• Member Since 12th May, 2012
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archonix


The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. – Yeats

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Jan
14th
2017

Nostalgia (or reasons why I thought Rogue One was probably the best Star Wars movie since Jedi) · 1:04pm Jan 14th, 2017

I'm in a nostalgic mood, fired up by listening to old TV themes (and possibly by remembering why I stopped programming last time). In particular, the theme to Tomorrow's World, a show that I practically grew up on and that probably did more than any other thing to influence my generally positive attitude about technology and the future. Javascript notwithstanding.

It's bright and hopeful, reflecting a view that technological advancement would inevitably make things better over time, even if there were screw-ups and dumb shit happened - and happen if often did, as the show was broadcast almost entirely live. Then, in the 90s, they replaced that hopeful and bombastic theme with a floating baby and a vague mess of anodyne nonsense and switched to pre-recorded demonstrations, which meant nothing went wrong any more and everything was perfect and shiny, and it all felt a bit hollow and cynical.

But what does this have to do with Rogue One? Obviously there will be spoilers as I answer that question.

Rogue One is nostalgia. Not in the way you'd think, of Star Wars fans pining for the grubby, close-quartered, practical-effect-laden "realism" of The Empire Strikes Back, or of luddites clamouring against CGI for the sake of it (though they are out there). The Force Awakens, a soft reboot of the franchise, gave us all of that in spades (and for all its flaws, I thought it was a great film).

Rather than that of the fans, Rogue One is Hollywood's nostalgia. I'll explain why in a moment, but first I want to get something else out of my system.

In the lead up to the release of the film, there was a lot of noise on the twatters and facefucks and dumblrs about how Rogue One was going to be some sort of [progressive/PC-thug] [nightmare/wet dream] with its cast of [shoehorned racial stereotypes/carefully chosen representations of ethnic diversity] (delete as applicable). It was annoying, both as a fan of Star Wars and as a lover of film in general, to see so called fans and even the one of the writers indulging in what - as it turned out - were complete fantasies about what the film was going to be.

Well no, I say it died out: to an extent, initially, there was still some fuss from the twitterati about the first major setting of the film: Jedha. A world under Imperial occupation that kinda sorta resembled the imagery we're familiar with from the allied invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the name sounds similar to Jeddah.

Oh screw the handwaving: it was a complete transplant. Jedha was the Empire as the evil westerners invading the poor brown people and stealing their mineral riches to fund the military-industrial war machine. As apparent satire goes, it wasn't all that hard to miss. I can see why this would annoy people. It annoyed me.

At least, it annoyed me at first, until I thought about it for a few minutes.

Writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction often create parallels between the imagined world of their story and the real world. Sometimes it's a way to make a point, or to exorcise feelings and emotions that they can't otherwise express. In more cases than not, it's a way to create a familiar and striking image in the mind of the reader. We're all familiar with the sight of MRAPs crowding down narrow streets and soldiers bunched up behind them as militias toss grenades and blaze away with AKs. For many of us (though not me, because I'm old), it has been a constant image since childhood. A film maker who didn't appropriate that imagery and recycle it into a film with a war theme would be an idiot.

And the reason I point this out is simple: the first major setting of the film was Iraq, a very powerful image of war, and that's where one segment of the media luvvies of clustered in their praise, because it fit into their narrow complaints about the world. They held it up as some sort of triumphant rebuff against the warmongers of the other side.

This was a mistake.

I say it was a mistake because Scarif, the second major setting and the part that made me realise this was a nostalgia product above anything else, contradicts that praise by almost completely reversing the imagery associated with the two sides.

From the greenery, the identikit foe sent out to die by the thousands, the troops landing by "helicopter" - complete with door gunner - and the chin-straps dangling from standard issue US military M1-patterned helmets, Scarif was a poorly disguised Vietnam War. Where before the Rebels were some combination of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurds and Afghanis, now they become the ragged, war-worn veterans of US wars past, fighting for their freedom against the ever-encroaching threat of the collectivist empire of faceless bad-guys who want to destroy freedom, individual liberty and blue milk sundaes.

