After nearly 40 years of Wookies, Jedis and Imperial storm troopers, am I finally over the whole “Star Wars” thing?
The sad truth is that I was underwhelmed — sometimes flat-out bored — by “Rogue One,” the latest addition to the “SW” universe.
And here’s the thing…it’s not a bad movie. Certainly not bad like the three George Lucas-driven prequels were.
“Rogue One” is reasonably well acted and technically flawless. Moreover, it’s an attempt to make a more adult, racially-diverse “Star Wars” film, a stand-alone tale that is darker both thematically (it’s like an intergalactic Alamo where everyone goes down fighting) and visually.
Nevertheless, “Rogue One” is emotionally lifeless. I didn’t care.
Director Gareth Edwards and the producers and writers have worked so hard to hit familiar buttons of “Star Wars” mythology that the resulting film feels generic, as if it were directed by a committee rather than a single visionary individual.
The plot, for those who have been living in the spice mines of Kessel, follows the efforts of a team of rebel spies to steal the plans for the Death Star, an enterprise that will result in the destruction of said moon-sized weapon by Luke Skywalker in the original “Star Wars” movie.
Our heroine is Jyn (Felicity Jones), whose scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken from her to develop the Death Star. After years of crime and imprisonment, Jyn is given an opportunity by the Rebel Alliance. She will be part of a team tasked with finding Galen and getting those precious plans. They’re a mixed bag of idealists and pragmatic warriors.
Foremost among them is Cassian (Diego Luna), the ostensible head of the team who, unbeknownst to Jyn, as been secretly ordered to assassinate her father, lest his genius bring the Death Star to completion.
Chirrut (Donnie Yen) is a blind swordsman who relies on The Force to battle enemies. A pretty obvious nod to a subgenre of samurai films, he’s got a grouchy partner (Wen Jiang) who fights with a monstrous hand cannon.
Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) is a pilot who knows his way around the Empire’s military outposts.
Best of the bunch is K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a towering droid made by the Empire but reprogrammed to serve the Rebel Alliance. Apparently K-2SO also was given a microchip for sarcasm and irony, which he exercises regularly at the expense of his human cohorts.
Given that they’re all on a suicide mission, one expects a lot more emotional involvement than the film generates.
But the thrills and suspense are frittered away on characters that are little more than a couple of personality tics. Even Jones — so terrific in “The Theory of Everything” — and the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn as the baddie in charge of constructing the Death Star come off as bland.
It’s like everybody is too awed by being in a “Star Wars” movie to do anything the least bit adventurous.
In addition to the new characters we get glimpses of old favorites, among them R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader (voiced as always by James Earl Jones), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, rejuvenated thanks to computer plastic surgery) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits).
Fascinating and frustrating is the Grand Moff Tarkin digitally created from old footage of the late Peter Cushing. It’s eerie…until he opens his mouth to speak or tries to express an emotion, and then you realize this new Tarkin is dead-eyed and empty.
The space battles are bigger than ever…but a law of diminishing returns is at work here. We’ve see this sort of thing in every “Star Wars” movie. Bigger isn’t better. Just busier.