Film Review: Rogue One

This post is loaded with spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars story. 

Having had some time to digest Rogue One I've discovered it ranks up there among the top tier of Star Wars films. I'd rank it up there with Empire Strikes Back and would say it simply a great movie. I have to confess my expectations weren't terribly high when I saw it - I thought it would be an enjoyable movie and I did take the whole family opening night (actually a 7 PM "midnight showing" the night before it opened).

What is it that worked so well?

First and foremost, it was a movie that told a story. It wasn't trying to build a cinematic universe or making certain it had hooks for sequels. I think, for example, that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so focused on building a franchise it neglected its first priority in making a great movie. As a result, Rogue One was able to focus on delivering a great movie. It was able to be brave and let the characters sacrifice their lives for the Rebellion.

It also beautifully balanced avoiding continuity lockout while satisfying dedicated fans. You didn't need to have seen the prequels to appreciate the film. I suspect you could probably enjoy it without A New Hope but I think the main assumption of the audience is that they know A New Hope begins with Princess Leia, having the plans to the Death Star, is aboard a ship being pursued by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer.

But if you know more about the universe there is more for you to see. We get to see Darth Vader's castle on Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith. There are elements from The Clone Wars and Rebels. We get a satisfactory answer as to how such a big design flaw made it into the Death Star.

With an almost entirely new cast, I found myself rapidly coming to admire them. They weren't perfect - Jyn had lost faith in having a cause while Cassian was a dedicated Rebel - but one who had performed so many morally compromising acts in the name of a greater good. We saw true faith in the Force in Chirrut despite not having the Jedi's ability to use it. It's a lot easier to believe in something supernatural when you can move objects with your mind. It is another thing to put your faith in the Force while under blaster fire, hoping to stay alive long enough to enable the Rebels to beam the plans to a Rebel ship. We see Baze having lost faith in the Force but nevertheless staying with his friend and fellow Guardian of the Whills, Chirrut, and in the end he finds his faith again. We see Bodhi, a pilot who was "just doing his job", facing the moral consequences of the weapon he had a part in building. He's no warrior but he too gives everything he has in gaining redemption. Even our droid is filled with personality - for all his snark and sarcasm, K-2SO is so clearly dedicated to Cassian.

And every single one of them dies. Why? Because the film wants us to know the Empire is dangerous and evil. There's no Ewoks coming out of the trees to save them. These stormtroopers have deadly aim. All but Cassian and Jyn die at the hands of stormtroopers. And the men in charge of the Empire are evil, casually wiping out cities and even their own troops with the Death Star. When now we hear Princess Leia says "this is our most desperate hour" in A New Hope, we absolutely believe it. The Empire has built a weapon that at low power can destroy cities and at full power, entire planets.

Let's not forget Darth Vader. He is an unstoppable force against the Rebel soldiers in the close of Rogue One - the only victory they can get is getting a copy of the plans aboard the Tantive IV before he kills them all. Yet we also get a sense of the man he is - having his fortress at the place of his greatest defeat, engaging in a dark humor as he chokes Krennic and warns him not to "choke on your aspirations".

I've found even two and a half months after seeing Rogue One I'm still thinking about it. While I greatly enjoyed The Force Awakens I've come to the conclusion, much to my surprise, that Rogue One is a superior film. That's not to take away from the joy of seeing old friends again and making new ones in The Force Awakens but Rogue One had an intensity and desperation that made it stick in my mind.


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