Enthusiasm might not quite cover this one. Obsession, maybe, or fixation. I think I’m one of those people who’ll tell you Rogue One is their favourite Star Wars movie, but my feelings about it are far more difficult to articulate: there’s a lot of flailing and despairing noises and BUT I JUST WANT TO KNOW THEM ALL BETTER BUT THE ENDING WAS SO RIGHT.
It’s not perfect, so let’s get that out of the way first. CGI Tarkin isn’t going to age well, and I wish they’d not shown Leia’s face at the end because the same applies as soon as she speaks. There are two things I’d change in a trice, one of which occurred to me on the first viewing, the second of which has been more of a burgeoning annoyance. The first is Cassian’s band of assassins, saboteurs and spies. They’re all men. Every time I see him slinking out of the hangar, followed by his rag-tag bunch of warriors, all I can think of is:
He’s mad, he’s really mad
It kind of kills the mood, you know what I’m saying? The second thing I’d change is a variation on the same theme, and one that only occurred to me when I read James Luceno’s prequel novel, Catalyst. Lyra is an explorer in it: intrepid, outdoorsy, maybe she’s also a geologist or surveyor, though I don’t think it’s specified. Then she marries Galen Erso and becomes the person who types up his notes. So far, so … true to much of academia and writing in general. And she’s still a great character. BUT — radical idea here — why not make Lyra Erso the famed Imperial scientist and have Galen sacrifice himself desperately at the start of Rogue One instead?(1) Instant Bechdel-Wallace pass, representation of women in the STEM subjects, doesn’t really change Jyn’s tragic backstory and Furious Angst™, so why not? Of course, He Judges pointed out to me that in that scenario the film-makers might not have been able to resist making the relationship between Lyra and Krennic massively skeevy, but allow me a world in my imagination where we could just make a straight swap and nothing else would change.
That’s … kind of it for my complaints. I love this movie. I love the look of it, the feel of it, the characters, the plot (I know the archive storage is dumb and I don’t care), the nods to the other movies, the humour, the hope and the hopelessness, the ending, the fact that, even more than The Force Awakens, after my experience of the prequels, it made the galaxy feel big again. These are the people I want to know in the Star Wars universe, not so much the Skywalkers or the Jedi Order. I want to know about the decisions of insignificant ensigns like Bodhi Rook that end up having huge consequences, and the fact that the Rebellion needs people like Cassian to do its dirty work and doesn’t always look out for them properly, and that there are people like Jyn who have been used as a bargaining chip by everyone but who can still find enough to care about to keep fighting. Also the Guardians: I’m so glad the Star Wars universe seems to have remembered that the Force exists independently to the Jedi. From Force worshippers/followers like Lor San Tekka and Lyra Erso, to all the cults in Jedha City, to the idea of ‘The Force of Others’, the Force can be interesting again, now that it’s not inextricably linked to a Jedi Council and its regulations. You can tell me again and again that Chirrut’s not a Jedi, and that’s fine — but you won’t convince me he’s not still Force-sensitive. I doubt that will ever be confirmed (just as I doubt that Disney is brave enough to make it explicit that he and Baze are a couple), but the fact that he could be is enough for me, for now. Again, in those EU books I grew up on, people could be Force-sensitive and not know it for years, only finding out far into their adult lives.
Big point to make here, now: I think Felicity Jones is great. And she makes a great Jyn. I think the complaints about the character stem from the fact that Jones does a really good job of showing someone who’s had a terrible time of things — who’s prickly, and mistrustful, and confused about her feelings towards a family and a galaxy she thought had abandoned her — and that this can’t be conveyed if she’s a cool, calm hero all the time. It’s understandable that she’d forget the holo message on Jedha, that her voice isn’t always steady when she makes speeches, that she’s often silent and taciturn and ungrateful for things that some people think she should be grateful for. Someone I know said that the only reason she saved the child on Jedha was to demonstrate her ‘maternal instinct’ and, wow, my rage about that is as fresh as ever, because that’s the most misogynistic thing I think anyone could imagine when watching that scene. Thematically, it should remind you of her past — she’s been a frightened child alone before and doesn’t want to leave another in that situation — and also of what’s to come — the futility of saving that child when the Death Star destroys the city anyway. At the very least it’s meant to be a sign to the audience — and a certain Captain Andor — that she’s not quite as devoid of values or ideals as might be suspected at this point.
Also, if you’re one of the ones clamouring for more alien representation … pray, tell me which of Star Wars’ first ethnic minority heroes would you like to swap out? I’d rather have the gang we have, while still enjoying the practical effects that remain ever-present in the background. Rogue One takes place over such a short amount of time, and packs so much in, yet the sense of camaraderie between the thrown-together heroes is strong — despite the Rebellion’s dysfunctional leadership, it still works, at least on some levels, because enough people believe in the cause.
It’s not radical to say that Rogue One is a movie about hope, but I find it hard to say how much I appreciate its message. It’s never not heartbreaking, every time I watch it, to see the troops facing down Darth Vader on board Admiral Raddus’ ship: like the main characters, none of them want to die, they didn’t show up to the battle intending to get killed, but they keep going, even as it becomes clear that there’s no way out. They keep going, taking one chance after another, until all their chances are spent. And don’t talk to me about Vader, and ‘why didn’t he just grab the plans with the Force?’ because ANAKIN SKYWALKER IS AN ARROGANT DICKBAG, DID YOU MISS THAT PART?(2) He’s a showman, he relies on the intimidation provided by his presence, and he’s over-confident, assuming that he’ll get his way in the end anyway. So fuck him, of course he was complacent enough to let the plans slip away on the Tantive IV.
I don’t go to Star Wars movies to see Vader and his cool red lightsabre. I go to Star Wars movies to see the Rebels kick the fascist Empire’s ass. Rogue One is my bag.
Oh, and if anyone from Disney/Lucasfilm is out there: please please please PLEASE can we have a spin-off Tales of Jedha City book, in the vein of the old Tales of… books? I want to know more about all those weird cults, and about the Decraniated and Dr Evazan, and the sister they were meant to meet at the temple, and Saw’s fighters, and the bor gullet. I guess some of this will be covered by the forthcoming Guardians of the Whills book on Chirrut and Baze’s backstories, but a revival of the Tales of… series would fit Jedha so well.
(1) Yes, I know, because Mads Mikkelsen as opposed to little known Irish actor Valene Kane.
(2) For real though, I love the Rogue One HISHE. It’s more plausible than a whole lot of the fix-it/AU fanfic I’ve read.