Saturday 14 January 2017

Review: Rogue One (seventh-pass)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (seventh-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 134 mins / Dir. Gareth Edwards / Trailer

Previous reviews:
First-pass (spoiler-free)
Second-pass (spoiler-free)
Third-pass (**spoilers**)
Fourth-pass (**spoilers**)
Fifth-pass (**spoilers**)
Sixth-pass (**spoilers**)

"I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me. I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me. I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me."

~ Chirrut Îmwe, Jedha / Eadu / Scarif.

During its time on Jedha, Rogue One introduces us to Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, two former 'Guardians of the Whills' at the moon's now depleted Kyber Temple. During times of psychological or physical stress, both are heard to utter the above mantra*1, seemingly willing guidance from, and harmony with, the Force. Neither Chirrut or Baze are Jedi. And this is a phrase that we haven't heard the Jedi use in the cinematic saga, so far. Odd.

Up until 2016 (and largely discounting any ideas that Legends material had to say on the matter), being 'one with the Force' was the label put upon a Jedi retaining their sentience and identity after death, of joining with the living energy field to form a narrative bridge between the corporeal meat-space of the GFFA and the afterlife. I should say as well that the 'disappearing-trick' and the 'coming-back-trick' are two different things; Obi-Wan disappears quickly, Yoda disappears slowly, Qui-Gon doesn't disappear at all, and Anakin is still open to speculation. But they all came back, and at varying speeds of 'completion'.

When Baze and Chirrut chant "…I am one with the Force", are they trying to attain complete, transcendental immersion? Do they even know it exists? Was Qui-Gon the first to achieve this, or just the first in a very long time? Bear in mind he figured out how to do it after he died, and this was a surprise to Yoda, implying that even the Jedi Council don't know how it works. And if it's something the highest echelons of the order is unaware of (or have systematically forgotten over the years, despite still having notes on the Sith), then would the non-Jedi guardians of the Kyber Temple know about it? Then again, do those on Jedha have access to more ancient records that the cosmopolitan elite Jedi on Coruscant regard as quaint and archaic? Was this knowledge something that was lost over time, or even hidden to prevent dark-siders from exploring and adapting their own version; the spiritual equivalent of their synthetic lightsaber crystals*2?

Other than the Skywalker lineage, it was unclear in the Original Trilogy if the Force was something anyone could master with faith and commitment, or it if was a gift reserved for 'the chosen ones'. The Prequel Trilogy revealed it to be the latter, although not entirely uncommon (enough for the movement to muster a sparse galactic police-force). And while The Force Awakens concentrated more on the light and dark side in broader strokes, rather than Jedi™ and Sith™, Rogue One muddies the waters further with the Guardians of the Whills; non-Jedi beings who can still sense and react to the Force (or, as I said upon an earlier viewing, like someone who can read and understand a language, but can't pick up a pen to write in it). Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe are (presumably) the last vestiges of the Force-Fanboys, unable to channel it fully, but willing to dedicate their lives in the service of those who can.

The more we've seen of the Jedi, the less the Force has been treated as an outright religion, more a set of guidelines and practices (closer in that respect to something like Buddhism). Warrior monks, the Jedi don't have to pray for the assistance or intervention or the Force, they just have to understand how it works.

However, the two former guardians we meet in Rogue One treat the Force as a doctrine (one very much Of The Faithful™, the other very much Lapsed™) to be explored through meditation and practice, with Baze Malbus specifically referring to Chirrut's mantra-recital as "praying". But the only other time it's been named this way (cinematically at least, I know it crops up in Rebels once or twice), was by Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope. "You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion" *3.

But for all this, 'religion' implies faith, which in turn implies a lack of evidence. And irrespective of Midichlorians at one end of the scale and Imperial propaganda at the other, the Force in the GFFA is a demonstrably real thing. And despite much grumbling on the subject (although not at Blackout Towers; I just grumble about the grumbling), Midichlorians are just a device used to illustrate that the Jedi - a non species specific group of beings who can actively use the Force - have a common predisposition on a biological level. Midichlorians don't ruin the Force*4, they're just a tell-tale trait that indicates potential, irrespective of training or mastery. Detection of the microscopic lifeforms is how the Jedi used to identify and select infants for taking to Coruscant, and it's undoubtedly in the Empire's arsenal for the eradication of the Jedi. Because as a Jedi on the run, you can keep your head down and mute your abilities, but you can't disguise your genetic makeup. If Vader has, as previously suggested, been in charge of the Empire's programme to exterminate the Jedi and propagandise them out of the public mind, why would the Empire allow Force-sensitive guards to live at the site of the Kyber temple? It is because as non-Force-controlling beings, they have a below-the-line Midi count, so aren't considered a threat?

With the Holy City of Jedha turned to rubble (along with all those who didn't make it to a transport in sufficient time), it looks as if we're not likely to have many of these questions answered. Short of novels and comics set in a time before the events of Rogue One, the Guardians of the Whills look to be as mysterious a sect as the Jedi Temple Guards, written about but scarcely seen in action. Chirrut and Baze are higher-profile characters of course, so I'm at least expecting a Marvel comics mini-series about them, but I wouldn't be surprised if that barely touches upon their metaphysical presence in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

For a film with no Jedi, Rogue One raises a lot of questions about the Force…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
All of The Star Wars.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's a strong showing.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

Although if you really wanted to go the long way round with it…
Rogue One features Mr Jimmy Smits reprising his prequel-era role as Bail Organa, and he starred in 2009's Mother and Child along with a certain Ahmed Best, who performed voice-work in the 2006 Scarface videogame adaptation, as did Bai Ling, who's due to appear in the upcoming When The Devil Rides Out, as is the late Kenny Baker, who of course rocked up in 1980's Flash Gordon movie with Rusty Goffe, who featured in the 1981 film History of the World Part I in a cast-list alongside Bea Arthur, who starred in the 1988 Mickey's 60th Birthday, as did Jimmy Smits, from Rogue One

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Well, kinda. Whereas Chirrut says "I'm one with the Force, the Force is with me", Baze Malbus' final return to form sees him uttering "The Force is with me, I'm one with the Force". Not a massive difference tonally, but if you were a local vicar and you swapped round two lines of the Lord's Prayer, you'd expect a raised eyebrow and a letter from the bishop, right?

*2 Although I'm fairly certain that the concept of Lignan synthetic lightsaber crystals has now been largely swept under the rug of Legends, although the narrative need for them in the secret society of Sith still applies. We also don't yet know how/why Kylo Ren's lightsaber splutters the way it does so there's hope yet, even if Lignan gets renamed to something different.

*3 And after the events of Rogue One, I want to see a new Special Edition of A New Hope where the Grand Moff refers to the 'religion' in his conversation with Vader, then we cut to a different angle and a CGI-Tarkin who looks directly into the camera, does an exaggerated wink and chimes "especially now that Jedha's a building-site, eh lads? EH??"

*4 Unless you're a giant child who covets impenetrable magic over science of course, in which case I'm delighted that you're still upset about it.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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