reviewed by Tom-Tom
I didn’t have high hopes for this movie. I mostly liked Episode Seven but in my heart, I felt that Star Wars was slowly but surely moving away from that of my generation. Change isn’t always bad but the bittersweet nostalgic sense of loss is sorely felt. For me, (and perhaps my generation), Rogue One is a very welcome return to form for the franchise. Its characters aren’t immortal or all good or bad. There is something even more valuable than this though. The Star Wars universe has existed for nearly 40 years now and the first introduction, of course, was through Episodes IV: A New Hope, a film in which the mythical Jedi and the ways of the Force were first explained and shown. That a world in which neither existed in any way preceded this film is almost impossible to fathom. At least to this reviewer’s satisfaction, the world of the Jedi and their place in the universe didn’t come across very clearly throughout the prequels. OK, they’re not soldiers, they’re not police but they show up to slice off limbs, negotiate peace, requisition tens of thousands of clone soldiers. Without a clear purpose, it is no wonder they immediately fell into the world of myth and belief in the Force became “a sad devotion to an Ancient religion.” In “A New Hope,” it is easy to believe. We see Obi-Wan cut off his quota of limbs, “change the minds” of Stormtroopers and speak to Luke from beyond the grave. But how about those with nothing to prove their beliefs, nothing to look at and say, this, this is the Force. They are true believers and their faith is the strongest.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is populated with such true believers. With no lightsabers to behold, or floating rocks or X-Wings, they defy an Empire that spans the known Galaxy. The Rebel Alliance is here not the unified force of righteous freedom fighters we meet in Episode IV. They are scattered, motley, argumentative, and distrustful of each other. If there something the Empire could have done to unify these Rebel rabble, it was to create a battle station of enormous proportions with destructive capabilities unlike anything ever seen before. But even with a symbol of the Empire to target, there is no point if the structure is indestructible. Thankfully, this one is and not just because of mistaken technical issues. This is a flaw with a vengeance.
One by one, we meet our new heroes. Daughter of an ex-Imperial engineer. A morally ambiguous officer. A reprogrammed Galactic Strategy droid with a penchant for bitingly honest banter. A blind monk with Shaolin-like powers and his Doubting Thomas mercenary pal armed with a rapid fire energy weapon so powerful it requires a ponderous battery-backpack. Then there’s perhaps the most important character, an ex-Imperial freighter pilot who has defected to the Rebels bearing a crucial hologram message to Saw Gerrera (played beautifully by the great Forest Whitaker), the leader of the radical extremist faction of Rebels. I didn’t pay him much mind the first time around despite his many bionic limbs and Vader-like breathing apparatus, but during my second viewing, I really appreciated how much the years of betrayals and mistrust had made him into a sad, paranoid invalid who almost ignored the most important break in the battle against the Empire of his long tortured life of resistance.
Jyn Erso, Captain Cassian Andor, K-2SO,Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, and Bodhi Rook are all multiethnic, multiplanet, multilingual characters brought together in conflict and united in their defiance of the Empire but not with rousing speeches more so than necessity. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is the last holdout until she sees the special hologram message with information about the Death Star and its unthinkable mandate. Cassian (Diego Luna) follows orders and protects his safety and freedom at any expense to our horror. Moral contemplation in the Star Wars series has only ever been the privilege of its main characters, namely the Jedi although Episode VII broadened this umbrella to allow a certain Stormtrooper’s defection to occur. We learn that Cassian is one of many who has had to make plenty of terrible decisions to keep his sanity and faith in the Rebellion alive. All push forward from danger to danger and then collectively make the decision to go on an impossible mission to the heart of an Imperial installation to secure the newly sought after Death Star plans. It is a breathless 45 minutes the first time and a tearful 45 minutes the second time. This is definitely a film with some replay value. The epilogue right before the Easter Egg-free credits leads directly into Episode IV making true believers want to immediately go home and watch that classic before anything else. What do we take away after watching this film? Hope.