Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rogue One: Fathers

Not only does this movie invite comparison to the other recent Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, but the heavily marketed white female protagonists (with slight British accents*) invite comparison with each other. There are some really interesting story telling in the differences between them.

Image result for rey poster Image result for jyn poster

It was very confusing that the people who measure how feminist a film is by trope counting, found TFA to be a feminist film due to Rey. Because for all that Rey is indeed a woman, she is a woman motivated almost entirely by her father figures. She starts out the movie scavenging so she can buy food from the patriach-merchant of the camp. She spends most of the movie bonding with and idealizing Han Solo as her new father figure. And she reaches her spiritual summit at the end when she finds Luke as her final father figure. For modern feminist pop culture, this strong female character sure does take the vast majority of her guidance and purpose from men.

(Presumably such critics found TFA to be feminist primarily because their political foes complained about it. That's not a very good metric for obvious reasons, but nor is trope-counting. Neither approach addresses the ideological logic of a story, and each can easily be a trap that leads you to endorse cynicism.)

Jyn in Rogue One certainly does not lack for father figures herself. The difference is that all of hers die. She must accept both the death and collaboration of her father Galen. She sees Saw, who raised her and abandoned her, die and ask her to carry on his mission. This all happens in the first half of the film. In these absence of these guiding lights, Jyn must determine her own identity and mission.

(Jyn does not even have the holocube of her father to check in with. There is a scene specifically to say she has nothing but her own memory to trust now, and to spread among the others.)

This has not only feminist implications, but spiritual ones as well.


SMG making predictions back in August of 2015
Rogue One works as a basic concept because you don't necessarily need to put Jesus and saints and prophets in your film for it to be a Christian film.
If anything, those elements can distract from the message. You get people following false prophets just because they talk a certain way and wear the right clothes.
In other words, Rogue One will about a bunch of people who believe in the Force, but none of them will be psychic mutants.
From Jyn's mother and her Kyber crystal necklace, to the badass Force-worshipping non-superpowered monk Chirrut, Rogue One did indeed turn out to be a movie about the Force without a bunch of midichlorian users to dazzle and distract us.

There is one Force user in Rogue One of course. He uses the Dark Side to kill helpless rebels at the end there. This creates a clear dichotomy between the Dark Side of power and death, and the absence of that which is faith and community.

On the other hand, TFA, with its father figures is also the movie that paints a muscular, violent Light Side, which is specifically named and used to control others, and visualized with these bright beams destroying dark orbs.

What we have here is two universes: one which worships an existing God, and one that is an atheist universe. The former promises guidance and certainty and equal power to that of your enemies so that you may crush them. The latter offers only responsibility and freedom (which are themselves one and the same.)

And in the latter, everyone dies, not even knowing if their mission ever succeeded. These hopeless moments recall some of the other greatest moments in the Star Wars story: Padme Amidala's defiant, acausal death, or Luke's suicidal leap into the pit above Bespin, or even the final Throne Room scene in Return of the Jedi.

Edit: Much better Zizek quote for this post:

"To put it in a somewhat simplified way — I simplify it very much, I know — there are two basic attitudes discernible in the history of religions along the axis of the opposition between the global and the universal: On the one hand, there is the pre-Christian pagan cosmos, the divine hierarchical order of cosmic principles which, when copied on the society, gives the image of a congruent edifice in which each member is at each/his/her own place. The supreme good is here the global balance of principles, while the evil stands for their derailment or derangement, for the excessive assertion of one principle to the detriment of other principles, of the masculine principle to the detriment of the feminine one, of reason to the detriment of feeling, and so on and so on. The cosmic balance is then reestablished through the work of justice which, with its inexorable necessity, sets things straight again by crushing the derailed element. With regard to the social body, an individual is good when he or she acts in accordance with his/her special place within the social edifice, when he respects nature which provides food and shelter, when he shows respect for his superiors who take care of him in a fatherly way, and so on and so on. And evil occurs when some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with their proper place within the global order, when children no longer obey parents, when servants no longer obey their masters, when the wise ruler turns into a capricious, cruel tyrant, and so on. 
So the very core of the pagan wisdom resides in the insight into this cosmic balance of hierarchically ordered principles, more precisely, the insight into the eternal circuit of the cosmic catastrophe, derailment, and the restoration of order through just punishment. Perhaps the most elaborated case of such a cosmic order is the ancient Hindu cosmology first copied onto the social order in the guise of the system of castes, and then onto the individual organism itself in the guise of the harmonious hierarchy of its organs: head, hands, abdomen, and so on. Today such an attitude is artificially resuscitated in the multitude of New Age approaches to nature, society, and so on and so on. So that's the standard, traditional, pagan order. Again, being good means that you fully assume your proper place within some global order. But Christianity, and in its own way already — maybe, I'm not sure, I don't know enough about it — Buddhism, introduce into this global balance, cosmic order, a principle totally foreign to it, a principle that, measured by the standards of the pagan cosmology, cannot but appear as a monstrous distortion, the principle according to which each individual has an immediate access to the universality of nirvana, or the Holy Spirit, or today, of human rights and freedoms. The idea is that I can participate in this universal dimension directly, irrespective of my specific particular place within the global order."

It calls to mind the Zizek quote I posted the other day:
“In ex-Yugoslavia, the Communist censorship was neither too harsh nor too permissive. For example, films with direct religious content were allowed, but not if their subject was Christian: we saw de Mille’s Ten Commandments, but there were problems with Wyler’s Ben Hur. The censor resolved his dilemma (how to obliterate Christian references in this “tale of Christ” and yet preserve the story’s narrative consistency?) in a very imaginative way: he cut out of the first two-thirds the few scattered oblique references to Christ, while simply cutting off the entire last third where Christ plays the central role. The film thus ends immediately after the famous horse-race scene in which Ben Hur wins over Massala, his evil Roman archenemy: Massala, all in blood, wounded to death, spoils Ben Hur’s triumph by letting him know that his sister and mother, allegedly dead, are still alive, yet confined to a colony of lepers, crippled beyond recognition. Ben Hur returns to the race ground, now silent and empty, and confronts the worthlessness of his triumph— the end of the film. The censor’s achievement is here truly breathtaking: although undoubtedly he had not the slightest notion of the tragic existentialist vision, he made out of a rather insipid Christian propaganda piece an existential drama about the ultimate nullity of our accomplishments, about how in the hour of our greatest triumph we are utterly alone.”

*British accents being a class marker in the Star Wars universe. Neither of these women have proletarian origins.

1 comment:

  1. I would question your statement that the monk guy is non-superpowered, seeing as he's a blind martial arts master, dodges blaster fire effortlessly, and takes down armored troopers with a stick.

    He's a Jedi who just happens to not own a lightsaber. Which is entirely reasonable, seeing as the people responsible for handing out lightsabers to promising candidates got massacred in the prequels.

    (I don't think this takes away from your larger point. He didn't have formal training, doesn't have the title or the saber, but he's still a Jedi in every way that matters).