Does anyone else get the bad feeling that all of the Star Wars movies are designed to be compared to one another? Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theaters just 12 months apart, so they've been easy womp rat targets for fans who want to rank their cinematic placings in the galaxy far, far away.
For me, the answer has always relied on a gut feeling. I had a more enjoyable experience watching The Force Awakens, even though I considered Rogue One to be pretty entertaining and even brilliant at times. I always knew I preferred The Force Awakens, and yet scores of you reading this right now will disagree in favor of Rogue One being the better film. What gives?
Well, I have a generous theory that tries to get to the bottom of why these movies are so clearly divisive among Star Wars fans. And Michael Tucker brilliantly laid out some of these ideas in his latest Lessons from the Screenplay video below, which explores how the (you guessed it) screenplay points out significant differences between The Force Awakens and Rogue One.
Specifically, Michael gives well-thought out reasons for why Rey is both a great character and an underdeveloped one in some ways. But most of all, he explores how and why Rey is objectively a better protagonist than Jyn Erso.
Here's the full video for your viewing pleasure:
Done? Great! Let's review Michael's main points.
Both Movies Have Problems
Before you can argue which film you think is better, it's important to concede that The Force Awakens and Rogue One are not flawless movies, and a big factor in your preferred film has a lot to do with which of these problems affected you the most or least.
For example, you may not mind in the slightest that The Force Awakens is essentially a remix of story ideas from all three movies in the original trilogy. But if you do take huge issue with that, Rogue One might appear to be the superior film. Simple, right?
Rey Is A Great Example Of 'Show, Don't Tell'
In the video, Michael makes a strong case for why The Force Awakens does a better job at showing instead of telling. His main argument here is that Rey gets a six-minute introduction that properly lays out who she is and what her motivations are without having to rely on a lot of exposition and heavy-handed dialogue. Keep in mind that "telling" isn't inherently wrong and is often needed. But the key takeaway here is that showing is more powerful, so it should be used as often as possible.
That's why for many Star Wars fans, Jyn Erso is a mediocre character at best. As Michael points out, we learn almost nothing about Jyn as an adult except through exposition, when Draven (the Rebel leader) lists off her actions before handing her off to the next story arc. We don't even see an emotional response from Jyn when she hears these actions being read aloud to her, so as a result, we don't get a good sense of who she is. And for many Star Wars fans, that lessens the impact of the entire movie.
Rey Is A More Active Protagonist
When you take a close look at Rey and Jyn's respective story arcs, you'll notice that Jyn is far more passive in Rogue One. She's repeatedly captured and forced to do things by other characters, and her involvement in the Saw Gerrera mission is only forced on her because they need her to be present, not to actually do anything. She's not really given much agency until the late second half of the movie.
Rey, on the other hand, frequently makes choices that advance the plot. She decides to help BB-8 and chooses not to sell him to Unkar. She decides to go with Han and Finn on an adventure to help the Resistance. And she chooses in the end to embrace the Force and defeat Kylo Ren.
This is all important because it helps to make Rey a more likable character. While Jyn isn't necessarily unlikable, I think it's safe to say that she's more forgettable and an aside compared to more intriguing side characters who effectively "stole the show" in Rogue One.
So, Why Do So Many People Prefer Rogue One?
The rest of Michael's video does a great job at uncovering the substantial problems in Rogue One, despite how bold and audacious it was as a film. And as I mentioned earlier, The Force Awakens has its own drawbacks, like how it's so slavish to Star Wars nostalgia and franchise set ups.
In addition to everything pointed out here, I believe Rogue One better introduced new directions for Star Wars movies to take, while also satisfying an itch to revisit stories from established eras. The Darth Vader scene in particular was compelling for a lot of fans who always wondered what that character was really like in his prime, unburdened by the limitations of old school filmmaking (and the fact that A New Hope was designed to be for kids).
And the entire premise of Rogue One — with its various themes of war, sacrifice and lightsaber-less conflicts — was inevitably more exciting for a sizable group of fans, while many other fans (like me) prefer the themes of legacy, heroic journeys and, of course, lightsabers.
Sure, it's fun to compare both movies, and we all have our favorites. That's why I'm confident Star Wars is heading in the right direction with diverse movies that satisfy differing tastes. So a movie like Rogue One can please fans in its own, experimental way, while others can appreciate the cohesiveness and tight storytelling of The Force Awakens. Parsecs may vary, but we can all probably agree that both movies are more than a blast to watch on their own terms.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens on December 15, 2017.
What do you think? Which Star Wars movie is better?
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