I know – God, we all know — that Rebel Moon was supposed to be big, I mean big, for Zack Snyder. His break away from superhero movies that he now professes to be tired of, his chance to show his real vision.
Yeah, about that. From where I was sitting, it took less than three-quarters of an hour to show me that there is nothing new, innovative, or even remotely encouraging about Rebel Moon. It’s yet another Zack Snyder imitation of someone else’s work, served up (yet again) on lukewarm toast.This time, however, it’s not George Romero or Frank Miller of DC Comics; it’s an uncredited but undeniable knockoff of Star Wars.
It’s worth noting that Snyder has made big money and an international reputation by churning out mediocre to just-plain-bad adaptations of already established IP’s – the cinematic equivalent of getting rich off Other People’s Money. And he’s been at it for damn near twenty years, from 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, a remake/riff of the far superior 1978 original, written and directed by George Romero. In 2006 he produced an almost panel-for-panel re-creation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, and in 2009 did the same, again almost panel for panel, with Dave Gibbons’ and Alan Moore’s graphic novel/series Watchmen, breaking stride only long enough to completely (and horribly) rewrite the ending. After a relatively short diversion into animation and his one ‘original’ work, Sucker Punch, he began more than a decade of flaccid re/deconstructions of various DC comics, characters and tropes in the arthritic but someone still elephantine Justice League movies and Batman v Superman and Man of Steel. He somehow built a very vocal and entirely annoying fan base that almost single-handedly created the concept of the “Snyder Cut” that has become a staple of overlong, over-serious movies that don’t land properly the first time.
And now, God help us, he’s brought that same relentlessly second-rate spirit of pale imitation to the Star Wars franchise, except this time he hasn’t bothered to actually do it within the SW franchise itself. He’s just repeated all its worst aspects, and it’s painfully obvious from Act One, Scene One.
So yes: let’s begin at the beginning. That view of the planet from space, and the words of the apparently unavoidable (and seemingly endless) God of the Voice Over.
The original Star Wars had a reason for its version of the VO; it was a shameless, almost delighted, revival of the old Saturday morning serials that required a bit of the old “story so far” to bring the audience up to speed since last week’s chapter. But let’s be clear, A New Hope is now 46 years in the past. And with rare exceptions – and I’m open to any suggestions – voice-overs or opening crawls for any movie are unnecessary at best and intrusive at worst. They just slow things down. Worse, they’re a fairly reliable indicator that the movie we’re about to see isn’t so poorly structured you have to have the setting explained to you, like your arrogant Uncle Bob explaining “supply and demand” (or his granddaughter sighing and explaining “peak oil”). Rebel Moon’s VO is no exception, and boy, does Snyder lay on the backstory with a trowel. You’ve got a royal family, a slain king and queen, a corrupt interplanetary government—none of which needed to be summarized in the opening breath. What little bit of that endless data-dump might have come in handy could have been sprinkled in through a very, very few lines of dialogue, but no: Zack saw that this was the way it was done in Star Wars, so … there y’go.
And this, of course, is only the beginning. In that cursed first forty minutes he lays on no less than half a dozen more tired Star Wars fixtures, almost as if it was required by some Regulatory Council for Bad Science Fiction. The list, God help us, includes but is not limited to:
- A remote village of grubby agrarian peasants vs.
- A cruel space-faring colonial force that dresses like Nazis on
- A desert planet, populated by
- An only recently matured orphan/foundling with a Destiny – the Chosen One – who is befriended/rescued by
- A charming, useless, all-too-human android and is given
- A magic weapon inherited from the heroes of the past
Seriously. Point-by-point, Snyder has checked all the New Hope boxes without an ounce of thought. Think about it:
A remote village of grubby agrarian peasants vs. a cruel space-faring colonial force that dresses like Nazis
The nameless village is so much like Tatooine it’s almost painful. The only real difference is one of degree: there are a few more people and they’re even grubbier than Luke’s aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, the tailoring of the Space Nazis actually isn’t quite as sharp in Rebel Moon as it is in A New Hope. It’s the caps that ruin it, really, and that fur-lined collar on the Lead Bad Guy who couldn’t look more Gestapo if he’s ordered out of a mail order catalog c. 1939.
And let’s pause for a moment to consider the actual absurdity of this whole interaction. You have a village of a few hundred at most – if that – being visited by a Space Natzi battleship that is literally as big as a mountain. What do the Space Nazis really need? Food? Based on the glimpsed size of the ship hovering overhead, their crew is orders of magnitude bigger than this nameless village, and even if the Nazis took all the crops, it would feed the battleship’s crew for, what, a day ro two? Three? We have no idea if this unnamed planet (moon?) has a zillion other villages like this, but even if they did, the starship would be spending all its time shuttling from one tiny little village to the next just to keep aloft. It really dosen’t make much sense in any kind of strategic way (now, if there had been even a hint, a hint, that this battleship is in trouble, that they’re losing some kind of interstellar conflict and the supply lines have broken, and if they don’t feed their crew, like, now they’re facing starvation or mutiny … okay, that’s a movie. Just not this movie). The unexamined inspiration for this may come from the old British Navy rolling into the islands of the South Pacific and raiding them for supplies, but even then, the scale is all wrong: the British ship had a relatively small crew; the islands they found were abundant beyond measure, and they could raid their fields and stores. Even then, of course, they would trade first, then ask for more, then kidnap or assault all the available women and then bring in an occupying force to exploit and enslave the native population…but rarely would they roll in, take everything, and slaughter the village leadership right off the bat. How would that benefit them in the long run, or even the medium run? But that’s exactly what happens here, as if it makes sense.
