Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Which A Star Wars Newbie Reviews Rogue One


Everything that’s ever been created has a fandom. If a single person loves a movie, book, show, webseries, or comic, then a fandom has been birthed. But there are some fandoms that are larger and more extensive than others. Growing up, I considered there to be a “big four” in fandom when it came to film: Lord of the Rings, MCU and/or DC, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. This is a generalization, but pretty much everyone I know falls into at least one of those fandom camps. And if you are, you’re very rarely lukewarm about your fandom — you’re all-in. You know the canon forwards and backwards. You can recite lines from the films by heart. And you’ve probably argued with a family member or friend about something in the film at least once.

In that “big four,” I’m a Harry Potter girl. I’m a proud Hufflepuff — learning to embrace my true Hufflepuff self, rather than insisting I would fall into Ravenclaw has been one of the greatest maturations of my character, and that’s probably not an exaggeration — and I’ve seen every film at least four different times. I fall in love with the franchise every time I visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and still wonder what my Patronus might be (sorry, Pottermore, but a snowy hare? Really?). I still get chills whenever I hear “Hedwig’s Theme” or any variation of it.

But I’ve never taken an interest in Lord of the Rings (I have fallen asleep during every movie), and my interest with the MCU/DC film franchises has been limited (Avengers? Cool! But don’t ask me to get the subtle comic references and/or nuances). And, as you might have guessed by the title of this piece, I never got into Star Wars.

Whenever I tell people this, they are baffled. I vaguely remember watching the original trilogy while at a sleepover in high school. Considering the fact that it was a sleepover and we were watching the films way into the wee hours of the morning, you can imagine how much information about the canon and characters I retained. To this day, I’ve seen chunks of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi (and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the other, lesser-liked trilogy). So when Chelsea visited me last year and insisted that we see The Force Awakens together, you can imagine my response. I heard the film was getting good reviews but as a non-Star Wars fan, I was along for the experience, not the canon or universe.

I really loved The Force Awakens though — it had just enough in it to entice people like me, who aren’t as invested in the universe and (I imagine) plenty for those hardcore fans to appreciate too. So given my appreciation for that film, I figured that I would see Rogue One. It had gotten pretty solid reviews, and I had watched the Twitter Q&A with the cast, who seemed delightful. Plus, given the fact that it was a prequel to A New Hope, I knew — going into it — how certain parts would fit together. I saw the film with a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd (seeing it with me marked his seventh time seeing it), who filled in a few gaps for me and provided interesting little nuggets of information. But to my pleasant surprise, I was able to follow the story pretty closely and accurately without having an extensive knowledge of Star Wars canon.

As a relative Star Wars newbie, I thought that I might give you my feedback on the aspects of the film from a writing perspective — the characters and plot and conflict — and how I felt they all tied together. Ready? Grab a lightsaber (... am I doing this right?) and join me!

Disclaimer: Some spoilers ahoy. Don't read if you want to stay completely spoiler-free.


JYN ERSO


I’m kind of in love with the fact that the most recent Star Wars films have been centered on female protagonists. Not that the originals weren’t (Leia was a fearsome female character and a precursor to a lot of what we see in film now), but it still wasn’t Leia’s ultimate story — it was Luke’s. Now, we have Rey’s story and Jyn’s story. As I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but compare the two characters in my head. After all, Rey is still such a fresh character and Jyn is dissimilar and yet similar to her in a lot of ways.

But I ultimately realized I can’t compare these two women. It isn’t fair to either of them. Both are heroes, and both for different reasons. Rey for her constant persistence and resilience, and Jyn — I think — for her pretty awesome character development. When we meet Jyn, she’s in prison. She’s a criminal, and the Alliance decides they can use her to get an extremist (and former protector/friend/pseudo-parent) named Saw Gererra out of hiding and lure him to them. But while Saw has let his Rebel attitude lead him toward extremism against the Empire, Jyn has no allegiance. She has no dog in this fight, and when Saw questions her attitude and whether or not she could live under an Imperial flag, she tells him that it doesn’t matter to her, so long as she never looks up.

That was what really struck me about Jyn. She’s a survivor. She doesn’t care about the rebellion or about the Empire — she cares about living to see tomorrow. And she can’t sacrifice her life for something she doesn’t think really affects her. There’s so much deep political commentary in Rogue One that it’s fascinating; do we only care about justice and fighting for what’s right when it directly affects us? When we see what NOT fighting will do? Don’t most of us find it easy to ignore injustice when it doesn’t personally hit home? Cassian tells Jyn as much at one point in the film — he’s been fighting since he was six years old, but she just decided to care about doing what’s right because she watched it impact her family.

In the end, though, pain affects us all and drives us closer to who we were meant to be or further away. For Jyn, pain and the pain of injustice drives her to become the hero she always was. Her eyes are opened and she can see the world for what it is: broken, in need of defending. She becomes a full-on rebel, and it’s a brilliant character arc. But more than just that, Jyn learns to hope again. She learns how to lead a rebellion based on hope and fighting for a better future.

I loved Jyn, and I thought she was an incredibly compelling character. I wanted her to succeed once she realized who she was and what she was capable of — once she was willing to stand for something and fight for it. I can’t ask for more in a hero than that.


THE... ROMANCE?


Okay, here’s one part where Rogue One fell a bit flat for me. There wasn’t enough time to adequately build up a romance between Cassian and Jyn, and yet the film tried to do that (or at least heavily implied it). I’m not opposed to romance in action films, but there has to be enough lead-up to that romance to make it believable. Cassian and Jyn spent so much time acting normal around one another that when suddenly they were in each other’s personal space and holding hands, it felt odd — and rushed, like the film felt it needed that element at the very end to keep me invested (yes, blah blah blah, they faced life and death stuff together... but that is simply not enough justification for closeness without lead-up).

