindsight, I don't know what other reaction I could have had after seeing Warner Bros.' Suicide Squad.
Thankfully, as though God himself threw me a bone and told me I wasn't crazy, I noticed other people were equally confused by unfathomably bad this movie was. Juggalos with vape pens milled past me, shrugging with baffled indifference as they lurched toward the exit. A young boy in a Joker shirt asked his mom what she thought - she replied it wasn't for her, and he sort of agreed that it really wasn't for him, either. It was an experience I won't soon forget.
I'm using this monstrosity as an example of a cinematic nadir, of a huge profiting studio taking all the wrong lessons before ultimately deciding at the last minute to change their minds. Suicide Squad did have a bunch of reshoots, but what really killed the movie was the fearful decision to outsource the final edit to a trailer house with the purpose of reassembling the film into a safe, easter egg pushing, pop song queuing ball of meaningless noise.
It's like a squirrel in the road, unsure of which way to go, ultimately getting flattened by your car.
By this point in the Horrid No Good Year of Our Satan 2016, news broke that the folks at Lucasfilm had been going through similar pains - that Gareth Edwards made a very dark, maudlin film about a group of Rebels who steal the Death Star plans, and that Kathleen Kennedy wasn't happy with it. They went into extensive reshoots, and while that news doesn't normally phase me - ALL of these flicks have extensive reshoots - I got a pit in my stomach. This all sounded like they didn't make the movie they wanted, and were going above and beyond to change it at the last minute. Was this another squirrel?
Rogue One is no better than Suicide Squad. It is the prime example of Disney resting on their laurels, not minding one bit that somehow their movie that was supposed to say everything says nothing at all. Because Darth Vader is there and he's got a lightsaber and look an X-Wing!
So, to the people who like this film - please help me. Did we see the same movie? Is there an alternate earth somewhere where Jyn Erso is a character who makes sense and isn't a bunch of tropey white British ladyisms thrown into a blender? Who is Cassian Andor other than a dude who says he does bad things for the greater good? Why did I feel the worst when K-2SO, the crew's robot, dies? Oh right, because Alan Tudyk improvised half his dialogue.
Is this what we're doing now? I almost hear the conversation at Disney in my head: "Rey was a really successful protagonist, so can we sort of apply that character to whatever Felicity Jones is doing in the reshoots?"
I'll admit it and meet you halfway (well, a third of the way) - the last twenty minutes is great! And fuck, it better be, because the theft of the Death Star plans is the whole point of the movie -- and if they couldn't pull that off the way the producers and FX houses pre-vized it before anyone was hired to direct it, then they'd have no reason to make the thing.
However, how the movie and the characters arrive to the hook of the film is an issue that mattered very little to the decision makers. It's fucking bad when you long for the causal progression of The Phantom Menace.
I'm worried. I'm very, very worried. Star Wars used to be about taking risks, telling unique and special stories. I see nothing risky at all with this film. Even when everybody dies (spoilers? I GUESS?), the movie often goes out of its way to not let you get to know and love those people, as though its worried that if it does - you won't like it.
Characters in Rogue One run around like wooden puppets, spouting off about "hope", saying its what Rebellions are built on and whatnot, not even taking a moment to contextualize what any of these people are hoping for. I don't know what any of these folks are hoping for, letalone what they fucking want in their life (or the immediate moment). It's so intensely frustrating.
So, what else?
I don't want to talk about the icky ethics of resurrecting Peter Cushing as Mr. Bill Tarkin, other than that I'm glad Carrie Fisher's family said no to Lucasfilm doing that with her anymore in the future. I also don't really wanna talk about Darth Vader in this film, who even though gets a kewl lightsaber scene, it affects nothing and happens after whatever tension the movie built is long gone. Again, while watching the sequence, I found myself wondering why they spent that money.
Is this what fans want? Is this what we're supposed to be content with? Beautifully scored and wholly unearned moments in movies that make no effort at all to set them up? Because if this is what Disney is content with churning out from now on, I'm content to say Star Wars as we know it is dead.
Rogue One releases on Blu-Ray tomorrow, April 4th, and will probably sell a bajillion copies.
Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.