One of the best things about Star Wars is how it is an incredible gateway drug. You think you’re sitting there, watching an innocuous fantasy film, and then they drop some nugget on you that gets your brain all worked up, and soon you have more questions than answers … and an insatiable desire to learn more.
“Rogue One” is the natural evolution of one of those threads, what the opening crawl in the first film was really all about. That the film mostly answers one’s questions satisfactorily is basically just the cherry on top … the journey of discovery (and the inspiration of new questions) is the true joy.
But it IS a tremendous relief that they did the material justice. Below, I’ll attempt to articulate some of the movie’s greatest successes, or at least the ones that stood out to me upon first viewing.
- Let’s start with Darth Vader. (Naturally, from this point on, spoilers will be rampant.) Upon learning that the big baddie would be making an appearance in the film, my immediate reaction was hope that we would see him wrecking shop on some rebel scum. I’m not a particularly bloodthirsty person, mind you, but if there’s one thing the fan base has collectively pined for since 1977, it has been some worthy Vader action, with him tearing it up … in the suit. This thirst had remained unquenched since “A New Hope,” and so it seemed to me that neglecting to scratch this itch would be tantamount to gross negligence on the part of the filmmakers. Thankfully, we got our scene. And it was beautiful and horrifying, and most importantly, NOT over the top. He tore through those Plebs like they were tissue paper, but that seemed accurate. It was in keeping with the character, and it immediately took me back to Anakin slaughtering the young Jedi and Separatist leaders at the end of “Revenge of the Sith.” Except, you know, in the classic suit, which is what everyone has wanted for nearly 40 years.
- But for me, it was Vader’s other scene that really put the character into a new light. Anakin lost everything on Mustafar. He thought he killed his wife there, and for all intents and purposes, he basically did. He suffered his greatest defeat at the hands of his old master, ObiWan. And dude was horrifically maimed in a gruesome and painful way. And he decides he must take up residence on this planet!?!? Whether the Emperor decreed it or not (still up for debate), Vader went along with the plan that he live out his days with continuous reminders of his pain. And seriously, how messed up does this make his obsession with Kenobi? I mean, sitting around for YEARS, having to think about his old friend taking everything from him … it adds more pathos for the character and makes the rematch on the Death Star so much more meaningful to him. (And well, Kenobi sort of let him win that fight, depriving him of true satisfaction). Truly, Darth Vader remains a hugely tragic figure, and even more so in light of this stunning scene.
- Star Wars is nothing if not repetition of theme, and it was fascinating to watch another orphan enact her revenge against the oppressive Empire which had taken away her family. The same scenario of course unfolded with Luke in “A New Hope.” So now across two movies, the Empire kills the families of two individuals, and one of them steals the plans to their ultimate weapon which the other then utilizes to blow the thing up. It’s a critical theme with real-world consequences, and it baffles me that much of our world’s leadership doesn’t seem to grasp it. If you bomb someone’s family, you create the next freedom fighter.
- Of the major character deaths, the one that got me most was Bode’s, probably because it was the most random and senseless. He wasn’t on the front line. He had achieved his part. And he gets cut down in a flash anyway. Maybe I was tired for him and his suffering, too? I mean, dude had been tortured within an inch of madness earlier in the movie. I wanted him to get out alive.
- I do think the third act was the most reworked section of the movie given the differences on display in the promotional material, but I believe the filmmakers did a nice job of making the objectives and stages of the battle clear, whereas it could have been utterly chaotic. I was able to follow along, and I particularly enjoyed the space firefight above the shield generator, including the Rebels’ attempts to disable it. Oh, and Jyn’s desperation dangling from the data bank. Actually, all of it. Ha!
- Sensory overload later in the film might be a culprit, but the most emotional scenes for me were mostly on Jedha. Jyn’s attempt to rescue the crying girl, the explosions in a crowded street market in a dry holy land (not unlike many real-world images we’ve seen over the years) … I mean, this stuff felt genuine and it hurt to watch.
- I loved Krennic’s end. He remarks of the “beauty” of his terrible weapon standing on its deck watching it blow up a city … and then he gets to see how it looks on the receiving end. Killed by his own super weapon. Poetic.
- Random question time: Why would Tarkin blow up his garrison PLUS the reams of information below in the databank? I mean, I sort of understand his motivation, but tactically, the Empire just removed any possibility that they could create another Death Star (at least on first glance). Of course that doesn’t jibe with Death Star 2, so I’m sure there’s a techno-babble explanation for it, but it really boggled my mind at first. How are they going to build Death Star 2 now? Plans on a different planet, maybe?
I see two points of debate surrounding the film right now, and I have no clear answer for either, at least not yet: How to rank all of the films now, and moreover, what order to watch them in.
For the first question, I’d simply put it somewhere in the middle for right now. No clue where it will be after a couple more viewings. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve grown to love “The Force Awakens” a lot more over the past year, so this movie definitely has some solid recent competition for a higher ranking.
On the second, I have pretty much always thought “A New Hope” was a person’s best introduction to the series, but this film dovetails into that movie so well, it’s now a real debate whether starting with ANH is the right call. I am slightly leaning toward a chronological order at present, or even starting with “Rogue One,” but I think it’s definitely more complicated than it had been.
Regardless, this new movie is a worthy entrant into the series and a great part of the story. I’m very happy with it.