Note: The movie’s been out a few months now, so any spoilers you stumble across herein are your own damned fault.
I loved Rogue One. It is my favorite movie in the Star Wars franchise short of Empire Strikes Back, just edging out Return of the Jedi for the second spot. A lot of people didn’t like it as much though. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but I think the movie deserves an explanation for the root of my glowing praise. So, let me answer the movie’s criticisms with why I feel those perceived weaknesses are actually strengths.
Critique 1: It Didn’t Feel Like a Star Wars Movie
Okay, so Rogue One does not have the same tone or style of the other Star Wars movies. This, of course, was intentional, as this movie is not meant to be exactly like the other Star Wars movies. This is one of its chief advantages, in my opinion.
First off, last week I explained how I felt that Lego Batman was a miserable slog primarily because the source material has been permitted to stagnate. Same thing has been happening to Star Wars for some time now. My chief criticism of The Force Awakens is that, while I love the characters, the plot of the movie was formulaic, dull, and often nonsensical – Abrams is just pushing the buttons labelled “Star Wars” and not really doing anything new and interesting in terms of plot, setting, or even dramatic tension. Star Wars, it is assumed, has to be a family story about the mystical struggle between the Light and Dark Side. Throw in an alien monster (at least 1 per movie, every movie), one lightsaber duel, one space battle, and one commando raid of some kind and I’ve just described every single Star Wars film with two exceptions: Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One.
Rogue One is not a family story. It’s not even a tale of good vs evil. It’s a war movie – specifically, a straight up homage to World War 2 movies like The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, and The Guns of Navarone.
This is a story about a bunch of rag-tag commandos with conflicting priorities who team up to to take out a fascist superweapon and, in the process, almost all die. They gun down stormtroopers. They go undercover. Get locked inside restricted facilities. They fight on top of high towers and/or mountains. They have a sniper. There’s always one dude you aren’t sure you can trust. The mission seems impossible. No one will remember their names. And on and on and on…
We always knew the Empire was the Nazis, but this is the first movie to actually show what that means.
Yeah, it’s not your average Star Wars story, but it’s a story that makes all the other Star Wars stories (1) make more sense and (2) gain a greater sense of what’s at stake. The Empire is depicted in its full brutality here in a way the other films don’t bother. We get a broader sense of the scope of the world and the risks people have to take. So, no – there are no Jedi, no Skywalkers, no glorious victories, no larger-than-life stunts. It’s regular people trying to do incredible things. I love that.
Critique 2: The Characters Aren’t Greatly Developed
Okay, on the one hand I can see what you’re saying – they could have done a better job in some spots of making these people more rounded and involved. That said, I actually liked the stripped down character development they got. First off, I don’t think the character development was weak, in particular – it just asked you in many places to draw your own conclusions. These aren’t people who discuss their feelings regularly anyway, so there was no Luke-and-Leia-on-the-Forest-Moon confessionals. For what it’s worth, I understood their motivations just fine. I know why Cassian didn’t shoot Jyn’s father. He wants to believe Jyn is right – he doesn’t want to kill innocent people anymore. It eats at him the whole movie. Does he come out and say this? No. He never does and, yeah, its unclear. Hell, I could be wrong (though I don’t think so).
Then again, what is gained here is that this movie allows us to connect with the characters not as characters but in the sense that they can (and are supposed) to be ciphers for us to occupy. This was the same tactic used in those World War 2 raid movies – character development was always sparse, and it was sparse to allow the audience (many of them actual WW2 veterans) to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. You don’t really give a crap what Clint Eastwood’s character’s name is in Where Eagles Dare. You just want to picture yourself with the MP40 gunning down Nazis.
In this same way, I submit to you the following: Rogue One is the film impersonation of every single time you and your friends pretended to be soldiers of the rebellion on school playgrounds from around 1980 until 1990 (with some variation given your actual age, of course). I know me and my friends used to play as rebels getting blown up (and blowing up) stormtroopers in my backyard for years and years. Did our “characters” have names? Not really – we were “the guy with the super-huge gun” and “the guy who knows jedi powers but isn’t a jedi and, oh yeah, he’s blind and really cool.” It’s that. They made a movie about that. Yeah, the character development isn’t super deep, but it doesn’t have to be to get the job done.
Critique 3: The Whole “Death Star Plan Transmission” Was Silly
Okay, first off: debating “realism” in Star Wars is a ridiculous place to start from. I’d follow up with this: if you gave this movie crap but didn’t get frustrated by The Force Awakens, you’re being a raging hypocrite, because this movie made vastly, vastly more sense than any single part of that movie.
But okay, let’s entertain the debate for a moment. Why is it so hard to get the Death Star master plans, anyway? Here are my suggestions:
- They are made deliberately hard to transmit because they are super-secret plans.
- There is no precedent for nor is their evidence of any kind of “Galactic Internet.” Transmission of incredibly complex and dense data across interstellar distances is likely very, very difficult.
- The world-shield on the data haven planet made it hard to get the data transmitted.
- The data could not be instantly copied and distributed to multiple Rebel ships because of how large the files likely were and the rebel ships were not equipped to transmit such data easily.
- They had to keep it on that one chip because that chip represented the easiest, most secure method of transport for the data which, again, was of such size it could not be easily contained on the Tantive IV.
- R2-D2 is magic.