A desert planet
Oh, God, please. Not another one. Between Tatoine and Arrakis and the numerical planets of Alien, haven’t we seen enough of these? And don’t even casual viewers automatically think of Tattooine when they see a set piece like this? Does it have to be a desert planet?
You’ll notice, too, that in the Star Wars universe, each planet has only one environment. You’ve got your Desert Planet, your Swamp Planet, your Snow Planet. No variation in climate, no multiple societies on the same world. This harkens back to Buck Rogers in its original comics form, and is echoed strongly in Star Trek: The Original Series (and to one degree or another persists throughout the ST universe, even its is TNG and post-TNY incarnations). Here on Earth, of course, we have a dozen different climatological regions and hundreds of cultures with no visible sign of coming together, environmentally or socially. So why are all the other planets out there so … unified?
A recently matured orphan/foundling with a Destiny
You have to give Kora some credit (but, please, these name: Kora? Has nobody on Zack Snyder’s team ever played a video game?): she steps up as the Chosen One pretty damn quick, as if she’s been waiting in the wings for this since she was found by her kindly “uncle.” And apparently she’s known about her inevitable destiny all along, since she seems to be a bit older and much less clueless than Luke was when he, too, was dumped in the middle of interplanetary nowheresville. But no, she couldn’t just be a smart, tough young person who rises to become a hero on her own merits. That never happens. She has to be The Chosen One, like Luke or Paul Muad’dib or Jesus of Nazareth himself. Hell, the Chosen One Syndrome has even staggered, so to speak, into The Walking Dead in the newest spin-off, Daryl Dixon. Really, it’s just another bit of shortcode for lazy storytelling. We don’t have to develop an interesting character; there is no real necessary rising and advancing the spirit. They were destined for this, see? They have special powers and special luck, so you don’t have to worry about having an actual personality or any serious self-doubt of even a logical plot that doesn’t rely on coincidence and assumption. This was meant to be, man! Come on!
A charming, useless, all-too-human android
A full humanoid bot who walks more like a persnickety human than a persnickety human would walk. A lovely voice. A former member of the royal retinue, fallen on hard times, who has surrendered to fate, but has a timeliy change of heart and saves the Chosen One at a key moment. It is beat-for-beat C3PO from A New Hope, minus only the squeaky sidekick. And for all its special ‘look,’ it could just as easily have been an exiled human courtier who was taking refuge in this backwater village, now caught up in royal intrigue all over again. But then we wouldn’t have a robot in the cast, right? (And again, the name; Jimmy? Jimmy? Worst name since Avatar’s “unobtanium.” A placeholder they put in the first draft and script and never got around to changing.)
A magic weapon inherited from the heroes of the past
And this one sneaks in at the very end, dredged up by the “uncle” that sends The Chosen Kora on her way: a light s– sorry, sorry, a sci-fi pistol of some kind, with cool filigree, that has just been waiting for Kora all this time. Undoubted with some near-mystical backstory and purpose of its own. We can only hope it glows real purty or makes a cool whum whum sound when fired. And finally…
The building of a ragtag “rebel alliance’ that will bring down a galactic empire.
Let’s not even get into the deep, deep absurdity of a peasant uprising taking down an star-spanning techno-fascst invading force. This didn’t work too well for indigenous populations on – well, on any continent you care to mention, ever – when the invading force was literally generations ahead of them technologically and millions ahead of them in population and resources. Sure, sure: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik and Chinese Revolutions. But the differences between the overlords and the rebels were razor-thin in those cases, as compared to this. Here you’re talking about an earthbound bunch of farmers with no training or experience, armed with pitchforks and bludgeons, going against an apparently inexhaustible imperial force who have flying warships, for God’s sake, and energy weapons that also apparently never run out of ammo. In any real conflict, it wouldn’t even qualify as a bloodbath. More like a blood splash. And yet we end this first chapter on the undisputed assertion of hope: “A general and an army? We might stand a chance.”
Or…not. Actually, almost certainly not, unless there is magic or massive coincidences waiting in the wings. Or, you know … destiny.
And all that, all that, right up front where you can touch it in the first forty minutes of a movie that still has almost 140 minutes to go – in its short version! — and is only the first part of Zack Snyder’s story even then. Lord only knows how many more derivative bits of business will get shoehorned into Rebel Moon: Child of Fire before we get a little rest. And then there’s always Part Two.
There are many, many excellent space epics out there that are just waiting to be made. To my mind, only one – the Expanse series, based on S.A. Corey’s terrific book series – has managed to avoid most of the messianic space opera nonsense that was so (temporarily) charming in the early days of Star Wars and has become Hollywood’s Burden ever since – for something like fifty years now, and counting.
We can hope this will be the end of it, but let’s be realistic: it won’t be. The hunger for making a mint on the next Star Wars – even if it’s nothing but a bad xerox of the last Star Wars – is just too great.
What a shame.