Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review of Star Wars: Rogue One (no spoilers)


I have to admit it took a little while to get into the new Star Wars movie. The beginning felt weird to me: both in terms of the scattered, start/stop nature of the set-up and also, being honest, the lack of the title crawl. I know it's a small thing but details matter. Without the crawl, some part of the task of determining what is going on and how it fits in with everything else falls to the viewer. Perhaps that's the point here. Without the frame of mythology and a redemption arc, how does the conflict of Star Wars look to the people who actually fought it? 



Gareth Edwards, the director of the new movie, makes some wise decisions early on, despite the muddle: Jyn's story of lost parents and abandonment is classic storytelling in the epic mode - certainly something Star Wars fans have come to expect from the franchise.

Overall, though, none of that really mattered. The ending for this movie is tremendous, perfectly setting up Episode 4, giving a sense of the sacrifice embedded behind the scenes of Luke Skywalker's story. Was any of this absolutely necessary? No, but it's appreciated, especially if like me, you wanted a better sense of how this Galactic Empire actually, you know, works. It also helps if you like epic space battles. And light-saber mayhem. And daring plans that don't quite work out.

Because Rogue One has all of that stuff.

That's basically my take-away from this movie: if you go to Star Wars for some reason, you will find that reason in Rogue One. It didn't feel like over-kill the way the prequels did and while not every line works or every scene come together or every special effect amaze (still trying to puzzle out why they hired Golem to play Peter Cushing's old role), enough of it does to leave a very positive impression.

Put simply, I left the theater exhilarated. Last year's "A Force Awakened," left me in a similar place but for slightly different reasons. By the end of that movie I was desperate to find out more, to know what was going to happen to all of the new characters. Due to REASONS, that's not quite my reaction to this movie. 


It did re-invest me in the original trilogy, so there's that. The final line of the movie, in particular, hit me dead-center. Hope is a major component of this movie, hard-won hope over adversaries that are stronger, smarter, more capable, and more numerous. None of that is missing from the original trilogy but this movie had a way of force-choking the point home. The rebels have no chance. The empire is going to win. There is no hope you can believe.

Except.

Except you can't quite live that way.

I imagine this movie would play differently if the election had gone the way I voted. The tension of this movie might not register in quite the same way. If Hillary won, isn't it possible some red-hatted guy in the mid-west would respond to exhortations not to let the dream die? At the very least, it's hard to imagine a #dumpstarwars campaign in that alternate time-stream.

That's the thing about Star Wars; whatever allegory its creators and inheritors might have intended, it stands largely outside of contemporary politics. (If you miss the rather obvious allusions to Nazism and fascism, that is.) There's a reason why Reagan appropriated the name of the Rebel Alliance's enemy when speaking of Russia. He recognized the power of myth, the way it transcends ideology, religion, background, and nationality. The quest of a young hero in the face of implacable odds is as close to a universal story as any one is likely to find. Mix in a few quasi-Eastern philosophical elements and you have a something for everyone: a fable buffet where you can pick what you want and leave the rest behind.

Which is the strength of this movie. At two and a quarter hours long, there are a great number of moving parts here. I do wish we had a bit more time with the main characters, Jyn Erso (Felcity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), just so the final scenes hit with more force. I feel like the director's cut of this movie, with a few more beats allowed of their relationship, would have solved that. However, I don't think this suffers from some of the defects of the recent Marvel movies where every other scene seems yoked in service to the next movie in the franchise. This makes a necessary addition to the mythology of the universe, a complete story that fit smoothly with already established elements. The grittiness, the shades of grey represented by the characters, provides an interesting contrast with the main trilogies.

It makes me hopeful for the rest of these anthology films.
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