After a vacuum of blogging activity, I’m back to writing on this blog again! Lots of things have been happening since my last blog post – I directed a small-time musical, graduated high school, and moved to the United States, specifically, Seattle, to continue my studies. I won’t be blogging much about Indonesian films, but I’ll constantly check on my local arthouse cinema on new weird-ass releases. I saw Moonlight, La La Land, and several other great films of the year, but for now I’ve been itching to write about the film I’ve been waiting for these past couple years, a.k.a. me analyzing why my mom hated Rogue One.
SPOILER ALERT: This analysis contains major spoilers to the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Tread lightly, as the text will start after a pic of young Diego Luna below.
That was him in Y Tu Mamá También, a film about self-discovery and lots of s3x.
Okay…. so the highly anticipated Rogue One just went out in cinemas. The film is a historic first in the Star Wars franchise, being the first standalone story in its feature film repertory. The story itself is unique; it’s not about the drama of the Skywalker clan, nor the great mega-clash of light v dark side. It tells about a group of ragtag Rebels about to steal the plans for the Death Star, the powerful weapon the Empire is building. The group includes Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Death Star’s architect.
Rogue One doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film. My mom hated it – partly because there are no cute focus-altering characters like R2-D2 or BB-8, and the fact that it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film. The tone was different; shaky cam is used everywhere, Michael Giacchino’s score is boldly distinctive from the leitmotif-utilizing John Williams. It’s not….. fun. The ride was bumpy. It’s not really a feel-good film – it feels more like a Shakespearean tragedy where everybody dies at the end. Therefore, it intrigues me. This blockbuster has deeper themes that we can discuss, and so, I want to discuss them here.
This film contains lots of actors that makes you think… oh, it’s that actor from that movie. Felicity Jones from The Theory of Everything? Mads Mikkelsen from Hannibal? Donnie Yen… you mean Ip Man? Riz Ahmed… Jake Gyllenhaal’s sidekick from Nightcrawler? Yes, those names might ring some bells, but I would like to state one obvious thing – diversity. Since The Force Awakens, Star Wars has been adding lots of diversity to its characters.
Yet I believe that it’s long overdue – George Lucas’s original idea is inspired from the code and lifestyle of the Japanese samurai and the original trilogy is infused with references from Akira Kurosawa’s jidaigeki (the genre of Japanese period dramas) work. Toshiro Mifune, a regular collaborator of Kurosawa’s, was approached to play Obi Wan Kenobi, but he refused because he’s afraid the film would fall into cultural appropriation. For films that age, Asian characters being exoticised, white actors in yellowface, and films that appropriated East Asian culture is commonplace; no wonder Mifune rejected the collaboration. However, Lucas brought the culture not as a pure source, but as some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references that might be identifiable if you’ve watched a bunch of Kurosawa movies.
Well, for a film franchise that takes influence from East Asian culture that doesn’t fall into cultural appropriation, it is necessary for it to have an East Asian character. Even more than that – Star Wars has evolved into a globally recognized franchise popular around the world, and it is inspiring tons of little kids who come from different places. It is important for these kids to see themselves as heroes growing up. And now we see it in the new incarnation of Star Wars.
Chirrut and Baze, the ultimate dynamic duo.
The other thing about Rogue One that shook me is that the heroes are sometimes unlikeable. The token droid in this film isn’t some cuddly cute sidekick or a relief character. K-2SO is a brutally honest droid, cynical and sarcastic at times. He might come off as this sassy, bitter droid in some parts of the movie. Well, that’s a personality I want to see in a droid. We had C-3PO, a very helpful droid who at some times might be pessimistic, but K-2SO twisted that pessimism into his dry wit, which is interesting to see in a droid. Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso might fall into the unlikeable territory at the beginning of the film, but as their character progresses, we like them even more.
Speaking of Cassian, Rogue One plays a different stance on the usual black-and-white morality of Star Wars. Rogue One captures a spectral morality, most ardently shown by Saw Gerrera as a Rebel extremist, and the Rebel Alliance’s controversial decision to kill Galen Erso. Cassian himself is stuck in this spectral morality, and this is why he is such a complex character. I would like to compare him to Javert from Les Misérables and Aaron Burr from Hamilton; a man so stuck to obeying law and order, they couldn’t sense if the law and order is actually diverting from their own ideals, or worse, they don’t have true ideals because they keep obeying the law all the time. And when they realize that they’ve been believing in something so superficial after all this time, they respond to it in different ways. Javert kills himself after learning it from Jean Valjean’s kindness and Aaron Burr settles on a duel with his opponent, Alexander Hamilton, who pointed out this fact, and realizes it too late (after Hamilton died). Cassian Andor deals with this in a more optimistic way – he realizes this after getting to know his target, Galen Erso, and his daughter, and he proceeds to be a changed man and to do what’s needed to do albeit the radical direction and the hopelessness of the Rebel Alliance.
The ultimate idea that this film convey is about the horrors of war. This is why it doesn’t feel like a conventional Star Wars film. The franchise is called Star WARs, yet to promote the franchise to wider audiences, it reduces war to an extent of an epic battle of good and evil, and reduces the whole journey to who ultimately wins and loses. We see this so much in history books, as a ironically smart solution to covering as much material in such limited class time, where battles in World War II are reduced to who wins and who loses. We rarely see the war seen through the eyes of people who experienced it, and it is a very different, scary portrait. We learn the statistics of the casualties in our history classes, yet we can actually approach it through people who know how it feels to be a statistic, or how it feels to be affected by that statistic. War is seen as epic stories of who wins and who loses, and we see it in the Star Wars franchise all the time. In Rogue One, in this Shakespearean tragedy of a film, we see war as it truly is. A bad thing. Even though the good guys win, war is still a bad thing. Relationships are torn, confrontations ensue, people die. In Rogue One, we watch as the characters we built our sympathy to die one by one, only to be mentioned in the opening crawl for A New Hope as nameless Rebel spies.
And no one tells their story. At least, because we’re seeing the whole saga as the drama of the Skywalker clan, and this story is the first Star Wars story of its kind on the big screen. The Rogue One squad are left as remains of history, being one of the most pivotal people to secure a victory for the Rebel Alliance. And they moved to a new direction, diverting from the orders of the Rebel Alliance while they’re doing it. Luke Skywalker might be the big, honorable good guy, but it’s the little people who work behind the scenes who provide crutches for the big guys to succeed. And no one tells their story.