Coming out of Rogue One, we were talking about the movie, of course, and a certain someone, who shall remain nameless, was bemoaning the part where the main characters all die. I answered, “It’s the crew that steals the plans to the Death Star. Dying is kind of what they do.”
As such, I do not feel bad for any spoilers that may follow. 😉
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is very different from most other installments in the franchise, and not just in its high mortality rate. That was evident from the first few moments, where we departed from the usual “fanfare, rolling narration, pan down to a planet or whatever.” Instead, we began with the view of a planet and panned up into starry space, with no fanfare or narration whatsoever. It’s such a small thing, really, but it already set this film apart from all the rest. And that’s just the beginning, both literal and figurative.
From there, the distinctions mounted, as the story delved into a part of this universe which we never have befor. We’ve seen plenty of the Jedi and the Sith and the living legends of the Rebellion and the Empire, but this may be the most human Star Wars film I have ever seen. We saw some limited political intrigue within the Empire, we saw divisions within the Rebellion, and we saw that things were not always so clear cut between evil Empire and saintly Rebellion. The rebels had plenty of terrible deeds to their credit, and they were not always seamlessly united. War is a messy thing, after all.
Previous installments have also featured the Force as mostly a background feature, a source of superpowers available to only a select few. It’s had its elite disciples, and people seem to intone, “May the Force be with us,” largely by reflex. By contrast, Rogue One explores the relationship between the Force and the normal individual. It’s not just something they say, it’s an actual thing that they have a spiritual relationship with. The Guardians of the Whills – a concept that has apparently been around since the beginning of the franchise, but which George Lucas failed to ever introduce – stand as a particular example of this, being the last members of an order in service to the Force, but there were others who not only prayed to the Force for protection, but trusted in its will.
Finally, as with the previously mentioned body count, this story is about the tragedy, and the triumph, of the people who die, whose names are too easily forgotten, but whose deeds are the foundation of later heroes’ accomplishments. Sure, we know the fame of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and others. We know of Skywalker and Han Solo, who destroyed the Death Star and were given medals for the deed. But where they all became living legends, Rogue One is about the people who don’t survive, who don’t get medals, who may not ever be truly acknowledged, and yet they are the ones who create the hope that the living legends carried. These are the people who gave everything, practically piling their own bodies onto the funeral pyre, all to kindle one single flame, one light in the darkness: hope.
Or, dare I say, “a new hope?” 😉
That is a powerful recipe there, filled with emotional potency, and Rogue One delivers beautifully. It tells an original story, with fantastic elements and high stakes, driven by original characters, which is not only thrilling, but simultaneously tragic and triumphant. The story brushes up against the legends of the Rebellion and Empire alike, but it creates a legend all its own. These are the unsung heroes, and now, at last, they are sung. Quite the emotional impact, that.
This makes for quite a unique story in this universe, and it shows. Among other things, this may be the most realistic war film of the franchise. Since they don’t need to keep the heroes magically alive, they were perfectly free to let loose all the horrors of war at their sci-fi disposal. We had walkers being challenged by something other than speeders, we had evolving battles between ships, we had guerrilla warfare and ambushes, and amidst all the chaos, people giving their lives for the mission: to flip a switch, to send a message, to find a piece of information in an archive, to transmit it up to allied ships, to pass that information through a jammed door, each rebel dying to keep their candle of hope alive long enough to become a mighty flame.
And they crafted this story with something just shy of perfection. They used archival footage and the wonders of computer animation to bring some very familiar faces back to life, which was a sweet touch in many cases. The characters were usually brilliant as well.
But there were a couple of flaws.
I couldn’t quite believe in the main character suddenly talking quite so eloquently or suddenly acting like a leader people would follow to their deaths. I couldn’t even remember most of the characters’ names, actually. While the animation that brought back Grand Moff Tarkin was impressive, it also still looked animated to me. Finally, towards the end of the movie, I was waiting for the doomed rebel fleet to transmit the Death Star plans elsewhere, and, being unable to send them all the way to home base, sending them to Princess Leia’s ship instead, but that’s not what happened.
So, not quite “perfectly” crafted. But pretty dang close!
Heh, as my review of the movie seems to have turned mostly into a geek-out at this point, you may assume I enjoyed it! Thoroughly! The action was great, the drama was believable, the emotional impact was real, the humor was great, the narrative was tight, the music was fantastic… and so on and so forth! 🙂
All in all, I loved Rogue One.
Rating: 10 stars out of 10.