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Monday, January 9, 2017

"Rogue One" ~ Separating the Nostalgia from the Critique


Full disclosure: I enjoyed Rogue One. Perhaps it was the company. Perhaps it was the boozy malted milkshake and damned delicious burger and good company that had me in a positive, geeky, movie-watching mood. Or maybe, maybe, it simply resonated with me as a moviegoer. It's certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes -- you know, that site that's reliable unless it disagrees with you -- and overall it's gotten positive reviews. So there's every insane possibility that I went and saw a good movie and liked it.

As I meandered through my Facebook feed over the next few days, I started to notice those among my friends who don't like it. Some just casually said they didn't. Some constructed elaborate metaphors for what it reminded them of. As someone who hated Mad Men, I don't consider myself in a position to tell people what they 'ought' to like, so I moved forward, content in my enjoyment.

What I noticed, though, was there was a very firm divide between the intent behind the viewing of the film for those who liked it and those who didn't. With (I'm sure) enough exceptions to prove the rule, giddy nostalgia freaks enjoyed it, and those looking to see a movie -- as opposed to 'just' a Star Wars movie -- did not.

Neither of those is 'wrong,' incidentally. A Star Wars movie is, after all, a movie. There is nothing wrong to holding it up to the same standards as a non-franchise piece, if you have very specific goals for your movie-watching experience. Just as there's nothing wrong with watching it in wide-eyed fan mode and just being there for The Pew Pew Pew.



This is not to say that fans do not have a discerning eye, or that those with a discerning eye don't know how to have fun. But you know for yourself what you're hoping for when you walk into a movie. Even if you walk in with 'no expectations,' you do have some. Having no expectations is an expectation.

So, back to that divide. My friends and I came to see a Star Wars movie. OH BOY A STAR WARS MOVIE I CAN'T WAIT FOR ROBOTS AND EXPLOSIONS AND DEATH STARS. It may not be my prime fandom and I may be re-surprised every time I see Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, but it is something I love nonetheless. I came in wanting nostalgia, and oh boy did I get nostalgia.

And why did I want nostalgia? I wanted a prequel redo. Even being fairly new to the movies when the prequels came out, I knew they felt strange. I came in wanting to feel what I felt with Episodes IV-VI. And for me, that worked.


But. Not. Everyone.

It's very easy to bristle at someone being critical of something you enjoyed. Especially if it's someone you respect. Because it's almost as though you're being told you're wrong for liking it (hell, sometimes that literally happens -- it's the Internet, after all). Provided you've got decent friends and acquaintances who aren't bizarrely narcissistic and manipulative, you can survive different opinions on entertainment. If not, perhaps the friendship itself needs a bit of critique.

Regardless, the reason for the divide -- and the slow, creeping appearance of the divide as people quietly go 'Hey, I didn't like it, either' -- is, I feel, largely because Rogue One was promise. Not just promise: promise to fix previous breached promise. Because despite the fact that there are people who were genuinely okay with the prequels, they're still widely considered a bust. And based on what I've witnessed, the like or dislike of Rogue One came from whether you wanted to see a worthy Star Wars prequel, or you wanted to see it succeed where the 'official' prequels had failed.

Sound like the same thing? It's not. If you're weighing it on its own -- 'the sort of prequel I want to see' -- it's one thing. If you're weighing it against Episodes I-III, there are certain specifics you want avoided, done, undone, etc. And honestly, a Star Wars movie is a Star Wars movie. There are flaws in the franchise.

What it was, and what it intended to do, involved big risks. It was setting out to literally put itself between the prequel and the classics. And at the same time, it was also setting out to cover The Biggest Geek Complaint of Episode IV. Which it did. It was, well... It did what it set out to do. And then some.

There's also been some ruffled feathers over one of the 'cameos' in the film, involving CG recreation of a deceased actor. I covered that at length in an essay in my weekly mailing list (which you can get by donating to my Patreon), so I won't go into it again here. Here again, the issue becomes why you were there. If you wanted nostalgia, it was a delight. If you wanted a movie -- a 'fix' for the prequels -- it ran the gamut from cheap and pointless to downright offensive. Again... neither is wrong.

In short, Rogue One was -- intentionally or otherwise -- a promise to do better. Unfortunately, keeping that promise cannot be done in one consistent move because the actions needed to keep it vary from fan to fan, simply by nature of what the movie set out to be. It was a lofty goal, and one that I felt was met... but given the wide range of feeling on the franchise, it's certainly not an opinion I insist that everyone share.