The Honorable 47 Rogues of the Palpatine Era

Not Carrie Fisher

Has “hope” ever been creepier than as the last word of dialogue in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, uttered by Carrie Fisher or something like her or some unlikely likeness of some former incarnation of her, before us in double death-in-life? The movie’s fish-eyed space admirals were more believable than Fisher’s sex dollish image clone.

We are beyond the realm of “spoilers” here, so will note without hesitation that the scene in which it, not she, is cinematically discovered, standing still, presumably having been waiting all along, terminates a crescendo of death. Prior to that moment, the narrative is of the accelerating annihilation by heroic self-sacrifice, one by one and all-inclusively, of the typically motley crew of cartoonish types. Princess Leia promises new life for the hapless rebellion, and yet her or not-her’s appearance is the first and only moment in the film that qualifies as macabre.

“Forlorn hope,” “last stand,” “suicide mission,” and other variations on the theme turn up in different genres, but are especially poignant when drawn from history, and even when we are not necessarily inclined to sympathize with “the fallen.” Before there was the movie Rogue One, there was, for example, Kanal (1957), Andrzej Wajda’s film threnody of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but, before there was Kanal, there was The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era, aka The 47 Ronin, Kenji Mizoguchi’s bushido epic, released in 1941 – complete with intertitles, once at the beginnings of each of two parts, calling upon… someone… to “defend the homes of those who fight for a greater Asia.” Viewing The 47 Ronin far on the other side of the history then homing in on it, one may imagine oneself sympathizing with the main characters, all ardently seeking the path to destruction, treating any delay or detour as threat of inconsolable loss.

Over the three to four hours of The 47 Ronin‘s deep-focused quietude, one may find oneself justly in awe of Lord Asano’s righteously vengeful, hopefully hopeless samurai, both admiring them and empathizing with them, happy that they all “ended their lives without disgracing themselves” and satisfied that they “carried through on their original intent.” The in its way even more merciless fatality of Rogue One, the former structuring the latter all the way through the hectic final sequence, may have been the finest effect ever achieved in the entire Star Wars cinematic universe, but The 47 Ronin, evoking both past and, as it happened, quite imminent actualities, puts the pseudo-pathos of the Star Wars character in withering relief – as pastiche, an idea of an idea of an idea.

All the same, the world closes in on art, on the fantastical and feeble as well as on the historical and fine. The real as not merely idea emerges from within its representation, or the not merely imaginary emerges from the image, each re-absorbing the other into its own background, approaching unity. The effect is not always moving and not always marvelous or even enjoyable. It is as often enigmatic and unsettling, nauseating paradox joined to unseemly impulses, or word-games next to the deaths of beloved celebrities who were also, as we often say, real people: Rogue One was still in movie theaters when the news about Carrie Fisher’s death hit the nets. Friend of the blog Lee M was one of thousands of moviegoers who, that very night may have been shocked by the CGI apparition. Months later, the equally unexpected clumsiness of the CGI art itself, its utterly excessive artificiality, its pratfall into the uncanny valley, in short its obvious phoniness, is almost comforting, almost itself a rescue and promise, in these times, when we reflexively presume that almost any human quality can be, as soon as it is identified and isolated, rendered as empty effect.

We may or must wish to believe that human vitality or spirit remains or must be thought to remain ineffable and indelible, beyond all ever achievable f/x no matter how many millions are plowed into its negation: The Death Star exploded from within, and the message of “new hope” equaling the survival of old and mysterious things or of mystery itself, a permanent deferral of “singularity” – the subsumption of being under things like that Fisher thing, most definitely not Fisher ever in life, nor even a death-mask – and, in the falseness of the visage, Star Wars for a moment as close and true as here and now.

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