Movie review – Rogue One – A Star Wars story

Spoiler alert

Normally I would go heavily into the details of a film in a review.  While I will include some spoilers of the film, this is going to be more a discussion of certain aspects of the film which I feel are important to bring up.

So, this post will go into details about the movie “Rogue One: A Star Wars story“. I am also drawing material from the Rogue One novelization and details from the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  If you don’t want to know what happens in this movie you better stop reading now.

 

I, along with most fans of the Star Wars universe, was very excited and a little nervous when I heard that Disney was going to produce the last 3 films of the Star Wars film series. The Force Awakens was a nice nostalgic trip down memory lane and while I did enjoy the film it really did not break any new ground in the Star Wars universe.  We were basically still discussing the Skywalker family and their relationship to “The Force”.

I first heard only sketchy details about Rogue One a couple of months after The Force awakens.  The concept that the producers pitched to Disney was that the Star Wars universe would be fleshed out in a series of semi-related stand alone stories.  Follow on stories will discuss Han Solo and Boba Fett in their own movies.

Rogue One however is unique in that it does not focus on any of the popular characters from previous films.  The characters involved are at best mentioned in passing but never explored and most of them in fact have never been discussed previously.  The story deals with events just prior to episode 4 filmed in 1977.

Films, they say, are a product of their times.  Rogue one reflects this sentiment perfectly.  In the old Star Wars universe everything was well-groomed and things were generally tidy.  Even the smugglers and gangsters seemed to be neat as a pin.  Everyone seems focused on “the mission” and the story line.  This movie moves the focus more onto the smaller supporting cast of characters that make the main players seem that much more heroic and grandiose.  This also focuses more on the more unsavory aspects of wars and rebellion.

The lead character is a young woman, Jyn Erso, whose father is designing the Death Star for the Empire.  Her father sent her off at a young age to be safe and she has grown up under the tutelage of her father’s friend, Saw Gerrera, a revolutionary.  Saw trains her as a revolutionary but she leaves him to become a petty thief and criminal.  She has grown up with  deep-seated anger towards her father for abandoning her and for being a pawn to the evil empire.  As the film progresses she works through her feelings about her father and slowly comes to appreciate her father’s position at the time when he sent her away.

Cassian Andor is the other main lead.  He has grown up in the rebellion and has never known life without being opposed to the Empire.  In the name of rebellion he has had to do several unsavory things.  In the film itself he murders a friendly informant to keep him from divulging secrets to the Empire.  But as the film progresses you can sense the turmoil within him.  He finds himself less and less capable of justifying the terrible things he must do for the rebellion and he seeks redemption by following Jyn on a suicide mission into the heart of the Empire.

Saw Gerrera is the most interesting and best developed character in the film.  Saw is perhaps the first rebel.  He fought the separatists before the Empire and then when he saw what the Empire was becoming he began fighting again.  Most of his time has been spent waging a very cruel and dirty terrorist insurrection.  He has set off bombs in busy places and murdered people in dark corners.  In the film he tortures a defector to make sure that he is being truthful.  Two decades of continual conflict have damaged not just his body but his mind.  He has become paranoid and a little unhinged.  The casting director that brought in Forest Whitaker made an inspired choice.  Whitaker had previously played Idi Amin in “The last king of Scotland” and you can see traces of that performance in Saw.

Most of the film takes place not in air-conditioned settings and well-lit and clean cities but in dingy dark alleys or dusty worn down towns in the middle of nowhere.  Most of the people in the Empire live in less than ideal worlds and must work hard to make a living.  The Empire itself makes life difficult and unpleasant for the majority of the population.

You get a sense of gloom and doom from the film.  One of the preview trailers for the film had a great line that captured this feeling, “The world is coming undone, Imperial flags reign across the galaxy”. The common everyday people are giving up and accepting their position in the Empire and soon nobody will be able to stand up to them.

The Empire itself is finishing up the Death Star and we are approaching a moment when the rebellion will either have to stand up and fight or lose all hope of overthrowing the Empire.  People like Jyn and Cassian must ask themselves if they are willing to stand up for what they believe.  Jyn’s father provides hope in the form of a flaw in the Death Star and Jyn and her friends must hurry to find the plans of the Death Star and get them to the rebellion.

The film also presents us with the less than savory aspect of war in that people die in wars and not just “the bad guys”.  One of the big spoilers is of course that all the main characters die by the end of the film.  Disney had the option of going with a happy ending but allowed the director to film it as he wished.  He wanted to stress the sacrifices made by the characters in order for Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star later on.  In this way Rogue One is a much more honest film than any of the other Star War films.

One of the other details I found refreshing was returning the magic and mysticism to “The Force”.  In the prequel films it was explained that The Force was nothing more than an energy field generated by microbes.  Most fans were less than pleased by this.  Rogue One presents The Force in more mystical terms.  Chirrut Imwe, one of the other characters, believes in The Force.  Although not a Jedi he is sensitive to The Force and has studied and uses The Force to compensate for his blindness.  More than that he treats The Force as a religion which I think is the way that Lucas originally intended The Force to be portrayed.

Overall it is the best film since “The Empire Strikes back“.  I was a little sad that we won’t see any more of these characters or see their stories develop any further but really the film says everything that needs to be said and is practically perfect.

 

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