Monday, December 19, 2016

"I am one with the force." Rogue One remarks

Here we are, doomed to spend the rest of our lives seeing the Star Wars brand diminished year after year as film after film is rushed to the multiplex in order to shore up this bloated, putrescent franchise.

Yet I liked Rogue One. Spoilers to follow.

I didn't read any articles about Rogue One going into the film, relying mostly on the trailer to give me a sense of what the picture would be like. It appeared to be a bit grimmer than what Star Wars normally is and was dealing with a bit of continuity minutiae which really didn't need to be followed up on at all. I've already seen people online claiming this film solved "plot holes" from the original Star Wars as people today have not really bothered to educate themselves on what a "plot hole" is.

It's needless, but then, what film is needed? It tells the story of how the Death Star plans were originally captured, largely because that's a piece of Star Wars mythology which people already know about and is thus fertile fodder for a stand-alone motion picture with a cast of unfamiliar protagonists. In a way, much like the similarities The Force Awakens had to the first Star Wars, Rogue One plays it safe.

But now that I am clicking on articles and reading reactions from my friends I'm seeing many criticisms of the picture such as the "Uncanny Valley" effects used to recreate 1977 vintage Tarkin & Leia (I wasn't bothered by the effects at all - then again, I saw it at a 3D showing, perhaps it looks less-convincing on flat film?).

I've also seen complaints about the tone of the movie. My friend (and former colleague) Peter Sanderson complained on Facebook:

"It was unremittingly grim and dark, literally so. with little light or color, with no sense of joy or hope, no human warmth, no characters who inspired empathy, no sense of wonder. The movie just dragged on and onwithout ever feeling inspired to me."

On the flip side, Todd Alcott has a reaction which I feel elucidates why I'm more pleased with the film than Peter: "If one goes into a movie with a set of expectations and those expectations are unfulfilled, sometimes one’s response is to spend the running time looking for the movie expected instead of watching the one being screened."

But to Peter's point: yes, Rogue One is a grim story. It's set in the days before "A New Hope," after all. By the end of the film, all six of the protagonists are dead, giving their lives to retrieve the Death Star plans, which are then transferred to Leia.

This bleak-yet-hopeful climax didn't bother me in the way it bothered Peter; after all, I'm a Halo fan.

Halo: Reach was the first Halo game I played on the day of its original release; I had been watching videos to prepare myself for all the combat changes and new strategies. And while I had not read the novel The Fall of Reach which originally established the battle of Reach, I had gleaned details online - primarily, that the reason why the Master Chief seemed to be the last Spartan left for the war with the Covenant in the original Halo trilogy is that all the other Spartans died on Reach.

From the start, I knew the character I was playing (Noble 6) and his teammates (Noble Team) were destined to die, and they did. And yet, it ends on an emotional, hopeful note. As in Rogue One, the team are trying to relay important data - that is, the character of Cortana - to an escaping ship. Noble Team die so that Cortana can live and thus enable the Halo trilogy to occur. Notably, the game was promoted with a trailer entitled: "Deliver Hope."

A grim sci-fi tale where everyone dies for a just cause is A-O-K by me. I suppose where the comparison between Rogue One and Halo: Reach breaks down (and Peter would agree) is in terms of character - that Noble Team's personalities and relationships were demonstrated very cleanly and efficiently so that as the team died the player would (hopefully) have an emotional reaction. However, I had difficulty connecting to the crew of Rogue One; perhaps it's because of reshoots but I feel the film needed more time for the characters to sit down and interact with other rather than advancing the plot (or do both at once). The characters spend a considerable amount of time simply getting into the same room as each other and then keep going on journeys to other places; perhaps if they'd all met in the first 15 minutes then spent the rest of the film working on the main problem (getting the Death Star plans) they'd gel better. There's a moment near the end of the film where Jiang Wen's character Baze calls Felicity Jones' Jyn "little sister." It was cute, but I didn't have a sense of the two sharing any form of rapport prior to that bit.

However, to some extent what I'm asking for is more; I'm not unhappy with what the film offered, I simply want more of it. I truly enjoyed Donnie Yen's character Chirrut and wished he'd had more dialogue and exploration of his philosophy. There was something instinctively likeable about Riz Ahmed's Bodhi and I wanted some more character beats from him. I would have appreciated getting into the head of Diego Luna's character Cassian for more than one conversation.

If I had any trepidation about this film it was because the director of the underwhelming Godzilla was back. Given his previous love of refusing to give fans what they wanted to see I was pleased to see he's now adapted himself to his current audience, loading in the expected fan service (to the point where I laughed when Gold Leader & Red Leader appeared) and framing action scenes so that you can - get this - understand what's happening! Good on you, Gareth Edwards.

You've probably already seen or are going to see Rogue One. But, on the off-chance that you aren't sure and you do love Halo: Reach then you and I meet on the same Venn diagram. In that spirit, enjoy the picture.

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