Vox readers and Twitter users were left scratching their heads on Tuesday as an article by Todd VanDerWerff proclaimed that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story represents the first film in the Star Wars cinematic universe “to acknowledge the whole franchise is about war.”
While VanDerWerff was also informing his audience that the “flawed” movie features “big script problems” but remains “interesting,” he had plenty of praise for this prequel to A New Hope and particularly how it’s “a political-ish film” in the age of Trump that further harkened back to the Bush administration.
VanDerWerff had everyone’s attention from the get-go with the title “Rogue One review: this is the first Star Wars movie to acknowledge the whole franchise is about war” and dropping the revelation that “a lot” of “people die” in the film in “horrible” ways “with unfinished business” as the Rebels fought to secure the plans for the Death Star.
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“Sometimes, it’s a beautifully constructed antidote to years and years of fake, digitized movie destruction, with precisely crafted frames and genuinely groundbreaking cinematography. At other times, it’s a bumpily edited mess that was too-obviously assembled in post-production from a variety of possible outcomes,” he explained.
As for the section dedicated to his self-realization that Star Wars films are indeed about wars, VanDerWerff opined:
The unifying theme of Rogue One is simple: People die in wars. If the Star Wars saga is about a war between freedom and tyranny, then a lot of people are going to die fighting that war. Those on the side of good are going to make questionable decisions. Those on the side of evil are sometimes just doing their jobs but will get their lives snuffed out anyway.
He excels at telling stories about what it feels like to be crushed — by a monster, by a war machine, by a political system.
The Vox movie critic didn’t stray far from the sort of pathetic analysis that bore its own Twitter hashtag when he boasted of the film’s political insinuations with one scene reminding him of “the US occupation of Iraq and police militarization of American cities.”
“That general idea — what does it feel like to be crushed? — has led to hopes from some that Rogue One will be a rousing call to arms against the global rise of right wing nationalism. And that reading is certainly easy to make,” VanDerWerff added.
While conceding that allusions to recent or modern-day politics may not have been intentional, VanDerWerff nonetheless remained amused by it all:
An early shot in Rogue One features Stormtroopers patrolling the streets of a city rife with tension between various factions, rolling around in a tank. At various moments, it calls to mind the US occupation of Iraq and police militarization of American cities. But it’s not entirely clear whether Edwards has thought about what these similarities might mean in the larger tapestry of Rogue One beyond “Do you get this reference?” It’s political commentary as Family Guy joke.
To be clear, I don’t think Edwards needs to have his characters take center stage and say, “Fascism is bad. Also, the tank represented occupying forces!” We can draw these parallels for ourselves.
Later on in his conclusion, VanDerWerff sought to redeem himself for having earlier slammed Rogue One’s writing team of doing “a patchwork job” on certain characters and the dialogue leading to “severe story problems”:
Don’t get me wrong. This is still Star Wars. It’s not going to offer up a blistering tirade against combat, nor a bromide against the military-industrial complex. The good guys are still mostly good. The bad guys are still mostly bad. There’s still a man dressed all in black who can choke you with a hand gesture, and a scrappy band who stands up to all that darkness.
It’s just that where other Star Wars movies focus on the brightness of the stars, Rogue One is a little more comfortable staring at the inky black spaces in between, and wondering what they might hold. I wouldn’t want every Star Wars movie to be like that, but I’m glad this one is.