Double Feature: Rogue One
Art is a curious study. There are no right or wrong answers, but infinite ways to interpret the material. When Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back released in theaters, there was a short film that preceded it. The short film was called Black Angel (can be viewed here), and was directed by Roger Christian. By placing both stories next to each other something magical happens. It reshaped how to interpret each story. Does this work, with the other Star Wars movies? Let us find out! Welcome to a multipart series that pairs a Star Wars movie to another movie in order to explore how each story reverberates together. Some of these movies will not be all ages appropriate, and will have hard to digest moments. If you are worried the other movie might not be for you, I completely understand, and urge you to research ahead of time in order to protect yourself or your children.
*There will be spoilers to both movies below, and book spoilers to select novels*
Koyaanisqatsi Before Rogue One
Koyaanisqatsi was a music/documentary film released in 1983 (around the time Return of the Jedi originally released) by Godfrey Reggio. There was no written dialog at all, and at the end there was only the definition to the word “koyaanisqatsi” (from the Hopi language meaning roughly “life out of balance”) to deliver the message Reggio intended to convey. Only the message is quite an odd one. Roger Ebert in his review (found here) tried to define it as, “...nature is wonderful, but that American civilization is a rotten despoiler that is creating a ‘crazy life.’” The reason is because the movie goes back and forth between beautifully sped up images of landscapes untouched by man, and images of modern city life at the time. The viewer is left, with the impression that what man has created is what is causing life to become out of balance, which leads to the assumption that the cure to bring balance to life is no human life at all?
The joy of this double feature is how Koyaanisqatsi superficially reverberates next to the film Rogue One. There are a lot of images in Koyaanisqatsi that appear in Rogue. For example, the beginning landscapes look similar to the planet Jedha. The demolition of Pruitt Igoe (not trying to make light of the real life situation) reminds me of the destruction of the Death Star’s single reactor ignition over Jedha City. All the people in Koyaanisqatsi just going through the motions remind me of the citizens of the Empire just doing their thing under Imperial occupation.
In addition, how Reggio manipulates the montage of imagery in Koyaanisqatsi only presents a sliver of information to the audience. We do not get to know the complete history of Pruit Igoe. We are only shared a piece of how he viewed the people that grew up there, and it’s inevitable destruction. Much in the same way we only get to see part of Jedha City, and the people there. There is so much more to explore and understand. In Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka (book review here) a new perspective is presented. Children orphaned and abandoned after their parents are murdered or taken away by the Empire. We find out what Disciples and Guardians of the Whills do once there is no temple left to protect. Similarly, the Rogue One novelization by Alexander Freed (book review here) goes to multiple points of view of Jedha City’s citizens to create a clearer understanding of the destruction to come (included is a Stormtrooper squad stuck on Jedha after missing the evacuation pick up. One in particular lived long enough to see the blast coming, and felt the pain, because they were still wearing their armor).
“Trust goes both ways.” - Jyn Erso
Let us merge both movies by looking reversely at Koyaanisqatsi through the lens of Rogue One. How one can interpret Koyaanisqatsi through the lens of Rogue One is a life without the Force. A life under Imperial suppression as it sucks dry all the minerals from each planet until there is nothing left. How even without balance there is still the possibility that life will correct itself. Bring back the Force. Bring back hope. Rip apart the flags of oppression. Yet, Koyaanisqatsi does not answer the how. It does not give the hope. It is lost. Like Jyn in the beginning of Rogue One. She is an ant that had been stomped on by two giants (the Empire and Rebellion), and set on a course not of her own, but by both her fathers to fulfill their perceived destiny.
However, Jyn does towards the end of Rogue One find her hope. She chooses her fate to trust in the Force, and finish what Galen Erso and Saw Gerrera started. Only, she does it on her own terms. With the heart of the kyber crystal Jyn’s mother gave her to navigate through the sea of despair. Jyn’s mother did not give her a mission. She did not tell her if she got through her dentist appointment, without complaining that she would get ice cream at the end. She did not try to ask her daughter to tell her if she understood. No, she told her to trust in the Force. To find one’s purpose on their own.
Lyra gave Jyn the tools to live; Saw turned her into a tool to fight. In the Rebel Rising novel (review found here) we learn Lyra Esro home schooled her daughter. Gave her the tools to succeed in life, so she could make her own decisions. Something Galen Erso and Saw Gerrera could not do. Instead of letting her become herself, they tried forcing her on a different path in life. Saw especially, because he wanted Jyn to grow up to become like his sister Steela Gerrera, because Steela was his guiding light. His brightest star that was snuffed out from the galaxy too soon. Without Steela, Saw had nothing but pain and misfortune in his future. That was until he rescued Jyn. He wanted her to become his brightest light. No matter the consequence.
Side note, after Saw left Jyn Erso to her own devices as the threat to her safety became too high, she met Akshaya and Hatter Ponta. Yet, that story was a beautifully melancholy tale. Something that was only shared in the Rebel Rising novel. Losing hope involves gaining hope in the first place. How can one truly be sad unless they were at one time happy… I do not want to spoil the novel. Definitely worth checking out.
Lastly, the music in Koyaanisqatsi and Rogue One fit beautifully in each movie. Philip Glass and Michael Giacchino both have a wonderful style in the compositions, where the music is distinct and sticks with you after repeat listens (even though Giachinno is channeling John Wiiliams, he still uses his own style). Both also incorporate a choral choir that add to crucial moments. Take for example “Vessels” by Glass and “Hope” by Giachinno. The use of a choir brings the viewer into the moment as the music swells into frenetic motion. Another example is comparing “Prophecies” by Glass and “The Master Switch” by Giachinno. Both versions are at different speeds, but echo a sense of inevitable destruction, with “The Master Switch” incorporating the Latin hymn “Dies Irae” (translated to mean day of wrath) and “Prophecies” incorporating a mix of organ and choir that sounds like a eulogy to the final days of Earth.
In the end, is the message that the only cure to Rogue One is humanity? Where the Force must correct the mistakes of humans? Annihilate humanity in order to purify the galaxy to it’s intended glory? Can there be hope of a new tomorrow? Just like in Koyaanisqatsi, is the answer to save Earth is the removal of human life? I don't think so, but I found it interesting exploring these ideas. Let me know if you watch these movies back to back, because there are so many other interpretations Koyaanisqatsi and Rogue One offer that were not included above. The beauty of art is the discussion and reevaluation of how art affects each other.
Koyaanisqatsi and Rogue One are both available on digital and Blu Ray format.