Tag Archives: Story

Re-writing Rogue One’s most irksome scene

I want to talk about Rogue One – and my problem with the final cut.

I preface this by admitting the film was a commercial success, grossing more than $1bn globally – success that was reflected in the audience meta-reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, securing 85% fresh from critics and an 87% audience score. That’s decent numbers.

Nevertheless, personally, the film left me feeling hollow, and it took a second viewing two years later to really grasp why. Specifically, it took one scene to pinpoint my frustration with the film.

Aside: I’m aware the internet is awash with feverish fans pissing and moaning about their beloved franchise being supposedly ruined by all manner of nefarious forces, from SJW writers to diversity-crazed executives – absurd criticisms that say a lot more about the critic than the creatives.

This is not one of those blogs.

I want to talk about the writing – the agency, character development and dialogue. That’s what this blog has always been about, after all.

The scene I want to examine comes smack-bang in the middle, following the X-Wing bombing run on the Imperial research facility on Eadu.

This scene forms the crux of the story – it’s supposed to be the point at which Jyn shifts from passivity to action. Indeed, in the scene after this she has transformed into a spokesperson for freedom, encouraging lifelong rebels to fight against the Empire. Meanwhile, for Cassian, this scene reveals his remorse, and prepares the groundwork for his subsequent redemption. It’s a low ebb in a film devoted to low ebbs.

So, in its entirety:

JYN: You lied to me.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

JYN: Deny it.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

JYN: I bet you have. They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

CASSIAN: I don’t have to.

The biggest problem with this scene stems from Cassian’s actions on the ridge. Remember, Cassian is the first character we’ve seen to so perfectly personify “rebel scum”; he is a murdering thug, who kills in cold blood, abandons his allies and stoops to anything to further the Rebel cause.

So Cassian is sent to Eadu to assassinate Jyn’s father, Galen, but at the last disobeys his orders. However, it is never clear why. Perhaps he believes what Jyn has told him, that Galen can prove to the Rebel Alliance that there is a way to destroy the Death Star. But if he believed her, why continue with the mission, why take the pilot up to the ridge as his spotter if he doesn’t have every intention of carrying out the order. No, it looks more like a crisis of conscience.

But this in itself is vexxing – we witnessed Cassian’s ruthlessness in his first scene. Remember when he was getting info from an informant, and they are discovered by two Stormtroopers? He shoots the guards, thereby alerting the rest of the Imperial forces to their presence. His injured comrade begins to panic, worried he won’t be able to escape with a lame arm. Cassian – for no discernible reason – takes it upon himself to calm the informant with soothing words before shooting him in the back. Cassian apparently has no conscience – he believes implicitly in the cause, will do anything for it, kill anyone for it.

So which is it that draws his finger off the trigger? If it is reason, he should have disobeyed sooner, and enacted a plan that might save Galen. If it is compassion, well, here’s that scene again:

Cassian’s character arc is all about remorse – we learn he has been fighting the Empire since he was six years old, and has done terrible things for the sake of the rebellion. But we are led to believe he suddenly has a change of heart when aiming down the scope of a sniper rifle at the man who designed the most heinous weapon in the galaxy. He’ll sidle up close to an ally to shoot them at point-blank range, but he hesitates when his target is a mile away and for all intents and purposes a far more dangerous enemy?

It doesn’t sit right.

So, not a great foundation for a pivotal scene. Let’s break it down, line by line…

JYN: You lied to me.

Jyn is referring to when she realised Cassian had left the ship with his weapon in “sniper configuration”. Fair enough – though he didn’t pull the trigger. So, while she may think he went up to shoot Galen, he didn’t, and therein lies a mystery…

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

Remember, Cassian does not yet know why Jyn is accusing him of lying. Perhaps this is his guilt replying, but one might argue he’d just act incredulous. He has nothing to gain from admitting his order, and it would be much more in character if he continued to lie. Either way, his complete inaction during the Eadu scene has apparently made him the aggressor.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

Again, Jyn had good reason to believe Cassian was there to assassinate Galen; and yet, he clearly did not carry out the order. The question I would be asking is, “Why didn’t you shoot?”

