Title: Rogue One
Rating: 4 Stars
I just went to Rogue One and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a well made, well paced, well acted movie with outstanding special effects. I saw it at the Cinerama, so the picture and the sound was outstanding.
So, great movie. Go see it. What got me wondering (as so many people do) is what exactly is it about the Star Wars franchise that inspire such adoration (and untold profit; with their upcoming release schedule, they will be minting money just like the Marvel franchise).
It’s clearly a quite simplistic good vs evil kind of thing. There are no shades of grey here.
- The Imperial forces are monolithic
- Most of them are in uniforms that make them look inhuman
- The faces that we can see are essentially old white guys
- The old white guys are wearing uniforms reminiscent of Nazi Germany
- They kill with impunity and without remorse
- They’re horrible shots (naturally)
- All buildings are artificial and mechanical in nature
- There is a sterile cleanness to their environments
- Long, narrow architecture appears to be inspired again by Nazi Germany (thanks, Albert Speer!)
- The Rebel forces are diverse (white, black, and Asian characters, not to mention different alien races)
- Their architectural structures are more organic; they appear to be made from materials from the local environment
- The Rebel environment is much dirtier, hectic, disorganized
- Faces are always clearly visible
- The Rebel forces robots consistently have a goofy, comical aspect to them (hence the robots act more human than the actual humans serving the Empire)
Interesting that the Nazi theme comes up a couple of times in the evil attributes. Universally, WWII is considered to be the last ‘good’ war. Who was right and who was wrong was very clearly defined. As a world, we’ve lost that moral clarity (ie America, who always considers itself to be the good guys, is now regularly killing civilians in drone strikes halfway around the world in an undeclared war; whether you believe it’s justified or not, it pretty clearly does not have the moral clarity of fighting Nazi Germany and Hitler).
Anyway, in addition to uniforms, attitude, and architecture, I saw the following WWII echos:
- Fighting on the beach was reminiscent of D-Day
- Fighting in the jungle was reminiscent of Pacific fighting
- The aerial dogfights almost seemed like WWII war footage
Other random thoughts as I watched the movie…
Another archetype is a little force, heavily outnumbered, taking on a large, evil, rampaging force. The most obvious examples are Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Even more on point is The Guns of Navarone, in which a small group of soldiers take on an impregnable Nazi fortress (hey, another WWII reference!).
Thanks to the global nature of movie making, especially when we’re talking huge budget films like this, there are positive Asian characters. Here there are two, both played by well-known Chinese actors (yay! progress). The trope here again is well trod. You have the spiritual blind man who has tapped into some greater unseen force that gives him powers vastly beyond what he has lost with his sightless eyes. Following him around is a worldly sidekick, gruff, uncouth, and irreligious, but fiercely loyal to his friend. By the end of the movie, seeing the strength of this unseen power, the sidekick himself has become a believer.
I find the whole preference of the natural, organic world to the artificial, mechanistic world to be quite fascinating. Look, we live in the United States of America. This is the most advanced industrial country in the history of humanity. In the 20th century, a very real argument can be made that the US drug the rest of the world from the ashes of WWII into the overtly industrialized world that we live in today. Everyday, people are leaving the rural life to live in a city. The middle of our country is being emptied. Entire small towns are dying out daily.
And look at myself in particular. I work for one of the world’s largest defense company. Hell, if somewhere on Earth someone was building a Death Star, I’d probably be working on it (and, oh, by the way, Empire? Death Stars and Death Troopers? You really need to work on your branding. I’m sure you mean Freedom Stars and Patriot Troopers).
Pretty clearly the industrial way of life is actually improving the overall lot of people (yeah, I know, Akron, you got screwed, but I’m talking in the aggregate here). Since the industrial age has started, median life expectancy has gone up, food production has gone up, there is much more leisure time available, and just overall standard of living has improved.
So, why do we prefer the ‘natural’ way? Is it something ingrained into our psyche? The need for open spaces? Or is this our shorthand for hearkening back to a simpler time (essentially some kind of archetypal universal childhood)? Why do I, who work for a large company building large things and live in a large city, naturally feel the need to cheer on those living close to their environment?
Sorry, one more thing. Yeah, I’m not sure that I’m thrilled with the whole idea of resurrecting dead actors via CGI and placing them in the movie. That seems somehow wrong to me. Peter Cushing actually has a sizable role in Rogue One and he’s been dead for 20 years. Maybe it was (and this was a coincidence since I bought the ticket days ago) just especially meaningful to me since I saw the movie literally on the day that Carrie Fisher died. Although her role was much smaller, there she was, at the end of the movie, in full CGI, looking 19 years old. It was jarring and, at least to me, unethical and inappropriate.
This goes back to the fundamental question of science and progress in general; just because you can do something, does that mean that you should do it? And is this possibly the larger underlying message for us cheering on the Rebels? As the Empire builds things like the Death Star, is our own visceral reaction to it an acknowledgement that we don’t trust our scientists, our engineers, our leaders, and our industrial might not to ultimately enslave us / oppress us in some inevitable march of progress?