Let’s start with this: I think Rogue One and Martin Luther King Jr. are both great. (For very different reasons, of course.)
But I think the new Star Wars movie and the holiday celebrating a civil rights hero might have something else in common. So let’s see if I can explain this without sounding a few shots short of a Stormtrooper.
Although I genuinely enjoyed Rogue One for the great acting and payoff on plot promises, after I walked out of the theaters, I asked myself two questions:
Why can’t I remember any of the characters’ names except Jyn?
And why am I only mildly sad?
(Spoiler Alert: Bail out here if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to.)
The movie’s suicide mission was, in a surprising twist of realism, actually a suicide mission. Our heroes got the Death Star plans, but died in the process. And yet, while Rogue One is darker than Star Wars IV-VII (those are the only other movies in the franchise I acknowledge), it didn’t feel like a tragedy.
Maybe because Princess Leia calls the plans “hope” to save the galaxy…and we cheer when she shows up. We know her. That’s our heroine, the one who gets the happy ending, the guy, the glory. It’ll all work out in the end, we are reminded, and all those tragic deaths are a part of the bigger picture.
And maybe also because the movie pulled punches with character development. Meaning, all the characters are essentially orphans, or at least that’s the conclusion we’re supposed to draw since their backstories (except Jyn’s) are only vaguely hinted at. Their only goals are entirely contained in the success of the mission.
We’re hopeful at the end of Rogue One because our one-shot characters sacrificed to achieve victory for the real protagonist: the Rebellion. They got what they wanted, and so did the audience.
Again, let me say: this is not bad or lazy writing in my opinion, although I know some people who disagree. To me, it’s what you do if you want to create a standalone war movie where everyone dies and the audience feels sad but triumphant in the end (and you want to spend time on cool action scenes).
As I thought about the movie, the next thing that came to mind as was that Rogue One reminds me of African American History Month. Which led me to ask two other questions:
Why do I only remember the names of a few headliners like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.?
And why am I only mildly sad when they fight and live and die without seeing their dreams of justice realized? (more…)