Of course I call it poorly disguised because, in truth, Scarif about as like Vietnam as Mad Max is like Australia, or Jedha like Iraq. The parallels are superficial - they are of sight and sound and feeling rather than purpose. Nevertheless, they are there, and they serve their purpose in the film by quickly crafting an emotional canvas that the viewer connects with.

I call this nostalgia because that imagery resonates particularly well with Hollywood, and to a lesser extent with the audiences that grew up when the original Star Wars made its initial theatrical run. In many ways, the 70s up to the early 80s were a highpoint for the film industry, a time when films were still made for US audiences in particular and any international success was more of a side-effect than a distinct aim. The War movie was big, guaranteed to bring in the crowds. Vietnam was on the TV every day, with endless, loving footage of helicopters with gunners hanging off the sides as they patrolled over rolling, tropical forest that would shortly be turned to so much charcoal.

It's a nostalgia for the time when Star Wars was made, rather than for the film itself. A time when blockbuster hollywood movies were more adventurous, less constrained by strict adherence to faddish ideas about perfect beats; where you could have silences stretching to minutes instead of a constant litany of action; a time when movies were paradoxically more inclusive and diverse in their casting, because they had less concern for appealing to the broadest worldwide audience possible - and so were less likely to seek the lowest common denominator.

Of course, like all nostalgia (mine included), Rogue One remembers an idealised version of those times. Most film from that era was shit. War is hell. Pacing was more often than not tightly confined and the demands of budgets and overbearing studios meant that scripts stuck to formula as strict as any of the current trends for page-counted act structures and beats timed to the second. And again, like all nostalgia, the film only takes the superficial elements of its memory to work with which, in the hands of the less competent, can easily result in something of a pastiche of poorly connected remakes of other, better scenes from other, better films.

I'm looking at you, TFA.

Rogue One is a good film. I won't say a great film, but a good one. Like Empire, it's a bridge between parts, filling in a little bit of the gap between the prequels (blech) and A New Hope. It set things up, rather than being an end unto itself. It provokes nostalgia, which can be manipulative when handled badly, but takes the imagery of that nostalgia and uses it to great effect. The result is reasonably balanced, exciting and above all hopeful, which is ultimately all you can ask for in a film that kills off the entire main cast and ends with the good guys running for their lives.

Does it have issues? Of course it does, but most of those issues are blemishes rather than structural problems. The pacing of the early scene transitions was a little wonky, and it would have benefited from more down time, but it held up overall. Structurally perfect films are a little boring anyway.

More than anything, Rogue One gave me hope for the franchise. I know that one day Star Wars will suffer the same problem that any long-running franchise suffers - it will stagnate and end up stinking to high heaven, but for now I'm getting the Star Wars films I've wanted since before George Lucas invented Jar Jar, and I couldn't be happier.

Report archonix · 286 views · #rogue one #review
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Comments ( 4 )

Yeah, Rogue One is very good.

And I'm quite optimistic about the future of Disney Wars, too. They are ruthless and greedy, but unlike too many greedy people in Hollywood and elsewhere, they've understood the secret: Make a quality product the audience likes, and you can keep on raking the money. Just as with Marvel, they're going to take extremely good care of their gold egg laying goose.

sorry didnt seen movie yet and tend to avoid spoilers
Maybe later

I agree that Rogue One is pretty good, if a bit tragic at the end... But it makes me wonder: will we be getting a similar film for the time between episodes 1&2, when Anakin Skywalker was training to be a Jedi? Will we finally see a lightsaber being built in cinematic glory, or will we forever be denied this important experience?

Also, something I saw out there tells me Rey from Force Awakens has another concern: in the second film starring Anakin, he lost his hand (episode 2,) and in the second episode starring Luke (episode 5) he lost his hand. If Rey is in any way related to Luke (or possibly Leia,) she better watch out.

As a friend of mine says, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern. Only time will tell

Simply removing Jar Jar doubles the quality.

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