Rogue One: A Review

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to this week’s Force Visions, wherein I’ve found where I live.

will: This review will contain SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE. And you don’t want to be spoiled for this.

This is your only warning.

z: Or not, I’ll repeat that warning: You don’t want to be spoiled for this.  This was your final warning.

will: We’ll have a bit less intercutting this time around, too. Inevitably, we each have lots to say, and the other just wants to hear it.

z: Rogue One cut to “Directed by: Gareth Edwards,” the Main Theme that had been conspicuously missing from the beginning crashed in, and I started crying.

It wasn’t what happened, not the events, happy or sad.  It was what was.

The friend I’d gone to see it with turned around to console me, and I told her that I wasn’t crying because of [spoilers].  “I read this,” I told her. “I wrote this.  I imagined this.  This is why I am a Star Wars fan, at the very core.  This is why I am a part of the fandom, why I took that name upon myself.  This is why my corner of the fandom even existed.”

And as I said those things, and wept, I was thinking of Will, and of Kristy, and of Allison, and James, and of Tim and Mike and Aaron, and of so many others.  That is where we all went to live, where we came together.  The stories between the lines, the stories in the next room, the stories not told, the people not on center-stage. The main sequence is of course important.  The main sequence is what starts it, what gives it shape.  The main sequence is the saga, the legend, the places where everything is larger than life.

But many Bothans die to get those plans the second time, and we don’t get to see them, the manner of their death.  After the Hoth base is evacuated, everyone scatters for months before they can rendezvous with the rest of the Rebel Fleet again, and we don’t know what happened to anyone except Our Three Heroes (and Chewie, C-3PO and R2-D2) during that time.  And when Luke joins the Red Squadron, his callsign is not the end of the sequence; he’s not Red Thirteen, but Red Five.  (Red Six is Porkins.)  Why is Red Five open?  Granted someone was shot down, why didn’t they shuffle the designations around?

…because they didn’t have the time, it turns out, that’s why.

It wasn’t sorrow that made me cry, it was joy and catharsis.

But I’m fairly certain that the next time I see it (oh yes there will be a next time are you kidding)  I will be crying for the crew of Rogue One, because of course I will be.

In the prehistoric times, during the ill-fated, ill-advised first attempt to make Star Wars dark-and-edgy, there was a discussion on USENET about character deaths.  Overall, the conclusion was that if a death is written in there in order to make the audience/reader feel something, that is Doing It Wrong, whether it succeeds or not.  (For one thing, a perfectly valid audience/reader feeling at that kind of manipulation can and will be “pissed off.”) If a character dies, it was argued, that must have some real impact on the other characters.  (Ideally, something beyond “my love was shut in a refrigerator so Now I Must Seek Vengeance,” of course.)

The impact of that crew’s death–a death that, in itself, a direct impact of their actions–was, well, impact this.

There is just so much to appreciate about how that sacrifice was built that I’m having trouble ordering my thoughts and getting them down.  For one, maybe tangential thing, I liked how this is structurally a completely different sacrifice than the one Sam is talking about when he says “…folks [in the stories that mattered] had lots of chances to turn back, Mr Frodo, but they didn’t.”  The crew of Rogue One had no chances to turn back, not once after they set foot on the planet.  They did have the other kind of chances, and I also loved how the Henry V speech explicitly set that out, explained it, revealed the technique of sacrifice: “We’ll take the next chance, and the next, on and on until we win, or the chances are spent.”  When you can’t do anything else, that is exactly what you have to do.  That’s the blueprint when you can’t plan. Because the alternative is to give up hope… which, well, there are just a few glancing touches on that theme in the script, too.  I won’t repeat those.  I will quote Sam Gamgee again:

Though here at journey’s end I lie, in darkness buried deep
Beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep,
Above the shadows lies the sun, and stars forever dwell;
I will not say the day is done, nor bid the stars farewell.

Scarif was Mordor.  And they went into it knowing that.

And maybe the contrast with its idyllic setting was a bit too on-the-nose, but… nah.  You had to have that last embrace by the water, on the beach.

(That scene has pretty much burned itself into the inside of my eyelids, by the way.)

