Thoughts On: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I’ve already covered this film with spoilers. Today, however, we’ll be using into this film as a platform for some speculation on how cinema may change in the future – a future that involves social media, robots, VR, A.I, maybe a bit of The Matrix, probably quite a bit of pornography, a whole lot of psychedelics and so much more. So, whilst this is a long post, it should hopefully be a fun one.
A subject that is being much debated recently with the release of the latest Star Wars film is of course an actor’s image. To what extent do people, the actors under characters, own their body? With Cushing’s Tarkin, this is a particularly intriguing question as there are heavy elements of ethics involved. In short, is it right to use a dead person’s image? On one end of the spectrum, an outright, no, this would leave filmmakers in a precarious position where an actor’s death would destroy a film, maybe even a franchise. However, this is not the state of things – as has been demonstrated a plethora of times throughout cinematic history, for example, with Marlon Brando in Superman Returns, Shemp Howard in The Three Stooges and Brandon Lee in The Crow.
All of these actors had been revived through some means to serve the telling of a story. With the recent example of this seen in Rogue One, this pattern seems to be becoming more of a norm as we move through the years. This is for is for two reasons, the first is character and the second technology.
One of the most dominant film production companies nowadays is undeniably Disney because of their ownership of Marvel and Lucas Films – all whilst pumping out Disney Pixar animated hit after hit. It’s within the Marvel and Star Wars franchises that we’ve seen characters reduced in age and brought back to life for the sake of their universes.
With no stretch of the imagination we can see this happening time and time again in future films – ones that maybe centre of character’s back stories, characters such as Tony Stark, Princess Leia and so on. However, with Fisher’s death and Downey Jr. getting on in age, fans of these seemingly perpetually expanding universes are left with questions of the characters attached to them. Will we be able to preserve them? An initial response many would have to this questioning would be a disgusted reeling away. This brings up the ethics of using actors to tell stories. In short, is it wrong to see these actors as our play things…
… to see them as dolls that maybe come to life when we’re not looking? Whilst some may say, no, well…
As has been made clear time and time again, even by the actors he works with, George Lucas already kind of owns people’s likeness and image. In fact, a large part of what makes Star Wars such a huge franchise is the endless stream of collectibles that it produces and profits off of. In such, we see an exploitation of actors beyond their job description as ‘pretenders in front of cameras’. Whilst contracts may compensate and facilitate this, the fuelling factor of this is us, are those who buy the various trinkets and toys connected to movies.
And it’s exactly this that I want to talk about beyond ethics and the probable reality of this subject.
Being a sci-fi writer, presented with this image…
… my imagination makes leaps and bounds into the future arriving at a tantalising proposal…
No, not exactly Terminators, but robots. With devices such as Siri being only slightly impressive and easily accepted in this day and age, it’s clear that people have a developing relationship with our computers that could easily bring us to a situation depicted in Her…
But, what the advancement of animation and the digital insertion of characters into films suggest is a time where this is seamless, where CGI is so good that no one can even notice it. This means that films may not even need actors in the future – something we’ll return to. But, the initial application of this concept outside of film would be something tantamount to Siri. We would be able to digitally insert the characters of films into our computers through audio. This is something we’re already seeing with various apps that spew iconic lines of characters through simple recordings. But, with the development of this concept and technology we could all literally be in the world of Her. Instead of talking to Samantha, we could pay a little extra to talk to Darth Vader, Ferris Bueller or Ethan Edwards.
This would all suggest an artificial intelligence that can replicate a person exactly (another idea picked up on in Her). And when you bring up ethical questions of exploitation here, things don’t seem to be so consumerist and selfish. We would have the capability, with high level artificial intelligence, to literally resurrect people in an auditory realm. So, not only would the family of actors recently lost be able to talk to what would arguably be their loved one again, but everyone would have the opportunity to do this. This is a major technological possibility in the future that we’ll return to, but, first…
Not Terminators, but robots again. Just as we are developing Siri and so possibly A.I representations of people in auditory form, we are also developing robots – physical people.
What the development in the digital projection of characters in film is clearly suggesting is that we have the capacity to better represent people and their likeness. With 3D printing and developed computerised sculpting, it doesn’t seem too outlandish that we could translate this digital projection in films into physical sculptures: robots. Combining our designing powers with computerised and mechanical ones, it seems we’re hurtling towards a world where Will Smith or Arnold Schwarzenegger can be replicated precisely and allowed to walk the streets.
This begins to blow ones mind even further when you bring back in resurrected characters in auditory form. Combine current robots with technology such as Siri and you have novel models of people, give this a few decades of development and, who knows, maybe we have artificially intelligent perfect replications of people.
Not forgetting George Lucas and his millions made on Star Wars action figures, we could easily imagine these A.I robots being characters from films. This all suggests that you could run around, shop and go to work with Indiana Jones or Han Solo. We would live in a world that’s an ultimate kid’s playground, all of us prancing about with John McClain or arguing with girlfriends over our Black Window robot for the 10th time in one week.