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Cassian is being dismissive and patronising, and it’s his only line in this scene that makes any sense.

JYN: Deny it.

So I guess Jyn is challenging Cassian to keep lying – but he has been lying constantly and without contrition since the beginning, so it’s hardly the most likely way to win this argument, or indeed draw out a confession.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

This line is just semantically wrong. She may be in shock – and saying so is a good way to undermine her accusations – but you can’t put shock anywhere. What does that even mean? Looking for someplace to put your shock?

JYN: I bet you have. – They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

The “I’ve seen it before” –> “I bet you have” remark & response appear to be there only to make the dialogue switch from one to the other. Cassian doesn’t need to say “I’ve seen it before” – it adds no weight to his point. Jyn’s response is basically meaningless – sarcastically implying he’s seen lots of people in shock? Well, yeah, he’s a soldier. What’s your point? And then she instantly changes tact with “They know!”

Note also she says Cassian lied about why he “went up alone”. But he didn’t go up alone, did he? He went up with the pilot, so that Bodhi could identify Galen. (I’m amazed his commanding officer couldn’t rustle up a photo of Galen before sending Cassian out to kill someone he wouldn’t recognise, but that is by the bye.)

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

Cassian lets the cat out of the bag by admitting he was aiming at her father. Fine – people make mistakes. (Bear in mind she had no proof, and further denial would have cost him nothing, ah well.) But then he looks to the pilot for affirmation, reminding the audience that he didn’t in fact go up to the ridge alone after all.

Yes, once Bodhi identified Galen, he sent the pilot away. But that begs the quetion, why ask for his alibi, when Bodhi might easily reply that Cassian sent him away?

Everything in this scene is warped.

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

This is where the scene loses it completely. Cassian had no sway over the orders of the Rebel fleet. He refrained from sending the signal in hyperspace because they were deep in Imperial territory (let’s give a pass to the fact he was able to take a call from the Rebels). Then they crash, damaging their comms systems. It is this loss of contact that leads to the X-Wing squadron being launched.

So when Cassian refrained from pulling the trigger, did that put Galen in more or less danger? I mean it’s just ridiculous at this point, isn’t it?

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

OK, so he’s categorically no longer denying it. He had orders, which he disobeyed. Why would Jyn – a woman who hasn’t followed orders since her father told her to hide in a hole – not understand about disobeying orders?

Perhaps he’s belittling her for not being in a position to have any orders – for abandoning the rebellion? Either way, his point is completely muddled by the fact he loves orders, despite disobeying them. (But she wouldn’t understand that – and neither do we)

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

Jyn accuses Cassian of disobeying orders, and then accuses him of following orders like a Stormtrooper. THIS MAKES NO SENSE.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

Aside from the extremely staccato and choppy thoughts in this muddled block of dialogue, we’ve entered the realm of arguing for argument’s sake. He emotionally slaps her across the face by belittling her emotional response to watching her father die in her arms, and all because she nonsensically likens his disregard of orders with the actions of a mindless Stormtrooper.

But we get a glimpse of backstory, for the first time – and that’s welcome. Unfortunately, it comes so late in the film. Suddenly we’re asked to feel something for this character who hitherto seemed nothing more than a guide, or worse, a heel to the protagonist.

I’m not against rich, complicated characters, but this is the very first sign of complexity in a character who has already made his pivotal choice – to disobey his orders. For this switch to work, don’t we need to know earlier that he’s struggling with his remorse? All we have is that brief look of regret after he murders the informant in cold blood.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

Talk his way around what? He has already admitted he was given orders to murder Galen. He has already made it clear he disobeyed those orders (though not why he did). What does he have to talk his way out of? Remaining her friend? He hasn’t shown any affection towards Jyn previously, and is certainly not attempting to salvage their relationship in anything else he’s said.

