We’re only a couple days away from the opening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is the first of several planned “standalone” or “anthology” films that take place in the Star Wars universe, but are incidental to the mainline saga. In other words, this movie and the “Star Wars Stories” that will follow exist in parallel to the seven previous Star Wars movies, but are not “episodes” of the story being told in those other seven. The idea is to fill in the narrative gaps and expand on the universe we’ve seen in the numbered episodes… fleshing out backstories and exploring ideas that the episodes don’t have time to deal with. And of course, to keep Star Wars-branded product in the theaters (and the toy stores) each and every year for the foreseeable future, thus making a Death Star full of money for the new galactic overlords at Disney.
The movie is getting very positive advance reviews (including, reportedly, the approval of George Lucas himself, which may not matter to a lot of Star Wars fans, but it still matters to me), and many of my friends already have their tickets for showtimes this weekend. I, on the other hand…
I’ll be honest, I was more excited by the teaser trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 than by anything to do with Rogue One, and that freaks me out a little. I mean… it’s Star Wars, man! Star Wars! Those two words have provoked an almost Pavlovian response in me for pretty much my entire life, ever since I was a wee lad doodling TIE fighters in the margins of my school papers. I should be bouncing off the walls right now, vibrating with excitement for my imminent return to the galaxy far, far away, just as I was for last year’s entry, The Force Awakens, and for each of the prequels before that, and for Empire and Return of the Jedi thirty-some years ago. But… I’m just not.
To be fair, there are elements in the latest Rogue One trailer that I find intriguing. I like the glimpse of day-to-day life under Imperial domination (literally under it, as a star destroyer hovers in the sky, throwing its ominous shadow over the city). I like the fact that this story is about ordinary galactic citizens for a change, instead of crazy old wizards and magical bloodlines. And the scenes of messy, close-quarters urban fighting with a scout walker clomping through narrow alleyways are something we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie, so there’s that. However — and I really can’t convey how much it pains me to say this — there’s nothing in any of the trailers that really makes my heart go zing.
Part of the problem is my lack of interest in the movie’s central premise. If you don’t know or haven’t figured it out from the trailers, Rogue One tells the story of the rebel spies mentioned in the opening of the original Star Wars film (I guess I’m finally going to have to give in and start referring to that one as Episode IV or A New Hope like everyone else does, for the sake of clarity). Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I myself have never given a second thought to those guys or how they actually got their hands on the secret Death Star plans that Princess Leia was carrying at the beginning of the whole franchise. Not once. As I put it in a recent Facebook conversation, this movie aims to “explain a maguffin that no one has ever questioned or wondered about in any way.” Remember the midichlorians in The Phantom Menace, and how baffled, if not downright angry, everybody was that George Lucas felt it necessary to quantify something we’d always just accepted, i.e., the Force? The midichlorian thing was one scene. Rogue One is an entire movie built around the same kind of thinking. As my friend Kelly put it during that same Facebook discussion, “What if someone made a movie called Ugarte in which we see the Peter Lorre character from Casablanca meet up with the two couriers who have the letters of transit?” Has anyone ever desired such a film? I know I haven’t. It’s not that you couldn’t make a good movie from that bit of background; it’s that there really isn’t any need to.
I think Disney’s plans for an annual Star Wars release are also a factor in my indifferent mood. A new Star Wars movie used to be a major event — the release dates for the original trilogy, the Special Editions, and The Phantom Menace (although not so much the other two prequels, oddly) all stand out in my mind as significant temporal landmarks that I still tend to use when I’m navigating through my memories — and those events were years in the making. (Literally.) You had time for the anticipation to build. But Rogue One arriving so soon after Episode VII, and knowing that Episode VIII will be out only 12 months from now, and then another standalone only a year after that, and so on and so on, has already rendered the Star Wars franchise no big deal, the same way the Marvel superhero movies — which Disney also owns — are no big deal. Now, I love those Marvel flicks, but I don’t get especially excited about them or eagerly anticipate them. Frankly, I take them for granted. I know it doesn’t matter if any individual entry in the series is bad, or if I don’t get around to seeing it in a theater, because there’s always another one on the way (three of them, in fact, in 2017). We’re only two movies into the Disney era of Star Wars, and I’m already feeling the same way about this franchise, and that’s a drag.
Really, though, my biggest problem with Rogue One is the lingering hangover from last year’s Star Wars film.
This entry is already running long, so I’ll spare my Loyal Readers a laundry list of all the specific issues I had with The Force Awakens. Let’s just say that I didn’t think it was a very good movie, I don’t think it continued the saga in a good way, and it ultimately did something no other Star Wars movie has ever done: It made me feel old and out of touch and sad. In fact — and I know this is going to sound ridiculous and overly dramatic, but it’s true — I’ve been struggling against depression for most of the past year, never entirely falling into The Pit, but always conscious of a black shadow lurking just at the edges of my peripheral vision. And while there have been a lot of contributing factors, everything from Prince and Bowie dying to the election, I’m pretty sure the triggering event was that damned movie. After 15 years, I finally understand the intense reaction so many people had to the prequel trilogy: disapproval, disillusionment, and a nagging sense of having been played for a fool that gradually festers into genuine anger about the whole damn thing.
Honestly, I’ve spent the last year wondering if I’m done with Star Wars. Moving forward, I mean. Nothing is ever going to take the original trilogy away from me. I’ve always said the “raped my childhood” stuff we used to hear in response to the prequels was asinine, overblown pearl-clutching, and I still feel that way. I truly don’t want to become one of those fans. And I know that I’m already dangerously close to sounding like Grampa Simpson bitching that everything’s gone to hell because the Damn Kids aren’t doing things the way we did ’em back in my day. But I’m no longer sure that Star Wars has much to say to me… or, for that matter, is even interested in speaking to me in the post-Lucas era. And that has been — and continues to be — very, very difficult for me to wrap my head around. Frankly, it’s been pretty painful. Like losing one’s faith in religion, I imagine. I hold out some flicker of hope that Rogue One might redeem the franchise for me (although next year’s Episode VIII will be the true make-or-break point). But I don’t feel much urgency to find out. I fear the emotions I’ll go through if it’s also a disappointment, I guess.
Oh, I will see it…. eventually. But I know I’ll be walking into the theater with a sense of wariness when I do…