WARNING: There be spoilers here.
When Episode Seven graced our screens just over a year ago, no one could expect the huge modernist approval the Star Wars franchise would gain; the script, the concept, and Daisy Ridley’s performance had even the most raging feminist happy, truly a New Hope, for such a beloved and old franchise.
Who would have thought all that progress, that breakthrough, would stagnate and pitifully plateau, not even a year later? Truthfully there’s nothing that makes Rogue One a terrible film, however it is the absence of the unexpected brilliance and modernism found in last year’s offering that makes the whole experience slightly disappointing, and just the teensiest bit saddening.
For A New Hope truly seems to mark the beginning of what is arguably much needed modernisation of some key aspects in Star Wars. Giving the force to Rey was massive in that it started to break the no Jedi women allowed rule that had propagated to the modern age and was found even in the prequels – interestingly, the force is said to run through Leia, however her characterisation in the originals is less badass more damsel in distress. The lack of Jedi women in episodes 1 to 6 are easy to understand; some were created in the late 70s while the others are the prequel to that world; it could even be argued that in a world filled with persecution of a group of people the sheer dominance of patriarchal hierarchy adds to the stories (this is definitely the case when illustrating Padme’s struggle as a lone woman in power).
Episode seven shocked audiences by having such a strong female main character firmly establish her lack of interest in romance – could it be, at last, that a character wasn’t submitted to the tropes of her gender? In turn, the expectation mounted for Rogue One, with the casting of Felicity Jones and a story focusing on infiltrating the death star promising more of this new equalitarian angle.
Maybe it’s the lack of opening credits that ostracise the general film, maybe it’s the gamble of getting such a young and relatively unknown director to run such an incredibly high profile film– as a fan film, it is incredible, as a Star Wars movie, not so much. And even so, there is no blatant lack of feminist portrayal. So, why is it disappointing? That is simple; the mediocrity, and dullness of the character’s portrayal, especially with the previous heroine being so dynamic, is the biggest let down for those wanting progress. Maybe it is unfair to criticise Rogue one with what is ultimately a minor issue – it seems more bad luck than actual malice that the script of such a high profile film is so dire. And yet to those against such introspection I argue the esteem Star Wars is held in by the public should be nurtured by a production giving its all to the projects, and sadly this one was somewhat half-assed.
There is such a painful lack of pizzaz in the story it becomes even more lacklustre due to all constant mediocrity – neither the directing, nor the editing nor the styling is bad, yet it’s nothing more than okay at any point. The script is another matter; at no point do you feel anything for the large group of what on paper are the most varied and intriguing of characters who you are very aware are going to die before the end of the movie – undoubtedly, by burning due to atomic death rays – nor for the lone woman amidst a band of rebel pilots and monks.
It seems incredible to me that a story based on what everyone knows is a suicide mission (and has all it’s main and secondary characters die horrible onscreen deaths) can be so incredibly boring or lack so much emotion. The mass death scene and portrayal of what is basically genocide should have had theatres bawling, and yet there were no tears falling into popcorn bowls. In cases like these it would be easy to blame the actors – indeed, judge Mads Mikkelsen or “Stardust” Felicity Jones on their performance and you would not figure just how incredible they can be – Mads, as a simply expository character you can forgive, but it is appalling that Felicity’s secondary character in A Monster Calls had ten times the dynamism than Jyn – someone who lets not forget, is a supposedly freaking outlaw, in case the blandness of her character wasn’t insulting enough. And there is where the problem dies; after a heroine like Rey, having the characterisation of Jyn, a character with so much potential too, be like it is it seems like Star Wars have managed one step forward and two steps back. The positive about this is that thankfully the bad writing applies through to all the characters, which means this is not a return to women as pretty screen fillers next to other characters.
Despite all this, Rogue One should be commended as a good example of feminist theory; the modernisation in the film challenges the strong view that cinema is only enjoyable if seen through a male eye. Mulvey’s theory that women have to change their mindset into that of a male’s becomes someone defunct through the all inclusive cast and having the main character a strong – if boring – female.
Whether Rogue One is a breakthrough becomes harder to answer. If we’re talking about commercial success, Rogue One is set, however the question of it being a good movie is a whole other matter. Feminist it continues to be (after all the casting of Felicity Jones was influenced by the success Daisy Ridley met in last year’s instalment), although it is so in an almost half-hearted manner. The repetition of last years formula makes it seem a bit of a cop out; it’s all well and good to have a female as a main character; but the progress seems somewhat diminished by the lack of all other female characters in prominent roles. Rogue one is not a bad film, neither is it not feminist; it’s just disappointing how it lacks the boundary pushing of Episode Seven, which bodes the question whether the modernisation promised by the Star Wars revival was simply a lucky fluke, and not a promise of active change in what is a male dominated galaxy.
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Words by Rebeca Valls Moragas