Science Fiction Round 66: Rogue One
I went to go see Rogue One last weekend. It’s a good film, and as you might expect, something of a tearjerker.
As ever, here be spoilers.
Uncanny Valley and Extreme Nostalgia
This bothered me more than the copious references in either The Force Awakens or some of the reboot Star Trek movies.
By now, you’re probably aware of the creepy CGI that was used to resurrect Tarkin and recreate the young Princess Leia. And we all know that was creepy, uncanny valley territory.
My question is: why? Why did they do that? They didn’t do anything of the sort for the prequel films, where Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t even intended to look that much like Alec Guiness, and Anakin Skywalker was portrayed by two different actors across the three films. It would have been entirely reasonable to simple have new actors fill in the old roles for Rogue One.
Alternatively, if they really didn’t want to break the actor continuity, they could have made some simple changes to relieve it. Make Tarkin so angry that he never turns around, and only ever show his face in refleaction. Similarly, show the seen with Leia from behind, looking forward into a hopeful future.
This ties in to a new plot hole that the film introduces: it implies that Leia’s ship was at the final battle the whole time, and only just barely escaped with the Death Star plans. This makes all of Leia’s protests in Star Wars: A New Hope that she’s not helping run a rebellion and doesn’t have the plans kind of ridiculous. I would have preferred to see a single ship escape the battle… and then have that not implied to also be Leia’s vessel.
The common theme? A desire of the filmmakers (and of the fans, too, I suspect) to tie all the movies too tightly together, and to include too much of the earlier and later films. I can see how it would happen — there’s a certain satisfaction in making all of your plot threads tie together. But in this case, I think they’ve gotten tangled.
Spies, Saboteurs, and Asssassins
Near the end of the film, Cassian Andor approaches Jyn Erso with his cadre of “spies, saboteurs, and assassins.” There’s one alien among the lot, but the rest are humans.
They’re also all men, which seems especially odd. Certainly, I would expect an imbalance, between cultural factors and the fact that most of the Empire’s enlisted supporters are men. But… no women at all? None? There’s no women to blend into the cooking staff, or the laundry, or sanitation? No women who decided to strike back at all? None?
This is weird… and actually, somewhat unrealistic. There’s a notable esseay, “We Have Always Fought.” It describes the issue: in essence, women have always been in combat, all the way back to the Vikings. Even if the military bans women, some will disguise themselves as men and fight anyway, or find other ways to cause trouble. If it doesn’t… they’ll sign up. In the current US military, about 15% of active duty servicemembers are women (across all branches). The fraction is a bit lower in the Navy, and a bit higher in the Airforce, but the bottom line remains the same: if you’ve got two dozen spies, saboteurs, and assassins, you’d expect at least a fewf women in the bunch.
Rebel and insurgent movements? Are at least likely to have women working in the front lines, as they’re more desperate for support. The Rebellion in Star Wars is demonstrably heavily integrated; even in Rogue One, there are women among the fighter pilots. Why not any among the sneaky backstabbers, aside from Jyn Erso? That lack almost makes her seem more like a figurehead and plot device, rather than a person in her own right.
Naturally, this leads us to the saboteur who made victory possible.
Moral Obligation of the Conscript Engineer
In this whole piece, I think the biggest heroes are actually Galen Erso and Bodhi Rook (the defecting pilot). There’s another analysis of this in this blog post, but I’d like to add a few words.
In essence, Galen Erso does the hardest job: he works, essentially alone and unsupported, on the Death Star, making himself “indispensible” so that he can build a fatal weakness into the design. This is the best thing he can do under the circumstances: he knows they will, eventually, build it without him. To refuse is to die, having accomplished nothing. This is what he can do.
This may not be a moral obligation for an engineer conscripted to build weapons to kill innocents (it’s a pretty bad situation either way), but it is still a noble thing to do.
(A possible real-life comparison might be Werner Heisenberg, who may have deliberately sabotaged the German nuclear program during WWII.)
Bodhi is similar. He’s only a cargo pilot, but he realizes that the Empire is building something horrible, and that it has gone too far. So he risks his life in the hands of those who hate him and what he represents, in an attempt to stop it.
I am reminded in some ways of the French Resistance and the Maquis, along with others in other countries who resisted occupation or totalitarian governments in whatever ways they could.
In other news, you also should avoid using conscripted labor to build your ultimate death machine. Or at least have another expert on hand to check their work. (Then again, if they treated their people better, they might not be such an evil empire.)
Ablative Plot Armor
Consider K-2SO. (Which is fun, because that droid is the best.) Near the end of the movie, he defends Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor from encroaching hordes of storm troopers, taking multiple blaster shots and only succombing when he deliberately sabotages the entrance to the archive.
And yet, Jyn Erso disables a similar model of droid earlier in the film with a single blaster shot. What gives?
It’s plot armor, as linked in the heading. Characters aren’t allowed to die until they’ve served their purpose to the plot. That comes out in spades for this show — we expect “many” to die getting the Death Star plans, and I expected the film to be a tragedy from the outset. In short, everybody dies. But none of the core group die until the very end, where each of them serves a critical role in ensuring that the Death Star plans get sent out. This gives their deaths meaning, and the fact that they know it makes it just a touch less tragic.
But only a touch. In a tragedy like this, where the happy ending can only be bittersweet, it makes sense that the plot armor is well worn away by the end.