I know that this romantic aspect is not overt, and was more so heavily implied. But to try and suggest that they suddenly fell for one another didn’t feel earned enough for me to believe it (and trust me, I can ship anything and anyone pretty quickly). They’re both compelling characters and both very pretty people, but I just didn’t get the implied romance. Sorry.


CASSIAN


I kind of wish we had spent just a tad more time on Cassian’s character. Ironically out of all of the crew, I felt like I knew the least about him. Chirrut mentions this line about prisons not always being external, and it seems to strike a chord with Cassian, but that’s about all we get in terms of his backstory. I felt like I understood Chirrut as a character more than Cassian, which isn’t necessarily problematic, but it just felt like he wasn’t QUITE as rounded out as I would have liked.

(But if not having him as well-rounded means we get an exceptionally well-rounded female protagonist, then that’s a writing choice I’m willing to live with.)


COMIC RELIEF


God bless this film’s comic relief. I was kind of worried going into it that it would be a lot more serious than The Force Awakens. And in a lot of ways, it is. Rogue One isn’t a fun story about traipsing through the galaxy with adorable little BB-8 sidekick rolling around beside you. It’s a war story. It’s a heist story, in some ways. It’s a story where the stakes are incredibly high. But even in really serious stories, there needs to be some levity.

That levity came mostly in the form of Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO.

Guys, I love Alan Tudyk. I love how he’s the constant source of comic relief in really heavy (or even not-so-heavy) things like Moana and Firefly. His new NBC show, Powerless, is hilarious and after watching him in this film, I’m more bummed than ever that he was whisked away at this year’s Comic-Con party before I got the chance to talk to him.

But K-2SO was desperately needed in this film, and Tudyk’s delivery and dry wit were what made me consistently giggle. Though his character was the source of levity, I think the funniest line in the entire film goes to Chirrut — a blind man — who gets taken away by Saw’s men and incredulously asks why they’re putting a bag over his head, because HE’S BLIND. Even though Rogue One is heavy and a lot of the action is driven by the plot, I’m glad some humor was incorporated to remind us that even though saving the galaxy from a weapon of mass destruction is important, so is snarkily talking back to a robot.


HOW IT ENDS


I wondered going into the film if knowing how it ends (that the rebels would acquire the plans to the Death Star and Leia would have them by the film’s end) would make Rogue One’s ending underwhelming. I don’t think that was the case here, but I also don’t know that I was as satisfied as I could have been if the film had taken place outside of an important canon event.

What Rogue One did exceptionally well, however, was make me care about the characters who were fighting in a battle where I knew the outcome. I wanted everyone to make it out alive, and was rooting for them and their journeys. I was invested in that, even knowing that Jyn eventually would get the plans back to the Alliance because that’s how A New Hope begins. The transition from Rogue One to A New Hope was always going to be an interesting one, but the movie, impressively, did it justice. That scene with Darth Vader was awesome, and the reveal of the young Leia was AMAZING.

Even though I feel like the movie still shoehorned into a specific timeframe with a specific ending, it’s the execution that really matters and ultimately Rogue One did a good job.


THE FORCE


I loved Chirrut and I love the emphasis on the Force throughout the film. It’s subtle, in the crystal that Jyn’s mother places around her neck, but it’s there. From the bit I know about Star Wars, the Force is this spiritual thing and Chirrut’s praying and belief in it is what contributes to the plans ultimately being sent to the Alliance. Baze thinks him foolish for praying and for risking his life and claiming that it’s — essentially — because of the power of prayer, but Chirrut is resilient in his belief system and will not waver in his faith. It’s pretty cool, and it eventually impacts Baze enough to briefly carry on Chirrut’s legacy. The emphasis on the Force wasn’t the same as in The Force Awakens (because there wasn’t an emphasis on Jedi), but it was subtle and there and I liked the focus on it without aforementioned focus being an overkill.


THE CONFLICT


(For the record, Chelsea and I both agree that it’s pretty satisfying to have The Force Awakens and Rogue One both center on central female protagonists (yay females can be heroes!) and heroes who are nearly all people of color — diversity in heroism is so important, and I like the emphasis on that, and the fact that The Force Awakens and Rogue One utilize their casts so well.)

Nevertheless, apart from the cool CGI facts I learned about Tarkin, the central antagonists were pretty standard. What I appreciated more about Rogue One than The Force Awakens is that the real villains aren’t necessarily Krennic or even Vader in Rogue One — they’re really the figureheads of the larger problem. Kylo Ren was the villain in The Force Awakens and he was a really bland one, at that (hello broody manchild). But for the central conflict of Rogue One to fixate more on this battle between the rebels and the Empire was more satisfying than seeing a one-on-one showdown between Jyn and Krennic.

The movie knew this, of course, which is why the major showdown between the two characters is not major. Jyn delivers her great little monologue and then it’s pretty much over. There’s not a drawn-out fight sequence because fighting has already been happening on the ground and in the air; sacrifices have been made for the sake of hope, and that’s what the film is all about in a nutshell — the desire for hope in the midst of hopelessness.

I don’t know about you all, but that’s something I’m desperate to hear every day.


CONCLUSION


Ultimately, Rogue One felt like a satisfying character journey slash war story to me. Every war story has a central hero, and I’m glad this time around it was Jyn leading the charge. Every major and minor character who participated sacrificed themselves for the hope in a better future — in a world that is just a little bit brighter than the one they’re currently living in.

Rogue One is about fighting for what you believe in, even if it costs you everything. And that’s a message I can get behind.

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