Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, they are rapidly ramping up the production schedule for new film entries – this should come as no surprise given this is the exact same way the Marvel movie universe has expanded almost exponentially over the past few years. As a Star Wars fan, I am excited with the prospect of more frequent entries in the universe, but that can be a double edged sword. December 2015 was the first big test – Episode 7. The main story line has been progressed and the story arc had a distinct vintage feel to it despite some new faces and places. It truly felt like Episode 4 (A New Hope) was reborn, kick-starting the final trilogy in the saga of the Skywalker clan. Following up on that nostalgic effort (and box office phenom) is Rogue One. This is the first ‘spinoff’ in the ‘new’ Star Wars cinematic universe, a place where more experimentation and tweaking of the traditional format is to be expected.
Rogue One focuses on the lead up to the events in A New Hope, the incredible story of how the plans for the Empire’s great weapon, the Death Star, fall into Rebel hands. It features the tale of Jyn Urso (Felicity Jones) and her journey to reconcile the fact that her estranged father, Galen, was the reluctant but willing master architect of the Empire’s engine of genocide. The silver lining is that he also intentionally designed it’s greatest vulnerability, leaving a chance for the Rebellion to strike a painful blow to the tyrannical war machine. She was a rebel without cause, a true renegade neutral actor who decided to find personal redemption and purpose when anyone else would have just given up and sulked.
This film has a decidedly rough edge to it. Dark, bleak, and truly free of a ‘happy’ ending. It is a gritty, real representation of the seemingly hopeless fight against the Empire. A small strike force of rogue, rag-tag rebels, who failed to convince anyone else to aid in their ambitious goal to retrieve plans from the fortified planet of Scarif until it was seen that they were making progress. It was a true suicide mission, the lives of a few sparing entire planets and systems from the threat of extinction.
The plot is essentially a cat and mouse game of espionage, discovery, loss, and sacrifice. Jyn and the rebellion work to get the plans while remaining a step ahead of the ambitious and bloodthirsty Imperial officer Orsen Krannic (Ben Mendelsohn), who is trying to rid himself of his ‘Urso’ problem and assert his value in the Imperial command chain. While some of the characters feel discarded and underdeveloped, it was really neat to see a Star Wars film devoid of any ‘Jedi’ influence, other than the appearance of the Big Bad himself, Darth Vader. The theft of the Death Star plans was a rebel victory that was admittedly pyrrhic but also carried on the backs of normal, every day soldiers who went above and beyond the call of duty to bring a chance to change the galaxy for the better. In what has become a recurring theme, they literally help provide a spark to light the fires of rebellion that consume the arc of episodes 4-6 in the Skywalker saga. Rogue One is an important and rich backstory to what was once a throwaway line from leader Mon Mothma in A New Hope – “Many Bothans died to bring this us this information.”
New characters, planets, and origins abound – along with important cameos and connections to the existing players in the Star Wars universe. I really loved rehabbed-but-still-crusty Imperial Droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) for some needed dark comedic relief. Impressive side roles include Forest Whitaker as warlord and Jyn’s adopted father Saw Gerrera, as well as some revolutionary CG that allowed Carrie Fisher to appear as a young princess Leia and bring Governor/Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing/Guy Henry) back for pivotal scenes that bridge between two eras of Star Wars canon. My favorite part of the film were the new locales – many were firsts to the screen. Scarif, a beach planet serving as repository for all Imperial data stores offered incredible scenes, AT-ATs walking through the bay, palm trees set against waves of storm troopers while X-wings and Tie Fighters skirmish above. The holy city on Jedha offered claustrophobic streets and conveyed the oppressive imperial garrison effectively. You can see the powderkeg of pressure and rebellion was truly ready to explode – they just needed a signal to start the fight. The rainy, bleak imperial research outpost of Eadu. They were all welcome changes from the same-old, same-old on Tattooine (Yes, Jedha was a desert planet too).
Perhaps the most exciting part of Rogue One is the transition from the end of the movie that leads directly up the the opening moments of A New Hope. I get chills watching Vader pursue the rebel forces (and the stolen Death Star plans) down dark corridors in a disabled Rebel frigate. It is one of the most terrifying moments I have ever ‘felt’ watching a Star Wars movie. Hopefully that trend of ‘disturbing yet real’ continues. Of note as well – there was no opening crawl in this film, a first for Star Wars on the big screen.
Golden Squid Rating
A real, raw representation of life in the Rebellion (without lightsaber assistance)