The Farce Is With Me and I Am the Farce
So in what is likely going to be a year tradition now, I have seen Disney’s new Star Wars’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now I get to tell you all about it.
Only, I don’t think I will. I feel like most people will already have their minds made up about Rogue One, regardless of if they have seen it or not. We’re at a crossroads, if you will. Or perhaps it is a turning point. Maybe it is a precipice – hell if I can tell. All I know is that either you agree with me or not. I simply suspect that actually seeing the movie is irrelevant to the discussion.
In the name of simplicity, I’ll just give my feelings now in the first 200 words: I think Rogue One is an unfortunate mess of two conflicting tones and concepts that lurches between them through haphazard editing and an divisive vision. To throw it a bone, it’s better than the prequels. To put it in perspective, it’s worse than the originals.
And having seen two modern “modern Star Wars” I don’t think this refrain is apt to be changed at this point. I believe this comes down in large part due to intent. There was a real desire to create with the first Star Wars: to break molds and challenge conventions. The series now, however, has shuffled back to one of a position of enshrinement. People are trying to preserve like a crusty curator hoping to pass off old relics with a little bit of spit shine and dusting. But they’re still aged pieces, no matter how shiny and gilded you make their new frames. You might touch up a few cracks in the canvas. Maybe do a touch of restoration to bring back some of the faded colour. But you’re not creating anymore. You’re pining. Unfortunately, time moves on and for all the hard work done it is only so much futile resistance against the endless march. There’s a certain bit of sadness to it, I feel, if you get past all the agonising issues.
Not that my grumpy feelings on the matter amount to anything anyway. It’ll smash box offices. People will laud it’s achievements as being revolutionary. And then the next Star Wars will release next year and Rogue One will be pushed to the side. Just like that. I wonder if people will even remember it as simply a reproduction. I wonder if they’ll remember it at all.
I suspect they won’t.
And I find myself pausing and looking back at the state of affairs. How did we get here? I remember when I was a child and the original series was being re-released to theatres. Oh the furore over the special editions. I had seen the originals, of course. I wasn’t alive when they were released. I am not that ancient. But my parents had been and they’d enjoyed it. So they eagerly bundled me up, enthusiastic to relive the excitement with their child. Course, the special releases were quite special. There’s been far too many words devoted to what happened there. But they were successful and that bled into the prequel trilogy. And there’s definitely been far too many words devoted to sand for me to add to that discussion. But they too were successful. And now we’ve come to the third take as Disney hones in on what they love doing most: making money.
Perhaps if this phenomenon were devoted solely to Star Wars then I’d feel more inclined to rail against it. But it’s not. It’s simply another notch in a very long trend. We’re in the throes of the “cinematic universes.” I want to say this nonsense started with Lord of the Rings. It’s the very problem I’ve written about in the state of novels. Entertainment has morphed into this obsession with series – the content of the entertainment be damned. It’s less important than finding worthwhile stories, quality stories, than it is about making sure you squeeze out even more from your brand. We’re inundated with these throttling things. It’s the Stupid Hero Era where screen time is devoted more to how many laser beams you can fire per minute than on the characters being inordinately gunned down by them.
And frankly, I just can’t care. It’s not like the movies give me any reason to. The characters of Rogue One are about as interesting as any of the other endless faces propped up in these mindless flicks. In fact, the movie even goes so far as to resurrect old familiar faces in order to do the heavy lifting of emotional attachment since the work done for their new ones as as thread bare as ever. And there might be a number of wonders CGI can perform but bringing a person back from the dead still lies solely out of its purview. Though I applaud the effort nonetheless.
On some level, I can understand how we’ve come to this sorry state of affairs. We crave what we’ve previously enjoyed. We clutch to the fond memories, unwilling to give them up. But can you imagine the state of our entertainment if we had attached ourselves so fiercely to past productions as we have now? We’d be embroiled in the cinematic universe of Shakespeare, trying desperately to tie the madness of King Lear’s Fool and speculating whether he survived long enough to become Feste in the Twelfth Night XXII: Revenge of Maria Malvolio III.
And, perhaps, this is a symptom of our current copyright. At least with Shakespeare, since he lives in the public domain, revisiting the old work isn’t a problem. His plays are featured endlessly even now on stages both prestigious or pubescent. However, since anyone is allowed access to his work, there is less devotion to seeing it kept faithful. There’s been so many re-imaginings and retellings that what lies underneath is barely noticeable in the first place. 10 Things I Hate About You is about as recognizable as Taming of the Shrew as Clueless is of being Emma. Interest can still be mined from these concepts as they aren’t so much derivations but different visions. Their success or failure has no effect on the originals or their value. There exists no concern over a “brand” and maintaining the interest of said brand within the public consciousness.
Rogue One, however, is part of a brand. And it’s a very poor part indeed. It tries to maintain the same message and tone all the while directly contradicting and stumbling over the very toes of the piece it hopes to cash in on with your nostalgia. We’re not trying to see the themes and characters of Star Wars in a new light. We’re not seeing a poignant reinterpretation of a beloved story to reflect modern themes, struggles or problems. We’re seeing a tired horse trotted out with a new bridle, hopeful that most won’t see the emptiness of the act because this time it’ll hop a more colourful bar.
I don’t know if there had been an attempt to do otherwise. There are certainly moments that suggest Rogue One – at one time – existed as a darker war story to examine the more fearful elements of living beneath Star War’s fascist rule. But it’s mostly lost in drawn out action beats that are both poorly contextualized and rushed out one after the other so none have any particular weight. Much has been said about Star Wars revolutionizing the modern film by enforcing the standard of an action beat every ten minutes. What was originally conceived as a cinematic nod to the serialized adventure origins of these tales has turned into a cemented cinematic truth that has done more harm than good. I’ve made peace that any mainline Star Wars movie is going to hop from laser fight to laser fight with silly people in plastic costuming falling over. But Rogue One was their chance to get away from such empty conventions. Instead, it falls into them gleefully, hoping that the action itself will speak for the characters given so little screen time themselves. You don’t come to like Jyn and her merry band for who they are. You are meant to like them because you see them shoot lasers a lot or smack obvious space Nazis with sticks. They’re good. Their enemies are bad. It’s sad when they struggle. It’s happy when they succeed.
There’s little plot in order to tie it together. There’s little motivation for you to care. It’s a spectacle with as much flair as a fireworks display and as much meaning to it too.
So, in the end, if the latest Hollywood trend has left you feeling empty and longing for more – seeking something different to inject life into an industry more concerned with milking safe investments and enforcing tried and true structures – then you will be let down. If you solely want a spectacle to fill two hours then it’s fine. At this point it doesn’t seem to matter. Whether you like it or not will be determined long before you set foot into the theatre.
And either way we won’t care about it anywhere near as much as what it’s trying to ape in the first place.