19 February, 2017

Some Thoughts on Rogue One Part 2 (of One Trillion)

(Continuing my thoughts on Rogue One, as promised, here's my second article. This one really isn't about the movie at all. I don't know that any of them really will be. Talking about the actual movie doesn't seem terribly interesting to me. What gets me, what makes me think, is all of the things that got put together, that had to happen, to make a new Star Wars happen. Because it isn't so much that it did happen, it's how it happened. This is about that. I guess. Also, you know, Rogue One is pretty cool.)


Before George Lucas sold his eponymous company to Disney (and its eponymous head in a jar), there once was a corporation called “Lucas Arts.” They made, among other things, Star Wars games. Coming hot off of the heels of third-person adventure games like Uncharted and Gears of War, the Lucas people decided that they wanted a slice.

Pictured: Space-bums.
The game they came up with was Star Wars: 1313. It was to be their gritty answer to the current video game market. It was to be a gritty take on the Star Wars universe as we know it (so, not like the prequels). While the Jedi populated the cleaner, more council-based part of Corusicant, you would live in the part of the planet that used astromech droids as hobo fires.

The game was never to be. When Lucas sold his company, Disney axed Lucas Arts, and with it 1313. The game got cancelled because Disney knows here was more money in the licensing business than there is in actual video game development (which is why they literally own everything now).

1313 is one of those “What could have been” moments. The concept was solid. The tech was there. And, most importantly for what I am about to get into, the concept was there. It was what people like me have been pining for since that poor schizophrenic kid shouted “Yahoo!” We grew up and Star Wars did not. 1313 was to give us something that we had wanted for years: A grown up Star Wars, one that was more Boba Fett than it was Ewoks.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the long-awaited fulfillment of that promise. Star Wars was always a lived-in universe. One full of rust and sand and heat stroke, but at the edge of all of that is a type of mythical magic that you only get from fairy tales and, hell, the Bible (at least for me, as a kid I had both of those books next to each other on the bookshelf. I'm sure Joseph Campbell would approve). Rogue One is a step farther in the direction of grit than the franchise has ever gone. It's a move that carries on the spiritual legacy of what 1313 was supposed to be.

While The Force Awakens seeks to recapture that old magic, Rogue One exists as a clear, if safe, counter-point to that. It’s something new, but not too new. It’s something people wanted, but not something that people didn’t know that they wanted. But, it's also still recognizably Star Wars. It’s something that I’ve wanted to see for decades.

Or at least I thought that I did.

"Great kid, don't get cocky!"
Having walked out of Rogue One, as good or as bad as it is, represents how sometimes what you want isn’t actually what you want. I thought I wanted an updated, gritty Star Wars movie. I thought I wanted The Big Red One with even more Star Wars in it. I was wrong. What I actually wanted, after years of supplementary materials and video games and books and the prequels, was just more of that Star Wars magic. What I actually wanted was The Force Awakens. I wanted something full of wonder. I wanted a John Williams score that mattered, damnit! Grit wasn't what drew me to Star Wars all those years ago.

We already exist in a world full of grit. Right now, the world appears to be this incomprehensible mess that seems to gain strength vacillating between distant confusion and local horror. Over here we seem to have actual Star Wars villains running the show and, elsewhere, we have people running around committing acts that would give the Sith pause. Maybe this wasn't any different in the late 1970's. Maybe it's me. Maybe I don't know any better. Even during the height of the War on Terror, when the Prequel Trilogy concluded, it didn't ever seem this bad.

And maybe that's why Star Wars worked.

It came out at the height of New Hollywood's decadence (detailed in Raging Bulls and Easy Riders). Famously, it crushed William Freidkin's Sorcerer*, an even grittier remake of The Wages of Fear. Only in hindsight would this be seen as the death knell of New Hollywood (culminating in other high budget bombs such as One From the Heart, and New York, New York, and, most importantly, Heaven's Gate). To say that Star Wars ended the gritty, adult films of the 1970's is an oversimplification, but it does speak to the idea that good doesn't always mean "adult." This isn't to say that Sorcerer was a bad movie. I choose to see it as a statement that Star Wars was a good movie. People made their choice and they made it in droves**.

These things work in cycles. I'm sure Joseph Campbell would probably have something to say about this. . .

There's something to be said about us changing, about the fans changing, and not the series itself, though, maybe that's another issue entirely. Back to the issue at hand. . .

"Let me tell you about the original
Luke Skywalker. . . His name was
Jesus Christ."
Star Wars always existed as this mytho-poetic counter-part to reality. As much as it commented on fears of the Nazis or about Ronald Reagan's own Star Wars Program, George Lucas' baby always belonged to the older, safer spheres of people like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. They weren't bold innovators. They didn't take risks. They were people that dug in and turned inwards. For Star Wars to boldly go where no Star Wars has gone before is, almost, a betrayal of what Star Wars stands for. It's why The Force Awakens worked and it's why I'm nervous about The Last Jedi. What makes "new" Star Wars movies work is that they're a counter-balance between old stuff that works and, well, old stuff that's dressed to look like you've never seen it before. Rogue One is fairly new in a lot of ways and that's where I think it fails. It's both not different enough to stand out on its own and any changes that it has in its structure just highlights what made A New Hope and Empire so good in the first place.

Star Wars is about the past. It's a reflection of both civilization's mythology and it's, most annoyingly, about our own mythology. I pity the poor daughters and sons of bitches that have to make a new one-- Especially if they want to make it good. That must be a nightmare.

As good as it might be, Rogue One is a perfect example of why you should be careful what you wish for—Especially if you’re a fanboy. The reality of the thing is not always what you imagined it to be. In short, sometimes a fantasy is better off as just that: A fantasy.

(See? Even the logo had grit!)


*Apparently Shane Meadows is working on a remake of Sorcerer. Because apparently he wants to personally torture my friend Eric Bryan, long time Sorcerer fan and enemy of Shane Meadows. And, also, appropriately, it's going to be coming out opposite a new goddamn Star Wars. Because, sure, what the fuck. Why the hell not?

**Yes, I'm aware that Rogue One has made a billion dollars world wide. I'm not arguing against that. I'm arguing about my enjoyment and the wider meaning of turning a kid's saga into a war story, and that this is something worth thinking about whether you're a big fan or not! Pay attention, you plebe!

James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster. He also sends harassing letters to public officials. If you'd like to support his endeavors, please check out the Patreon for his podcast production squadron.