Friday, December 23, 2016

Rogue One: When Star Destroyers Collide (a review)

I didn’t see Rogue One on opening day. I blame The Force Awakens, for being a blandly likeable Star Wars film which wouldn’t inspire anyone to camp out in front of a theater for very long. I assumed Rogue One was more of the same. A few days after it had opened I found myself unable to read most of my favorite science fiction blogs – did I want to head right into the spoilers, or was I actually going to see it first? I decided to see it first, and I’m glad I did.  I’ll throw down a spoiler warning here since I assume people visiting my blog don’t hate Star Wars.  Just see it, it’s good, then you can wade into the spoilerfields with impunity.

First up, Rogue One is a war movie in which many humans die. Some are humans we’ve grown to care about. Gone are the days when Star Wars movies resorted to slaying battle droids in an attempt to make war movies without disturbing people by showing them mass casualties. I’m down with this development. I think sanitized war movies are disgusting, and that they are a slap in the face to everyone who ever had an ancestor fight in one, which is probably most of us.

This is not a fairy tale about a hero’s journey, but it's nevertheless about a hero. Our hero, Jyn Erso, is a likeable girl with rabbity front teeth and epic cheekbones who is small and fast and extremely decisive. Everyone in this franchise has superb cheekbones. Peter Cushing, who has the steepest facial parapets of them all, has been resurrected in fact, and chews up a little scenery as Grand Moff Tarkin, in what is probably a broader performance than Cushing would have really given.

Jyn’s parents suffer at the hands of the Empire, and she’s raised by a mafia boss for a while, then does some hard time before getting accidentally released when rebels storm the prison. She learns her father is still alive and she decides to rescue him, unaware her handsome new space boyfriend has been assigned to assassinate him.

She teams up with a ragtag band that includes a blind force-sensitive monk, a brave pilot, a burly heavy weapons guy, some awesome little dwarf lizard dudes, a multicultural gang of redshirts and a repurposed imperial droid with a twisted sense of humor. He provides the only comic relief, in fact. 

This is some grimdark Star Wars, and I ate it up like bitter, gloomy candy. It’s already tied with Empire for my favorite movie in the whole franchise. No hippie mysticism! No romance! No bickering! There’s stars, and then there’s some war – what more could you want? 

These terrorists go rogue (one) in a double-stolen spaceship, returning the rebels to their loveable space thug roots and rescuing them from the ghastly insufferable moral righteousness they were starting to develop. I applaud the lack of jedi; the teras kasi master is a vast improvement.

(I am convinced the blind monk is a nod to teras kasi masters in Star Wars Galaxies, otherwise known as the TKM – a tanklike build that inspired the Pandaren monks in WoW.  In old school SWG, a TKM could tank every bit as good as a jedi, which meant you didn’t have to put up with some preening diva of a jedi defender tank.)

The whole plot of Rogue One has to do with the loophole in the original movie – why would the imperials make a huge expensive death star that could be destroyed by one shot from an X-Wing? The answer is that the head designer did it deliberately, as sabotage, and he has entrusted his little girl with this information, and asked her to kindly get it to the rebels. 

The joyriding thugs head to a turquoise atoll where the imps are keeping the death star plans and everyone and everything gets seriously rekt in the ensuing battle. The rebel space fleet shows up to fight with the imps just above orbit, and the ground imps break out some tropical weight AT-ATs and other souvenirs. Vader appears for several cameos, force choking folks and floating in a bacta tank.

Princess Leia even cameos at one point, which brought tears to my eyes since Carrie Fisher had a heart attack just before I headed into the theater, and in fact I checked my phone immediately after I got out to find out if she was still okay. And the brave X-Wing squad from Episode 4 returns, to hector the imps’ flying hardware and bring about the single greatest SW camera shot of all time – the Two Colliding Star Destroyers. 

OMG, the Two Colliding Star Destroyers! Sheer poetry! One of my favorite things about the whole SW universe is the way it depicts engineering failure on a collossal scale, and the Two Colliding Star Destroyers are … the visual equivalent of the sonic detonators from episode two. Even if this film had been staffed entirely by gungans and ewoks, with a middle third consisting of jedi aphorisms being recited over ethereal music in a field full of fireflies, the Two Colliding Star Destroyers would save it.

In fact, right after I get done with my current series I am totally writing something about the Two Colliding Star Destroyers. Except franchise shifted, of course. Maybe I could do the Poseidon Adventure in space with some people from one of said Star Destroyers – or I could do it twice, with two different ragtag bands of survivors trying to reach each other. So many possibilities. I’m sure I’ll think of more when I’m getting my Two Colliding Star Destroyers tattoo in the near future.

If you’ve ever wanted to see two star destroyers collide, go see this movie right now. 

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