Movie Review : Rogue One - A Star Wars Story (2016)
Star Wars is the most beloved movie franchise of all-time. People love George Lucas' sprawling space opera so much, it spawned a whopping EIGHT movies, cartoons, novels, video games, laughable byproducts, countless criss-crossing storylines and people STILL aren't tired ot it. The franchise is so profitable, it was successfully brought back in theaters a second time last year with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a super slick, telegraphed and somewhat manipulative new chapter. I liked the movie from a polite distance and wondered how long Disney could keep it up given the ambitious production schedule. How long would it be before they started serving us our own microwaved emotions year after year? Fortunately, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story managed to put my cynicism on hold. Gareth Edwards managed to expand the legacy and scope of the iconic franchise in more ways than one with this film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story happens between episode three Revenge of the Sith and episode four A New Hope. The plot is basically contained in the opening crawl of the latter. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the infamous engineer who built the death star. She doesn't have much to do with her old man, mind you. He left her to his friend and paramilitary nutjob Saw Guerrera (Forest Whitaker) when the empire kidnapped him and murdered his wife. She was abandoned in difficult circumstances by Guerrera himself a couple years later and made prisoner by the empire. Her terrible luck changes the day her father sends a desperate message to the rebels through a bold empire deserted (Riz Ahmed). The man who engineered the rebellion's destruction would also engineer its salvation.
Let me say it: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a much smarter movie than its predecessor Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It doesn't have a super deep message or anything, but it has more to offer than the fundamental good-vs-evil struggle the Star Wars movies were built on. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story explores the nature of ideological sacrifice. The protagonists are not Jedi. They are not even leading figures in the intergalactic conflict between the empire and the alliance. The movie keeps pitting ideological issues (peace, freedom) against individual issues (death, loss, ego). This is new, uncharted and (dare I say) exciting territory for Star Wars to delve into. Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor (a magnificient Diego Luna) and the Rogue One crew constantly surf the fine line between being victims and warriors. They bravely take responsibility in a conflict greater than themselves. If some critics lamented the political nature of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I'd argue it's the best thing about it.
I don't know when cultural appropriation became a thing to be upset about online. While I'm not extremely sensitive to this issue, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had a couple cringe-worthy moment early on that almost made me reject the movie. People who are sensitive to this issue will have a field day with the movie.There are several set pieces inspired by historical events in the film. There's a visual reference to the invasion of Normandy in World War II, which I had no problem with but the Jedha scenes bugged me. Gareth Edwards drew inspiration from the war in Syria and Iraq and I thought it was quite early for that. Left a bad taste in my mouth. There's also a Kung Fu master in this film (played by Donnie Yen) that serves no purpose outside of being a Kung Fu master, deliver flashy martial arts scenes and vaguely allude to the Jedi going into hiding after episode three. The movie could've done without this character and, quite frankly, would've been better without him.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story works so well because it has such a different tone from other movies in the franchise. It offers something slightly different from the trademark dichotomy that made the franchise so popular. The empire aren't only portrayed as evil motherfuckers in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, they're a tyrannical regime which only values ambition and power. Their values are slightly more nuanced and therefore more realistic. That's what I mean when I said the movie expanded on the franchise's legacy and scope. Gareth Edwards provided a glimpse into an entirely new social class of people affected by the war. Also, quick kudos to Felicity Jones and screenwriter Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy for creating the liveliest, most humane and tormented female lead in mainstream movies that I can remember. Jyn Erso's sex appeal takes the backseat to her struggle, which is insanely refreshing. She would've worked as well as a boy than a as girl and this is quite an accomplishment for a blockbuster film.
I've enjoyed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story considerably more than I thought I would. It is the first movie in the franchise that dares drawing outside the firm ideological guidelines set by George Lucas forty years ago and the result is vibrant and humane. It's not a perfect movie. It takes ideological and intellectual shortcuts that will piss some of the audience off, but it takes a major leap in the progressive direction Star Wars: The Force Awakens hinted at. Walking out of the theater I felt like George Lucas had expanded to a level I didn't quite understand yet, which bodes extremely well for the future. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is still a Christmas blockbuster. It's a blunt movie about defeating demented imperialism. But it has a heart and a mind of its own, it understands its limitations and bravely attempts to transcend them. It's been a couple years since a blockbuster won me over like that.