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Monday, January 23, 2017

Obligatory Star Wars Post

Well, finally went to see Rogue One. I'll comment on that movie in a bit, but first I wanted to link to a a piece about the original Star Wars flick.

First, a lengthy examination of the aesthetic of Star Wars (77) by John Powers. His blog is called Star Wars Modern, and he's got some good stuff there--not just about Star Wars. This particular essay isn't on the blog exactly, but linked to from there. He's looking at the way Episode IV fits into the art movements of its time. Pretty interesting stuff. Here's a bit of it:

A flying saucer had never been a slum before. The immaculate silver sheen of the saucer was reinvented as a dingy Dumpster full of boiler parts, dirty dishes, and decomposing upholstery. Lucas’s visual program not only captured the stark utopian logic that girded modern urban planning, it surpassed it. The Millennium Falcon resisted the modernist demand for purity and separation, pushing into the eclecticism of the minimalist expanded field. Its tangled bastard asymmetry made it a truer dream ship than any of its purebred predecessors. It is the first flying saucer imagined as architecture without architects.
 
By placing Episode IV in the aesthetic and political context of its times, Powers is able to gain insight into its impact on the world that would come after. I'd read that Lucas intended the Empire to be the United States before, though I don't recall where (it was conceived as a response to the Vietnam war). I think there's more about that concept in J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars, a book that's on my list to read. Someday I'll get to it. When the world has ended and I'm the only one left and I've broken my only pair of spectacles.

I haven't read much of Marvel's new Star Wars comics. Just Kieron Gillen's Darth Vader series, which is excellent. I haven't gotten to the end yet, so don't spoil it for me in the comments.  Gillen's one of my favorite writers these days. I'll probably devote a post to his work before too long.

Back to Star Wars...I wasn't crazy about the first hour of Rogue One. I'm tempted to say that I thought it was a waste of time. Then the action started, so that was okay. My son loved it, but only at the end. There was a bit with an alien lie detector that's tonally out of place and is just plain disturbing. It's when this weird slug octopus is going to interrogate an Empire pilot who has defected to the rebellion and wants to help destroy the Death Star. I was trying to figure out why it was so disturbing; after all, it's not as though we haven't seen the threat of torture before: Leia has to deal with that weird floating needle robot in Episode IV, and Han gets that sparking stabby thing in Empire. My only guess is that the scene in Rogue One featured an alien creature as the torture device. It was disgusting, intentionally so, and horrific precisely because of its organic nature. That the previous scenes featured electronic devices softened them a bit?

It might be a stretch to call the scene in Rogue One torture or "enhanced interrogation," but that's how it feels. And this leads to the second reason it was so unpleasant: it was done at the behest not of Vader, but of somebody we're supposed to think is a good guy. Vader's appearance codes him as evil, so we expect evil things of him. We first see Saw Gerrera saving the main character, who's a young girl. So we initially think he's on our side. Then we get that scene, which is essentially the second scene he's got in the film. Its effect is to show us that we can't really trust him, because who would subject anybody to...that...whatever it is that happens offscreen once we're off to follow Jyn and Cassian. I guess we're supposed to figure that the rebellion isn't all that great, and that it counts among its members people who are willing to justify their means by the end they achieve. Saw wants to know if this defecting pilot's motives are genuine, and I assume he gets his answer. But he still imprisons the pilot. Okay, I looked up his name: Bodhi Rook. Not sure I would ever have learned that from the movie.

So that's another reason I didn't care for the first hour. That scene, and Saw Gerrera. They felt tonally dissonant from the rest of the film.

Birth.Movies.Death did a debate about the film, one writer liking it, the other not so much. Is it weird to say that I agree with both?


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