16. Rogue One (2016)

I haven’t got loads to say about Rogue One—I just want to air some thoughts about that ending. Naturally, spoilers abound from here on.

It was clear from the start that the droid, K-2SO, was going to die. Or really that should read “die”, because as a robot he is made from metal, feels no pain and can thus only really be developed as a character to a certain extent. He has no family, no ambitions or hopes or fears. He’s just funny. That makes him perfect fodder for the message aimed at children who go to see Star Wars that “War isn’t all that great, actually, and terrible things happen” without them having to see their beloved plucky human hero bleed to death after taking shrapnel from an accidental strafing of friendly fire.*

What wasn’t clear was that everyone was going to get it—literally every heroic character introduced in the film dies at or near the end, other than Forest Whitaker’s character, who dies near the beginning. In a final few shots reminiscent of a nuclear explosion—or more pertinently, the planetary collision from the end of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia—our two beautiful young heroes embrace and are vaporized forever.

At the risk of sounding morbid, I thought it was brilliant.

Hollywood has come to be a bit predictable, and risk-free. The Youtube channel Nerdwriter (which, embarrassingly, I have to admit to watching avidly and thus confess to being, I suppose, a nerd) has outlined what they call “the epidemic of passable movies”. What they essentially mean by that is that a huge volume of the films that come out now are neither good nor even bad. They have no tone, which makes them inoffensive in a way that is even worse than it would be if they were terribly written, or badly acted, or stupid, or arguably even offensive. You come out of them thinking “meh”. You have no memory of the taste of the film, as if you’ve eaten a loaf of cheap white bread and are wondering why you’re still hungry.

When I wrote about The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a film that got pretty iffy reviews across the board, I said that I liked it because it looked good and it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was a good fantasy adventure. Same with Troy. To me, it was a film with tone. These films knew what they were meant to do, and they did it. Watch, say, Suicide Squad, and the tone is all over the place—funny one moment, deathly serious the next. We don’t know how we’re meant to feel because each scene immediately erases the emotion evoked in the previous one.

Rogue One was in terrible danger, when announced, of becoming passable. It could have stuffed celebrity cameos into the plot, made loads of passing references to old Star Wars films, and have lazily become a pastiche of itself. Instead, it managed to keep things fresh whilst accessible for a younger audience, and whilst still retaining independence over its own tone. That tone? I suppose it could be called “deflating”.

The reason why the end of Rogue One is important is that it represents a place where the filmmakers (the writers, director, producers, studio execs etc) could easily have compromised to be popular. The highly likeable Jyn could have survived whilst Cassian died. They both could have survived whilst Riz Ahmed’s Bohdi died. The three of them could have survived whilst K-2SO died. It would have made ita hell of a lote easier for parents who didn’t want to have to explain difficult questions to their downcast children. But no. Literally all the heroes die at the end of this film, and even then it’s very nearly for nothing, as Vader slaughters his way to within a few feet of the precious Death Star plans. The film doesn’t compromise to be popular, and therefore it tiptoes around the trap of “passability”, retaining artistic credibility and a very serious emotional punch.

Perhaps ironically, that made me happy.

The other thing that made me happy was the fact that the cast was so diverse. By this point, “diversity” as a buzzword in film has become such a cliché I reckon I could write about it in my sleep, so all I’m going to say is this: for a film whose humans are meant to represent all of humanity (I mean, it’s set in space after all), at least 50% of the characters should be south or east Asian. The fact that out of the main six characters, only two were white hugely enriched the film. Although: more women next time, please.

*Side note: this is pretty much what happens to Galen Urso, but it’s glossed over by the emotional impact of his death on Jyn and only mentioned in passing

@tom_boc

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