Watched: Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

As a kid I loved Star Wars. My dad took me to the cinema to watch the original Star Wars movie, later to be renamed and renumbered into “Star Wars IV, A New Hope”, when it came to Sweden, and I loved it.

As I grew older I also grew more ambivalent to it. Like the Lord of the Rings books Star Wars was important to me during my formative years, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. But back then watching films again and again wasn’t something one could do easily, and so Star Wars floated to the back.

In the late 90’s I bought the VHS box set of the revised original trilogy, and I still own it, despite no longer having easy access to a VHS player. By that time I had become part of the Trek crowd, though, and while I still watched the films every now and again I felt the story to be shallow, and not very honest. I never was interested in watching the prequels at the cinema and I have to admit – while I have later endured Phantom Menace I never got through Attack of the Clones… and that’s it.

Since then our son became an avid Star Wars fan. He jokingly says that he’s a master of Starwarsology. Well before he could read we watched the films off my special edition VHS box set together, with me reading the dialogue/subtitles for him. As a consequence I know the original revised films down to the inflection of the Emperor. I have played Lego Star Wars with him for more hours than I care to remember. I have, however, drawn the line at Star Wars Battlefront because honestly I suck at the PS hand controls (I’m fairly good at Wii, though, and am mean with a keyboard).

I did enjoy The Force Awakens, even though I recognised several of Abrams’ mannerisms and despite the less than stellar acting. And Trek is still my Universe.

Watching Rouge One: A Star Wars Story I am finally able to put in words what’s chafing.

The movie was, as a film experience, acceptable. It balanced drama, humour and action, and while the acting was part good, part stiff (especially on behalf of the actors that were chosen for likeness to original characters rather than for their acting skills: I honestly thought that Tarkin was computer generated – the droid K-2SO was more believable), I was never bored. I might even watch it again, as a diversion, if I get a cold and a fever and has to stay in bed.

So, to get back to what chafes: Leaving the theatre I couldn’t stop thinking that the authors, and Disney, has to be exceedingly out of touch with world politics to present this film to the world.

Rogue One is the logical prologue to what used to be the first Star Wars movie. It is also an ongoing manifestation of the naivety of originator George Lucas. His simple swine herd in space story has snowballed into something bigger than even Lucas’ could ever have imagined, and Disney hasn’t exactly sat down and examined the actual content of what they bought and so instead of reining it in they have allowed it to run amok.

At first it was a story about Good versus Evil. It worked well as a one off.  But as so many before me has pointed out the presumably Good Jedi and their rebellion friends aren’t particularly good.  They manipulate, use terror instead of legal or democratic routes to achieve their goals, and they deceive to get people on their side. Of course, in real life nothing is entirely clear-cut, so why should a movie be?

The big difference is the script. Real life isn’t scripted. We stumble through, doing as well as we can. Some people have an astute moral compass but most of us has unintentionally caused harm and hurt to other people along the way.

A script, on the other hand, is a way of telling a story. Stories can be of varying kinds. They can be used to disseminate human relationships, like the endless mother-daughter, father-son dramas that litter popular culture.  They can be historical dramas, they can be adventurous and exploring. They can be used as a means to present us to different ways to handle various situations, and they can try to present optimistic or pessimistic visions of the future of humankind. They can be used to analyse and disseminate present day events, systems, and cultural norms.

Star Wars has always cared less than zero about collateral damage. In Star Wars it is acceptable to kill and maim or set people up, as long as it gets you were you think you need to be.

As the first Death Star blows up presumable hundreds of thousands of people who only do their paid jobs, as cleaners, cooks, mechanics, gets killed. At that point, back in 1977, we all believed that this was justified, for the greater good. I wasn’t old enough to analyse it, I just thought it was cool. But the pattern continues and in film after film, in series after series, violence is presented as the best way to solve a conflict, and damn the innocent. No introspection. No questioning of means and objectives and relative costs, or of the conflicts between what you say you want and how you endeavour to get there.

No thought on what story you are really telling, what morals and methods you are endorsing.

