Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rogue One and "Escape"

I have been thinking about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and of a few more things that bother me about the movie. I have a friend who is a big fan of Star Wars movies. I asked her what she thought of Rogue One. She said it bothered her that there are so few female characters. It's true, there are few, but I pointed out that the lead character is female. That didn't do much for her (my friend), though. But is the female lead, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, really female? Or is she just a male character cast as a female, as is so common in movies, television, comic books, and fiction these days? Worse yet, is she not even a character but just a plot device disguised as a character?

Forest Whitaker plays a character (or plot device) called Saw Gerrera in Rogue One. (His name is an obvious pun on the theme of war.) In the movie, he is referred to as an extremist and is looked down on by the Rebellion. I thought that was odd. Is that the intrusion of contemporary politics into a movie about a time long ago and a galaxy far, far away? There seem to be parallels in the movie between Gerrera's group and Muslims on Earth and between the attack on the convoy and a terrorist attack in the Middle East of today. Just what are the moviemakers getting at? Wouldn't it be better just to leave out things like that?

Speaking of the attack, why didn't the Empire just fly their shipment out of the city? Why did they have to transport their kyber crystals in overland vehicles? In too many science fiction movies, science and technology are used in the same way magic is used in fantasy: what the wielder of magic (or technology) can do with his abilities is essentially arbitrary. Gandalf can do all kinds of things, but he can't levitate himself out of the pit when he falls in with the Balrog? The Empire can fly a moon-sized space station between galaxies, but it can't lift off from the surface of a planet with a shipment of kyber crystals?

The way the Rebellion makes important decisions is downright laughable. Everybody gets together in a big room, they all get to put in their two cents worth, and there isn't any order or organization to their meeting. It's just a bunch of people shouting at each other. It's like a bunch of students sitting around in a lounge or a dorm room and talking about a problem. I suppose these scenes (there's one in The Force Awakens, too) are supposed to let us know that the Rebellion is democratic and inclusive, unlike that nasty, oppressive Empire. I'm skeptical, though. I doubt that a democratic structure, which tends to become no structure at all and very quickly a mob, has ever led to victory in war. I'm pretty sure only a hierarchical structure is capable of that.

The Rebellion seems to be pretty timid and tentative before being forced into the final battle. Keep in mind that Rogue One takes place very shortly before Star Wars. However, the rebels in Star Wars are not the same rebels as in Rogue One, and they didn't get that way because of the events in Rogue One. They were hard, tough, determined, and courageous long before the opening scene of Star Wars.

Finally, it's pretty obvious that women and minorities are the good guys in Rogue One and that white men are the bad guys. Well, whatever. It's their movie, and I can't say that really bothered me. What bothered me more is that Darth Vader seems smaller. Yeah, David Prowse no longer plays the character, but they could have at least found someone with shoulders to (literally) fill the role.

* * *

There is a good commercial playing on television right now. It's for PlaySation Vue, and it's called "Escape." You can watch it by clicking here. I don't know how aware the makers of the commercial are of science fiction and dystopian literature. I wonder if these images and ideas are actually a part of the collective unconscious or of the zeitgeist of today's world. But the commercial begins like The Matrix and ends like THX 1138 or Logan's Run. "Escape" depicts a corporate dystopia, the great fear of at least one-half of the political spectrum in this country. I'm skeptical of the prospects for a corporate dystopia. I even have doubts about the plausibility of the conventional political dystopia. But this is a good commercial, and if there is anything like a corporate dystopia in America today, it surely has to do with cable television. (Just ask my sister, who has encountered men like Spoor and Dowser lately in her dealings with the cable company.)

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I still haven't seen Rogue One, so I can't really respond to your comments about the film specifically. But your observations on our pop culture in general seem spot on.

    The lack of realistic female characters in entertainment is all too real. In our attempt to create equal rights for women an important detail has been lost in the collective consciousness; there really are differences between men and women. As you note, all too often, attempts at depicting strong women result in females with masculine characteristics.

    Likewise with the attempt to attain racial diversity and equality.
    All too often in pop culture, this has turned into role reversal. Over the past fifty years the social pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, to the point that many caucasians now live in fear of offending blacks. In the fifties and early sixties, outspoken blacks were perceived as coons who didn't know their place. Today, a white person who disagrees with a black man is summarily labelled a racist regardless of the content of their remark. These are generalizations, I know, but generalizations that are representative of overall cultural views.
    This is not a step forward; it is a giant step sideways. Perhaps it is a necessary step when dealing with, adapting to, great shifts in a cultural paradigm. But currently we are in a confusing place wherein the issues are important but our individual and collective roles are uncertain.
    I guess moving forward against the tide is never easy...

    Maybe one day Mankind will reach the point where people won't have to be ashamed of the color of their skin, where women won't have to be embarrassed to be feminine, and where we each will be judged simply as individuals regardless of race or sex (or other factors in our makeup.)

    I really enjoyed the commercial for the PlayStation Vue. In addition to the stories you mentioned, it also brings to mind the movie The President's Analyst; a satirical 1967 film with James Coburn in the title role. It's one of those films that people seem to either hate or love, so I won't necessarily recommend it, but I like it and think it is worth checking out.

    1. Mike,

      Someone I know objected to the actress who plays Rey in The Force Awakens, calling her ugly. I wouldn't say that she's ugly, but neither is she beautiful. We have to remember, though, that femininity or feminine beauty is not what is valued in moviemaking today. Nobody would want a nineteen-year-old Carrie Fisher to play in a Star Wars movie of today. She would be too beautiful. What is valued is strong and very dominant women. I don't think that's only because moviemakers seem to believe that dominant female characters appeal to female viewers. It may also be because male moviemakers of a certain age seem never have never known a strong or dominant man, or if they have, they think of him in some pathological way. They have nothing on which to base a strong male character. Just my two cents worth of an opinion.

      As for black characters in movies and TV: a lot of them seem to be tokens. I'm lily-white and even I find that tokenism insulting. Why can't moviemakers be honest, courageous, and human in their chosen careers? I thought these people were supposed to be artists. Two more of my cents worth.


    2. That's interesting; I thought that Rey was quite lovely to look at. Just goes to show that everybody has their own aesthetic...