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rogue1

It is an odd thing to examine the landscape we find ourselves in in 2017. If you can recall what things were like before December of 2012, fans of the Star Wars series could only dream that there would be further cinematic outings featuring that universe, and if that were to come to fruition it would only ever likely come once George Lucas kicked the bucket and found himself as a means to describe a similarly dead parrot. And yet here we are five years and two cinematic entries into the series later and the landscape has decidedly changed. As fans of the Star Wars universe, we have had to twist our way of thinking and align it with the reality that whether we want them or not, we will be seeing yearly entries into the cinematic canon. How long will it be before Disney tries their luck with more than one film in a calendar year? We can’t know for sure, but having seen success with their Marvel output, I would wager a guess that it can’t be too far away.

A more interesting question going forward is whether or not future installments will branch away from what we consider to be the central narrative of the series thus far, the chronology that began with The Phantom Menace and is still directly continuing with The Last Jedi later this year. Every film thus far has been a link in a chain. Is it possible to tell a story in this universe that does not have ties to the central stories of Episodes I-VIII+? When Rogue One was released in December, it was an experiment. A Star Wars film featuring no Jedi? That would be a stretch for a good many casual fans. Indeed a good amount of chatter on the web featured confused commenters wondering why there was another death star, unaware that this was meant to serve as a prequel to A New Hope.  Given the overall box office success of the film, earning a total $1,055,724,829 worldwide based off of a reported 200 million dollar budget, it is highly likely that the takeaway Disney got from the release of Rogue One is that so long as the words “Star” and “Wars” are somewhere in proximity to the title they can expect astronomical returns on their monetary investment.

The upcoming Han Solo film directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller featuring Alden Ehrenreich in the role originated by Harrison Ford will be another major test for Disney. They want to see if audiences will allow and support the recasting of central characters for spinoff projects. When people think of Han Solo they think of Harrison Ford. It is not a James Bond situation where the name conjures multiple actors to mind depending on the personal experience of the audience in relation to the series. Han Solo and Harrison Ford are inseparable at this point. It was made the third act of The Force Awakens resonate in the manner that it did, as any attempt to have a new actor carry on the performance would have undercut the emotional reaction the audience was expected to have regarding the end of his arc in the larger narrative. Having someone play the character at a point prior to the moment we first meet him in A New Hope is not as bitter a pill to swallow in the minds of most audience members. At least this is the hope of executives planning the next several years of spinoffs and sequels bearing the Star Wars brand.

Rogue One, upon first viewing can be viewed as a bit too tethered to the original trilogy. The script uses the established saga as a crutch on which to give the story means to amble forward. Under close scrutiny, large holes appear in the narrative construction and the depth of the characters can be called into question. However, that raises the question of whether or not the film needs to divest itself of its own legacy in order to be valid. Simply because nobody in the cast is named Skywalker or carries a lightsaber does not mean that it isn’t an integral part of the greater story being told in the main saga. It is retroactively thus, and that may feel like a bit of a cheat. However, the film crafts a story that directly ties to central moments of A New Hope. I cannot speak to how well the film plays on a structural, emotional, and objective level without a prior connection to A New Hope, as I have had that film etched into the back of my brain since I was five years old. Analytically speaking, only two moments require a connection on the part of the audience;

  1. Anything involving Darth Vader
  2. CGI Princess Leia

Aside from those instances, the film’s narrative stands on its own and establishes its own internal logic and narrative force. The conflict presented within Jyn Erso as a character may not be as rich as others in the central saga, though much of that can be attributed to the logistical reality of a standalone film versus a multi-part epic. Her struggle to reconcile her feelings toward her father and his desire to undermine the Imperial war machine with her sense of self-preservation drives the central theme of the film; personal investment in societal change. The script takes strides to contrast Jyn with characters who fall on a spectrum of ideals, specifically through Chirrut’s mysticism-driven ideals that insist that what happens is the will of the universe (see force) and Cassian Andor’s deeply personalized sense of purpose in rebellion.

There is enough thematic and narrative meat to allow Rogue One to stand on its own. Ultimately its ties to the greater Star Wars canon are simply embellishments for the sake of the initiated that do little to detract from the experience for casual observers. The film could take greater pains to force an investment in the characters on the part of the audience, but the end product is ultimately serviceable in every regard. There is little here that could be critiqued to a degree as to classify Rogue One as a poor film. While some may not enjoy the film enthusiastically, from an objective point of view the film functions well in every regard; composition, editing, effects, score, etc. They all work. Where the film deserves a critical eye is in regard to the script itself, which does seem to fail to develop our central characters fully. While some might argue that this is a trapping of an ensemble production, it is clear that the film was probably another full draft away from being where it needed to be in terms of character development. It is unclear how much of this is as a result of the much ballyhooed reshoots and editing bay shenanigans, but if we take things at face value there is still enough to find issue with.

Beyond The Last Jedi and the as-yet-untitled Han Solo film, we really do not know much about the future of the franchise. What direction will they go? In what ways will they course correct from Rogue One? Do they need to course correct at all? Everything at this juncture is speculation, and however things pan out, the first steps of this marathon have worked out well for Disney and Lucasfilm.

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LauraMangold

I happened upon a series of tweets from someone whom I do not recall earlier this week that argued Logan was a poor film because Laura’s existence only served to provide Wolverine with an arc. I do not dispute the argument regarding Laura’s purpose. I do however refute the idea that it nullifies the effectiveness of the film as a whole. I have noticed as of late that there is a growing contingent of critics who believe that if a film does not tick every box in their personal criteria it cannot be labeled a success. This zero-sum approach to media criticism is ultimately detrimental because it creates an environment in which media of value is set up to fail and perpetuates a system in which creator purpose is devalued.

I do not argue against the idea of critiquing a particular piece of media’s shortcomings. That is the bedrock of critique. When a critic says that they feel a piece of writing or a particular film lacks development of certain characters or that the story would be better serviced by an uptick in diversity, those are constructive bits of criticism that can be defended and argued in meaningful ways. What is not helpful are critics who make a declarative statement that a piece of media loses the total of its value because it doesn’t hit a benchmark set by that critic when they sit down to examine that same piece of media.

This is closely tied to my feeling that creator intent is being largely devalued in the modern age. Media must be examined on the terms set by the piece itself, not those which critics draft of their own accord. Whatever rubric that critics utilize to gauge the effectiveness of media should always include the creator’s purpose. If we take the example of Logan then; that Laura exists as a means to engender an arc in Wolverine is perhaps a worthy critique. Perhaps infusing her with a greater sense of internal motivation would enhance the overall narrative. That is indeed a possibility. However, to argue that a secondary character being utilized as a means to push forward the narrative is cause to dismiss the whole of the work is utterly absurd. In this case, the film is titled Logan. All things in the film are generally constructed to give value to his journey. While the film is filled with a cadre of characters, Logan is not necessarily what I would consider an ensemble piece. Not in the same manner that the X-Men films or the Avengers franchise are, anyway. This is not the same as arguing that Black Widow is used largely to further the arc of Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as part of a team they ostensibly have equal value to the narrative. The difference between the two comes with the intent of narrative delivery. This is something critics need to be mindful of when they approach any given piece of media, lest they risk devaluing their own analysis.

I certainly understand the desire to see problematic elements of media addressed. What I simply cannot understand is casual dismissal of the whole due to a single flaw in its construction. We as consumers of media need to be mindful that authorial intent and creator purpose are still worth examining when engaging with the analysis of media.

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