What’s one of the most amazing ways to celebrate one’s birthday? Seeing Rogue One: A Star War Story the night it comes out with your girlfriend and friends/roommates in Times Square is the correct answer. That night I reveled in the thrilling experience. Now that I’ve had a few days to further process the film, it’s time for a review. I could write forever about this movie, but I’ll try to keep it to a few overarching points.
***Beware of the Dark Side . . . I mean spoilers!
- Awesome Characters
Whether it’s characters we know or new characters introduced, the characters in this movie are awesome. Let’s start with some of the new characters: The first scene of the movie is smartly executed. It provides emotional investment in Jyn Erso and Galen Erso, hatred for Director Orson Krennic, and presents enough backstory for the Jyn-Galen, Krennic-Galen, and Galen-Saw Gerrera relationships to build a strong foundation moving forward. The portrayal of Saw Gerrera’s character was a fascinating adaptation of the character introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. His radical, revolutionary spirit remains, but is now mixed with sad wisdom and exhaustion.
Now for some of the Rogue One crew itself: K-2S0’s dry sarcasm makes audiences genuinely laugh. Moreover, he provides some much needed pragmatism, the droid companionship and resources necessary to the protagonists in any Star Wars story, and most importantly the heart that is the essence of the Star Wars spirit.
Star Wars often relies on rich character duos (Luke and Leia, Leia and Han, Han and Chewbacca, C-3P0 and R2-D2, Rey and Finn . . . and many more). Rogue One delivers another rich duo: Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. It’s a classic example of the idealist and pragmatist. They drive each other crazy but there’s such deep love and compassion between them. When shit hits the fan, they do whatever is necessary to help each other and the causes they believe in. I’m particularly interested in Chirrut as he’s one of the first people in the films we see who so strongly believes in the Force yet is no Jedi or Sith. The new canon continues providing more characters that don’t strictly fall into the Jedi or Sith dichotomy. But even characters who aren’t technically Jedi or Sith serve or fight alongside one of those sides (I’m particularly thinking of Ahsoka Tano and the Inquisitors in Star Wars Rebels). Not only is this exciting, but it makes sense to see why some individuals still say “May the Force be with you/us” twenty years after almost all the Jedi are dead. Believers like Chirrut keep belief in the Force alive, which in itself is an act of rebellion against the Empire.
Now for characters we know: The CGI use of Peter Cushing’s face is a complicated issue, and one that probably deserves a blog post of its own. That aside, I love how the film incorporates Grand Moff Tarkin. Considering Tarkin’s role in A New Hope and at that point he is in control of the Death Star, it wouldn’t make any sense for him to be absent from the movie that tells the story of the stolen Death Star plans. His cunning ability to wrestle control of the Death Star from Krennic perfectly embodies the Tarkin we know. This provides him with a meaningful storyline that aligns well with his character rather than just randomly popping up at the end to do damage control after Krennic’s blunders.
On the other side, morally ambiguous or not, it wouldn’t be the Rebel Alliance without leaders like Mon Mothma, General Dodonna (performed by Ian McElhinny who played Barristan Selmy on Game of Thrones), and Bail Organa. I’m so happy that Jimmy Smits plays Bail Organa and that Genevieve O’Reilly (despite having her scenes cut from Revenge of the Sith) plays Mon Mothma. The prequel trilogy has many flaws, but they’re still a crucial part of Star Wars canon which is why I’m glad to see actors from those movies reprising their roles for Rogue One. While only in the movie for a few scenes, the roles of these characters are essential, particularly the conversation between Mon Mothma and Bail Organa establishing the plan involving Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And let’s not forget the inclusion of C-3P0 and R2-D2, continuing the streak of them being the only characters to appear in all 8 Star Wars films. Seeing pilots from the Battle of Yavin 4 engaged in the Battle of Scarif, so many scenes on Yavin 4 itself, and a few connections to Star Wars Rebels (my favorite being the call for General Syndulla) also completed the Rebel Alliance we needed to see.
Lastly is Darth Vader himself, voiced by James Earl Jones and menacing as ever. Revealing that he resided in a castle on Mustafar is an intriguing development that could have ramifications for future storylines in addition to having more disturbing psychological insight into Vader. I do find it amusing that the hooded figure kneeling in front of the Bacta tank many obsessed over in the trailers was just a servant alerting Vader that Krennic arrived. The scene between Vader and Krennic brilliantly captures the essence of both characters which culminates in Vader’s Force choke and delivering one of the movie’s best lines.
