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Author Topic: Anatomy of a Disaster: Diego Dissects Rogue One  (Read 345 times)

Diego Tutweiller

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Re: Anatomy of a Disaster: Diego Dissects Rogue One
« Reply #20 on: September 21, 2017, 02:49:12 am »
Part Two: Location, Location, Location, and Another Location

I started this series partly because I wanted to get my irritation with Donnie Yen off of my chest, but from here it makes sense to go semi-chronologically. The opening sequence had barely ended before knew I was going to hate Rogue One, and feeling that knowledge sink in was a dreadful experience. But why was I so sure that this film would disappoint me right out of the gate? The answer, as always, is complicated, but let’s focus on one thing at a time here. Let’s discuss the first few minutes of the film, and how Rogue One establishes its locations.

Location is extremely important when telling a story, especially in a visual medium. And it’s even more important in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. A James Bond movie might be able to jump from Paris to Moscow without much explanation, but if the audience has no prior knowledge of the locations being used, more time is needed to establish them. The audience must take a minute to become acquainted with the new place’s environment and culture, taking in the landscape, the architecture, the nature, etc. We’re being suddenly dropped into an unusual place, and we need time to familiarize ourselves with it.

If you’ve seen Rogue One, you know where this is going. The movie whips through five locations within its first fifteen minutes-- Jyn’s homeworld, a prison planet, some kind of asteroid space station, an “Imperial-occupied moon,” and Yavin 4. Whatever momentum the story gained in the opening sequence, it quickly lost. Did a third-grader with ADHD write this? Why can’t the film focus on one thing for more than three minutes at a time?

The movie lost me after the third location, or about ten minutes in. Now, I’m pretty sure that elementary pacing is covered at some point in the screenwriting curriculum, so why is this movie’s beginning such a muddled mess? This opening demonstrates such a profound misunderstanding of this series, and of the medium of film in general. The frenetic location-jumping gives the audience whiplash, and it doesn’t help that the locations all look the same visually, with greyish-black color palettes and no discernible difference in culture. The plot hasn’t even kicked in yet, and we’re already confused about the travel time, where the characters are in relation to one another, and whether any of these locations are actually important. Dagobah, for instance, was a planet that the plot deemed worthy of revisiting. The same cannot be said of “Wobani.”

This may sound like a nitpick, but given that it occurs so early on in the film, and that it deviates so wildly from conventional pacing, it’s worth some serious dissection. At least two of these locations were ultimately unnecessary to the plot, and by cluttering the opening with so many planets, the writers rob the locations of their mysticism. Each planet is introduced with a dull scroll of text and a half-second wide shot. This is fine if the location you’re establishing is Bakersfield. But imagine for a moment how dull the opening of the original Star Wars film would have been if it had spelled out “TATOOINE” and then cut to the planet’s surface. I’m no expert, but if you’re trying to give your audience some sense of wonderment, this is the wrong way to go about it.

Other Star Wars films, even the reviled prequels, understood this. Prior to these Disney films, new installments in the franchise were quite conservative with how many new locations they established. To illustrate this, I’ve created a handy chart.



For this graph, I discounted planets that have already been visited in prior films. Revenge of the Sith’s number is debatable, as it does include a montage sequence that takes us to various other places, but no plot details occur there. Aside from that, the trend is fairly obvious. Why do these new films feel the need to assault us with so many new locations? Perhaps it’s because the Disney execs think that new places = creativity, and that the more overstuffed the plot is with “cool shit,” the more the fanboys will enjoy it. Given the love that Rogue One has received, it seems they’re not entirely wrong.

So why is any of this important? Well, location has a massive effect on tone. In The Empire Strikes Back, for example, the locations are not chosen at random-- there is a method to it, a reasoning that ties in with the story. A frigid ice world is used as the rebel base, and it illustrates that the rebels have been driven to the edge of the galaxy. No one would voluntarily inhabit such a wasteland, so within minutes of the film’s opening, we realize just how desperate our hero’s situation is. Meanwhile, the gas giant and Cloud City are initially depicted as a beautiful paradise in the sky, which is later undercut by the revelation of Lando’s treachery. As the story becomes darker, the environment changes to suit it, taking us deep into the underbelly of a gas mining facility, filled with dim lights and ominous steam.

What tone do the locations in Rogue One create? It’s hard to say. There’s very little distinction between the rainy Imperial base, the Imperial mining colony, and the Imperial penal world. There is no contrast in setting, like there is between the sterile halls of the Death Star and the jungle-covered Rebel base in Episode IV. And most importantly, there’s no relationship between the location and what’s happening in the story. The final battle happens on a tropical planet covered in beaches and palm trees. Why? Because it looks cool. Let’s do a tropical planet! We’ve never seen one of those before!

There are a million examples of well-established locations in the fantasy genre. But the places in Rogue One are featureless, nameless, bland environments that exist only to be blown up. They are nothing more than areas that surround the action, and they are ultimately ancillary to the rest of the story. Despite all of this, Rogue One visits more planets than the entire Original Trilogy combined, and every single one is even more drab and monotonous than the last. This is why the pace feels so frenetic at the beginning, and why the introduction of the characters comes across as choppy and rushed. The worst screenwriter in the world could have identified this problem and fixed it. The fact that no one thought to do so is simply staggering.

Perhaps all this amounts to is another nitpick. But I think that aspiring writers can learn a lot from the pitfalls of Rogue One, and because it does not have a single redeeming quality, it’s a very fascinating movie to pick apart. All of these little narrative failures build on one another, until the movie becomes a cacophony of incoherent, moronic gibberish, wherein every line of dialogue elicits an eye roll and every incomprehensible plot development yields utter confusion. And because it is so fundamentally broken, arguing with its fans is a waste of time-- every inane detail requires paragraphs of explanation. Let’s hope I can get through this without putting the barrel of a gun in my mouth.
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