May 4, 2016, by Guest Blogger

Rogues and Villains

In honour of May the Fourth, Dr Nathan Waddell from our School of English shares some thoughts on the upcoming film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Do rogues win? They usually do in the Star Wars universe. They certainly will in Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars anthology movies. Due for release in December 2016, the film has a lead, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), who renews the conviction of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in the original series and the defiance of Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Erso will rebel just as much as the film’s teaser trailer suggests the film itself will puckishly depart from the prequels’ gleaming depthlessness. Like The Force Awakens, Rogue One wants to do new things with old materials to enchant old and new audiences alike.

Erso represents Lucasfilm’s commendable efforts to get more women into pride of place by putting her at the centre of an existing, massively experienced storyline (the discovery of the first Death Star). Rogue One returns us to 1977, when Star Wars itself subverted the studio system and turned maverick George Lucas into a managing director. It is a curious kind of progress. To be new means going forwards and backwards all at once: forwards in the sense of creating more opportunities for women to play significant roles in blockbuster films; backwards, by raking over existing mythologies with an aesthetic from days gone by. Many commentators have termed this a ‘new authenticity’.

The Star Wars series hopes to reclaim its credibility by returning to the look and feel of its originating films. J. J. Abrams did this in The Force Awakens, making homage its unannounced protagonist and propelling cliché. Rogue One seems less about narrative repetition and more about atmospheric reverence, about making a film that feels like Star Wars where the prequels felt, for all their canonical status, like phoneys. This kind of authenticity means being roguish. It means encouraging people to buy tickets for a film partly intended to compensate for the prequels many of those same people condemned yet rushed to consume. It hopes to salvage the allegedly misplaced aura of a series that was never really lost because almost everyone has bought into it many times over.

Rogue One, a war film, aims to complicate Star Wars by exploring the grey areas between light side and dark, imprinting fresh but familiar textures upon something fans have already internalised, like Blu-Ray superseding tape. It seems that a ‘Christopher Nolan approach’ has captured Star Wars just as it has commandeered Batman and Superman. I find myself enticed despite Hollywood’s designs on my wallet, that being my familiar experience of Star Wars in all its many guises. What will I do when Rogue One catches me? Geek out, no doubt. Some of my friends are already rolling their eyes.

But make no mistake: this film will explore one empire’s hubris by filling another’s pockets. The Rebellion repeats itself, beginning for the first time all over again. It amounts, old-style Stormtroopers and all, to a roguish appropriation of roguishness.

Image credit: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Felicity Jones) ©Lucasfilm LFL

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