I think I can speak for most, if not all, Star Wars fans when I say that before The Force Awakens was released, the overwhelming feeling was apprehension. We all still had a sense of PTSD from the prequels, and we were all a bit nervous that this was going to be a massive letdown. When TFA opened to positive reviews from critics and fans, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was precisely the entertainment we wanted – it had the same style of humor, the same action sequences, the same quirky characters, the same… well, everything. If we’re all honest with ourselves, the reason why we loved TFA is that it was essentially A New Hope recycled, and the best parts were when we heard our favorite repeated lines or when the Millennium Falcon showed up.
Rogue One is not that movie. Rogue One is not a movie to make you long for your childhood, to highlight cool-looking lightsaber fights, or to remind you about the past glory of the Star Wars franchise. Rogue One is, quite simply, just a great movie about the power of hope.
Though the general plot is well-known to Star Wars fans, the nuances are what set this film apart. We all know from A New Hope that the Rebel Alliance somehow acquired the plans to the Death Star and launched an offensive, led by newly discovered Luke Skywalker. The details of how the Alliance got those plans were unknown to the audience until now.
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE FOR SPOILERS.
Rogue One‘s heroine is Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, who was separated from her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), as a small child, when Galen was forced to work for the Empire. Turns out that Galen is a brilliant scientist, and the Empire recruited him to construct the first Death Star (which, as you may recall, was under construction at the end of Revenge of the Sith). Jyn hides from the clutches of the Empire and is rescued and raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). When we meet Jyn at the beginning of the film, she’s locked up in a prison, though we don’t know for what. The Alliance breaks her out and takes her to the familiar Yavin 4, where they tell her that they want her to find Saw and Galen. If she does it, they’ll make sure she goes free.
In the process, we meet the rest of our cast of characters: there’s our captain, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a snarky droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), an Imperial pilot turned informant, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and our new favorite best friends: Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk who is not a Jedi but clearly Force sensitive, and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), his bestie who prefers to use a giant grenade launcher instead of the Force.
Our heroes all end up in the same place at the same time when Jyn, Cassian, and K-2 head to Jedha City on the moon of Jedha to find Saw Gerrera. Saw’s gone a little crazy and split with the Alliance. Bodhi came to Jedha to find Saw, bearing a message from Galen, which is seen by Jyn and Saw: he agreed to work for the Empire because he knew that if he didn’t do it, they would just get someone else. And he put a flaw in the Death Star – the same flaw that is very familiar to the audience. A direct hit to the reactor will destroy the entire structure (by the way, I love that they spell this out, because one of my biggest issues with the Death Star destruction has always been wondering how the Empire could screw something like that up).
Meanwhile, over on the Death Star, Commander Orson Krennic is overseeing construction and quite pleased with himself. Grand Moff Tarkin (in some pretty legit CGI work) wants to test the weapon and orders him to destroy Jedha City. This forces our heroes to come together and join forces. Our crew first heads to an Imperial site to get Galen, but he’s killed by a rebel strike.
Back on Yavin 4, Jyn wants the Alliance to go to Scarif, where the schematics for the Death Star are stored. The Alliance, upon hearing about the power of the Death Star, is cautious, and they can’t do anything without an unanimous vote. But, because that can’t be the end of the movie, Jyn and Cassian decide to go rogue (get it? It’s the title of the movie) and gather our heroes, along with a small but solid group of soldiers, to head to Scarif.
The crew goes to Scarif and successfully gets the plans and uploads them to the Alliance, but in the process, all of our new characters bite the dust, and we get some cool fight scenes, both on the ground and in space. The movie ends with a familiar face – Princess Leia, in not-quite-as-great CGI – holding the plans to the Death Star as her ship flees from the Empire.
Oh, yeah, and Darth Vader shows up a couple of times.
One of my favorite things about this movie is that it doesn’t have all of the cheeky references the same way that TFA did. We get a cameo by C-3PO and R2-D2, but it seems to actually serve a purpose – C-3PO comments that they’re going to Scarif, letting us know how they got on Leia’s ship. We get an appearance from Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) too, but again, we need him to explain why Leia gets involved. We almost get “I have a bad feeling about this,” but Jyn shushes K-2 before he can finish the line. Again, this is not a movie that’s all about fan service. This movie is about telling a story – it just so happens that the story is set in the Star Wars universe.
I’ve read some reviews that say this is more of a war movie than any of the other Star Wars films, and those reviews are right. This film blends action and war terror in a wonderfully effective way. Nothing about this is cartoonish, in contrast to the terrible action sequences in The Phantom Menace or any of the Clone War scenes in the prequels. This movie shows us the struggle of the Rebel Alliance and the desperation of the planets affected by the Empire. Though I was not prepared for everyone to die, I think it works here, because, again, it’s showing us the realities of this war. It should make us appreciate how far the Rebel Alliance has come in the next few movies as it becomes even more organized and actually presents challenges to the Empire. We get the feeling that before the battles in Rogue One, the Alliance hadn’t really been fighting the Empire through actual combat. The Empire had been free to run around and cause havoc wherever it wanted. But no more.
Rogue One is not in the linear storyline of Episodes 1-7. That is made very clear to us right from the beginning, when we don’t get a scrolling text at the beginning of the film. This is a side story. But this story is one that exemplifies the heart and soul of the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Star Wars was originally about a ragtag group of rebels battling a mighty, overpowering force that had the Dark Side at its advantage. It was a story about the underdog, a story about the little guy rising up, and yes, as was stated multiple times throughout the current film, a story about hope. It was about the hope of the Rebel Alliance to restore peace and justice to the galaxy, about the hope of Obi-Wan and Yoda to save the Jedi line through Luke and Leia, and about the hope that even the most evil among us, Vader, can be redeemed in the end.
Rogue One is unabashedly a story about hope – and more than that, it’s a story about hope when times are darkest. We know, as the faithful audience, that there’s going to be a happy (temporary) ending in a few movies when the Emperor is killed and the Empire is defeated. But our rebels don’t know that yet. All they know is that the war has just begun and that times are bleak. Despite that, our heroes don’t give up hope, even through the end of the movie. A friend who I saw the movie with said he didn’t understand the point of Baze reciting Chirrut’s line (“I am one with The Force, and The Force is with me”) as he crawls to his death. It’s all about hope. Baze has been dismissive of Chirrut’s repetition of the line earlier in the movie, and we get the feeling that Baze isn’t a believer in the Force the same way that Chirrut was. Nevertheless, at the end of his life, when he knows there is no way out – when he has to know that he’s about to die – he accepts The Force. If that’s not hope, I don’t know what is. Sorry to cross franchises, but do you remember Sam’s speech at the end of The Two Towers where he talks to Frodo about not giving up and fighting for what matters? The entire movie is just another version of that speech. And that’s exactly the movie we need right now.
Final Verdict: Do I think that Rogue One was more fun than TFA? Of course not. Do I think it’s a better film? Absolutely. And I think it’s questionable whether any of the Star Wars films are better than Rogue One other than The Empire Strikes Back. (Obviously, there’s no question that Rogue One blows the prequels out of the water.)
Dragons, what did you think about Rogue One? Are you as sad as I am that everyone died? (RIP, Cassian Andor, the newest and most fleeting love of my life.) Leave your thoughts in the comments!