Rogue One

I saw a Rifftrax tweet about how A Star Wars Story: Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards, with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, &al., was on Netflix (for which they have a riff available). I’d been waiting for The Defenders in August to renew my subscription, but decided to do that early, for less than the cost of buying the movie on disc or download, and watched Rogue One belatedly but finally.

Aaaaaand … Holy crap, y’all. I loved it. This movie is a love letter by a soldier on the front sent home from the final battle but lost in the mail to only arrive decades later to fill for a brief moment a still heartbroken empty absence.

I admit it: I cried. A lot. This and the previous A Force Awakens really do it for me on a deep, probably psychologically significant, Hephaestus-archetype level. I felt this movie coursing in my blood like a jolt of caffeine and rattling my bones like the crack of a compound fracture.

I sometimes forget how much I am a child who was weaned on Star Wars. Without doubt I saw A New Hope in the cinema more times than any other movie (I lost count decades ago of times seeing the first movie in a cinema after around 27), and overall have seen the Star Wars saga together more than any others in total.

The movie is obviously a love letter to the Star Wars saga, especially A New Hope. There’s a tender and joyful use of momentary and interwoven callbacks without going overboard. Rogue One is also a stirring homage to Pacific theatre war movies and Chinese wuxia, in the way that the saga were also homages, the trilogy to Saturday morning serials and Akira Kurosawa, the sequels to teen dramas, like A Rebel Without A Cause.

The movie is also a visual love letter to the use of light and shadow, and especially the transition from shadow to light, a constant and stunning use of light as a visual metaphor for hope. There were many times I found myself wowed by this central visual cue throughout.

The story is convincing and solid, but moreover, not only a worthy installment in the Star Wars saga, I dare say that Rogue One transcends the inspiration. This film is full of new and novel takes on the source saga, builds on and expands the mythos in significant and welcome ways, and steadily climbs to crescendo with a searingly fantastic finale.

As an aside, I desperately needed a unicorn chaser to soothe my heartache after the end of this movie and watched a couple episodes of The Worst Witch (2017), and was reminded that Rogue One star Felicity Jones played Ethel Hallow in series one of the earlier rendition of The Worst Witch (1998) and the sequel Weirdsister College.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular Activities, a short set in The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee is a breezily written, as I understand, prequel that tells a bit of backstory about an interesting main character from the other novels in a richly developed future. The language is simple and not at all complex, so this short is an even quicker than expected finish. But, on the whole, the universe in which the story takes place has a beautiful complexity of culture and conception that proves ultimately this is worth more than the sliver of time it took to read.

The cultures of this fiction appear to be based on many social and aesthetic norms within various Asian nations, so if I were more versed in the history and those cultures then I may have recognized more analogy to the real world than I did just well-done fiction. It occurred to me while reading this that my personal immersion in Western and American culture, although I’d certainly claim to be at least cosmopolitan, helped to create a sense of otherness and alienness to the particulars of the story which I might not have felt otherwise. I wondered about the reverse of that experience for readers of sci fi from the East with so much of the science fiction futures that I’ve read have been my Western and American authors. Kinda obvious now that I’ve thought it, but I’m not sure I’d pondered that so specifically before, as I had while reading this. It occurred to me perhaps the world-building might not seem quite as inventive and novel for a reader within those cultures that seem represented in allegory.

It’s short, quick, cheap, and interesting. Plus, after reading this short, I’m certainly more interested than I was to read the full novels in the series. So, well done, author! Well done.

I made 2 highlights.

Legionnaire

Legionnaire, book 1 of the Galaxy’s Edge series, by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole is Generation Kill in space. In spite of the science fiction setting, the particulars are thinly veiled allegory for recent military misadventures, with all the usual suspects and situations. The danger didn’t quite reach the Hidden Fortress level of impossible-situation plot-twists, but it was an entertainingly constant chaos of complications.

For me there was cringingly uncomfortable racist overtones to the description and conception of the main alien species, with the double whammy of being both Innsmouth-look-ish (which for me added a whole other genre can-of-worms by reference) and clearly Middle Eastern inspiration, on the planet where the action takes place, but if you can get over that, or accept it as littérature vérité, the rest is a pretty strong and stirring story about the common (hu)man trying to survive a vertically-integrated perpetual-motion military-diplomatic clusterfuck.

The epilogue felt wildly out of place to me because that little story-within-a-story went completely wibbly-wobbly Flash Gordon science fantasy pastiche. I’m not sure how that bodes for the rest of the series. I hope that was just an anomaly. Otherwise this was a solid first installment in a series with promise for worthy visceral commentary on recent global political-military history through a very thinly-drawn distancing lens of uncomfortably-close-to-real fiction.

I made 7 highlights, but 3 of those were notes about errors.