Save the Rebellion. Save the Dream.
For me, the rallying cry for the Rebel Alliance to take action even when everything indicates that failure — and perhaps the ultimate defeat of their cause — seems unavoidable, is what is at the heart of the mythos of Star Wars. To continue to fight even when you know you’re losing, that while you know you won’t be around to celebrate any victory, your sacrifice could make sure that others have a chance to succeed later. That even though freedom may be messy, disorganized and sometimes chaotic, there is no security in living under oppression, no space for our better angels to act and thrive, and no safety while being forced to obey under silent threats against lives and loves. The will to keep going that comes from the hope that what you’re fighting for will bring about something that will make everyone’s lives better, even if you’re not around to see it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story truly feels like a spark from the magic of the original 1977 film has been rekindled. This is the type of Star Wars story I fell in love with all those years ago, and, for me, whose recipe changed for the worse during the prequels.
This movie is a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope, and it adds some depth to parts of the original trilogy that many casual fans might not have known they were missing. While there are no Jedi around guiding wayward new rebels here, we finally get to see how average people treat their faith in The Force, and how the Empire’s destruction of the Jedi affected a broader section of the galaxy than we’d seen before.
The temples central to that “ancient religion” still had value, and their guardians, while not Jedi themselves, were strong believers in the power of the Force and used it in their own daily lives. That the key component of the light sabers, kyber crystals, is also a key component in the Death Star’s main weapon simply gave the Empire a reason to destroy the Jedi temples and harvest as many as they could get their hands on.
Rogue One also answers a few other questions from Episode IV, about how key players in the council and the Alliance work together, why those stolen Death Star plans seemed to be of a specific subsystem rather than the entire station, and why they were able to study them so quickly but thoroughly to identify the thermal port weakness exploited later.
The assembling of the team for the first mission, to convince the some-time criminal they just broke out of prison, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), to help the Rebel Alliance make contact with rebellion extremist Saw Gerrera, who happened to have been Jyn’s mentor and her father’s close friend (and was a character seen in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series). When that mission goes awry, the addition of former temple guardian Chirrut Imwe (a delightful performance by Donnie Yen) and his friend & long-suffering voice of reason Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) brings a new level of heart and humor to the story, as does the snarky commentary from reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO.
Side note: I would not mind seeing a mini-series featuring the early adventures of Chirrut Imwe & Baze Malbus. Not sure how you could go wrong with a blind warrior monk and his companion with a penchant for heavy weapons and sharp-shooting. Just in case Lucasfilm and Disney were thinking about that future possibility.
The characters for the most part feel like real people, shades of grey with doubts, challenged convictions, broken hearts on their sleeves & hidden secrets about the scars on their souls, all looking for reasons to believe again, to fight again, to hope again. This plays out gradually during one nearly-failed mission, the inspirational speech Jyn gives to try to convince the Alliance council to commit to what very well could be a suicide mission, and the undertaking of the mission to steal the Death Star plans. Jyn goes full steam ahead, centering on her faith in what her father told her, that he never turned his back on the Alliance despite being forced to build the Empire’s superweapon, and from seeing that both he and Saw Gerrera still believed in the Force.
This is a story about the high costs of war in the Star Wars universe, and it calls back to the massive loss of fighter pilots during the assaults on the Death Star in Episode IV, when things looked bleak for everyone on the planet Yavin and all the pilots continued to fly their runs despite seeing how easily they were being shot down. But they had hope, and “rebellions are built on hope,” as they said.
Also, thankfully, this isn’t a Star Wars movie filled with cute little gimmick creatures that have no reason to be in the movie save to have kids pining away for new toys for Christmas. And yes, it’s the first movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back that I plan on seeing more than one more time in theaters.
As viewers, we’re also introduced to some impressive CG work throughout the movie. Yes, we’ve come to expect lush landscapes and planetscapes and deep-space panoramas with impressive starships, but we also experience some digital integrations in regards to scenes and characters from Episode IV. The digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin, using imagery of the late Peter Cushing, and some scenes and settings from A New Hope are surprising when first encountered, but are nicely integrated into the story-telling towards the end of the rebel mission to steal the necessary plans. Those sequences also tie directly into the opening of Episode IV, so I can easily see many fans watching Rogue One then A New Hope back-to-back, just to get the full impact of how well those were laid out to be tied in. And yes, several more iconic characters and scenes from the first movie show up, but the fun comes from the surprise at seeing them.
I would not mind seeing another few standalone films to help expand the Star Wars universe, so that we can see more of the galaxy beyond the Skywalker family dramas, and of followers of The Force who aren’t Jedi or potential Jedi. I hope that the success of Rogue One helps make that happen.
Rating: 4 stars
From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Beau Gadsdon, Dolly Gadsdon
Screenplay by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Story by: John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Director: Gareth Edwards