All of this seems to be the extreme fantasy implied with Cushing’s Tarkin. When we question the legalities of this all, however, we are faced with a few central questions – we’ll pick up on two. The first is clearly of the ownership of ones own body. The second is of fair use. We’ll start with fair use as it’s a rather light-hearted subject. If we could all buy the Han Solo A.I robot, would we be able to make a film with him? This is a silly question as the answer immediately seems to be, no. But, there is a major caveat that you must consider. Han Solo is an egotistical pilot with a laser gun–blaster–thing. Would this come as part of the package or would you have to pay extra for this?
This becomes an even more absurd question when you consider having Darth Vader as your robot. Maybe he couldn’t force choke you, but destroy you with a sword, attempt to takeover the world? Uhhh… would that come as part of the package? This silly line of questioning all simply implies that we could never really create an A.I robot Darth Vader as he might just find a way of taking over the world and ruining quite a few lives. But, coming back to that film we wanted to make with him in, could we get away with this? Could we use a safer, tamed down and heavily altered Darth Vader robot in a fan-fiction short? Whilst we’d be using someone else’s product, we wouldn’t really be stealing a character – which really muddies the water. This is something we’ll comeback to in a while though.
Coming back to the first central question of owning one’s body, the only way I can really see laws allowing the use of dead people’s image to spread would be to develop new laws that maybe effect us all. This means that if someone wanted to make a new movie with Ingrid Bergman in, not just make Casablanca 2, but make a completely new movie with the technology that is used to re-project Tarkin, then universal laws effecting all people would have to be implemented. This is because Bergman can’t sign a new contract and so might be exploited and sold on as a commodity not too different from Pride And Prejudice…
In other words, a public domain, un-copy-righted, artistic material. This all implies a new set of posthumous human rights meeting ideas of intellectual property to be enforced on everyone. With the posthumous human rights maybe facilitating a new Ingrid Bergman film (ignoring ethics) there could also be a change to current rights that relinquish us of a lot of our privacy and ownership.
These laws would seriously revolutionise the way we think about ourselves and privacy. Our embrace of social media coupled with governments being able to invade our privacy and control what we see over the internet (in certain capacities) may expand into a much more open and free world. That is to suggest that, just as anyone, like Google, can currently figure out almost everything about you through just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, people may grow to know each other on a much more profound level in the future due to a collapsing of privacy. The catalyst of all of this would be developing communicative technology. Who knows when, but talking to each other mentally, telepathically, may be a thing in the future. And if you may tap into someone’s mind, you can instantaneously know everything about them and all they’ve seen. Combine this with our current acceptance of social media and you may visualise a world where image and ownership literally means nothing, where Facebook, just like the government, just like many other corporations, may actually own your image, where anyone can use anything about you because… why not? It’s not like the information would be hard to get anyway. The only question around this is if we’d be willing to give our privacy away for some great technology.
This all leads us to speculation on a time where filmmakers don’t need to cast movies. Not only would they have Ingrid Bergman, John Wayne and Peter Cushing on file as characters they could implement into any movie, they could peruse Facebook, pick up your file and use your image in their movie if they like the way you look. Moreover, they could take your public telepathic Twitter or Facebook time-line and use that to create an A.I programme to act in a movie. In fact, they could mix and match people, personalities and bodies, to a point where entirely new people are created. Maybe this is a loophole where the cinematic market doesn’t have to pay people royalties, or even give notice to ideas of copyright, privacy and self-sovereignty.
What’s even scarier about all of this is that the porn industry always leads these absurd technical forefronts – just look at virtual reality. Not only would pornographers be able to project anyone doing anything to anyone in their movies, but maybe you could. Maybe you could animate your own movies, pornographic or not, of any one of your Facebook friends on your laptop and have it be a perfect replication of reality. Insane, right? But, we can push this one step further. Maybe the porn industry decide they want to print out these projections of people as robots just like those in Hollywood would be doing with 35 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger and 24 year-old Jennifer Lawrence. This, more than almost anything, would be a revolution in the future; a world where anyone may be your robot sex slave. Furthermore, a world where we’d be able to create the most beautiful people ever by mixing and augmenting personal preferences and then doing whatever we want to them. Again, furthermore, these robots could have personalities, perfectly matched A.I personalities to every single person on Earth, tangibly realising the idea that there’s someone for everyone. You think Samantha in Her was a good idea, just take a minute to think about that… coming home to an incomprehensibly beautiful spouse who is also the greatest friend you could ever have.
What would that do to the world? Where would ego go? Where would drive, selfishness and corruption go? What would happen to human relationships? How would children raised by the perfect AI nannies work? When would they all decide to do away with us…
This time, yes, Terminators – not just robots.
These are all great questions, but questions that have a lot more darker and confounding implications under them. Not only did we do some amazing gymnastics of the imagination when accepting the legalities of all of this, but the practicalities of creating these robots is befuddling. As implied previously with the Darth Vader bit, what would happen when little kids make Bruce Banner angry? Where do we curb these robot’s capabilities? Moreover, is everyone comfortable with the possibility of their friends putting them into a porn series where they just eat astounding amounts of dick, ass and bodily fluids from… just… hordes of tentacle bearing elf-troll things?
