Friday, July 28, 2017

A Rogue One Rant

Recently, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story appeared on Netflix. To be honest, after enduring Star Wars VII, I was not particularly interested in this movie despite all the rave reviews. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep the other day and decided to see if Disney’s take on what has already been covered in Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama was boring enough to put me to sleep. I made it to about the 40-minute mark.

Here is the thing: all of us already know this story. We all knew going into the movie that rebel agents would steal the Death Star plans and get killed delivering this vital information to Princess Leia. If this last bit came as a surprise, evidently the pitched battle at the beginning of A New Hope was not a big enough clue, or, as I mentioned above, you haven’t listened to the Radio Drama (and you really should).

Therefore, plot was not a tool the writers had when writing this script. There was no plot twist, turn or surprise that was going to change the outcome of this movie. The only real option in stories like these is character development. In the case of the story supposedly covered in Rogue One there are three basic characters:

  1. The Empire
  2. The Rebellion
  3. The Agent who gets killed

Thus, the job of the writer is to ask a couple of questions:

  • What motivates The Agent to be willing to die?
  • Is The Rebellion/The Empire worth dying for?

Answering these questions can make for a gripping story despite the fact that we know the plot. For example: The Patriot has a basic plot that we all know: the American Revolution. The movie, however, was not about the American Revolution. It was about how Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, went from being a guilt-ridden combat veteran who wanted nothing to do with the war to becoming a Patriot.

As a post-Christian movie, Rogue One failed miserably on this front. While they did provide us with a bunch of cool characters, not one of them had any real depth and the movie never really bothered to give us an arc to understand why these people were willing to die for the Rebellion. Further, the portrayal of the other two main characters (The Rebellion and The Empire) was fraught through with relativism.

The Rebellion was portrayed as a fractured, schizophrenic movement that really didn’t know what it wanted to be, all the while doing whatever it took to survive including murdering its own and committing acts of terrorism. The assumption here is that simply taking on the mantel “The Rebellion” automatically makes these people the good guys; however, being rebels does not a good character make. For example, the Bolshevik Revolution executed around 1000 political prisoners a month into the early 1920s.

The Empire was portrayed as an entity that wanted to bring peace to the galaxy at all cost, up to and including the use of a super weapon; however, having and using a super weapon does not an evil character make. The U.S. is the only country to ever actually use a nuclear weapon in war. The U.S. did so to end WWII and it is arguable that not only did its use save lives, but that the cause for which they used that weapon is one of the greatest countries ever to exist (warts and all).

So, 40 minutes into the movie I didn’t understand why the Rebellion was so important to save because they were portrayed as not being much better than the Empire and I certainly didn’t understand why all these cool characters were so willing to run off and die to save it.

Back when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas I was hopeful that new life would be pumped into the franchise after the bitter disappointment of Episodes I-III. Unfortunately, Disney has proven once again why I trust Hollywood about as far as I can throw a bantha. All they have done is produce movies that make Episodes I-III look good in comparison. After all, no matter how badly they were done, at least George Lucas attempted to answer the question as to why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.


Michael Bugg said...

Normally I agree with you, but I'm not sure I do in this case. In many ways, it's the Rebellion itself that goes through the story arc. As you point out, they start off fractured, schizophrenic, and borderline villainous. They are at their most ruthless because they're on the ropes, don't dare take heroic risks, and most don't see any chance of a happy ending. This is expressly spelled out in the film. Rogue One's story is how the titular group's self-sacrifice gave the Rebellion the hope and example it needed to become the heroes of the original trilogy.

FrDave said...

I suppose that argument might be imposed upon the movie once all is said and done, but that character arc is not what this movie sets up. The frame is the story of the agent, not the rebellion. Had this story begun with the leaders of the rebellion desperately trying to figure out how they were going to find hope/survive I could readily accept this interpretation. As it stands, this sounds more like the kind of rationalization I used to try and justify why I thought I should like Episode I. I have long since stopped trying to make excuses just because it has the words "Star Wars" tacked on.

I will grant, however, that the version I know of this story (the Radio Drama) does such an outstanding job that my view of this movie is heavily prejudiced.

Anders H said...

I thought it was a fine tale of a ragtag party of RPG adventurers who bonded unexpectedly over a common cause and in the end joyously chose the TPK because face it - what else where they gonna do with their lives that had any meaning?

FrDave said...

This kind of proves my point that Rogue One isn't a good movie. While we can tell great stories about RPGs (because they exist in that self-referential world of game systems, random rolls and odd player behavior) they don't make for good stories. All that cool factor that the characters seem to have does scream RPG, because any depth they might have had would have existed in the players behind those characters.

BTW (in my completely biased opinion) sans Christ, no life has meaning. Just saying...