With Rouge One Disney had a chance to change that pattern. But instead what they do is to present some kind of justification for the likes of the Brussels bombers. Rouge One tells you, the audience, that democracy is nothing and that militias are justified. At one point the protagonists could had chosen to not go with outright violence and certain death for most, if not all, in the party. They could had connived a covert plot to get the schematics. They could had been smart.

Instead they used brute force, and everyone died. Even the cooks and the cleaners and the kids that we don’t get to see. And all glory to the ones who willingly sacrifices their lives for the Cause.

The rebellion did get the schematics, death was justified, and the rebellion is just as Evil as the Empire. It chafes.

And to think that Rouge One is seen as valid entertainment while films like V for Vendetta gets blasted for being too political, too anti-establishment. But that is what happens when one is openly political while the other is more a result of no one stopping to analyse what it is that they really are doing. Or so I guess.

To be honest I don’t think it is intentional. At least I don’t hope so.

But it still chafes. And I’m still ambivalent.

Watched again: V for Vendetta (film version)

A long time ago in a galaxy far away I watched the film adaption of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. My memory tells me that I did enjoy it, back then, but that I felt it to be flamboyantly lightweight: all glitz and low on content.

Today, in this galaxy, instead of empty it is eerily current.

On weekend evenings we often watch films or series together. For a long time we watched  a couple of episodes of Dr Who every Friday and Saturday evening. When we ran up against what Netflix Sweden had to offer in that regard we switched back to films. As son gets the final word we have watched some of the Harry Potter and Jurassic Park movies enough times for some of us to get (more than) a bit bored, but we have also watched most of the MCU – Marvel Cinematic Universe – and at times we try to introduce him to various SF classics. He doesn’t always take the bait, but thus evenings of Alien and Aliens, for example. This past Saturday we ended up watching V for Vendetta with him.

While watching it I at times debated the choice. In the deep fall of 2016 V for Vendetta felt like a prophecy come true: the disinformation campaigns, the fabricated fake news; the thinly veiled threats and terror directed at anyone who don’t conform to frankly medieval morals; the construed and staged threats to society, used to whip up fear and hate; the total disrespect for the individual human being. Wasn’t this a bit much for a  13 yo kid? Yet he sat glued to the screen, not even striking up a discussion over bad special effects, plot holes and discrepancies – something he’s otherwise very keen on. His only comment mid-movie was “Trump ought to watch this” (to which I felt a need to answer that “he’d only black-list it”).

Afterwards we talked a bit about what we had just watched – about reigning by terror, about the importance of not allowing people to threaten you into silence, and about the importance to stand up for those who gets silenced and/or threatened, for those who get dehumanised.

He mentioned how this was a more interesting film than the various didactic WWII holocaust stories they have had to watch in school: how the parallels between Nazi Germany and V for Vendetta was glaringly obvious, but that the film made the issues real instead of a staid retelling of some faraway thing that had once happened (and was unlikely to ever happen again, because we all know we’re smarter now… right?).

In short V for Vendetta made it obvious that fear, hate and institutionalised terror is not a thing of the past. It is a real threat, wherever there are humans. And we’re living on the brink of it.

The issues I have with the movie pales in comparison with this. If the film can make people rethink and re-evaluate their roles and responsibilities in regard to society that is a value in itself, regardless of what I personally think of the politics, the methods, or the cheap references (such as to Emma Goldman’s “a revolution without dancing is not at revolution worth having”).

Especially today, with various anti-democratic regimes rising through-out the western world; with the backlash against people who are perceived as “other”; with widespread nostalgia and anti-intellectualism spreading like a cloud out of Mordor anything that highlights empathy and compassion is needed.

It is highly unlikely that V for Vendetta will ever be used as a discussion piece in school. Too many parents would call it out for its violence, all the while their kids are playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, and its anti-authoritarian message while they on a daily basis deride their own elected government.

But if we care about equal rights, if we believe that gender or sexual identity, skin colour or heritage or inheritance should not affect either opportunities afforded or obligations demanded by and of the individual – then V for Vendetta is nothing to be afraid of.

Because at this time, in this galaxy, not running with the fear-mongers is important.

Watch it, if you haven’t done so already.