We’re living in a really weird world right now. It wasn’t so long ago that being a fan of Star Wars was an incredibly mixed bag. Six movies and only like, two and half were actually very good. Not the best batting average. And then the unthinkable happened, the franchise was bought by Disney and they announced that some serious changes were coming to the franchise. Namely, a whole lot more of it was going to be generated. Which seemed like cause for some concern. Because for so long we’d been giving nothing but punishment for being fans of this world, and it didn’t seem like an onslaught of new entries was going to be the answer to that problem. And yet, the first entry of this new era of Star Wars worked really well for me. I know people’s reactions to Force Awakens has been all over the place, but I was one of the people that embraced it with open arms. It was one hundred per cent just essentially a remake of A New Hope and lingered far too much on nostalgia, but at the same time it revitalized the franchise and set the pieces in motion to create great stories after this somewhat clunky refresher. So I’m excited to see the next couple of entries to the main series. But there’s this other experiment going on with the Star Wars franchise that had me less excited. The “Star Wars Stories” as I guess they’re being called. Non-Episode entries to the franchise that won’t be parts of the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family. They’re planned to be odd little diversions that just add to the history of that galaxy far, far away that we all love so much, essentially becoming cinematic versions of the Extended Universe. Which seem like a real gamble. And we’ve just gotten our fist taste of these “Star Wars Stories,” and I for one was happily proven wrong.
The story of Rogue One, our newest Star Wars film, fits into the larger franchise by taking place right before the events of A New Hope. Literally. This film ends exactly where that one picks up. But it breaks from the traditional franchise by showing us something new. Because this time we’re getting to see the story of the Rebellion uncovering the unlikely flaw in the Death Star, which would ultimately let Luke Skywalker save the day. It’s an idea that just kind of gets brushed aside in A New Hope, but they took the idea that someone in the Rebellion must have stolen the plans for the Death Star to give to R2-D2 for safekeeping, and ran with it, creating this story that was nostalgic and familiar, and yet unlike anything we’ve seen in the franchise up until this point.
We primarily follow a young woman named Jyn Erso, whose father was a gifted scientist and who was kidnapped by the Empire when she was a young girl. She had to flee from her childhood home and live with the radical rebel Saw Gerrera, a friend of her fathers, after he was stolen by the Empire to help them build some weapon. And it’s that weapon that brings Jyn back into the story several years later. Jyn is now a woman who is on the wrong side of the law, trying to keep her head low and not be recognized as the daughter of the famous Galen Erso. But her world is completely changed when she’s abducted by the Rebellion, and brought in on an elaborate plot. The Rebellion has learned that an Imperial pilot named Bodhi Rook has recently been obtained by Saw Gerrera after defecting from the Empire with some information regarding the weapon that Galen has been creating. So they want Jyn to go talk with Saw and get the information from the pilot with the help of Rebel officer Cassian Anodr and his reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2S0. So the trio head to a planet called Jedha, which used to be a holy planet for Jedis, to find Saw and get the information. And after running into two defenders of the Jedi Temple, the blind and contemplative Chirrut Îmwe and the brash warrior Baze Malbus, the gang meet with Saw and learn the truth behind Galen’s weapon.
