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Movie Review: Rogue One

Friday, December 30, 2016 - 12:00

I was dithering between a fairly cursory review and an in-depth analysis, but fortunately Emily Asher-Perrin at has covered almost everything I would have said in the latter. So I'll just mention a few things in addition. (Uh...go read Emily's review. Because otherwise this is going to sound really random.)

The biggest impediment to me enjoying Rogue One was that it slipped across the line from "lots of video-game style violence and visual bombardment, but there's enough character and story there that I'm willing to put up with it" to "ugh, if I'd wanted to play a shoot-em-up video game, that's what I'd have paid my money for." It isn't that I didn't like the bits of story and character it contained--I definitely did. But it slipped over the line into predominantly being a genre that I'm supremely indifferent to.

It feels much the same way as when the Marvel comic book movies eventually moved past the thrill of seeing my childhood superheroes on the big screen and into the territory of being bored by the endless pointless fight sequences and the extremely problematic gender issues. And I stopped bothering to go see them. I still have fond memories of the sheer goofball fun of the first set of Star Wars movies. And I rather hoped that--based on The Force Awakens--we were going to get to recapture that with a bit more diversity of cast.

So let's talk about diversity of cast in Rogue One. It is absolutely delightful to see all the central non-default-white characters. I mean that sincerely. And I love that the on-screen story encourages a reading that two of the guys are more than Just Good Friends. And I love that once again we have a female protagonist. These are all good things. But they should be baseline, not a special treat. (Cue Hamilton song cue: I will never be satisfied.) And the diversity is still doled out in teaspoons. Jyn is the lead, but in an ensemble buddy-flick, having the single female team member be classically beautiful, young, and white suggests that we're still dealing with the notion that she fulfills the role of The Girl, that The Girl is the extent of her function in the script, and that there is only room for one The Girl. While we're talking about gender and race in the same breath (well, ok, while I am)...

It is quite reasonable to postulate that long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away we are not dealing with the same racially-charged political dynamics as the present day. But I found it emotionally jarring to see the sole (named) black woman in the cast--Senator Pamlo--being assigned the role of arguing for appeasement and inaction against the Empire when, in our own socio-political context, black women are so often at the forefront of challenging evil empires. I can only barely imagine what it would feel like to be a black woman watching that movie and thinking, "This? This is the reflection that's being offered me? Fuck this."

I am, of course, slipping into the usual failure mode of the progressive consumer: when offered crumbs, I'm furious at not getting regular full meals, risking the possibility that The Powers That Be will decide there's no percentage in offering even a higher grade of crumbs. And we can circle back to the problem that I'm really not the target audience for a violent action movie. But there are people who are who deserve a higher grade of crumbs.

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