Monday, December 19, 2016

The Untold Story of Rogue One

Here is my non-spoiler bit on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This was a good film and surpassed my worries about being simply "a war movie" by rooting everything in humanity. It's a good addition to the Star Wars universe. Oh, and other than one or two scenes, the 3D didn't really do much; The Force Awakens was beautiful in 3D but this one would've been fine in 2D.

Okay, now for the spoiler-riddled comments.

Don't keep reading if you haven't seen the film; you have been warned.

Probably most of us were at least slightly apprehensive on hearing that Rogue One would be "a war movie." Sure, all the Star Wars films have plenty of fighting--but if the battles were the central part to this new film enough that it's called a war movie while the rest aren't, then would there be enough of the heart of Star Wars left? I was starting to think that it just wouldn't be my favorite of the films, and I was getting comfortable enough with that idea. If there were going to be plenty of standalone films, then they could all offer something different; I didn't have to like all of them.

And then I saw some interviews with the director, Gareth Edwards. He seemed quieter spoken, the thoughtful sort--and from that, I trusted him. I knew from seeing him that he wouldn't just make an action movie about hacking off limbs--he would put the humanity in the story. And that humanity is exactly what made Rogue One so moving.

About a third of the way through the film, I reflected on how sad it was. I realized then that what makes this film a war movie isn't the fighting: it's the sadness. War is hell, right? Not just because of physical injuries but because of how things affect you on a deeper level. That's what Rogue One shows.

Take, for instance, the early scene with Cassian. He seems like a nice guy, someone who fights for what's right and protects others. And then you see him just kill the other man (sorry, I haven't learned all the names yet) without hesitation in order to simplify the situation and get himself out alive. That's when you realize that this is war, with no shortcuts and no fictionalized miracles. Cassian makes the hard choices because he has to.

Whereas the main Star Wars episodes are sweeping dramas about the great ones, the ones whose actions rule the fate of the galaxy, the ones driven by the Force and using the Force to accomplish great deeds for good or ill, Rogue One is just about people, the people on whose backs the rest of the great deeds fall. There is nothing great about Jyn or even particularly good or likable. Cassian is just one captain among many. The rest of their team is a collection of more people who are indistinguishable in the grand scheme of things but completely individual in their personalities and choices as human beings (or, um, alien beings--how about sentient beings?). Their stories don't usually get told, though not because their contributions are without meaning.

I said to someone a couple months back that all the characters would probably die at the end of Rogue One. It seemed kind of obvious, right? If you had all these characters accomplishing this great deed and yet they never get a mention again later on (during the events of Episode IV), then that has to be because they're not alive anymore. So I was expecting them all to die--but I wasn't expecting to care.

Somehow, in between all of the deeds of this film, each character got enough of their being expressed that we were sad to see them come to an end. Grateful for the difference they made for good, we mourned them as individuals. Saw Gerrera, Galen Erso, Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, K-2SO, and at last Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor. Both Jyn and Cassian never really had a life in the traditional sense: they had to always fight for simply another day. Cassian in particular I felt for because I think the type of life he would have lived would've been so different from the one that he had to live. That scene with the two of them sitting beside the water on the beach was so beautiful and so heartbreaking; it's become one of my favorite Star Wars images.

Alright, I've covered the heavier material. Now for a few other notes, from the beginning.

We all knew there wouldn't be an opening crawl to this movie. The choice to include the "long time ago" and then later on show the title worked--although I almost felt like it needed just a little something more (perhaps just because it's so different to not have an opening crawl).

I was worried about Michael Giacchino's score sounding too much like the Star Trek reboot films, and it didn't. There were some Star Wars and Star Wars like themes in there--that dramatic, sorrowful strand reminded me somewhat of one of the themes in Episode II. So the music was fine. What did remind me too much of Star Trek, however, was the use of the location labels for different scenes in the first part of the movie. I could've done without the labeling: they aren't necessary to tell that each is in a different place, and probably the only people who care about learning the names of the places will read them in the novelization and visual guide, anyway. They give more of a modern, sci-fi look to the film that I found unnecessary (Star Wars forever being, in my mind, fantasy rather than sci-fi).

I've already mentioned that I didn't think this film particularly benefited from 3D. The ships looked nice in 3D, and the shaft where Cassian was shot (I'll learn the names of all these places later) was wonderfully dizzy-looking. Other than that, though, I could have gone with 2D.

There was something about the cinematography of this film that looked very different to other Star Wars films. All of you photography people can probably describe it, but I almost can't put my finger on it. Were there more close-ups? Less sweeping shots? Something that made it all more suited toward the stories of basic people versus the sweeping dramas of the "ones at the top."

When I was watching this film, I felt like I was reading a Star Wars book instead of watching a Star Wars movie. This is because the books have the chance to visit many different locations and see many different types of people, which the films can't always do. This one, however, did. The main cast is diverse-looking, as are the crowds of other characters. When Jyn and Cassian are walking through the streets on their way to find Saw Gerrera, you have this sense of a whole world inhabited by all sorts of people going about all sorts of business. Everything visual fit in with the Star Wars universe look while also expanding on what we've seen so far.

Catalyst made for a perfect prequel novel to Rogue One. It was such a seamless starting point; I love how the two worked together. I did wonder, however, if the beginning of the movie might confuse people who hadn't read that book. There was a lot of exposition, and I wonder if some of it couldn't have been done a little smoother. But I think the main plot is obvious enough that it's okay if it takes a couple of watches to understand all the details.

I have to give one note on Cassian and Jyn. I appreciate that there is simply a barely hinted at love story. If you don't want to see it, you don't have to: it isn't really there. It's more of a ghost of a hint, formed in some of the camera angles or in how close the two characters stand in certain scenes. There is no talk of love and no kiss while sitting at death's door; I appreciate that. It's more bittersweet if you're left to wonder if they would have fallen in love if they had lived longer, and it's also more tragic if they're simply two people who hug each other because they're dying together and not because they love each other romantically. Whether or not they fell in love with each other, I've fallen in love with them, with that image of them.

"I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me."

How many times more will we hear that phrase? It has passed into legend, a mythical phrase that will be on repeat for now and ever. It creates a beautiful theme that speaks for the whole film and for what the characters discover during the course of events. It's also a result of this movie's unique approach to the Force. This is the first time that we don't really have a Force-user. No Jedi, no Sith. Darth Vader is only in there a bit at the end; he isn't a main player. Chirrut Imwe believes in and uses the Force, but in an untaught way--he knows the theme of it more than anything. Lyra believed in the Force and she passed that belief on to Jyn, but neither of them can use the Force, so their belief is more like belief in an unseen God, someone you can't see but whom you choose to believe is watching out for you. It makes for an interesting contrast to Luke's, Anakin's, and Rey's struggles to learn how to wield the Force. It also gave a way for this film to not show the "great characters" and still keep familiar Star Wars themes.

Are all my comments glowing? I don't know whether or not I mean for them to be glowing. I did think this was a good movie, and it added much that was good to the Star Wars universe. I still think, though, that it might not be my personal favorite--and I still think that's okay. On one level, this film was extremely moving--it has a stellar effect that probably surpasses everything except for the final battle in Return of the Jedi when Luke refuses to keep fighting, which leads his father to save him. But it does have a lot of the battles, and so I'm not sure how rewatchability will be for me. Still, I keep replaying my favorite moments in my head, and looking through the visual guide, and thinking about when I'll see the movie again.

They didn't miss a single opportunity with this film, and they made it into everything that it could be.

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