“I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.”
First off, I realize that Star Wars is one of those franchises that is intensely personal and always sparks spirited debate. If you’re disappointed with Rogue One, I respect your right to feel that way.
But I love this movie with a passion.
For context, I’m 23 and I was a child in the era of the prequels. They were my first introduction to the Star Wars universe, and I enjoyed them as a kid.
Soon I started watching more movies and realized what a load of crap the prequels were. Now when I think of Star Wars, I think of the greatness of the original trilogy, which I watched for the first time after seeing Attack of the Clones.
Now, at long last, we have a Star Wars prequel worthy of being compared with the originals.
For those of you who aren’t obsessive about this series, I’ll give my non-fanboy, totally objective review right here. Or at least I’ll attempt to:
We begin before the events of A New Hope, following Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she lives the life of a scoundrel. Due to her rocky childhood, she is so paranoid of the world around her that she attempts to escape the group of Rebels who break her out of prison.
She realizes her destiny when she is thrust into service for the rebellion against the Empire. She must join a small group of soldiers on a mission to recover the plans for the Death Star, which her Empire-employed father (Mads Mikkelsen) informs her has a weak spot the Rebels can exploit.
This mission feels like a real war for the first time in Star Wars history. My main problem with the prequels, and indeed some of The Force Awakens, is that we never saw much of the impact of the villains’ destruction. Here, you feel every ounce of pain these characters go through in a gritty, brutal conflict. Whereas previous films have felt too pretty and clean, Rogue One re-injects pathos and consequence into this franchise.
That feeling alone would be enough for me to recommend this film. But I’m really just getting started.
The first scene of this film is visually and emotionally spectacular. We open on the rings of a newly-introduced planet, employing a visual cue that’s deceptively reflective. We then see the backstory involving Jyn Erso’s father, Galen (Mikkelsen), who is forced to return to working for the Empire after abandoning the cause to be a simple farmer. He leaves Jyn in a bunker, where she is found by Saw Gererra (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel hermit who takes her under his wing.
Their history is elided in favor of kicking off the story of Jyn’s adult life, and while that did bother me, I thought their later scene of reconnection made up for it. There’s other story nitpicks I have, but I really don’t care about them much in comparison to how much I love the film overall, so I’m not going to dwell on them.
Anyway, all of this expositional plotting, including Jyn meeting Rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), leads us to the first test of the Death Star. Our main heroes escape its wrath just in the knick of time, but the lives they leave behind tell us very early on that this movie will have consequences besides connecting to the other films.
Jyn and Cassian eventually go to a planet called Eadu, with a gallery of great side characters in tow. Donnie Yen is a blind force cultist named Chirrut Îmwe, and his arc was my favorite to watch unfold. Alan Tudyk voices a robot named K-2SO, whose deadpan humor is at times a welcome respite from the true horrors of war we witness.
On Eadu, our heroes spy on a meeting between the Empire’s Director Krennic (an awesomely scenery-chewing Ben Mendelsohn) and Death Star designer Galen Erso. It is here the movie goes from purely viscerally entertaining into the realm of powerful for me. A Rebel fleet arrives once the ragtags alert them to Erso’s presence, but because they had promised not to kill her father, Jyn is truly heartbroken and conflicted when she realizes they had been lying.
Her father dies in her arms, and the confrontation she has with attempted assassin Cassian thrusts the film into true-to-life themes of military strategy, right vs. wrong, and the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few. A lot of movies pay lip service to this and even spell it out for you by having characters say those phrases. But Rogue One makes it look effortless to explore these themes visually within a fluid story structure.
The Eadu scene ultimately leads to the final battle, in which not all ends well for our heroes. But they valiantly accomplish their mission. The galaxy, like life here on earth, can be harsh and unforgiving. But what guides these characters through grit and turmoil is an undying hope that the force will be with them; that all will be well.
I almost feel that this is a repudiation of almost every Star Wars film that’s come before it. By imbuing this movie with genuine conflict, not only externally but internally for almost all parties involved, director Gareth Edwards has made the best actual war film we’re likely to see in the Star Wars universe.
The message here is to continue to strive for hope, even while all seems to be crumbling. Stand up for what is right, even though it may not always be easy.
This is why I love Star Wars. This is why it has a lasting impact in my mind. These films at their best are guideposts for positivity and balance. This is what is meant by ‘the force.’ It’s not just a cheap slogan. And in this movie, they make that concept look like a million bucks.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story = A+
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.