We’re swiftly closing in on the latest entry in the Star Wars film series, so you will soon get a break from my monthly ramblings on this subject. However, until that time comes, strap in, I’m about to jump to Hyperspace! In 2016, Disney and Lucasfilm took what some called a HUGE gamble and released a film that takes place outside the main saga of the Skywalker family. This was to be the first in a set of “anthology films” that would present self-contained stories that ran on the outskirts of the established canon. This news excited me immensely, because more Star Wars is never a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned, and there is only so much ground that can be covered within the confines of the Skywalker saga. When it was announced that the first film released would be the story of the team that stole the Death Star plans that Princess Leia was transporting at the beginning of A New Hope, I got even MORE excited. Not only would we get a new story, it would be a story set in the original trilogy timeline, which is my favorite era! As soon as images and scenes from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story started to emerge, I allowed myself to get almost as excited as everyone else got when The Force Awakens was released. What did I think when the film was finally released? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
I could never understand why this move was seen as such a gamble, especially since the first film was an OT-era film. I think this was a VERY wise move on the part of the studio, as it would (hopefully) appease fans of my generation, along with new fans who came of age during the prequel era, the Clone Wars era and later. As long as we got a fun, competent film, it would count as a win from my perspective. I expected a heist film. I love heist films. I love Star Wars. So a Star Wars heist film is like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of cinema! Once I settled into my seat on opening night, I realized we were actually getting something different. We were getting a WAR MOVIE. A STAR WARS WAR MOVIE. Which, when you think about the fact that “Wars” is the second word of Star Wars, makes perfect sense. This was a serious film, with serious stakes, and characters that we came to love and then lost. I left the film feeling impressed and satisfied, but I said at that time that I wasn’t sure how often I would return to the film, since it was such a harrowing and emotionally wrenching journey. The answer to that question is, thankfully, “more often than Jeff expected.” I come back to this film every 4 months or so, and I find new things to enjoy each time. The things that attracted me originally are the things that bring me back: the characters, the action, and the OT callbacks. The themes of sacrifice and hope have begun to resonate more and more as well, so we’ll talk about all of this in the coming paragraphs.
As I’ve stated before, the main thing that has always drawn me to Star Wars is the characters. The Star Wars universe is populated by people who I enjoy spending time with, and Rogue One is no exception. Our heroine, Jyn Erso, is a very dour and serious character, which could get tiresome in the hands of a lesser actor, but Felicity Jones imbues the character with a real personality that transcends any screenplay tropes that might make her hard to handle. She is a character that you want to see happy, and her ultimate fate is one that seems both inevitable and accepted. Likewise, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is a character that should be difficult to root for, as his first act onscreen is to kill an informant who is assisting him. However, the conflict that he presents about his actions, and the commitment he shows to both his convictions and his fellow rebels makes him a complicated character with layer upon layer of motivation. The characters of Baze and Chirrut seem to be a single character presented by two actors. Their devotion to the cause, to one another, and to their seemingly at-odds faiths is another relationship that reads as genuine, and puts to rest the notion that Star Wars is “just” entertainment. Their deaths on Scarif carried the most weight of any of the human characters for me. Rogue One gave me a first: My favorite character, and the one who’s demise affected me the most, was a non-human droid. I love the droids, but I always respond most to the human characters in Star Wars, for obvious reasons. K-2SO is a different story. Alan Tudyk’s vocal performance coupled with his on-set motion capture work for the droid gives us quite possibly the most well-rounded and human droid in the entire saga. Tudyk is one of my favorite performers because he always manages to find the humanity in any character he portrays, and this “robot” is no different. I came to love K-2SO in all of his awkward glory, and his extended “death” scene while he buys time for Jyn and Cassian is the most affecting sacrifice in a film full of earned emotional scenes. How did they make me cry over a bunch of metal parts? Each of the main characters has at least one moment that makes me appreciate what they are dealing with, but these few are the ones that I keep coming back to watch time and again.
Rogue One, as I stated before, is a war movie. As a result, you would expect the action sequences to be first-rate. And you would be correct to expect that. This film has, in my opinion, the most technically impressive action set-pieces in the saga so far. The attack on the streets of Jedha, the destruction of Jedha by the Death Star, the space battle above Scarif, and especially the ramming of the Star Destroyer by the Hammerhead Corvette are energizing and cheer-inducing. When the Imperials begin fighting after the explosion on the streets of Jedha, the action is fast and intense, but the direction never allows me to get lost or lose my bearings. The fight between Baze and the troopers is straight out of a classic Kung Fu movie, and I loved every second of it. The destruction of Jedha, which is the first pre-test of the Death Star’s destructive power, is both awe-inspiring and heart-breaking, as we know just how many people are suffering at the hands of the Empire. The narrow escape of Jyn’s ship from this attack is also invigorating and never fails to leave me breathless. When the Alliance arrives above Scarif to help our Rogues fulfill their mission, it is the finest space battle we’ve seen since the end of Return of the Jedi. Again, I never find myself confused about where I’m at, or what the stakes are. The inclusion of several unused shots from the original trilogy help to solidify the timeline, and the filmmakers have managed to incorporate them seamlessly. At the end of it all, the ramming of the Star Destroyer by the Hammerhead Corvette is not only unbelievably cool, it’s handled in a believable way that still causes debate among my friends about how feasible it would be for this to work. And anytime you give me a reason to talk Star Wars with my friends, you’ve given me a gift. I don’t always come back to a film to watch action sequences, it’s usually to revisit character, dialogue, and humor. Rogue One, however, handles