A Tweetstorm about Rogue One

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Does this look like a Tweetstorm to you? It's not. It's a blog post about Rogue One (A Star Wars Story) and why I enjoyed it.

What does a typical blockbuster look like?

In a typical modern action film, Action Hero and Action Heroine (and sidekicks) go places and do things. There's a setback. They overcome the setback through teamwork and a couple of well-timed coincidences. Maybe a sidekick fulfills a side mission. The mission succeeds in the final action sequence. The bad guys stop being bad. The good guys win. There's a party afterwards and the fuzzy comic-relief characters play tunes on drums made from the helmets of the bad guys. Yes, George Lucas did put this in Episode VI.

And Rogue One kinda avoids the prototypical action-film arc. Yes, there's an Action Heroine who teams up with the Action Hero. They go places and do things. The Action Hero experiences mild injuries. The good guys win.

But Rogue One forces the camera to pull back and show the many-threaded nature of the Rebellion: it's not just the Action Couple. It's the Action Squad, completing the side objectives to let the heros of the film succeed. It's the bureaucracy back home getting fed up and becoming a do-ocracy. It's a commander of an unknown ship deciding to call in support. It's two arms of the movement not coordinating, and as a result an action sequence goes awry.

There's a point in the film where the camera is following three or five different things at the same time, and that complexity is necessary to show how the Rebellion operates. Rogue One isn't just about the team of people on the shuttle flying under that callsign.

By way of contrast, consider the opening space battle of Episode III. We follow starfighters through a battle, dancing through a huge conflict between capital ships and fighters and beach balls full of buzz saws. I never got a sense of what that battle was about, other than a fight between good and bad. The battle didn't advance the characters' goals. It was a backdrop, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

Two fleets happen to be in the same space, so they fight? Why are the fleets in the same space? Why these fleets and not two other fleets? Why are the fleets the sizes they are? Why is the Chancellor of the Galactic Senate aboard an enemy ship, and why has that ship not jumped to hyperspace? Why are the villains incompetent? Because the True Villain is playing at a level higher than the Jedi Council. The space battle that opened Episode III made no sense.

In a comparable fight in Rogue One, we have the same fighter-pilot's-eye view of the fight, but we know why the fleets are in the same space, why this fighter pilot's mission matters, why the Rebels are doing the thing they're doing and why the Empire is fighting to stop that. Why the beach forces are pinned down and where they are pinned down. Why the Heroine is doing the thing. And, notably, all of this is happening at the same time. Rogue One portrays that complexity in a way that is understandable. This film isn't about magic. It's about seizing the initiative and taking the first strike. If you encounter an article discussing the Rebellion in terms of the Vor and Nach, please do let me know.

It's a good film because it shows not just one small group of characters, but because it pulls back and shows us how that group's tactics fit into a larger operational picture There are three generally-accepted levels of military theory. Tactics, which are how forces conduct battle. Strategy, which consider how to achieve political goals through military means. Operations, which is the connecting level of complexity between tactics and strategy. encompassing a whole theater of operations. Rogue One feels like the middle episodes of Band of Brothers, where Richard Winters has both a weapon in his hand and command of the men with him. The world is wide enough for the commander and the commanded, and Rogue One shows that in a way that no film I've seen recently has done.

It's a good film because it takes Mon Mothma's line in Episode IV, "Many Bothans died to bring us this information", and expands upon that to tell what the true price of that information was.

It's a good film because the Hero and the Heroine don't kiss at the end.

Do you disagree with this assessment? Feel free to tweetstorm at me or blog at me. 👍