Monday, December 26, 2016

Was Rogue One a stealth attempt at killing Star Wars nostalgia forever?

After watching Rogue One, I never ever ever want to see the Death Star again. I never want to see those green lasers merging into the single green super-laser. I never want to see a Stormtrooper or a TIE Fighter or an X-Wing or Y-Wing or any other kind of -Wing. I sure as fuck never want to see another Star Destroyer. I've had it up to here with those flying pizza slices. Even the sound effects started to get on my nerves after awhile. I NEVER want to hear another voice filtered through that particular Stormtrooper-sounding filter again, that thin walkie-talkie sound that seemed so cool and science-fictiony in 1977 but now just sounds thin and walkie-talkie-ish. Hey, it's almost like THE SHIT THAT SEEMED COOL IN 1977 NOW SEEMS KIND OF DATED AND LAME.

Which brings us to Darth Vader. SPOILER ALERT: Darth Vader appears in three scenes in Rogue One. In one spectacularly dumb scene Ben Mendelsohn's becaped Krennic visits Vader at his gigantic castle that spouts streams of lava (Darth Vader as you know was created by being burned up in lava; the guy has a weird sense of humor I guess, like Alice Cooper when he danced on-stage with whiskey bottles after kicking booze). In this scene we see Vader floating in a healing tank like the one used to revive Luke after he got mauled by The Abominable Snowman in Empire. Those healing tanks don't work so well on massive lava burns and amputations, because Vader still needs his Vader suit to live. It's meant to be a huge oh-my-motherfucking-God moment when Vader walks out to meet Krennic, but the moment is all wrong from the start. The second Vader don't gasp or hold your breath or think “Holy shit Darth Vader” you just sort of chuckle. Chuckle at Darth Vader? How did things go so wrong?

The problem with Vader points up the problem with the whole movie: the stuff beamed in from 1977 so old school Star Wars fans can have their ejaculatory moments clashes so hard with the newly-conceived material that it just ruins the whole thing. The old stuff feels SO OLD AND LAME when it shows up in the middle of this visually arresting, punchy 2016 outer space war movie. You can't HELP but chuckle at the sight of Darth Vader who in this movie isn't menacing or scary at all but just seems like a tall guy in a goofy costume making Darth Vader noises and talking in a James Earl Jones voice. Vader showing up in this movie is like if the lizard guy Kirk fought in the old Star Trek show suddenly popped up in one of the new Trek movies and it was the same costume. For real. It would be EXACTLY THE SAME AS A DUDE IN A RUBBER SUIT SHOWING UP IN A 2016 MOVIE. Because that's what it is. That's not Darth Vader up there, it's a guy in a Darth Vader suit. Cosplay belongs on the street outside the theater, not IN the movie.

The nostalgia elements are so TERRIBLE in this movie, so downright hilariously ill-conceived and ill-executed, that you almost wonder if this stuff wasn't made shitty on purpose. Seriously though. “But why would they ruin their own movie?” you ask. Well I have a conspiracy theory on that. What if Gareth Edwards and company were so resentful of being forced to shoehorn nostalgia elements into their film that they deliberately made those elements cheesy and lame as a demonstration of how idiotic nostalgia has become? What if their actual goal was to, by ruining their own film, teach a lesson in how you don't need nostalgia to create a good film? Okay okay, I admit, this is a stretch. Of course they wouldn't want to ruin their own movie. And of course it would be giving the studio brass too much credit to believe they would learn ANY lesson here at all. As long as the movie makes money, it's all good to the guys in the suits, and this movie was ALWAYS going to make money. The question – and this question is sort of unanswerable – is how much money the movie WOULD have made WITHOUT the cheap callbacks to the original Star Wars? Would the film have lost steam with fanboys and not picked up their repeat business had it failed at catering to their fantasies? We can speculate but it's useless. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what I saw with my own eyes and what I saw was a movie that could have been really tight and compelling drama if not for the stupid stupid shit it kept shoveling into my face on the assumption that my brain was not capable of absorbing something actually new and not-directly-connected to the original Star Wars universe.

The nostalgia is extra-annoying here because it seems wholly unnecessary. The film really could have stood on its own without Vader and Tarkin, the constant fetishistic shots of the Death Star (gorgeous as they may be), and the Star Destroyers and the rebel ships and the totally useless cameos by C3PO and R2D2 and other more-obscure characters. Cut all that shit out, eject the over-the-top silly space battles, tighten the whole thing up and you have yourself a perfectly good Star Wars Expanded Universe action movie. Sure, the new characters aren't especially memorable but what difference does that make when SPOILERS they're going to die in the end anyway? And maybe the characters WOULD be memorable if they'd been given more time to establish their relationships. The Force Awakens is jammed full of stuff too, including nostalgia, but it still has time to make its characters feel real, still allows itself smaller, more intimate scenes. In just a couple short moments, you get the sense that Rey and Han really do feel for each other. You get a genuine sense of what a broken dude Kylo Ren is. You actually feel the friendship – or whatever it is – between Finn and Poe. It doesn't take much but you have to know how to slow the movie down and get those moments in and in Rogue One there's no time in between the hammer-hits on the nostalgia button. And maybe Gareth Edwards just isn't all that good with quiet moments.

Edwards is good with action – better than J.J. Abrams – and a lot of the ground-based action stuff in Rogue One is really first-rate, exciting, clearly shot-and-edited, technologically top-of-the-line. And then there are the outer space battle scenes which are frenzied and tiresome and video-game-ish in the worst way. Was the outer space stuff part of Edwards' initial conception or was it foisted on him by the studio? How much of this movie is a reflection of Edwards' vision and how much is studio-mandated hooey? I want to believe ALL the extraneous stuff came about by studio edict, and that Edwards included it against his will. I want to believe there's another cut of Rogue One floating around somewhere that doesn't have Vader, Tarkin, SPOILER Leia, the droids from the originals, tons of X-Wing/Y-Wing/Star Destroyer crap, the lame scenes at the end that tie the movie literally and limply and POINTLESSLY together with the opening of A New Hope...any of that pure fan-service stuff. Maybe someday a good human will make their own cut of Rogue One along the lines of the fan edits of the Special Editions that remove all the superfluous junk Lucas added later. Rogue One The Theatrical Edition is its own Special Edition. It needs to be made less special. It needs to be pulled out of the asses of fanboys, hosed off and re-displayed in its proper form.

I almost wish Rogue One had tanked. Perhaps its failure would have served as a clear signal to the suits that nostalgia doesn't work. But I guess the joke's on me. The box office returns show that nostalgia DOES work. Now I feel like half-robot Forest Whitaker sucking on a Frank Booth gas-mask and just wanting to get it over with.

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