There, settled. Now it’s your turn to explain to me how the Starkiller Base is supposed to work, how some fringe group built it, and why it’s so damned easy to blow up, and the astrocartographical phenomenon that allowed people in star system A see the explosions in system B as two distinct points of light rather than one tiny blip.
Overall, I loved this movie. It was tense, it was different, and it makes me like all the other movies more, which is itself a reward for watching that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I hope to see more like this – more departures from the Star Wars script, more risks being taken to make the franchise last and be fresh and interesting. More franchises could use such treatment.
Have you seen the teaser for Rogue One yet? No?! Well, sit back my friend and watch this:
Is that cool, or what? I just looove this line:
This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.
This teaser is firing on all channels for me – the Dirty Dozen meets Star Wars. I mean, sure, it means that we have another movie with a Death Star in it (3 out of 8, if you’re counting) and, sure, is it really plausible that the crime “aggravated assault” (which, as a friend has pointed out, has a bit of a fiddly legal definition) would show up in a Galaxy Far Far Away? Maybe not, but I don’t really care. It looks raucously awesome and I just can’t wait.
And yet, there are a contingent of creeps and jackholes out there who are whining and moaning things along the lines of “what, another female lead?” and then follow it with a load of idiotic MRA chauvinist garbage. Now, these nimrods are being appropriately shouted down by…well…just about everybody and I suppose I could spend this post ranting and raving about why they’re miserable slugs. Instead of talking about how bad they are, though, I’d like to spend some time talking about why I, a man, really love kick-ass female lead characters.
Let’s see, where to begin…oh yeah…
My Mother Kicks Ass
I could tell stories about how incredibly badass my mother is for a while (hell, I could tell stories about how badass all the women in my family are), but that would make this post a bit long and (checking watch) I’ve got about 700 more words before most of you lose interest. I will, however, give you this small taste:
Before I was born, my parents were driving in a van late at night with a friend. My father was asleep in the back seat and the friend was driving. The highway had the whole right lane closed, marked off with those big orange-and-white cans every thirty or forty feet. There wasn’t much room on the road – no shoulder to speak of, just a big ditch right off the side.
Suddenly, barrelling up the road and laying on its horn, is a runaway semitruck. He’s flashing his lights, he’s honking – basically screaming “Can’t stop! Look Out!”
The guy driving the van freezes – the truck is going to overtake them, and either run them off the road into a ditch or smash them flat. Leaping into action, my mother leans across the center console, grabs the wheel with one hand, and proceeds to pilot the car from the passenger seat into the lane marked off by traffic cans. Not only does she do this, but she slaloms in and out of the cans, allowing the semi to move over just enough to they aren’t crushed and yet not so far over into the work zone that they hit the abandoned road-repair equipment, piles of gravel, etc..
All from the passenger seat while the driver screams.
So, yeah, my mom is badass. Hell, mothers in general are badasses and all of us men should be at least tangentially aware of this fact. Having been raised by the terrestrial equivalent of Ellen Ripley, I kinda dig characters that channel that primal emotive force that is the “protective mother.” Can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t. It’s awesome!
And even beyond this relatively narrow role of “mother,” kick-ass female leads represent a fresh perspective on the tired old trope of the muscle-bound, grim male protagonist. We have, as a culture, been limiting ourselves for a very, very long time with this “boys only” nonsense. I mean, come on – don’t you get just a little bored of only seeing men defeat the bad guys, over and over again? And sure, the misogynists of the world are apt to yelp “but it isn’t realistic, a girl beating up men!”
First off, fuck you – my mom could kick your ass. So could probably hundreds of women. To quote Germaine Greer
here for a second:
Only a minute proportion of males will ever come within reach of an Olympic record, but the achievements of male record-holders empower all men. The implication that the weakest man must be stronger and faster than any woman whatsoever is obviously absurd.
In the context of fiction, there is simply no excuse for using the idea that “most” men are physically stronger than “most” women to deny women the spotlight. I mean, sure, that’s technically true, but most women are not Imperator Furiosa just like most men are not Mad Max.
Women can and do and have competed with men on all manner of fields and won. That is unequivocal truth. Women such as that deserve to have their stories told not because they are women, but because they represent and entire new set of experiences and ideas and stories that just haven’t been sufficiently explored.
Strength Isn’t All About Punching!
And furthermore, the idea that we should deny women the lead in adventure films because they aren’t able to bench press the same amount as the guys is really, really stupid. “Strength” does not always translate directly into being kick-ass and such is a very narrow and, again, boring view to ascribe to. Take Leia, for instance – sure, she knows her way around a blaster, fine – but I would argue her most heroic moments aren’t physical ones at all. The way she stares death in the face while captive on the Death Star and doesn’t bat an eyelash. The way she takes charge in Hoth and, with her guidance, saves the lives of hundreds of rebels. She’s there while the base is falling around her ears and has to literally be dragged away from her post by Han. That is courage and heroism equal to any character, male or female. It’s inspiring, its interesting, and it is unequivocally badass.
In short, I love kickass female leads! They inspire me, they remind me of the women I love, and they are every bit as exciting (if not more so) than the male leads we’re all used to. There aren’t enough of them out there, frankly, and I am very pleased that the Star Wars franchise is stepping up and introducing us to more of them.
I can’t wait.
By The Way…
The Oldest Trick is still on sale, but not for long! If you like kickass female characters, this book won’t disappoint – just wait until you meet Hool! And Tyvian’s mom! And Myreon Alafarr! Go get it now!