A flight commander. A defective pilot. A reprogrammed droid. A rebel without a cause.
The story of how the Resistance gained plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon.
Given, it’s Star Wars, and after the mindblowing success of the latest trilogy, Episode VII: The Force Awakens and a promised VIII and IX, the pressure for Rogue One to meet its predecessors was huge. It’s also the first independent “Star Wars story," and one about young Han Solo, starring Alden Ehrenreich, is set to release May 2018.
First teased in entertainment magazines years ago, the cast of Rogue One brags few familiar faces, as Star Wars often does, catapulting no-names into stardom with each installment. Except, perhaps, for the featured face of the film, the fierce Felicity Jones, known for her performance as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. But from Diego Luna to Riz Ahmed, the rest was a gamble. And Rogue is not a kid’s movie.
I watched the film, and then immediately hopped onto IMDb. The grand finale had changed my opinion on the film a little, but not by much, and I saw reviewers online either hated it or loved it. Rogue has a clever story to tell: how the Death Star plans came into the Resistance’s possession in a crucial time in the galactic war. Rogue seems to have all the right ingredients, tapping into the familiar magic of the original trilogy while still maintaining independence, an explanation punctuated by gunshots and sacrifice. Fans who are deeply involved with Star Wars mythology will find exciting new details and characters to add to the cinematic universe. For the rest, maybe not. I do love Star Wars, but found it hard to jump around from the sparsely explained khyber crystals to the city of Jedha (holy for its patronage of the Jedi), all of whose significance was presented as vague, confusing, and eventually ineffective. Which only adds to my personal conclusion Rogue is a good film, but not great.
The characters, building blocks of any story, are unlikable and dismissive. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, even with “the face of a friend,” was especially unrelatable, harsh and unfriendly with Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. Jyn is the spirited daughter of a scientist central to the design of the Death Star. And Jyn is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, hailing from generic story origins. Trying to prove she’s a “tough girl” only makes her reckless and cold. And while the idea of love between Jyn and Cassian is sweet, it didn’t convince me onscreen as much as on Pinterest, where fan art extrapolates their relationship. In fact, the strongest chemistry between any two characters was between Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, the warrior monk and exasperated warrior played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen respectively. Originally based in Jedha, they come with the rebels when the city is destroyed. Bodhi Rook, Riz Ahmed’s tortured pilot who escapes the Empire, is also shallow and underdeveloped. It’s a loss--each character had the potential, and room, to be moving, original.
And while jokes are made in the film, they’re nowhere close to the originals, rubbing off as forced, out of place. K-2SO makes most of them, the painfully annoying, borderline mean Imperial robot reprogrammed to serve the Resistance, and who provides resistance along the way. The entire tempo of the film is off: with poor directing, otherwise mindblowing shots of Empire attacks and rebel resistance become just okay. The emotional power of the film, and an interesting story, are blunted by production.
Then again, many love the film. Some hail it as the greatest Star Wars yet, politically warranted today and deeply relevant. The return of the fascist-fearing theme, of monolith Darth Vader and his lookalike dark cronies, resonates disturbingly with the modern political climate, as it did in the ’70s. And while some complain about the film’s “politically correct” agenda with a strategic placement of color, others argue it’s an update. Which left me wondering why I didn’t have the same reaction as many others. I wasn’t as moved by the film as I could have been, and the film was clearly meant to be moving.
The ending is the most powerful part of the film. Spoilers are out, and Rogue has been dubbed “the real suicide squad” of 2016, as every hero falls, one by one. Bodhi Rook is gunned down, K-2SO to shreds, and the blind, yet seeing, Force-trusting Chirrut Imwe survives fire only long enough to pull a needed lever. And while there are no Jedi in the film (and only one saber-wielding Sith, Lord Vader), Chirrut memorably repeats throughout the film, I’m one with the Force, the Force is one with me, cementing the presence of the Force in any Star Wars story. Jyn and Cassian appear to have escaped the collapse of the briefly triumphant, but eventually underwhelming rebels force, collapsing exhausted on a beach far from the chaos. But as the Death Star turns its destructive eye toward the besieged city, Jyn and Cassian watch as the world burns away, tightly embracing as the sun soaks up the sky, like a violent, deathly sunset. Even getting the plans to Princess Leia takes several men, who are gunned down, crawling over each other's fallen bodies to become the next chain in the link. Which commemorates the film’s place in Star Wars anthology, whether you loved the film or could live without it. They're just a band of rebels, gone rogue. Rogue one.