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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One: An Exploration of Modern Storytelling

A Rogue One review and random thought from Brian.

Sunday night I had the privilege of seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in the theater. Seven friends and I piled into one row in a nearly empty theater at 11PM (one of us had already seen the movie earlier that day) and the experience, for me, was not as exciting as I had hoped. This is by no means a bad movie - in fact, it was really good - but I had a hard time caring.

Let's get this out of the way: I'm not a Star Wars fan. I appreciate it the way that I appreciate The Rolling Stones - I respect what it's done for the medium, but it's not something I have lot of emotional investment in. So take that into consideration as you continue to read (And take note, spoilers ahead. If you do not want the plot of Rogue One spoiled for you, stop reading now).

Rogue One lost me at the very beginning. As the story continued, it lost me more and more. While Rogue One was a good, fun movie, it did not, in my opinion, do anything new.

At the beginning of the film we find a little brunette girl running from an approaching Emperical ship. She enters a farmer's dwelling very reminiscent of Luke's Aunt and Uncle's place on Tattooine. The girls' parents start making preparations while saying ominous things like, "You know what to do" and "They've found us." Seriously, how many movies have we seen open this way? The Commander and his troops, for no apparent reason, park about 500 yards from the house, when they could have landed right next to the house. So while they walk from their ship to the house the family has time to put their "plan" into action. This is where I checked out: I realized that this girl is our protagonist (Jyn Erso) and she's about to be orphaned.

I'm so burned out on the orphan-hero story. How many times have we seen this? How many heroes in modern storytelling can you think of that aren't orphans? Think about it: Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Supergirl, Iron Man, Star Lord, Groot, Hellboy, Littlefoot, Frodo, Harry Potter, Aladdin, Cinderella - the list goes on and on! Come to think of it, Luke, Leia, and Anakin Skywalker were all orphans! It's difficult to think of a modern protagonist who's story does not begin with the loss of their parents, or, being adopted and/or raised by someone who is not their paternal parents! I'm tired of it. For one, as a parent, it depresses me. Second, it just feels lazy at this point. There has to be some other catalyst for urging a character into embarking on the adventure you're trying to formulate. But the biggest reason that it bothers me in the case of Rogue One is because it was completely unnecessary. There was no orphan story needed to make the stakes of this movie higher.

The only goal of this movie was to set up the mission of destroying the Death Star in Episode IV. In my opinion the story of Jyn's father being one of the designers of the Death Star was superfluous. Add on the retcon of explaining that the reason the Death Star had such a major design flaw that was Galen Erso placed that target in the system for the Rebels to capitalize on (a detail added based on the years of speculation as to why the Death Star was so easily destroyed by Luke Skywalker). The details of Jyn's father being used by the Empire to build their super-weapon added a few touching moments, Jyn seeing her father's hologram and hearing him pining for her and their short moments together before Galen's death, but it was integral to the story that needed to be told.

This is by no means a bad movie - not even close - it just didn't grab me the way I expected. I was more excited about Rogue One than I was about Episode VII last year. But I honestly enjoyed The Force Awakens more (although I had a lot of the same issues with that one, being a copy of A New Hope plot-wise). Rogue One was a Star Wars movie almost completely void of Jedi activity or use of the Force, except for the brief moments when Darth Vader appeared. Heck yes, Darth Vader! The last 5 minutes of this film was the most exciting, seeing Vader throwing people around with his mind and whipping his light saber around. But Vader was the only Jedi in the movie - no other Force use or light sabers! I know that was kind of the point, but it felt like something was missing. The entire movie was worth watching just to see Vader on screen doing awesome stuff - something I've wanted since Return Of The Jedi (haven't we all?).

Rogue One was not a disappointment like Suicide Squad was, but they both made similar mistakes. Rogue One could have been Ocean's 11 with Star Wars Rebels, but instead we got the story of an orphaned girl whose father was involved in building the Death Star. The first our and forty-five minutes of this movie just feels jumbled and off-kilt. The first twenty minutes had at least a dozen establishing shots complete with titles to explain what the audience is seeing, but they none of those locations were important later in the story. Why? All of that was completely unnecessary! I didn't need words on the screen to tell me I was looking a prison camp - it looked like a dismal, gloomy prison. The last thirty minutes of the 2 h 14 m run time is what we build up to and, for the most part, it's worth it. Space battles make my head spin because there's so much going on, but it's entertaining. The means by which they obtain the Death Star plans and deliver them to the rebels is heroic, daring, and, ultimately, sacrificial. As expected, everyone involved in the extraction of the Death Star plans dies. This was necessary to make Leia's line in Episode IV regarding the plans hold weight.

I would most definitely recommend that every geek see this movie - even non-geeks. It's a fun film and worth the watch. I was just hoping for a different story than what we received. I still have high hopes for the other upcoming one-shot films in production. Part of me was hoping that Rogue One would be the film that turned me into a committed Star ward fan, but it did not. Let's see if Episode VIII can do the job.

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