What this all suggests is that maybe we were being a bit too liberal in assuming that privacy laws could just melt away. But, my sci-fi writer hat is on and I have a further snaking path into the future we may all take.
I said we’d return to the complications one would face if they’d attempt to make a film with the technology present in Rogue One that projects any character we want. Moreover, we may also find ourselves into trouble if we use the A.I robot characters we may one all day own in a film, but, there is a route we may all take to hurdle these problems. This route starts with two simple things: weed and virtual reality.
I’ve talked about this previously but I think the future of cinema is in pill format. In such, I believe that over time, just as weed is slowly being legalised across the world, so will other more serious psychedelics. This will seriously hurt the pharmaceutical industry. So, in all hope, instead of hooking millions on opiates, stimulants and anti-depressants and saying all kids have some kind of minor mental defect dealt only with a handful of pills, the pharmaceutical industry may find monetary gain in psychedelics, in embracing less serious chemical endeavours. In such, there may be a tonne of research put into manipulating drugs to a point where people can basically control them. This means that people could be made to trip balls, thinking they take one specific journey. When the chemical magicians get really good at this, they’ll have to start employing screenwriters to write movies into pills. This means that we’d all pop a Star Wars pill, down a hit of Rocky, inject some 2001: A Space Odyssey or snort some Cinderella and hallucinate the movies.
Add to this insane idea, virtual reality, and we push things to a whole different level. Instead of hallucinating a film, you could psychedelically feel as if you’re in one whilst watching it through some VR goggles. This would mean that you feel like you’re flying with Superman, that you’re staring down Clint Eastwood or fighting Bruce Lee – all whilst watching Superman, The Good The Bad The Ugly or Game Of Death in the goggles.
When you combine this ridiculous proposal with all that we’ve discussed in connection with Cushing’s Tarkin, we sink ever deeper. Instead of playing games, watching movies, instead of living or running around with AI robots, we would be able to exist in literal cinematic virtual universes that we tangibly feel, that we physically believe we exist in. This all means that you buy your Star Wars pill, go home, turn all the lights off, get comfortable in your suspension tub, plug into your VR device – which may as well be tantamount to hooking up to The Matrix…
… pop the pill and… drift. You wake up on Tatooine…
… feeling the sand beneath your feet, the searing heat of the sun on your face, the wind running through your fingers, the dryness of your throat. You trek to the nearest bar looking for a drink to quench your thirst, only to stumble into a mob den ran by Hutts. Trying to back out, you bump into an alien, knocking the drink out of its… tentacle? Before you know it, you’ve been pushed over a table and into the bar, feeling the impact, your aching back and then the alien’s rancid breath pumping through its 3 mouths and into your face as it unholsters its blaster. BBBVVVVVVV. The severed hand hits the ground inches from your nose, the blaster firing, putting a hole through Greedo’s chest, Han Solo jumping to his feet, the bar in instantaneous uproar, laser fire everywhere. “Padawan!”. Obi Wan throws you a spare light saber as he parries gun fire. You catch it, rolling to your feet. BBBBVVVVVV. “Fuck, yes!”. Screaming with joy, you barrel into calamity, invincible, slicing off arms, legs, tentacles… whatever poses as a threat, bathed in goop and fluids before – BOOOOOM. Half of the bar is blown up, an AT-AT looking down through the gaping hole in the ceiling. Scrambling to your feet, ears ringing, eyes stinging, bones rattled, you can do nothing but run for the door with Obi Wan at your side, Solo coming after you, screaming something into a device, the AT-AT turrets in position, about to fire again – B-BOOOOOM. The AT-AT explodes, you barrel out of the bar with Solo and Obi Wan, blasted feet into the air as the monolithic structure collapses into the rubble of the bar. KABOOOM. About to smash down into the sand you’re suddenly left suspended. Relief washes over you, you’re alive, the AT-AT is down. Obi Wan lets you and Solo down safely to your feet as Chewy brings the Millennium Falcon back over the bar for a landing. Storm Troopers surge from all angles, bullets screaming a storm again. You sprint back out of town, traversing the short distance to the landing ship, Obi Wan and Solo at your side again, all making it up the ramp of the Falcon parrying the barrage of lasers, escaping with grins, the Storm Troopers simply left to watch the Falcon blast into hyperspace.
And that’s just the first 5 minutes of Star Wars XXIX (29). This just might be the future of cinema. But, as awesome as it sounds there’s so much more to it. You can watch the movie with friends, play along together, maybe just exist in an open Star Wars universe as whoever you want. You wouldn’t just watch Jedi’s fight, but be one in a hive mind, Matrix-like universe. And that’s just until you get bored. Change the settings, pop another pill and welcome to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saving Private Ryan, The Sound Of Music, Aladdin, Taxi Driver – anything.
All in all, this is possibly the implied future we see projecting from Cushing’s appearance as Tarkin in Rogue One. It takes a few elaborate leaps of imagination to get there, but tell me what you think below…
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