Everything in this scene is wrong, because it tries to take a load of scenes that contain no character development, or relationship development, and cram a shit-tonne in before they both have their pivotal redemption scenes. It’s a bandage, to cover the gaping wound in the story – that a sudden change in character will make no sense.

But who’s gonna write it, kid? You?

This is the part where you say, “OK then, you write the scene that fixes it, you sodding know-it-all!”

Fair enough. I’ll take a swing at it, but it’s difficult without being able to edit the rest of the film.

Still, I present to you my Eadu-escape confrontation scene.

J: You lied to me.

C: About what?

J: You came here, to murder my father.

C: [looks at the others, to get a sense of the room. A glance from Bodhi and he knows the game’s up] And? What of it? [he cannot face her] Your father was a traitor, and a danger to the rebellion.

J: Then why didn’t you kill him? [a tear rolls down her cheek, because she wants to grieve, but she needs to know]

C: It doesn’t matter why.

J: Tell me, damn you!

C: …

J: Tell me!

C: I wanted to! [he lurches towards her to whisper] I wanted to kill him… for everyone on Jedha. And it would have been righteous – Galen deserved to die.

J: You rebel scum…

C: Oh, there it is! You’ve been wanting to say it since you met me, haven’t you? Haven’t you! You look at me and all you see is a hollowed out soldier, who sold his soul for freedom. And maybe you’re right, but at least I fight for a cause. What do you fight for?

J: I fought for my father…

C: Sure, once we dragged you out from under the Empire’s boot and threw you into the fray.

J: You’re a monster.

C: D’yaahhh. [he walks away, making a show of examining some computer readout]

J: [pitying] You’ve nothing left, have you? Nothing but hate. You rebels are no better than the Empire.

C: [throws a helmet across the deck] You know nothing about me! I’ve given everything – EVERYTHING – to fight the Empire. I’ve known nothing else since I was a damn child! Since I was six years old! So you don’t get to lecture me, just because today the Empire finally took from you something you were unwilling to yield.

J: Oh, spare me the sanctimony! I know exactly the kind of man you are. You’re just another Saw Gerrera. A thug, a murderer. And precisely the reason I never wanted any part of this fight. But now I’ve no choice, have I? And since men like you have so spectacularly failed to save us from the Empire, it will take people like me – people like my father – who think before they fight, to clear up your mess.

C: I’d love to see you try.

J: You will.

This way, Jyn’s newfangled taste for rebellion is more believable, and her reasons for not joining the Alliance more understandable.

It doesn’t account for Cassian’s crisis of conscience, but I’m not sure that can be fixed from this scene alone. He needs another scene, in which he follows an order and weeps at the barbarity of his actions. That way the arc is complete: Status quo > Reflection > Change > Redemption.

I think with some jigging around, Rogue One could have been one of my favourites in the franchise. But I just didn’t care about the characters, and part of that was borne from confusion over who they were, what they wanted, and why they wanted to change.

What do you think? An improvement? Have I fixed anything, or made it worse? Let me know!

 

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If you don’t see me in November, blame #NaNoWriMo

With November fast approaching, I felt the need to explain my impending month-long withdrawal from society. Friends will be dismayed when I decline their invitation to the pub. Colleagues will wonder where I go every lunch break with my laptop (incidentally, I go to the pub to write, but don’t tell my friends). And my wife will offer me coffee while she catches up on all the rom-com trash I’ve hitherto vetoed.

I will not have time for such dalliances. I will be too busy creating!

If you don’t mind setting aside the pretentiousness of that statement, I shall explain: November is National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo for short.

This means I will be joining thousands of other bleary-eyed writers around the world in attempting to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Yes, you exceptional number crunchers, that does indeed equate to 1,667 per day. Also known colloquially as “a right proper slog”.

