[Spoilers ahead, if you consider spoilers possible in a story that’s already spelled out clearly by other movies in its universe]
I saw Rogue One last night. When you see a movie and then you go to talk to other people about it, their responses are predictable. If they haven’t seen it, they ask, “how was it?” They’re not interested in a nuanced dialogue about its complexity (they couldn’t really participate in it anyway) but a reductive review that boils down to “good” or “bad.” In other words, is it worth seeing/spending money on? (Because, hey, we have to spend money, so we’re eager to discover worthy recipients of our capital.) If they have seen it, they’ll say, “wasn’t it good?” or, “oh, I loved it!,” or, “ugh, terrible movie, right?” Again, it’s a simple, dualistic impression. It’s a thing, and it has to be this or that thing. And then we take sides and reassess our relationship from there. Oh, you liked it? That rubbish? Are we even friends? Wait, you haven’t even seen it? Who are you? How do we – two totally different people – not share the exact same life experience? If you’re not me, I’m not sure I even want you to be around me. Gross.
So a quick plea: can we move past these pitiful conventions? Why continue this betrayal of creative, more improvisational (and therefore more lively) conversation? The immediate gratification of praising or dismissing a work of art/entertainment is nothing compared to a generous, patient examination of its countless details and infinite interpretive possibilities. Everything we see is an invitation to re-view our world in the wake of that new experience. We are reborn through every piece of art we witness/engage with, so why sacrifice that rebirth and kill our new possible selves by returning so unmercifully to our old selves? I’m not saying Rogue One profoundly shifted my worldview or anything, but there’s definitely something in it that affected me, that changed me in a way I could never be changed by anything else, simply because there is no other Rogue One out there. The change doesn’t have to be evaluated – it’s not a dualistic good or bad thing – but acknowledged, accepted, and adapted to. We are ever-evolving creatures. That is, when we don’t get in the way of our own evolution. We can undermine our adaptations and fix ourselves as an object, against which the waves of experience crash without any real impact.
I’d rather move with the current.
I’m not here to review Rogue One but to reflect briefly on the idea of “knowing the ending,” which is a taken-for-granted (see: actively ignored) existential reality. I know my life’s ending: Death. (When it’s my Death, it takes on the capital D form, out of deference or fear or whatever.) I casually (see: routinely, desperately) pretend I don’t know that fact. Sure, I’m going to die, but not really. That’s too strange a truth to confront, that at some point, I simply won’t be here. Try to digest that. You not being here. It’s effectively impossible to imagine because all you know is being here. Still, you NOT being here is your life’s sentence, the period at the end. You don’t know when or how (or why), but you do know, even if you learn to evade that knowledge.
It’s not like the knowledge goes away because you wish it away. It settles more deeply into you, an ever-present gnawing that can very easily consume you if you don’t pay any attention to it. Better to look right at it, to shine a light on it. “Knowing the ending” is a personal dementor that, if you let darkness surround it, will grow and flourish; if you cast a constant Patronus light on it, its power stays curbed. Summoning a Patronus is an incredible energy drain though, so it’s difficult to sustain. A lifelong Patronus charm? You’d have no energy left to live, right? And yet, without that spell, you’re never quite alive.
So how do you live when you know you’ll die? That is to say, when you actually know. When that knowledge becomes your compass, your way of being oriented in the world. It’s the question that drives Rogue One. We know they’re bound to death (on a meta level as fictional characters, and on the level of their internal reality in the story), and we want to see how they live within that certain boundary. Because when we leave the theater, we have to wonder the same thing: how do we live with the knowledge that we must die? That’s not to say how do bear the burden of this knowledge, but how do we carry its weight – or its unbearable lightness – and keep moving? How do we marry that knowledge and complete ourselves, rather than divorce ourselves from it and become alienated?