So, I went to see Rogue One last week. Which is not exactly news – I think just about anyone who has, or reads, a blog on a topic as geeky as MMOs is going to see that film. I thought it was worth putting down a few thoughts about the film. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, they will be spoiler free thoughts unless you have an unbearably precious and sensitive definition of spoiler (e.g. I might refer to the presence of characters who were seen in trailers or events that can be logically deduced from prior knowledge)
I’m one of the generation that grew up with ‘real’ Star Wars. I was 8 when I saw the first film, 10 when the Empire struck back, and in my early teens and playing RPGs when the Jedi returned. One of those RPGs I played in my teen years was West End Games’ Star Wars RPG, and together with friends we built a deeper, richer Star Wars universe with its own set of heroes who had more than enough trouble from the likes of Inquisitor Tremayne while Darth Vader was busy with the heroes of Yavin 4. As we got older, and our world view matured, so did our Star Wars. I went off to university, where my gaming tended more towards Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu, but one of my fellow players and co-GMs took our Star Wars campaign to his university and a new group of players (and from there into publication as Fragments From The Rim)
The 1990s brought us a tidal wave of Expanded Universe novels, of variable quality and at odds with our own expanded Star Wars universe,and then at the end of the decade came the start of the long awaited prequel trilogy, which turned out not to be at all what we’d hoped for. Those of us who saw the first film as little kids were looking for a Star Wars film made for us, now on the cusp of being thirty – a more mature, nuanced Star Wars. What George Lucas made was something closer to the Saturday morning serials that inspired the original films, and aimed at the next generation of eight year olds. We hated Jar Jar Binks, but kids loved him, and they were the ones the new films were made for. To a great extent The Force Awakens was in the same vein (and better executed) – a new spin on the classic Star Wars adventure for a third generation of fans.
Well, now Gareth Edwards has made a Star Wars film for the forgotten first generation of fans. More mature, more nuanced – definitely. It’s not all shades of grey – the Empire is still very clearly evil, but the Rebellion has a grubbier or at least more pragmatic side on show here as well. There are factions and fault lines in the Alliance, extremist splinter groups willing to use any means to fight the Empire and intelligence operatives making ruthless decisions that a true white hat would shy away from. It’s recognisably Star Wars, but Star Wars down in the dirt and struggling for freedom a million light years away from a bunch of emotionally repressed wizards in bathrobes pontificating about Light Sise this and Dark Side that. The shout outs to the Star Wars we’ve seen before are everywhere, from a jug of blue milk to sly cameos and a new riff on “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, but the new movie shows what that universe is like for folks who aren’t called Skywalker and don’t have their veins pumped full of midichlorians and destiny.
In an odd way, it also reminds me of Disney’s other ridiculously profitable franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU has done very well by doing different genres of film within their superhero setting – conspiracy thriller with Winter Soldier, heist movie with Ant-Man, and yes space opera with Guardians Of The Galaxy. Rogue One shows you can do a classic war movie in the style of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns Of Navarone in the Star Wars universe. If the other ‘Star Wars Stories’ movies riff on some different genres half as well as Rogue One does, while Episodes 8 and 9 deliver the classic hero’s journey of the central saga, I will be well pleased.