Back in 1999, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace graced movie screens across the world in an attempt to broaden the horizons of that galaxy far, far away. There were some good moments, but mostly themes like trade deals, the Sith not really being as present as the title indicated, and yes, THAT “Gungan” character that bogged down the movie. Considering that the original trilogy happened about 20+ years prior, there was an entire generation that was enamored of the original space western that George Lucas crafted.
Disney’s grand plan called for a Star Wars Anthology series that would take place in between the year break of the new trilogy. While the Death Star met its untimely demise in 1979, there are treasure troves of interesting stories to tell in that time period. Enter Rogue One: A Star Wars Story where a rag-tag group of mercenaries try to see what’s up with the Empire’s huge weapon. Director Gareth Edwards both had to strike the right tone and keep that tone within the familiarity of the Star Wars universe – a balance that is done in a great way in this movie.
War is hell, and Rogue One conveys that notion within the Star Wars universe. The destruction and plight on the battlefield is felt immensely, especially within the third act. The time period between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope needed to have that dark undertone of the Empire’s rise to power. The movie itself walks the fine line between trying to convey that theme of “hope” (“rebellions are built on hope”) and the eventual dread and power that takes over the galaxy. Some may apply it to current events or even political aspects that have occurred in prior history, but there are multiple viewpoints that you can take. At the heart, you have a totalitarian and ruthless regime, and the good, albeit battered and beaten, emboldened to fight it in anyway possible.
The heart of the movie shifts between the relationship of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) within the building of this ultimate weapon that is said to eradicate planets. Jyn Erso infuses a sense of heroism and doubt at the same time into the film, which is done in a great way. The complex emotions make one of our main protagonists relatable. The force is still a strong theme within the movie – all the Jedi are either in hiding or been killed, but the fact that it can be used with regular characters is an interesting point. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) both diversify the Star Wars universe and instill the notion that the “Force” is still very much alive. As long as the belief is there, there is still hope.
There is not only dissent within the Empire where Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a digitized Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) are both fighting to be the right hand man of the Emperor and Darth Vader. There’s also a disconnect on how the Rebel Alliance wants to do things. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) serves as a good embodiment of doing what’s right vs just accepting orders. The movie actively pushes the viewer to look at things differently, giving a different layer to the cut-and-dry “good vs. evil” narrative that we’ve seen in prior movies.
K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) is the perfect contrarian droid as opposed to C3PO, often dripping with sarcastic quibbles, the reprogrammed imperial droid had some of the best lines in the movie. With a war movie that is riddled with loss, there were instances of humor that seemed natural.
Darth Vader is used sparingly and effectively. One of my worries going into this movie is that it would rely too much on the Sith Lord himself, but it struck a memorable balance. Although, the movie it not perfect (forced love between Diego and Jyn, a last battle scene that may have been a little long) Rogue One is a triumph that Edwards was able to balance between what we love about the franchise and a gritty, rugged tone of a war movie.
Main Photo Credit: Lucasfilm