The summer releases made it apparent that creating blockbusters that are not steaming piles of crap, is strangely difficult for Hollywood. And so it is with a sense of relief almost that we get Rogue One. It’s almost perfect for what it is – an action sci-fi flick with just enough depth. This issue of depth and surface plagues sci-fi and comic book adaptations. The summer pile up of disasters all suffered from wanting to have more depth than their flimsy structures could contain (Batman vs Superman really can’t make us think about the duality of Christ, particularly in the hands of Snyder). Ironically the best (it was a low bar) of the summer films was Star Trek Beyond, which was all surface. This was a shame since Star Trek has a legacy of being able to tackle philosophical issues with a deft touch.
The original Star Wars came at the end of the golden age of sci-fi, when in cinema and literature it made a case not to be seen as a genre, but as the defining mode of engaging with the zeitgeist (the Rogue One poster deliberately harks back to this period and is a thing of beauty). Star Wars itself was the weak one in this charge – it’s simplistic sword and sorcery in space didn’t compare with the headscratching of 2001, or the novels of Brian Aldiss, Asmiov, Frank Herbert, etc. But over the years this balance has served it well. There’s enough detail in the Star Wars universe to give people points of reference and fans to develop theories, but it’s generally about entertainment. Apart from the prequels. It learnt the lesson that comic book adaptations are learning now with those – don’t go thinking you’re Noam Chomsky.
So, on to Rogue One which is sort of Episode 3B. It has a good lead pair in Felicity Jones and Diego Luna, some solid back up characters (particularly the ultra cool Donnie Yen), and even a sardonic robot that manages not to be annoying. It follows a classic narrative – band of misfits on an impossible mission, that we know not many of them will survive. It is more space western than space fantasy. It’s real delights are the hooks into the original episode 4, including a CGI’d Peter Cushing and life on the Death Star scenes (although not in the canteen). When it ends with the opening scenes of A New Hope you almost want to cheer in recognition.
A funny thing happened after A Force Awakens – everyone went to see it, had a good time, and then came home and realised it was just Star Wars redone. They felt cheated, and cynicism set in. But that is to mistake the purpose of the series. The point of Star Wars is the enjoyment of cinema. And that is a difficult thing to realise, and should be cherished.