#1 movie, weekend of 12/16-12/18/16
What it is: A Star Wars prequel about a ragtag group of rebels getting ahold of the plans for the Death Star.
After Star Wars: The Force Awakens I stopped caring about new Star Wars movies. You’d think the prequels would have already accomplished this, and they certainly took me much of the way there, but even though they were terribly executed on almost every level, they were still trying to expand the series’ themes in some genuinely interesting and ambitious ways. The Force Awakens was the opposite: Really well-executed, fun to watch in a way the prequels absolutely weren’t, but totally devoid of any new ideas, interested only in remixing the ingredients of the original movies. It was clear that that was what the franchise would be under Disney’s ownership: Meticulously crafted but totally forbidden from straying outside the conceptual boundaries set by the original trilogy.
Rogue One continues in that mold. On the whole it’s probably about as good as The Force Awakens, narratively neat where the previous film was kind of sloppy but lacking the pure joy of John Boyega’s performance or of getting to see Han Solo in action again. The idea of a “dark, gritty” Star Wars movie had me worried that this would be a Dark Knight wannabe that patted itself on the back for being sadistic and cynical, but that’s fortunately not the case. It’s relatively downbeat (the soundtrack keeps suggesting John Williams’ triumphant orchestral cues but then backing off of them) and stylistically verite-ish but its spirit is classically earnest. Anyone seeing intentional Trump commentary here is seeing mirages; the movie is political only in the very broad sense that the series always has been. There’s the germ of an interesting idea when the Rebel Alliance has to make overtures to a resistance fighter who’s always been too extreme for them (a galactic Bernie Sanders?) but the concept never really goes anywhere.
This movie is fine. It’s well-made and entertaining and doesn’t undermine what the original movies stand for, but, again, there’s nothing new here. I expect that future entries in the series will continue this dependable streak (and rake in the cash; Rogue One made more in its first weekend than Moana did in three weekends on top), but they’ve already ceased to be pop cultural events that anyone can expect to be mind-blowing, for better or for worse.