**** THIS BLOG ENTRY CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE ****
Like many children of the early 70’s, STAR WARS was an indelible part of my views on, well, almost everything. I said as much in a letter George Lucas, penned circa 2005, in which I stated I had a clear vision for what might come next in the good versus evil, rebels versus empire, new agey Buddhist allegory mixed with Greek tragedy mixed with Germanic opera, and set in space. He politely declined to see me for that conversation, it was ambitious of me, but it was worth the try. The story has always been ambitious, and as the Star Wars films churned out over the decades have shown, there were times that the story itself may have been too “careful not to choke on it’s own aspirations.”
However, if rebellions are built on hope, are not epic, society shifting mythos built on aspirations?
Which leads me to ROGUE ONE, which, in my mind, is the most “honest” of all of the Star Wars canon, because, to me, the biggest problem with the Star Wars canon was that the Wars part of Star Wars was never too, um, warlike. Wars are not glamourous; they are not elegant; they are messy, they require sacrifice, they tear families apart and they bring political in-fighting, unforeseen conflicting agendas, senseless, indiscriminate death; and, they are horribly tragic.
ROGUE ONE, somehow, captured all of these somber truths, while reclaiming the inspirational Star Wars magic in a way that was not a bummer, and gave just the right amount of nods to the old fans, while it was it’s own story (something that FORCE AWAKENS failed to do in my opinion.) Let me be clear: there is still a good bit of plot pilfering going on. While FORCE AWAKENS was nearly beat-for-beat in line with A NEW HOPE, ROGUE ONE is almost too close to being beat-for-beat in line with RETURN OF THE JEDI.
But, thankfully, there’s enough that’s different here that ROGUE ONE, finally, is the story that adds depth to the mythology, and reminds me that the Star Wars canon isn’t stiff, lame, immature romantic melodrama.
(Eps 1-3 missed the mark by a mile and would’ve killed most other franchises.)
Let me start with the moment where I knew this film would be different than all other Star Wars films, in a good way. There was no need for a scrolling preamble – after “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” – this film cuts right to the chase, which was, this guy, Galen Erso, who’s some brilliant engineer (film might’ve been helped by showing this engineering brilliance early on, but, that’s a minor quibble) was coerced into leading a team of engineers to help build a Superweapon (the Death Star) for the Empire: his wife is murdered in front of him. He’s already made plans for his daughter to be hidden from the Empire, and he agrees to help, knowing that if he can control the work done, then maybe, maybe, he can plant a deficiency into the Death Star that can one day be exploited. (Though, how Darth Vader would not sense this is not addressed.)
His daughter, Jyn Erso, has a rough and tumble upbringing that we don’t really get to see. We open on Jyn in a prison, years later, and she’s busted out by rebel forces led by Captain Cassian Andor and his quasi-trusty, dry-witted, reprogrammed imperial droid, K2SO. As Andor busts her out, K2SO clotheslines her as she tries to escape her escape-helpers, and wryly comments: “Congratulations. You’re being rescued.”
As an aside, this tone of dark gallows humor mixed with seriousness is maintained throughout the film, with just the right amount of it peppered in. Combine that with the easter eggs galore in the film (one or two were a tad obvious) and it’s more than enough for a Star Wars geek to be engaged.
From there, we come to realize that the rebellion has fractured into factions, and that backstabbing in the Empire is a thing, especially when Galen Erso sends out word that the Death Star is almost done and there’s one way to defeat it. He gets the info out via a “defecting” Imperial pilot to an old trusted friend, Saw Gerrera, who abandoned his daughter Jyn, when it became clear that the Empire might use her against the rebellion.
Clearly, at this point, one can tell that this is not “blue sky” Star Wars.
Gerrera’s betrayal of Jyn makes Jyn skeptical about the rebellion, and humanity in general. It actually makes it plausible that she would keep her head down even if imperial flags fly above her and the Empire murdered her mother and commandeered her father.
Gerrera convinces Jyn to take up the cause of fighting the Empire when he shows her the message that her father wants to deliver to the rebellion, a father she’s not seen since she was a young girl. She trusts the message and when she tries to get others to trust her, as the messenger, this is where the film really hits a different level in Star Wars lore. Suddenly, her saviors become her potential enemies, her potential enemies become her friends, and the rebellion reveals itself to be more a pragmatic, yet ineffectual political organization than a group fighting for freedom.
When Jyn’s father is killed by the rebellion and her faith in Andor is shattered, Andor (and others) must accept and support the ultimate sacrifice, the same sacrifice Jyn is willing to make, in order for them to regain her trust and redeem themselves.
And it is an AWESOME moment when it happens.
And it has NOTHING to do with special effects.
The final sequence is spectacular, nothing short of breathtaking if you’re a Star Wars fan.
In the end, when you find out just how hard it was to steal those Death Star plans, how many died just to get them to Princess Leia, somehow, I think it gives A NEW HOPE the right context.
Now, is this a great movie? I don’t know.
Is this a great Star Wars movie? 100% absolutely yes.