by Brenda W. Clough
They really tried, OK? The effort is almost perfect, all the boxes checked off. But Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie, is curiously uninvolving. One can watch the increasing complications as the characters get themselves more and more deeply into the hole, and feel only calm. I ought to care. Why do I not?
Prequels are always hard. There is no true suspense, not if you have seen the earlier (also know as the later) movies. And they have to dovetail neatly into all the stuff that we have been watching since 1977. And they did do this, perfectly. There are no seams or bad joins that I can see; there are Star Wars geeks who can probably pick a nit but this more casual viewer can’t discern them.
This season I have my stupid filters cranked up fairly high, and the gustiness and counting-upon-luck quality of all the participants grates on my nerves. All right, it is showily heroic to charge in on a wing and a prayer. But it would be more cunning, a more wise use of resources, smarter, to think it through and lay deep plans. This may well be the role of the Force — harnessing the spontaneity, the knack, that turns chance your way. (But this cannot be true. What about the midichlorians? They throw a monkey wrench into everything.) I cannot ever again admire idiots, or overtly stupid actions; there’s too much of that in real life for a viewer to derive any pleasure from moronity on the screen. What’s that you say? That it’s science fiction? Well! You need to go and see Arrival, and see how intelligence is the sexiest thing going.
Another quality, which I also noted in The Force Awakens, is the necessity to check off all the plot and SFX boxes. Yeah, uncertain spaceship wanderings. The motley assortment of adventurers. Very tall or deep drops, wildly impractical, through which characters have to climb or fall. Zip-and-swoop space battles, curiously unimpeded by the presence or absence of atmosphere. The way everything in the universe seems to be about 20 minutes away. It is as if there is a spreadsheet somewhere, with all the bases that have to be touched in every Star Wars movie. This lends the thing a sameness that saps originality. They also deliberately made an effort to hit the Bechdel target, making this the most asexual Star Wars movie of all time. Not that this is aying very much, after the catastrophes of the romance element in #s 1 to 3.
And, oh dear. Someone get those people some of the works of Sigmund Freud. The entire space battle in the last quarter of the film. The unfortunate fascination for long skinny things, paired with roundish impenetrable barriers. I am sure none of the younger viewers see this. Those of you who are old enough to remember diaphragms? I trust you have already seen the movie and can now laugh in the privacy of your own home. Don’t tell the kids.
However! A friend of mine notes that this is the movie in which Star Wars really shows that it was war. People die heroically and for a good cause, but they die, dead — an unaccustomed finality in a genre of perpetual sequels. I was waiting to see if the creators would wuss out and get characters off the hook, retire them to St. Croix or the Barbados, but no — they had the honesty of their convictions. There is some notably clever CGI that you might not even notice. And the very final scene makes it worthwhile. Suddenly the sensawunda is there again, and we’re good to go! But then the credits roll, and all you can do is go home and watch the old DVDs.