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Film Review – Rogue One – spoiler free

I didn’t go into this one with high expectations, actually that’s a bit of a lie – my expectations were limbo pole low. This is mainly because I though The Force Awakens was a banquet of mediocrity written by an accountant who measured the worthiness of each line according how much merchandising it was estimated it would generate, so I really expected more of the same from Rogue One.

So let us cut to the chase is Rogue One good? Yes

Is Rogue One great? No.

Now in the name of full disclosure I’ll say this: I love the original Star Wars films. They were a huge part of my childhood, I got the a Millennium Falcon toy for Christmas one year – my late Grandfather apparently searched most of Belfast for. I know that I look at the originals through full on rose tinted glasses. The prequels on the other hand the glasses came off and I gave up on them after the second film. The old Expanded Universe I never got into so I am mostly ignorant of what it covered.

The very short summary is that this is the tale of how the rebellion found out about the Death Star and how the data plans reached Princess Leia at very the start of New Hope.

Now in my own opinion where Star Wars films have been weak is the sense that this is a galactic level civilization stretching across tens of thousands of worlds where everything of importance revolves around the same half dozen or so people. By having such an extreme focus on the Jedi and the Skywalker clan, a setting of thousands of worlds ended up being boiled down to a collection of people could fit into a single room. Rogue One redresses this, certainly there are some familiar faces but they are supporting acts. In fact the world building as a whole is where Rogue One really shines, with the Star Wars universe coming out this film a good deal richer than it went it. The whole worlds looks more grubby and lived in. In particular I think it is worth mentioning the politics. There is somewhere between five and ten minutes of dialogue spread across the entire film covering political matters, it gives us an Alliance that is shown to be a good deal more tenuous than seen before while the Empire is still having to step with some care around the Galactic Senate. In short it has done something very impressive – it has managed to fill in some of the logic gaps of the first film and dovetail in very smoothly.

The other thing that I think worth noting is the character of Jyn played by Felicity Jones, she is the first leading Star Wars character who isn’t hyper competent. Luke Skywalker flew the setting’s equivalent to a high performance fighter with no training while the Force Awaken’s Rey demonstrates similar levels of hyper competence. Here there are pauses when characters of faced with new equipment and situations which makes them a good deal more human and relatable.

That said there are negatives and without heading into spoiler territory there is a limit to what I can say about them. The opening twenty minutes is very choppy. The cameos were a bit of a mixed bag. Some were good, some not so good due to limits of technology, only one was a complete waste of six seconds. More seriously character arcs as the film went along became increasingly predictable and there were one or two gaps in the internal logic, including one of my bugbears – irresponsible use of FTL.

Overall I view Rogue One as a positive viewing experience both as a single film and for the franchise as a whole. A bit of life has been breathed into a franchise that has been sleepwalking for thirty years and hopefully we can hope to see more of this setting without the stupefying shadow of the Jedi.

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Time for some sexual/racial/homophobic slurs or just good old fashioned prejudice?

A few years ago there was talk of a remake of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, which was based on the true story of Operation Chastise during World War Two, thus far the talk seems to have come to nothing. So what has this got to do with racial slurs? Quick history lesson – shortly before the start of Chastise the pet dog of the officer who lead the attack was killed. A black Labrador, this animals’ name was Ni**er and in remembrance of his dead pet, the officer decided that the ni**er would also be the code word used to indicate that a dam had been breached. The 1955 film was true to this historical detail. When it was suggested that the film be remake there was in short an immediate argument about whether this detail should be changed.  Cue the usual screams of indignation from the usual suspects in these kinds of arguments.

So how is this relevant?

Well as I may have previously mentioned my current work in progress is a time travel piece. Now I’m not going to spoiler my own work but assuming travel backwards is involved, then change in attitudes have to be addressed. Stand today in a park with a dog leash shouting ni**er and you’ll probably get arrested or beaten up, back in 1943 or 1955 using the word was fine. Go back only few decades and homosexuality was outright illegal in most places, while the word ‘gay’ had on a day to day basis a very different meaning from its modern use. Last but by no means least the old favorite of sexism one that continues to dog us. Depending on time and place attitudes and prejudices have varied and it is worth noting I don’t mean that the 21st century is the high point of human civilization; some more primitive cultures would see us as closed minded on some topics.

For the writer this presents a bit of challenge. Having a say a young black woman walk down a street dressed in trousers in Elizabethan England without comment let alone slur is immediately asking for a pretty serious suspension of disbelieve* but equally having a section of your book that reads like a Klu Klux Klan newsletter is probably going to turn readers off. Time travel doesn’t even have to be involved. One of the reasons I sometimes struggle with some sword and sorcery type fantasy is the sheer lack of prejudice found in some of it, again breaking the immersion. Prejudice in whatever flavor, is one of the less pleasant things that makes up humans, a world without it immediately runs into serious problems with believably. Equally very believable prejudices and hatreds can add great depth, providing motivations for both individuals and peoples as a whole.

Fiction is of course of its time and for its time, meaning that sometimes the most egregious prejudices are the unthinking ones. If you read old science fiction, what you will often come across is the sole female character who’s role within the story is to have thing explain to her and thereby the audience; it often dates the material even more than things like spaceships with cigarette dispensers.  However this kind of sexism/racism/homophobia offers a way to show different attitudes without having to choke your work and possibly turn off your readers with abusive language. As with so many things there isn’t really one right answer and it is something that a writer is going to have to make a judgement call on.

* Yes I know Doctor Who did it.

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