Rogue What

So the fiancée and I decided to go out and see Rogue One for our engagement anniversary. I’ll preface this whole review by saying: It had its flaws, but it was still worth the money. Go see it.

That said, I still had a pretty lukewarm reaction to it.

Probably minor spoilers ahead; I don’t think I give anything away about the plot, but consider yourself warned anyway.

I think the biggest flaw overall was the movie’s inability to commit to itself; it could’ve been either a good Star Wars movie or a good not-Star Wars movie, but it couldn’t do both. It felt like they were trying to go full grimdark, be super mature, and then chickened out halfway. It was like a dime-a-dozen dystopia. And it didn’t help that the soundtrack – while full of the classic Star Wars goodness – felt out of place with the movie itself. Another thing I noticed was the dissonance of the main character.

To be clear here, I fucking love a good female protagonist. I’ve gotten into many a long nerd fight over how awesome Rey is.

This remains one of my happiest moments as a geek and a movie goer.

Jyn Erso ain’t Rey.

Rey got down in the dirt, was established from the beginning as a scrapper, had a steady – and good – character arc throughout The Force Awakens. She was in tune with the environment around her, getting banged up and sweaty and just plain grimy like everyone else. Jyn Erso had none of that. The movie felt like it was trying to make her into an epic-level badass but she came up short on every single front. She radiated a kind of juvenile vulnerability any time the scene called for strength – and this was the big, continuous argh I had with her. Every single scene where she’s supposed to be awesome, she just plain isn’t. Anytime I’m supposed to care about her, I don’t.

She felt like a knockoff Katniss Everdeen; the dime-a-dozen protagonist of that dime-a-dozen young adult dystopia.

She isn’t the only one I had this problem with. It was just more obvious with her because she had more screen time. Cassian Andor was similarly dissonant on just about every font. He’s introduced in the manner of a grimmer, darker Han Solo, but he never follows through on any of the expectations established in his introduction. His big moment of doubt and introspection falls flat, becoming totally inconsequential five seconds after he has it for reasons I don’t want to spoil. Everything about him feels like the dime-a-dozen protagonist’s dime-a-dozen romantic interest in that aforementioned dime-a-dozen young adult dystopia. The only thing I really liked about the guy was the fact that he spoke a different accent from the Space British.

Other than that, there were just too many little nods to continuity. One or two would’ve been great. When it gets to the point where I want to make a drinking game out of it, you need to stop and reassess which of those nods is actually worth keeping. In that respect, the movie felt kind of like a reasonably well done piece of fan fiction; it filled in the gaps on a tiny part of canon, and was pretty creative about doing so, but ultimately it doesn’t mean much and you’re just fine without ever knowing it exists.

Now, with all that griping out of the way, there were things I really, really, really freaking loved.

The big one was Donnie Yen.

This tells you everything you need to know about Donnie Yen. He’s basically the next Jet Li, except he has more crossover appeal and he goes above and beyond traditional wushu in his choreography. His fight scenes, in general, are just a joy to watch. On top of all that, he’s also a pretty decent actor even when he’s not suplexing people on naked concrete.

He and Jiang Wen freaking carry any scene they’re in – not just for action sequences, but as actual characters. You can tell that they have lives outside of Jyn Erso’s story, you can tell that they’re bona fide people. I honestly want to see the Chinese version of this film just because they’ll probably get more screen time in it, hopefully with a full-on arc of their own. If Rogue One had been about Yen and Wen’s characters, Baze and Chirrut, it would’ve been ten times better right out the gate.

I can’t help but wonder if Yen’s creative control over Chirrut is the main reason he ended up being such a good, lively character compared to the main pair. It reminds me of Harrison Ford and Han Solo, except nicer than Ford telling Lucas he can’t write his way out of a paper bag.

I also really liked K-2SO. He had the best introduction out of anyone, and provided most of the movie’s actual humor, even if some of it got a little overboard at times. I can’t really say too much else about him since his best moments are all spoilers. The only time he really fell flat was when he had positive interactions with Jyn. And to be fair to K-2SO, that happened to everyone but Chirrut.

The CGI in general was top notch, but they might want to cool it with the makeovers and the resurrected actors. Tarkin was good until I saw his face. The other character given that treatment was straight-up uncanny valley after the first couple of seconds. I get that Disney is testing this technology for the long game (thereby making it possible to give us Robert Downey Junior as perfectly middle-aged Iron Man forty years from now), but the tech isn’t quite there yet and it takes more away than it adds.

So, yes.

Go see it but don’t expect a masterpiece. If somebody held my feet to the fire, I’d give it a solid 7.5 or 8 out of 10.


The Fault in our Strats

As I mentioned on a web board I’m pretty fond of, I’m starting to think the Trump’s Ego argument is faulty, along with any strategy aimed at exploiting it.

The basic idea is that Trump is so egotistical it’ll lead to missteps and errors that a savvy enough opponent could exploit. It’s predicated on the assumption that Trump himself is completely un-self-aware; that the man is so completely lost in his own narcissism that he probably can’t find his way to the bathroom each morning. Nearly every assumption I’ve seen written based on it has fallen flat, especially those that assume he’ll come into conflict with the Republican Party.

Or, to put this another way:

Donald Trump had to agree to this.

Stop and think about that. Pro-wrestling is fake, as any three-year-old or above will tell you. The character of Stone Cold Steve Austin is built from the ground up as a raging redneck anti-authoritarian. Trump has spent his entire career, and probably most of his life in general, building himself up to be an authority figure. You can stop here and say, “But he was paid to do this!” and you’d almost certainly be right, even if Trump is pretty friendly with the McMahon family et al (he did, after all, appoint Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration – one of his few genuinely good appointments, in my opinion).

Here’s the thing though: According to Austin himself, that whole thing was not planned in advance. According to a Men’s Journal interview from earlier this year, Vince McMahon asked Trump to go through with it at the very last second. Trump went over his own advisor and said yes. In other words, he volunteered for this. He volunteered to be humiliated in front of a screaming crowd of 80,000 people that ate it up.

That is not the action of a man so egomaniacal that you can count on it for strategic purposes, as Hillary Clinton did. There’s almost certainly something wrong with him, sure; it takes a special kind of crazy to run for president, let alone to go against a field of nearly thirty other candidates between both parties, to subvert longstanding conservative movement traditions and icons, to (probably) collaborate with a rival nation, and to pander to the most unpleasant elements of his base while selling a false bill of goods to the rest. That’s frickin’ insane no matter how you slice it.

But I don’t think I buy into the idea of Trump being the narcissistic blowhard he plays on TV and social media. Whatever he really is, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s someone cynical and smart enough to employ smokescreen tactics almost 24/7 – every single offensive comment on Twitter, for instance – while everyone else is dumb enough to think they can use him for their own ends.

As I’ve written before, kayfabe is a thing and Trump’s done a bang-up job of figuring out how to use it.

Hat tip to Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite for the realization that everyone is trying to use Trump for their own ends; I can’t recommend their election takes highly enough. Added kudos to Hite for being an American conservative who opposes Trump, and to both of them for having a good podcast in general.