- Moral Ambiguity
The Rebel Alliance are the good guys and the Empire are the bad guys in the original trilogy, same thing with the Resistance and the First Order in The Force Awakens.
This is the simplistic dichotomy many take away from those four Star Wars movies. To a large extent, this isn’t wrong, but it’s too simplistic.
Rogue One challenges this dichotomy by painting vivid pictures of a Rebel Alliance rife with complicated moral ambiguity, most of which we really don’t see in the original trilogy. The Rebel Alliance’s General Draven ordering Cassian Andor to assassinate Galen Erso, regardless of the deal struck with Jyn, is an excellent example of such moral ambiguity. Cassian’s ensuing internal struggle about this order furthers this issue. How often do you have a movie where a primary protagonist struggles with whether or not to kill the father of one of the other primary protagonists? It’s especially complicated because initially the relationship between Jyn and Cassian is built on the common interest of locating Galen Erso. Even though Cassian ultimately decides not to assassinate Galen, Jyn’s father still dies at the hands of the Rebel Alliance when their X-Wings conduct a bombing raid on Eadu. The Rebel Alliance is thus responsible in multiple ways for killing the father of the film’s main protagonist. Furthermore, this is also the man responsible for designing the flaw within the Death Star that allows it to later be destroyed AND who sends the message that reveals the existence of the Death Star plans in the first place.
The moral ambiguity continues with Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels on Jedha. The idea that a more extremist, militant group of rebels splintered off from the more strategic, organized movement sounds highly political and definitely messes with the previously described simplistic dichotomy. Driven by paranoia and fear, we first witness their extremist approach with the Imperial defector Bodhi Rook, the pilot carrying Galen Erso’s message. Brutally interrogating one of the film’s most likable characters is nothing like the rebels we think we know, but it makes a lot of sense for a group of people constantly battling against the Empire and their ubiquitous influence. Their attack on the Stormtroopers in the streets of Jedha went a step even further than their interrogation. They mercilessly attacked the enemy and took our protagonists hostage in the heart of civilian territory. Rebels whose attacks lead to civilian casualties, brutal interrogations, secretive orders to assassinate the father of an ally, bombing raids that kill that father who also happens to be the key to destroying the Death Star . . . these aren’t the rebels we thought we knew. But after nearly 20 years of the Empire’s totalitarian reign, how could the rebels’ actions not be influenced by such paranoia, fear and deception?
Such use of moral ambiguity enriches the constantly expanding Star Wars canon. It works perfectly in a film that showcases a darker, grittier story within this universe.
- Continuity and a Powerful Ending
A question that many fans grappled with heading into Rogue One was how the movie was going to explain why none of these new characters are in the original trilogy. The same question applied for other new additions such as Death Troopers (https://www.inverse.com/article/20689-rogue-one-retcon-continuity-death-troopers).
Rogue One answers these questions and presents a powerful ending through Tarkin’s command that the Death Star destroy Scarif. All the characters still alive at this point are on Scarif. Pretty much all the things referenced in the Inverse article above are also on Scarif. Thus, the destruction of Scarif gives the continuity necessary to answer why all these people and things are absent from the original trilogy.
But it’s not just a matter of continuity. The destruction of Scarif bluntly demonstrates Tarkin’s ruthlessness and his ultimate move in completely wrestling control of the Death Star from Krennic in time for A New Hope. Fitting with the darker, grittier tone of the film, there’s a palpable sense of loss and sacrifice at seeing all these characters we’ve grown attached to dying at the hands of the Death Star and the Empire. We have a whole new insight into the sacrifices and loss that occurred in order for the Rebel Alliance to retrieve the Death Star plans.
Rogue One doesn’t stop there. The loss and sacrifice continue when Darth Vader confronts the rebels attempting to escape with the Death Star plans. This truly chilling scene depicts Vader’s full power, uninhibited by any remnants clinging to his past as Anakin Skywalker or moving toward a future of redemption. I love seeing Vader purely evil and destructive, harnessing his skills with his lightsaber and the Force to slaughter those rebel soldiers. Even though I know the rebels end up with the plans, I felt a tangible sense of panic in that scene.
After so much tragedy, it’s a relief to see Leia’s familiar face. The events of the original trilogy come rushing back and you know in the end everything will be all right. The final line of the movie may be cheesy, but it provides some much needed hope after all the darkness.