To me, it will always be Rouge One. I grew up in Warcraft III forums awash with quick-typing teenagers spouting about fantasy archetypes, and the word “rogue” always, always, always came out as “rouge”.
So, yes, much as I enjoyed Rouge One at the cinema I can concede in the light of deeper analysis that it’s rather wobbly in places. In the spirit of this stand-alone film really not being stand-alone, then, we’ve folded it into our mainline analysis of the Star Wars core cinematic sequence.
I have some things to add about characters and plots because I don’t think that what I said about “Star Wars not really being about characters” came out very well in the mix. Let’s face it, I’m a writer, not a speaker. (Not that ruminating on the thought for a bit longer will necessarily make my argument any more valid, but it might at least clarify my position.)
What’s In a Character? A Plot Device As Called By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet
So, when I said “Star Wars isn’t necessarily character-driven”, it’s that I don’t think those arcs are (were/should be) the absolute core of the narrative. The characters are necessary to carry the plot, to make things happen by doing them, but to me they exist as vessels to take us on an adventure. The audience’s roller-coaster carts, to use our recurring metaphor. Of course the fact that Han’s a loveable rogue with a crowning moment of redemption is cool and all, but the important thing is that the Death Star was destroyed and the galaxy saved.
I often find it hard to engage with people in real life, so perhaps my rendering of characters down into plot devices is just a reflection of my own social deficiencies. Do we need real people to have “character arcs” in order to appreciate them? (Note: that’s not to say that I dislike engaging with people in real life, just that it’s difficult for me.)
Of course I can concede that, fair enough, Chris just didn’t like these characters very much, but that’s always going to be a thing of personal taste. Some people just don’t get along, but that’s nothing to do with how developed they are; two-dimensional people also exist in real life, and they can be as likable or irritating as any well-rounded individual. I liked the cast of Rouge One enough to enjoy the journey and that was enough; to me, all else is window dressing.
Maybe I don’t really know what constitutes a character arc. In A New Hope, Luke is our roller-coaster cart, he is the fresh pair of eyes that allows other characters to tell us how the universe works, because he knows as little as we do. Does he have much of a character or an arc? He’s a bored farmboy who discovers he’s got magic powers and goes on an adventure. Is that an arc? Is that enough? (We both agree that A New Hope is fantastic so presumably yes.)
On the flip side, though, when Jyn and Cassian are engulfed in nuclear fire at the end I did shed a tear, so perhaps I am actually just incredibly emotionally immature. Is it simply that I can be manipulated by a sad scene in and of itself, without needing much of the preceeding context required to make it significant to others? Do I, simply, have a short attention span that’s being brutally exploited by cinematic convention?
I’d like to think I wouldn’t have cried if I didn’t like them all that much. Maybe I cried more for Jyn than Cassian, or maybe I cried because there is no more thorough thwarting of potential love than being engulfed by nuclear fire while cuddling. (Though I watched that recent Pompeii film and it ends in exactly the same way, but I didn’t cry for those two being engulfed by the pyroclastic flow… But they did make a meal of stupid special effects there, while the fade-to-white of Rouge One is much more artful.)
It’s perhaps weird because narratives get no such free pass for me. While I can happily buy into characters with little or no arc, minor inconsistencies in the plot can send me completely reeling. I’m totally on board with the narrative boiling down to find-a-guy-to-find-a-thing-to-do-the-thing-to-save-the-galaxy, because those things flow coherently from one to the other and mesh into a grander situation. However, for example, the fact that the bombing raid didn’t manage to hit Krennic’s shuttle completely flummoxed me — it was right there, front and centre, in the most exposed location! Aren’t vehicles the first and easiest thing to go for in a lightning raid?
Perhaps because I find it so hard to engage with people I have a low bar for character development being “good enough”, and focus my attention on the universe instead. While Chris is railing against characters being a bit flat, I’m chowing down on how they pile two Star Destroyers into a planetary shield and loving every second of it. Perhaps I’m just a simple, shallow soul and all my pretensions at being deep and meaningful and arty are just that — pretensions.
K-2SO was definitely fabulous, though. He got all the biscuits. He got biscuits for everyone.