The first time I watched Rogue One I didn’t feel much.
The most emotional part of the experience was leaving the theater just as news broke about Carrie Fisher’s heart attack. And I can’t say her subsequent death wasn’t partially responsible for the swell of emotions that caught me off-guard during my second viewing last night. But it wasn’t the only reason.
Some stories just work better the second time around.
The story editor in me wants to disclaim that this is not something writers should generally aspire too. Most pieces of art only get one chance to make a good impression, and a story with unsightly structure rarely gets a polite goodnight hug much less a call-back for date number two. But Star Wars is Star Wars even when it’s Rogue One and skips the iconic opening scroll that could have chopped twenty tedious minutes of set-up off the film’s front end, so I agreed to see it again. Brand trust and all that. And it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it the first time. I really, really did. We just didn’t spark quite like I’d expected.
I think I damaged my tear ducts trying not to cry in front of my adult nephews last night. (Thanks, toxic masculinity.)
When I wasn’t having to spend half my brain power following the logistics of the mission, I was able to focus on the characters and, most emotionally, their connection to the events of the rest of the story.
Namely, how there would be no rest of the story without them.
The most common praise I’ve heard sung for Rogue One is that it’s not about a chosen one. There’s no special character hand-picked by the Force itself to save the day. Anyone who was willing could have gotten the job done.
And the most oft-lobbed insult is that the structure is all wrong, that it would have benefited tremendously from sticking more closely to Hollywood’s traditional three acts. And from a certain point of view, my original point of view, I’d have to agree. But…
Structure implies destiny.
Structure implies that someone outside of the story is pulling the strings.
This is why structure makes stories so satisfying. It’s only in stories that we can truly fully give ourselves over to the belief that everything is happening for a reason. A solid structure is an author’s promise that even if everyone dies, everything is going to be okay, because the story has been told as intended. Love it or hate it, the author was in control. Nothing was left up to chance. No existential crisis needed, dear reader.
Having seen it again, no one will be able to convince me that the parts of Rogue One that look like a total mess were an accident. I believe it was expertly crafted to show us a world without fate, a world where free will matters because there are more choices than Dark and Light, a world where characters drive the action by taking–as one says in their own words toward the end of the movie–one chance and then another until they’ve all been spent.
Of course the structure is a mess.
When I first heard about Rogue One, I wasn’t sure I was interested in seeing a Star Wars movie without Jedi. Now I want more. I want more stories about the heroes who weren’t chosen, only willing.
It’s what we need right now.
But in the future, it would be nice if more of them, like Finn in The Force Awakens, could get in on a little lightsaber action. I mean, come on. It is supposed to be Star Wars.