We expect certain storytelling forms to pay special attention to setting. Historical fiction spends a great deal of energy in recreating the past. Fan fiction does something similar for its source material. Science fiction and fantasy fans expect world-building. Rogue One, a combination of all of these forms, does this very well on multiple levels. It is, after all, science fiction, and the Star Wars universe has long had a strong fantasy vibe.
Being a work by other creators in a beloved franchise built by others, the movie is very much like fan fiction. And given the way the movie’s setting and plot slot into a specific timeline within the Star Wars universe, it’s pretty close to a work of historical fiction. Accordingly, we get meticulous recreations of shots, dialogue, plot points, sound tracks, characters, spacecraft and various other technologies, and two actors, one dead, the other aged nearly a half-century past her original performance.
The technological aspect tugged at my mind. The presentation of a galactic empire’s tech and infrastructure was staunchly retro, even reactionary.
To explain: David Edelstein notes that the movie “rehashes the plots of about a thousand World War II and/or Western films in which a brave squadron—a Magnificent Seven, a Dirty Dozen, a Force Five—prepares to sacrifice itself in the name of a greater cause.” That’s because the technology looks and acts like it’s from WWII. We see switches, cables, heavy doors, grenades, machine guns (“blasters”), a staff, and sniper rifles, but no radiation weapons or gamma ray bursters. Stormtroopers drive a truck, rather than enjoying, say, a zero-gravity trawler. Spaceships are there, but act entirely as fighter and bomber aircraft, or as naval warships. We never worry about the vast distances between stars, time dilation, the enabling technology, artificial gravity, or really anything at all about space travel.