Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One -- Fighting Evil, Hoping for the Impossible, and The Dirty Dozen

Photo: Star Wars: Rogue One poster, from this IMDB.com page

If you've seen the original Star Wars--known as Episode IV: A New Hope, now that there's a canon--you've probably wondered what that woman meant when she said, and I paraphrase here: "We've had to pay dearly to get this information. Very dearly." She was talking about how the Rebellion got the plans for the Death Star that showed where the weakness was--a purposeful weakness, it turns out. (I'd always thought it was just a mistake in design. You know, just kind of there. Some smart engineer in the Rebellion would see that, and think, Hey, if we hit that, it'll cause a chain reaction that will destroy the whole damn thing! I mean, for a purposeful weakness, the original Death Star engineer made it kind of hard to hit, right? Remember the difficulty and failures at the end of the 1977 film?) Anyway, this is the weakness that Luke Skywalker hits in 1977, after putting the machinery away and just using the Force. Incidentally, this is a strategy I recommend for those who think they need rear cameras and cars that just stop themselves. In this world, we call it focusing and paying attention. And perhaps a little intuition.

But I digress. At any rate, if you've been wondering what that statement meant in the original film--Well, here's your answer. Remembering that line (or my good-enough paraphrase of it) and using a little common sense, I was able to figure out the destiny of the main characters while watching the movie. That made it all a little weird for me (as was the final moment, when we see Carrie Fisher's 1977 face at the very end, and then my friend leans over while the credits are running and shows me that Carrie Fisher had died; very, very disturbing), and I hoped I was wrong. You will, too, because Felicity Jones does such a great job with her character that you'll hope for the impossible.

Photo: Felicity Jones and Diego Luna from Rogue One

Which is a nice segue for the point of this movie: Hoping for the impossible. And using that hope to fight back and make change. That's a nice idea--taken to extreme lengths in a recent article from a major magazine (forgot which one, but I read it) that said it perfectly mirrored what some of us feel about the next regime coming in, and I use that word purposely. But I disagree with that article. No Star Wars movie has ever been very political, even after Reagan named his space defense system plan after it. (And after the Red Sox brass referred to Steinbrenner and the Yankees as "The Evil Empire.") The Star Wars universe has always been overtly un-political and very fantastic. It's not meant to refer to our present day, or our history. (Though it's not too far wrong to see the Empire and the Stormtroopers as Hitler's Nazis and the SS Troops. You can't tell me that the baggy pants and Peter Cushing's Nazi-like stance in 1977 were happy coincidences.) But Rogue One is not a political movie, exactly, much like the original trilogy wasn't. Its point--like the point in The Hunger Games, and many other Dystopian epics, and in other fare like The Lord of the Rings--is that when true evil rears its ugly head, you fight it. And when true evil gets a weapon as powerful as the Death Star (or a little gold ring), then you destroy that weapon. By doing so, you're helping to destroy that evil. It's really that simple. That message, more than any other, is what this film is about. (May we never see the day we have to act upon it.) To do so, you need a ridiculous amount of hope, because by definition, the good guys are in the minority, and they face overwhelming odds. Much like two hobbits scaling the landscape, and a volcano, to destroy a weapon that is sought by immense evil.

It is in this vein that Rogue One was made. It is essentially a WWII-type action movie, and in fact becomes a little too Dirty Dozen for me at the end. But it does so in a good way, the point being that the destruction of this evil weapon, and fighting against this evil, is more important than any one person's life. Or several persons' lives, for that matter. And so this is a war movie that essentially moves from the (often perplexing) set-up, to the present evil, to the battle scenes in that war. All of this happens with the incredibly beautiful special effects you'd expect, from a director you've already seen them from before. (He directed the very good Godzilla reboot.)

Though a very good movie, it is far from perfect. It's too long, at 2 1/2 hours or so. You may wonder, as I did, why Forest Whitaker's character had to be there. Some very good characters are given a lot of life, a lot of very solid character-building traits, for an ending you may, or may not, grow to love. (But, like me, you probably see it coming. Remember the "great sacrifice" that the Rebellion had to "pay dearly" for to get the plans.) You may find the ending to be a bummer. The beginning is rather confusing, as it jumps all over the place and introduces you to a great many characters. (Yes, Vader does show up. And he's got a real nice, kick-ass montage near the end. But though he's got James Earl Jones's voice again, you may notice as I did that his build, and his armor and mask, seem less.) Also, Felicity Jones looked a little to me like Daisy Ridley for awhile, until I remembered that Ridley's in Episode VIII and Rogue One is maybe Episode III and 3/4. That took a little while for me to wrap my head around, not to mention that I got there five minutes before the movie started, so my friend and I were forced to sit in seats a little too close to the screen. I didn't get neck strain, but I thought I would.

But hang in there. Will a borderline fan of the series, or a non-fan, enjoy it? I think so, but I'm not sure. The soap opera is gone, as are most of the marketing, and marketable, characters. I'll give a tentative yes for the borderline or the non-series fan. This movie is worth seeing, and it really picks up the pace, the tension, and the relevance. You get the feeling that something really important is going on, much like the way I felt watching the end of the (otherwise unnecessary) last Lord of the Rings film. Evil must be fought. Planet-killing weapons must be themselves destroyed. (And, if you're LucasFilm and Disney, money must be made.) 

Someone's got to stand up. These folks do. Would you? Would I? If we're not appreciated, or even remembered, does that matter? This film makes you wonder those things. Hopefully we never have to find out. Turns out, these folks are not mentioned, and therefore not remembered, in the series that comes. Without Spielberg's movie, would Oskar Schindler be as well-known? Undoubtedly there are hundreds, if not thousands, of real-life heroes throughout time who have saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives--all themselves lost to history. Does that matter? The righting of wrongs, the fighting of evil, the destroying of too-powerful weapons in the hands of devils and lunatics--all are more important. May we all remember this, and act upon it, if that time should ever come. 

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