The other thing about that idyllic setting is that it’s a jungle setting, of course, and it’s a beach landing, and, well… friend on G+ remarked “When I went into Rogue One I wasn’t expecting that the tonally most appropriate trailer I saw before the movie would be that of Dunkirk,” and of course that is perfectly true.

will: My thought was that for all that this was supposed to be the “dark” version of the Star Wars universe, with the whole “Cassian shoots his friend/informant within a minute,” and dealing with the sorts of people who don’t get medals or epitaphs but unmarked graves and classified activities files, they still didn’t exactly paint the Rebels black. They did have a lovely selection of grays, though…the comparison for me was either The Pacific or Band of Brothers, the Scarif battle sequences definitely evoking Normandy, Iwo Jima, or both. Just as the original movie’s snubfighter sequences riffed on WW2 air combat movies.

z: And that richness of grays raised this into greatness.  Grand galaxy-spanning epic fight of good against evil–but there is one Jedi and two Sith and the rest? Are people who are in this who, by definition, have to have their own reasons, motivations, morality, and approaches.  Some people get swept into Rebellion.  Some people get dragged into it.  Some people purposefully pick up their bags and walk that way; some people have been the ones fomenting rebellion in the first place, and some people are in it, to quote the late, much lamented Terry Pratchett, “to get girls.”  Luke answers his call because his whole family is destroyed; in that sense, he follows in Jyn’s footsteps.  But that does not inform all the rest of his actions; Jyn’s familial connections do. And one wonders what ghosts Captain Andor is following; it’s I think not even implied but outright stated that he’s been in this since childhood as well.  And what made Bodhi Rook snap enough to defect–yes, Galen Erso sent him, but something must have made Erso think that this particular cargo pilot would be the one to approach?  When you’re watching from the point of view of this strata of characters, as it were, it is not going to be a given that of course they are on the Good side.

Then there’s the aspect of things where Cassian Andor shoots his friend/informant within a minute, as Will put it, but even as you wince you cannot simply slam the metaphorical door on his face, because the movie has made it very quickly very obvious that good clean-cut choices are not that thick on the ground at this level.  And then there’s that blink-and-miss-it moment where they cut away from… I think it’s someone in Saw Gerrera’s crew, at the end of the marketplace fight, shooting a stormtrooper struggling to get up in the head execution-style about five milliseconds before the actual shot.  (Or maybe they didn’t.  I don’t know, I looked away.)  Because you can’t even keep an army of trained, drilled soldiers to the rules of engagement in the real world, not always, and there is. no. way. a “Rebel Alliance” will consist of everyone in every faction acting in a bright-shiny-angelic fashion.

(Yes, I know that Mon Mothma distances the Alliance proper from Gerrera’s crew, by saying that he’s always fought his own fight.  The point stands.  There will be extremists on the side of the good, and they won’t always be extremists because they like to be and are taking the chance.  Sometimes things move that way and you have no good choices.  Have I mentioned that theme often enough yet?)

will: Not to mention, while we as EU readers certainly knew that there wasn’t a single unified perfect rainbow coalition Rebellion, that was the first time such was made clear on screen. “We are struggling together!”

z: Long story short:  War is messy.  Rebellions are messier.  Guerilla wars are the messiest. And Rogue One engaged with these facts to a degree where the “Disney” logo in the beginning is going to make my eyes pop next time I see it.

And it did not chicken out and give happy endings that would have had any discerning person throw things at the screen by cheapening anyone’s choices and actions.  From Chirrut Îmwe to that nameless Tantive IV crewperson who passed the data card through the stuck door’s crack to the next crewperson before Vader cut him down, they were afforded the full dignity of their sacrifices.

And once again–Jyn and Cassian’s embrace is going to haunt me all my life.

will: The music also deserves special mention, not least because one of the bits of news that we got out of all of the production stories was that the original score writer, Alexandre Desplat, had to be replaced by Michael Giacchino when the reshoots that the film underwent delayed the shooting calendar. Giacchino is probably most known–well, before now–for the Star Trek reboots, specifically two things: he’s a talented worker within an established musical style, and he’s an inveterate punster in his song titles–in his Trek score, the introduction of the ship was scored by a piece titled ”Enterprising Young Men.”