Back for seconds

I attempted (and completed – barely) the challenge for the first time last year, despite only discovering it on October 30th. That gave me two days to decide on an idea and plan some semblance of story from it.

The result was The Divine Alliance, an epic reimagining of The Iliad if Diomedes had recognised his ability to hurt the Gods. Thirty-odd chapters of Ancient Greek and Trojan kings rallying together to defeat their greater foe: the lords of Olympus.

If I’m honest, it has some problems, but there’s a body of work now, where once there was only the neurons in my brain keeping the idea in existence. It needs some rejigging, a little more agency for secondary characters, and an ending (I got to 50,000 words, I didn’t say I finished it), but I was pleased with it. There’s some great scenes, some neat concepts, and events that transpire as they do in the wider Greek tragedies, stoking themes of predestination and self-determination. I like it. And one day, I’ll go back to it and fix it up.

But not in November – no sir! In November I have something very different in mind.

End of the world as we know it

This year’s attempt will be a post-cataclysmic tale of survival. A woman finds herself trapped on the upper floors of a Piccadilly Circus building by a toxic mist that has come to rest over the streets of London. When escape becomes an impossible feat, she must turn to her copy of An Island To Oneself, a survivalist’s story of life on a desert island – only she’s on the rooftops, so scavenging for coconuts is out of the question.

The thrust of the story is the protagonist’s happy adoption of this new life, devoid of all the exhausting emotional trauma modern civilisation inflicts upon us. She builds a network of bridges between the rooftops, grows plants in a self-made greenhouse, collects rain water in office recycling bins, and sleeps in the empty luxury flats, devoid of utilities.

Now, my usual writing process is to just blurt out an idea and see where it takes me, something the writing community calls a “pantser” – ie, one who writes by the seat of their pants. So, spending more than a week on planning is an interesting experiment for me. We shall see if it reaps rewards.

In the meantime, please don’t take offence if I’m a little unresponsive for the next four weeks.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Good luck to everyone else participating! May your creative juices flow like the saliva of a dog in a butcher’s shop.


Featured photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

I came across Richard Thomas through his column on Lit Reactor. The strength of his writing advice and his authoritative tone persuaded me to have a nose at his published works. Fortunately, Thomas ends his articles with a link to one of his many stories – yup, that’s called marketing, folks. And sometimes it works.disintegration_rt

But I have to admit, when I started reading Disintegration, I thought it was a parody. It read like Raymond Chandler had woken up in the 80s, boshed an ounce of coke and angrily smashed out this thriller while punching himself in the face. It was so stylised, it felt like a fan fiction story pumped full of steroids.

The basic premise involves an alcoholic depressive who comes under the employ of a mysterious Russian gangster, Vlad, who instructs our narrator to murder his enemies. Of course, our man wasn’t always a tattooed thug (he gets a new tat every time he kills, natch). No, he used to be a cop, with a family, but grief pickled in booze left him soulless and alone, except for his pet cat.

Continue reading Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

How The Walking Dead finally lost me

This analysis contains spoilers!

When a friend first introduced me to The Walking Dead, I was hooked from the first episode – nay, the first five minutes. Its abrupt 28 Days Later-style beginning leant mystery to the zombie apocalypse ordeal, as gun-slinging cop Rick sought to fill in the gaps of how the world turned to shit, and find his family.

There’s a tremendous amount of agency and conflict in the early seasons, fuelled by human drama and complicated relationships. The awkward love triangle between Rick, his grieving wife Lori and his best friend and romantic usurper, Shane – the head-scratching hick – carried the show for the first two years.

That glorious first season gave our intrepid survivors something to do, besides staying alive; namely, seek out possibilities of a cure, or find a military base to hole up in. But when those elements were dropped with the destruction of the research bunker, events began to lose their pace and urgency.

Continue reading How The Walking Dead finally lost me