Yep, it’s the Death Star. Galen Erso is the scientist who has developed the weapon system of the battle-station, using technology that powered lightsabers to create a weapon of untold power, and now that it’s in the hands of the Empire, and the power-hungry Orson Krennic in particular, things are about to get worse. Especially when the Death Star is given a test of Jedha, destroying most of the planet on its lowest setting. But our heroes have escaped, and fly off to a rainy planet where Galen is being kept. Unfortunately they get there right as Krennic and his men do, and everything goes pear-shaped to the point that Galen dies, and the Rebels just barely manage to flee and get back to Yavin 4 where the members of the Rebellion are waiting. And they are horrified at the prospect of the Death Star, to the point that they no longer believe in the Rebellion’s chances. They don’t trust Jyn or her assistance that Galen purposefully built in a fail-safe to destroy the station, and they basically tell her and her team to sit this one out and accept their fate. But they aren’t going to do that. Instead our crew pick up a group of Rebel soldiers who want to give it a shot, and they head to the island-filled planet of Scarif where the plans for the Death Star should be held. This leads to a tense climax where the Rebels go up against ridiculous odds, doing everything they can to break into the secure building and steal the plans for the Death Star. And, as we know, they succeed. But, as we also know, these names don’t really come up in the other movies, so things don’t work out great for the team. But they succeeded in their mission, and ensure the safety of the galaxy.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself with this film. It was completely saturated in the Star Wars aesthetic, but at the same time did things that I haven’t seen in the franchise before, and told a new and unique kind of story. I really enjoyed most of the characters, and honestly would have liked it even more if the film was a true ensemble and didn’t rely so much on Jyn Erso, giving us more time with the other characters. Because I’ll tell you, I couldn’t get enough of the blind Shaolin Monk-esque believer of the Force and his battle-hungry mercenary friend. I could watch those two wiping out Stormtroopers all day. And while most of the nostalgia worked for me, there was certainly some things that fell flat. There were a few too many direct references to the events of A New Hope, which just felt like weird gags. Chief among them the moment when Bail Organa announces he’s going back to Alderan, which was the equivalent of every movie about Abraham Lincoln ending with someone saying “you’re going to be late for the play Mr. Lincoln!” We get it. He’s about to die. But none of those choices come close to my personal least favorite aspect of the film, the bizarre inclusion of a CGI Peter Cushing to play Grand Moff Tarkin. There’s just a straight up CGI facsimile of Peter Cushing, with someone impersonating his voice, and it left a monstrously bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure they must have gotten the approval from Cushing’s family, but it just felt like parading around his corpse. They really couldn’t have cast someone to give their best Cushing? It’s just weird and sort of upsetting.
But none of those problems really held me back from enjoying this film. When they announced these “Star Wars Stories,” I was pretty worried. It mostly seemed like a bad idea. Especially that Han Solo prequel film that they’re getting ready to film. That thing could prove me wrong, since everyone attached is great, but it just seems like the exact wrong thing to do with this franchise. The Prequels were a massive failure, and they were completely obsessed with telling us weird stories about characters we knew before they were important, and that feels like it could fall in a similar camp. This film however, was exactly what I think they should do with the series. It’s a story that’s important to the larger plot, but that stands on its own, and does it’s own thing. We basically got a Star Wars heist movie that becomes one of the most honest depictions of War that the series has had yet. It did things with its story that no Star Wars with an Episode attached could do. And that’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed it. Star Wars is a whole world of stories now, and there are all kind of different genres that could be tackled in this way, and if they go in that direction I’ll be incredibly excited for it.
And if all that wasn’t enough, it also delivered a really powerful and interesting film that gave me something that seems to be in short supply these days. Hope. That word and that concept are brought up several times in the course of this film, most likely as a nod to the fact that this is taking place right before A New Hope, but it’s also the thesis of the film. Jyn several times says that hope is the foundation for rebellion, and that becomes a real through-line of the film. Everyone in this group of Rebels is doing their best to instill hope in the galaxy. The Empire is at its strongest here, and they’re about to unveil their ultimate weapon that will make them unstoppable. And yet, these few people stand up and fight back, and give the power back to the people. They don’t even get to see that power transfer, that glory is for Luke Skywalker, and yet they die for the cause, for the safety and hope of the entire galaxy. And that’s pretty beautiful, especially now. I got to sit back and watch a team almost completely comprised of minorities, be they women or people of color, at watch them fight back against the oppressive might of an Evil Empire. And let me tell you, that image is exactly what we need right now. Things have a high chance of getting ugly in this world, and we’re going to need all the hope that we can get, from wherever we can get it, and it’s going to take us all banding together to get this job done.
Rogue One: a Star Wars Story was written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk