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Rebellions Are Built On Hope!

If you want the short answer: I really enjoyed Rogue One and I’m looking forward to watching it a good few more times when the option to watch it from home comes along (I tend not to do multiple cinema viewings). It’s not perfect, it has some weaknesses, but I really enjoyed the film and was thoroughly entertained by it.

The third act of the film, almost a mini-film in and off itself, is just beautiful, gritty and unbelievingly heroic and worth the price of entry alone.

I heartily recommend that you see it. Now the longer version.

Warning: There are major spoilers beyond this point.

At a structural level the film is surprisingly similar to Godzilla in terms of its beats. If I was too speculate, I’d say that some of the reasons for the re-shoots might have been because it was exactly like Godzilla in a gloriously beautiful, but the characters fell disastrously and painfully flat, sort of way.

I say that, because I think there are still legacies of that.

It’s quite clear both Godzilla and Rogue One share similar structural elements:-

  • There is a prequel event involving the death of a mother and wife and the separation of the father (also in Rogue One’s case it results later in the separation from a father figure) from a sibling
  • Events occur at the beginning of the film that mean the sibling needs to find the father (and in Rogue One’s case first the father figure to get to the father)
  • At the end of the first act, which has a spectacular event, the father dies (albeit it in Rogue One it is the father figure) unexpectedly. I can’t be the only one who thought Saw Gerrera was going to be in it longer?
  • The second act is the weakest, though the Rogue One second act is better than Godzilla’s
  • There is a third act that is astoundingly beautiful, sonically impressive, a joy to behold, a real crowd pleaser and worth the price of admission alone
  • The characters aren’t particularly strong, though it has to be said the characters in Rogue one are substantially better than those in Godzilla

It could be argued the films are similar because there is a natural flow to how mythical stories go. The call to action, the loss of the guide and so on. This is true, but I don’t believe that explains it all. They are shockingly similar.

Luckily, whether it was the re-shoots or not, Rogue One may share structural similarities to Godzilla but it doesn’t suffer from the same disastrous failings as Gareth Edward’s previous film.

The Characters

One of the ways the trailer does differ from the film is it very much has two leads: Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, while Alan Tudyk as K-2SO puts in a great turn as both the humorous droid and loyal ‘Chewbacca’ sidekick. Jyn is marginally the lead, but by such a small factor that the importance of Cassian was seriously underplayed in the trailer.

There are other characters in the team: the ‘Imperial Pilot Defector’, the ‘Blind Jedi Wannabe’ and the ‘Guy With The Heavy Rifle’. Yes, that is correct I’m not going to pretend I know their names. I don’t. I’ve forget their names even while the film was still playing. This isn’t to say they’re not interesting. They are. But they are interesting in an archetypal sort of way that doesn’t involve having to know their names.

Even Cassian Andor suffers from this a bit, as while he has a stronger arc in the film and certainly has lead status, I didn’t remember his name and had to look it up for this article.

This sounds terrible, but it isn’t. I was vastly entertained by the characters. I felt for their heroic actions and sacrifices. The characters work. It’s just that they don’t pop for me like Rey and Fin did in The Force Awakens. That duo, and you could argue BB8, came kicking and screaming onto the big screen and by the end of the film I wanted the next films to be more about them than those in the original trilogy!

The characters in Rogue One don’t have that power, but they work well in the film they are in and Jyn Erso and K-2SO are the standouts the ones that have a lasting impression beyond their imagery. I also fully expect Cassian to have more sticking power with repeated viewings, but he just got lost in the overall rush of the first viewing.

The Tone

One of the key differences between these new films, even The Force Awakens in my view, is they have brought Star Wars closer to the reality of our world. It’s hard to explain how this is the case as it is a myriad of subtleties across directorial choices, special effects and cinematography. They just feel less ‘in a galaxy, far, far away…’. I feel this is a reaction to the prequels, which has resulted in the films not just spinning back to the lived in look of the original films, but beyond that into them feeling a bit less ‘other galaxy’.

Rogue One takes this even further and contrasts wondrous images with a very realistic tone. I still have a mixed view of this. While multiple viewings may change, the streets of Jedha just felt a bit too much like our planet but with people in odd outfits wondering around. It didn’t break the film, but it did feel, at times, this film walked a bit too close to feeling like any  ‘any other scifi movie’ in the streets of Jedha.

The new films have a difficult and hard line to walk: how do you not fall into trying to duplicate the original trilogy while avoiding coming across like ‘any other scifi film’? It’s my view the new films will continue to hit the wrong side of this line in different ways.

At times Rogue one is concerned with stuff and things rather than characters. At other times it feels the need to ‘fill plot holes Star Wars fans have always needed to be filled’. While it does add a cool, personal and emotional wrinkle to why the Death Star has its weakness, it really didn’t need explaining to the degree some have said it does. It throws in characters just for ‘heh that is him’ Easter Eggs. It uses ‘a bit too uncanny valley’ technology to tell the back stories of characters we know.

The danger is they will start feeling like the Extended Universe books, which I didn’t like. I think they already do, but at the moment in a way that isn’t totally ruining them for me. They occasionally share the negative traits of those books: coming across like generic scifi, being more concerned about stuff and things than characters, feeling the need to explain plot holes and historic gaps that don’t need filling, etc.

Rogue One, overall, is on the positive side of the line, but not always. I realise for some people these things are why the film is great, but that is not the case for me

It’s Not About The Death Star Plans

I went into Rogue One expecting the film to be about a father and daughter relationship that just happens to be framed within the context of stealing the Death Star plans. This is exactly what the film is about, what I was totally not expecting is the larger story.

At the start of the film the Rebel Alliance isn’t the force we see in the original films. It doesn’t fully know its power (as these things are defined in a space opera reality). In truth, they are a bit more like an insurgency operation you’d might see in the real world. They’re conducting sabotage and assassinations (including a brutal Han shoots first scenario in the first act). They do realise there is a wrong way, as Saw Gerrera’s operatives are described as extremists, but they haven’t found their own, different path. They are not that bold, they’re still working on the principle that their enemy isn’t one that builds planet destroying super weapons.

The story of Rogue One is how Jyn Erso inspires Cassian Andor to believe his own words, that rebellions are based on hope. This in turn results in the Rogue Team setting of on their own to steal the plans, despite the Rebel Alliance leadership failing to decide to do that when faced with their new reality. They fail and can’t act due to deadlock and fear. That action, the Rogue One team performing the sort of plucky and succeed against all odds heroics of a space opera resistance, inspire the Rebel Alliance, in the form of Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, to do the same.

If you think the rebellions are built on hope line was cheesy and out of place then it’s either going to be a positive or negative for you that that line actually represents the core story of the film.

The story of Rogue One is how that team inspired the Rebel Alliance to fight its battle on hope. The legacy of the Rogue One team isn’t the theft of the Death Star plans it is the birth of the Rebel Alliance we see in the original films. It is this that is the inherent beauty of the film as the Rogue One team undertake their heroics in the third act and leave that lasting legacy.

A Thing of Beauty

Rogue One is a thing of beauty. The only negative about the inherent beauty of Rogue One is pretty much all that beauty was revealed in the two trailers I saw. This is a pity as they deserved to be seen on the big screen for the first time.

This is entirely my fault, of course.

The inherent beauty of the film, the characters that are ‘space opera good enough in the main with a couple of standouts in part’ and the whole desperate heroism of the film and the birth of true Rebel Alliance make this a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The third act, which is a significant part of the film is nothing short of glorious. It is inherently beautiful, is full of imagery that just blows the mind. As has been stated in the promotional round, this is the opening plays of the Galactic Civil War as portrayed through the lens of an actual war film, something akin to the HBO mini-series The Pacific, but full of blasters and AT-AT Walkers. The heroism, pathos and the natural and inevitable death of the Rogue One team to achieve something greater is well played out.

There is also beauty in the fact that Rogue One essentially establishes that the creation of the Death Star didn’t bring victory, but actually created the engine of the Empire’s destruction.

While it sometimes takes me a bit of time to settle a new Star Wars film into how it relates to others that have been made, it’s quite possible Roge One may be the most beautiful of all the films.

More Star Wars Stories, Please!

I really enjoyed Rogue One despite some of the negatives raised here, and they undoubtedly appear bigger written down than they are in the film. As I’ve been writing this I fully believe I’ll enjoy it more and more on repeated viewings.

As I write this I have no numbers for Rogue One, certainly the long tail numbers will take a while to come in, but they’ve got off to a good start in terms of the films quality. There is still some risk, as I do think the film might have a bit too much ‘hardcore Star Wars fan appeal’ but I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful because this film has me wanting to see more Star Wars films. I want a range of them touched by slightly different genres with different directors bringing their own approaches (hopefully, as this is NOT happening with the Marvel films). I really want to see an Obi-Wan film that is just enough of a character study of Obi-Wan as he deals with the loss of Anakin and, of course, does a load of Jedi-fu while allowing Ewan McGregor to show his strong acting skills in the role without the limitation of Lucas. It’d be a cool, lone Ronin, sort of Samuria seeking purpose sort of affair, right?

Bring on the films I say, but I’d also say, if they could, just scale back the integration with Star Wars ‘stuff’, it can feel a bit fan service and fan fiction (you can see it with the Han Solo film already, take Falcon from Lando, do Kessel Run, Rescue Chewie, etc, as a checklist), and be brave enough to tell some really powerful original stories.

What Rogue One tells us is those powerful, original stories are there, they just need to brave enough to not just allow us to start seeing the stuff we know happens, but to branch out and tell us stories we didn’t know happened at all!

They just need to be brave enough to step just that bit further out and do it.

 

About Ian O'Rourke

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