Both of his habits were on display here. Giacchino was definitely playing around Williams’s work–as Z said, the Main Theme hadn’t appeared in full until the end credits, but the music under the title card was the first few notes of the Theme, quickly shifting around into a minor-ish key; the Empire had its leitmotifs, both the one from the original and the later Imperial March, but they were built differently, and even the Rebel Fanfare showed up at Yavin IV but carried more darkness, fading faster into an almost dissonant tone of rush, fear, and pressure. At the same time, Giacchino knew when to just say “this is Star Wars, here you go,” most notably giving us a very strong line of Leia’s oboe theme when Bail Organa first appeared on screen.

z: And one theme appeared multiple times with no change at all.  The Force Theme was, go figure, always with us.  That, and the presence of the Imperial themes, and slightly different Rebel Theme, and only a hint of Leia’s theme, all give me a clue why the Main Theme did not actually show up during the story proper: Because that is also officially Luke’s Theme, and during this movie, who’s this “Luke”?

(Yeah, it’s intact in the credits.  It’s one thing not to use it in the story proper because the thing it’s the leitmotif of isn’t around, another thing altogether not to use it in the credits of a Star Wars movie, come on.)

will: And as to the puns, well, the names of songs all have both an “official” track, like Williams’s, and a parenthetical. Those parentheticals include:

Jyncarcerated (for the labor camp sequence)
Have a Choke and a Smile (Krennic’s tete-a-tete with Vader)
Live and Let Jedi (the finale)

Man after my own pun-addled brain, this one.

z: I… had not seen the soundtrack.   I have the flattest of flat stares now.

will: As to the CGI, which has been a big topic of discussion: yes, Tarkin was in the Uncanny Valley. But it was damn close. If I didn’t know that Cushing was long dead maybe I’d have fallen for it at first. By comparison, I was taken completely by Leia–not that she was a perfect match for 1977’s Carrie Fisher, but I didn’t realize that was CGI, I just thought she was a new actress picked for her resemblance to Carrie’s look forty years ago. So, a win (with an asterisk) for brief scenes, less so for the extended presence.

On the other hand, what they did with Red and Gold Leader–recutting some of their in-cockpit shots from the trench run sequence with new CGI backdrops, and  additional dialogue over exterior shots as needed–had me laughing.

z: It was extra-funny, of course, because having watched A New Hope enough times to know the cadence of those lines almost as if we know the melodies to well-known songs, there was no way we wouldn’t have caught those.

will: Plus we had literally just watched the film the week before. Not that we wouldn’t have known it anyway.

Following on to the cameos and references themselves–I really liked them, and thought they made the whole thing sing. Leia especially fit very nicely as almost being an accident at the battle (my read is that when the distress call came in she was getting ready to head to Tatooine for Obi-Wan, and the Mon Calamari Admiral–who was not Ackbar, thank you for making that clear, and also thank you for not having any Star Cruisers yet, just Nebulon-B frigates, this was still an early Rebellion with limited resources–just took her along because well, no time), the use of Mon Mothma and Bail Organa was solid, General Dodonna was cool just chilling there unnamed, I can easily imagine Garm Bel Iblis as one of the other unnamed ones…

Oh, how I would have danced in the aisles of the theater if they had given a Wedge cameo.

z: I… don’t think I would have been able to explain my reaction to anyone else though.

will: Not to mention, the technology all fits–while there are one or two exceptions (the disk handoff at the end felt a bit tacked on), the way they said “look, we’re playing with an originally ‘70s concept of tech, just go with it” worked, at least for me.

At the same time, no movie is without flaw, and this is no exception. I’ve seen more than a few negative responses; not that it was a bad movie, but the most common complaint I saw was that it was flat and unengaging.

z: I… Okay, fine.  I guess if you aren’t used to, well, wondering what’s going on in the next room and around the corner and between the lines all the time, it may not be engaging.  If you are, this is going to be your crack.  See also everything I poured out above.

will: Structurally, it can’t be denied that this is a male-heavy movie. Jyn Erso is the heroine of the piece, but she’s the Sole Female Character of the principals. Making, say, Baze also female would have been a start–or else, maybe some of the ground fighters who accompany the Rogue One crew to Scarif. Yes, there were female pilots, but that’s much more blink-and-you-miss-it. Jyn is certainly awesome–but she’s still too much the exception even (or especially) within her own movie.

