Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Disney Goes Rogue

If there's at least one thing you can give credit to George Lucas for when he introduced Star Wars to the world it would be originality. He took a lot of generation spanning story elements that had been around for a long time and transported them into a completely new backdrop. Such is the very essence of original creativity and the reason Star Wars had such a huge impact on my generation. It was enough to foster a certain nostalgic desire to re-live that experience, and that is extremely difficult not only because we see things differently as we age but also because if you were to try and re-introduce the same formulas again, they would by definition no longer be original. That is the paradox of the Hollywood sequel and constant curse of its creators.

Few fan bases have been so hard to please as those of the original trilogy. Look no further than the widespread disdain toward the Star Wars prequels as evidence. Lucas was not out to re-create whatever experience his fans might have had with his films. He just wanted to tell his story and although it was new and creative in its own right, the basic premises and the backdrop were the same as before. What did the fans expect? Well, the best you can do is provide little homages to the original work to tell the fans you understand them, you know how they feel. Studios often play into that to bring audiences to the theater, but not George. That would, and with no sarcasm here, be an artistic compromise.

When Disney took over the franchise, I think they vowed to avoid the reaction that greeted the prequel films when they set out to do the next trilogy. So in their first installment, The Force Awakens, they went completely the other way. Not only did they fill it with tributes and references to the original trilogy, but they kept the main actors in their original roles and practically duplicated the plot line of Episode IV. Well, it worked. They got their stamp of approval from the fans, but by re-enacting so much of the original work's form, they created something that lacked what made it so good to begin with, namely, originality. Then again, who could hope to re-create that?

Last night I went to see Rogue One, the second Star Wars franchise film from Disney Studios. The trailers had set me up for a war movie and probably revealed too much of the overall story, but I have to say, as an original trilogy fan myself, it was quite an experience on many levels. I may have to see it again to take it all in but for now, parsing it out for you the readers will help me gain some clarity. At some point beyond here there will be spoilers so if you plan to see it in the future you should go no further. But do enjoy the fan made movie poster above, which is done in the spirit of the original trilogy posters and looks a lot better than any that Disney Studios put out there.

============================ spoilers below =======================


Moviegoers are about to see the most serious minded drama placed into the Star Wars universe. By that I simply mean that the film takes its universe seriously. It may be a long time ago in a galaxy far away, but the story is told as if that world is as real as our own. Star Wars was part of a sub-genre of sci-fi known as the space opera, which like a musical opera, intends to transport us into a different place that is often full of exaggerations and stereotypes. This film steers clear of such things. It does not draw a straight line between good and bad characters. It showcases more human looking cast members than aliens so as not to distract you from the drama. One of the more delightful treats was seeing familiar space ships traveling over vast planetary landscapes that were just beautiful, but not really all that alien. This was one of the more subtle ways they managed to please us fans - by allowing us to see all those familiar war machines and space ships from our childhood memories and make them seem real. The death star rising like the moon on the horizon. AT-AT walkers attacking on a tropical atoll. And of course the familiar faces. ILM worked miracles re-creating the late Peter Cushing as Tarkin, and a stunning cameo shot of the young Princess Leia. They got role reprisals for Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. I have to say that the last 45 minutes was so chock full of fan material that it all but got out of control - all that "blue leader" to "red leader" banter. But what guilty pleasure to see more footage of those rebels and ties battling in space. I even had to laugh at one scene of a rebel in a watchtower looking out over the sunset at an X-wing leaving Yavin base - a re-creation of an original trilogy scene but now made real with a longer shot to enjoy it. It is wonderful that Rogue One explained some critical things about Episode IV, like Tarkin's rise to power, and why the Death Star had its fatal flaw, but did it have to lead right up to the very start of A New Hope? Nonetheless, most of the film stuck faithfully to the plot at hand.

It is also an odd paradox that the serious tone of the film was probably born of the meticulous desire to remain true to the Star Wars timeline. Your heart wants to be sad that every new main character dies by the end, but then your fan-brain kicks in and says that it has to be that way - otherwise we would have to explain why these people don't appear in the originals. Another clever invention was Donnie Yen's blind force-wielder Chirrut Imwe. What a great character he was. Not a jedi, as we know the Jedi were killed off by Palpatine except for a named few, but it shows how the force is accessible to anyone with enough faith. His fight scenes were in my opinion some of the most memorable.

One of my favorite characters from the original trilogy was Admiral Akbar. The Mon Calamari race were supporters of the rebellion early on and so they appear prominently in the Rogue One battles, but that Admiral Raddus sure did act and sound like Akbar if you ask me ;). And they took a new direction for an android "counterpart" who was a straight man like 3PO but not as bumbling. If I had to change one thing it would be the score. Sure it needed to be sad and foreboding, but not for the entire film! It's as if they didn't want the audience to get too emotionally involved so as not to let them down in the end.

Because such a different approach was taken with the material, mixing of old and new on a different backdrop, I would suggest that it succeeded in creating something original. And I wager that has something to do with why Mr. Lucas liked it better than the last installment. I'm hoping when Episode XII comes out Disney will continue to create new material but still preserve some connection to us original fans.

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