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.


Not quite a review: The Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

These past two weeks I’ve been reading the first Harry Potter book to our son. I wasn’t too enthusiastic at first but he loves Lego and when they launched their Harry Potter series he got interested and we decided that no way was he going to get some of that if he didn’t first showed interest in the books.

This isn’t as cruel as it might seem. While Lego is the only plaything he has showed a sustained interest in he have plenty and the Star Wars Lego, which is his thing, isn’t exactly the cheapest stuff out there… So adding another expensive universe wasn’t high on our list. So – the Harry Potter books entered our lives.

And I have to admit at least this first one is worth reading. A bit didactic at times, and the Swedish translation uses a few words not every just turned 7 year old have in their vocabulary but it turned out to be good food for discussion – we ended up talking about different meanings of words, about what REALLY happened, why some people do bad things and why you can’t like everyone (and other such things), and as grand finale we summarised the book with a chat about the main theme (we decided it was the value of friendship and cooperation).

All in all a good experience, and as son can’t read English I’ll divulge that he’ll get the second one for Yule. And the third.
We’re both looking forward to that!

Knowing more – a reflection

My son loves Star Wars.

I have to admit I loved Star Wars back in the days when there was just one film, then two and three, but I’ve always been more of a Trekkie (even if I enjoy Babylon 5 and a handful others as well, including the stuffy Space 1999). It follows that I never felt any enthusiasm over the ‘prequel’ films – even the names have evaded me – so I’m virtually clueless when it comes to how Darth Vader came to be. What I know of it mostly comes from playing Lego Star Wars with my son.

This past spring I caved in and let my son watch the very first Star Wars film. I thought him too young but he and his friend loved playing Lego Star Wars and he begged and begged and begged to see at least the first film. I gave in.
Maybe not a surprise, given my love for science fiction, even if I truthfully think of Star Wars as more in the high fantasy genre.

As he can’t read yet it means I have to read all the lines for him, reading off the subtitles (but sometimes I improvise, because the subtitles are too far from the original intent and tone).

Anyway, he was a bit scared, that first time, because he felt it too real. A couple of months later he encountered the animated Clone Wars series, watching with his older second cousin. He explained to me it wasn’t as scary as the figures clearly wasn’t real. Then last week he started to nag me about watching the two other films, and a couple of days ago we started with Empire Strikes Back. Yesterday evening we watched the last part of Return of the Jedi.

Afterwards it was one thing that stayed with him – why Luke had to fight his father. In his world no son should have to do this, and I agree with him. BUT. I never thought of it that way. To me Darth Vader was truly evil, some one to be scared of.

The difference is my son knows a) Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, so no surprise effect in the films, and b) he likes Anakin, he’s a good guy, and the Evil Emperor (as my son labels him) has perverted him, by force.
It follows that my son never ever thinks Darth Vader scary, taking away a lot of the tension from the films. But it also means that to him the very last scene – when the the ghost of Anakin joins the ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan – is crucial, because it means Anakin gets redress, is exonerated, which is a relief to anyone used to thinking of him as ‘good’.
While to me that last scene is just a general feel-good moment and not terribly important.

What a difference a couple of decades and more knowledge of the back story can do.

Amazing. And perhaps a lesson in itself.