Relatedly, the entire trope of Jyn being a jaded loner is done to death, resurrected, done to death again, and now dead horses are staring at it going “damn.” Sure, complaining about Star Wars playing to a formula is, as we established last week, liable to get you confused stares (“why did you bring me what I ordered?”) but that trope in particular is waaaaay overdone, and given how thin many of the characters are, it felt like easy riding.

Beyond that, the flip side of the coin of this being a fill-in-the-side-stories, fanfiction-on-screen movie is that, well, sometimes those stories work for fanfic but not necessarily for movies. This movie would not work at all if it weren’t part of Star Wars–and before you say “well, of course not,” I’d argue that there’s a difference between using the multiple-volume story structure to tell a longer story, with the deliberate emphasis on and connection to what came before, and using the existence of other not-directly-chronological movies as a shortcut, and Rogue One is shortcutting. It’s true of the characters too; they have a lot of the “single thing definition” going.

Perhaps the most notable place of that is what Z said earlier–why was Bodhi the one Galen went to; what are Cassian’s ghosts. The positive way of taking that is that the questions point out the diversity and variety of the Rebellion and the way that even small characters have their parts–the negative way is, well, we don’t get to see a lot of their characters develop.

In my own case I’m not bothered by this aspect–I feel that billing the movie as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is signaling its place as a bit of extra, not a main feature on par with the Skywalker Saga, and they wouldn’t be the first Star Wars characters to be a bit heavy on the central-casting side–but that’s me. De gustibus and all that.

Still and all, if you’re the sort of person who reads–or writes–this blog, I feel confident you enjoyed it immensely.

Since, you know, you already saw it, right? Because–spoilers.

Oh, and one more thing: Guardians of the Whills?

Whoa.

z: You caught that!

will: What am I, an amateur?

z:  …point.  Nope, that you ain’t.

(At that moment I jumped, and laughed, and yes, did get a stare.)

Earlier today my mother sent me a chat message on Hangouts.  It said “We saw Rogue One earlier tonight,” but it started with “The Force is with me, I am one with the Force.”

My mother, y’all.  Are you going to say she’s wrong?  Nope: The Force is and will be with you, Always.

(will: See you next week for…you know, I have no clue.)

(z: What did I just say?  Trust in the Force.)

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2 thoughts on “Rogue One: A Review

  1. Thanks for the review!

    SPOILERS:

    I loved the movie, too, but the ending was a huge emotional gut-punch for me. This was mostly because I took way too long to realize that Edwards was operating in the war movie genre rather than the space opera genre, so I didn’t see the TPK coming until Chirrut and Baze both died. This isn’t a complaint, by the way; I agree that it made for a better story.

    I’m normally hugely sensitive to uncanny valley effects, but for whatever reason, Tarkin and Leia didn’t bother me. We’ll see if I have problems during my second viewing.

    I understand the complaint that the characters were pretty thin, but that also didn’t bother me. I felt like I knew all of the main characters well enough to care about them, and that’s all I really needed. I completely agree about the jaded loner thing being done to death, though. I wish they’d picked another starting point for Jyn.

    I’ve just started reading the novelization, and it will be interesting to see if it gives any extra insight into the characters. Speaking of the novelization, if you like this kind of story, you might want to try Alexander Freed’s Battlefront tie-in if you haven’t already (Battlefront: Twilight Company). I knew of Freed from his work on Star Wars: the Old Republic; he wrote the in-game Imperial Agent story and two very nice tie-in comics (The Lost Suns and Blood of the Empire). Since I liked his SWTOR work so much, I went ahead and bought Twilight Company, even though I don’t have much interest in Battlefront itself. TC actually has quite a bit in common with Rogue One—it’s a war story rather than a space opera, and it follows a soldier who has a grunt’s eye view of the rebellion. I’m guessing that Freed was chosen to write the Rogue One novelization at least partly because whoever was making the decision liked Twilight Company.

    Like

    1. I didn’t know there was a novelization (Although why would I think there wouldn’t be, ’tis a mystery.) And I’m definitely willing to check it out.

      I think I knew TPK was coming without even the “they will have to die otherwise where are they during A New Hope” angle. (I could have explained that sixteen ways to Sunday.) I was saddened, but I wasn’t surprised. As soon as K-2SO fell, I knew.

      Like

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