May 25, 1977: A long time ago, in a galaxy not far away

State of the Story on the 40th anniversary of Star Wars

Vintage one sheets — my office. And there is a reason I’ve only the two. It is not because I don’t own the others.

Here at Iron Ladies we have a roundtable show in the works. We are developing format for the sets, script blocking, show notes. We’ve hired a producer. A few weeks ago, we did a dry run. For that dry run, we chose to discuss Rogue One and the franchise in general — because that’s why we cared about R1, how it affected the story.

I am a vintage fan who went to the movies in the summer of ’77. Among our writers are fans, in varying stages of disillusionment after The Force Awakens, and casual Star Wars watchers. Our producer is, one a he, and two still a die-hard fan in love with Rogue One who shook his head through much of our test recording, telling us to keep talking while he adjusted the sound and tried not to listen to our fandom falsehoods.

We ended up with over an hour of video, only ending when Georgi Boorman’s baby woke from her nap. We got the sound sorted. My kids heard that Ryan, our producer and their music teacher, wanted more color in the background, so they got me a gorgeous deep purple vase for my credenza for Mother’s Day. Rachel Darnall’s desk was too wobbly, but it turns out that her husband was refinishing her actual desk. She was using a card table until he finished this beauty.

Our Rogue One video is a bit rough, first run and all, but we wrote up our quick takes for the show notes. Rachel, Georgi, and I participated in the discussion, so our comments are first. Any comments from our other writers will appear below that when they arrive. (These show posts will update for a day or so, to keep you coming back.) Oh, and I should probably mention that Rachel and I met via a R1 discussion. Somebody sent me one of her pieces because we seemed to be of similar mind. Our similar fan mind has become a running joke since. Georgi and I have been correspondents for a few years, but this was our first face-to-face. We did wonder why we hadn’t done something like it before. So more to come soon. Until then…

Thoughts on Rogue One and the Star Wars Story

From Rachel Darnall

I already know what Georgi thinks of Rogue One, and I can guess what Leslie thinks about it, so I think I am going to be in the awkward position of actually having to somewhat defend this movie because I think I hated it the least.

I am a complete Star Wars zealot, so from that standpoint I did not love Rogue One. I hated that they took the “umph” out of A New Hope’s ending by making the exhaust port a planted flaw. Watching the two back-to-back, this transfers a lot of the drama from A New Hope to Rogue One. It also does not really gel with some of the dialogue in ANH, for example when Leia reveals to Han that R2 is carrying the plans for the Death Star and she “only hopes” that when they analyze it a weakness can be found.

As a movie in its own right, I had both criticism and praise. I thought it had way too much backstory which gave the movie a slow start and actually didn’t really help you understand Jyn any better. Since when do Star Wars characters need long, drawn-out backstories? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I thought the CGI Tarkin and Leia were tacky — yes, it’s very impressive, but it’s kind of distracting, sitting there wondering how they recreated Peter Cushing’s chin hair.

But the one thing that almost makes up for all its weakness is: everybody dies. I thought that was nice, and I wasn’t expecting it. Even though Jyn’s development wasn’t particularly convincing, I did like that she ends up putting her life on the line for a cause that is bigger than she is. I think that is missing from a lot of movies today. Compare Jyn to, for example, Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen: Katniss’ motivation almost always has to do with someone who is close to her (like her sister or either of her two boyfriends) whereas Jyn & co sacrifice themselves for a more universal cause. I think they used to call that nobility.

But let’s really get to the elephant in the room: why is it 2017 and we are still not seeing a Star Wars movie with an alien protagonist?

From Georgi Boorman

Rogue One demonstrates how an action-packed, highly produced film in a famous franchise can still be boring.

Rogue One was a letdown. Predictably, it suffers from what ails the vast majority of blockbusters coming out of Hollywood these days: the originality problem. The Star Wars franchise has millions of fans spanning generations, and so any Star Wars film (so the producers must think) is going to be a smash hit simply out of loyalty. So, as with The Force Awakens, Disney rode the gravy train of nostalgia all the way to a $1 B box office gross. Recall that The Force Awakens was just A New Hope recycled, complete with a new, bigger Death Star. Rogue One wasn’t flirting with plagiarism, but it still had the Death Star, and it still had a boring plot with yet another young female heroine, with “daddy issues” just to add a touch of completely banal dramatic flair. Can drama be banal? Apparently.

That originality problem is compounded by a believability problem. For a composite character of such common tropes as impressive talent, a rebellious streak, unresolved (at the beginning) anger toward her father, and scrappiness, Jyn is not very believable. Not on the same level as Rey, who practically had superpowers, but the emotive energy is dim. Further exacerbating an already un-intriguing character is the way the other rebels interact with Jyn: Oh, you’ve been ignoring the war your whole life and only care about yourself, but now you’re suddenly super serious about it and want to not just join up, but be the leader? Please, lead us to our deaths with your grand perilous scheme to get the plans to the Death Star. At this point in the movie, the verisimilitude, already strained, frays to the point of leaving the audience suspended by a mere string.

A good sci-fi film relies heavily on the behavior of its characters imitating real life — when the natural world and its limitations are scrapped, this core of human nature must remain. It is not only the sense of reality that tethers the audience to the story, but true science fiction (and Star Wars really isn’t) should illuminate humanity, exploring its various facets by way of its impossible context.* Evidently, the writers of Rogue One (Chris Weitz wrote the screenplay for the second Twilight — why does that not surprise me) thought they could flush this rule out the airlock.

*This is why, in my opinion, Episodes IV, V, and VI were fairly successful as adventure but were flops as sci-fi. The battle of Hoth? Totally implausible battle decisions. Han encased in carbonite instead of killed? Right. At least I, II, and III were somewhat plausibly written on the geopolitical level, even though the acting wasn’t stellar and they lacked the original films’ sense of adventure.

From Leslie Loftis

Rogue One just continues the story smashing the prequels started. The prequels and sequels smothered the spirituality of the original story. When the Force was once a mystical energy shield that binds the galaxy together, now it just adds a little style and flash to Man’s struggles with evil. Han was right the first time. It really is a bit of luck disguised as magic tricks and nonsense.

From Anakin and the droid ship over Naboo to Starkiller base and patricide, none of it matters. The battles, the endless, escalating destruction? That’s as good as life gets, buddy. There really is no hope, no point in resistance. We are all going through Hell, and the repeated theme in the New and Improved Star Wars Universe is to just keep going. If only John Williams had known he was writing the theme for the book of Ecclesiastes, well it might not sound so triumphant.

Rogue One in particular turned the original story of our spiritual battle with evil into a nihilistic tale of what? Gritty battle scenes. Well, if I want gritty battle scenes and a tale of Man’s plight in the absence of Grace, then I’ll watch Game of Thrones, thank you very much. But stories of heroism and redemption that inspired children on up — that used to be the purview of Star Wars. That, at root, was what made it epic and iconic for a generation.

But the nihilists will have their way. Spirituality is silly. Redemption is nonsense. And they will make sure that any vestiges of those old concepts are swept away.