SPOILERS for all Star Wars films INCLUDING THIS ONE follow below. I’m not sure if I’ve done a review of a film before, I don’t even have a specific category for it so I guess not, hence this is going in Television and you’re going to like it – maybe I should just rename that to Western . But given I went and saw Rogue One last night I think I have to. Rogue One is a good film. Even better for having the Star Wars tag, even though that’s a line of films for which I’m not amazingly keen on the storyline. I might have to explain myself there first. But headline, because I just don’t care about the Skywalker storyline that much, my favourite of the seven main line Star Wars films is Episode I. You read that right. Definitely going to have to explain that one.
I do actually call myself a Star Wars fan, as does everybody, so to be a hipster as I like doing, I certainly don’t consider it my favourite sci-fi universe nor do I spend any more time on it than the films and a few computer games. Episode I presents a really fun and alien universe, a limited importance of humans, the sense that mostly everything is right and continues to be right at the end, a character I ironically love in Jar Jar Binks, largely because of the way people get riled up against him (and the Darth Jar Jar theory which is beautiful), Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon, not his most expressive performance but he’s an excellent actor, no adult Skywalker males angsting the film up, the podrace scene, the politics, I love ‘boring politics’ in films and TV, because it’s normally not boring at all and there’s things going on beneath the surface that I love spotting. Most importantly though, there’s a lot of stuff that feels so different. Let me put it another way, I love and adore the imagery of the Middle East before war and destruction happened there. Egypt in Raiders of The Lost Ark, Lawrence of Arabia, that sort of thing, it feels like a time gone by that’s really pleasant to be in what with friendly sheikhs in white robes on camels walking against serene desert backgrounds with market towns. The same sort of feeling can be found in early modern, pre-industrial England, America or Japan. And probably many other serene historical settings. That’s the sort of ‘times gone by’ feeling that really makes me love Episode I, because it’s the same sort of thing on Tatooine and Coruscant and Naboo in that movie, a sense of past times but with something ominous brewing under the surface. And to an extent the same is true for Rogue One, but with some more concrete nostalgia as it’s also going backwards in the timeline – but we’ll get to that later. While I really do like the original trilogy (and III, it’s only II that I consider a bad film), I consider each of those films to have flaws that stop it from being my favourite. VI has the Ewoks and the done it all before feeling. VII I really liked upon first viewing so one could say that I’m having a wave of positivity towards Rogue One like I did for that – I’d say VII was, overall, an improved version of A New Hope and how it stands will be affected by future films. III takes too long to really get going, if much more of the film could have been Order 66 I’d love it. Although, because you know the Jedi are dying yet haven’t been able to fully attach to any of the ones who are actually dying (Mace excepted) because you’ve spent all of two minutes with them, there’s very little impact. That’s going to be important later. V will be the one I have the hardest explaining away as it is unquestionably the best of the original trilogy, but for my money, there is too long spent on Dagobah and the confrontation on Cloud City has never felt quite as forceful as everyone else seems to have found it. Finally, IV has a tight story but has always felt too narrow for me, there wasn’t much of a world of Star Wars shown and given everything since, it’s felt a little basic. That is where Rogue One comes in, to fix that major problem I’ve always had with Star Wars the original film. You can also now stop throwing Wookiee dung at me now, I’m done. On to the actual film I’m supposed to be reviewing.
My expectations for Rogue One, I didn’t really have any. I thought it was cool that they were doing a Star Wars spinoff, and I was excited to see some new characters but I didn’t know whether that would be good, or bad, or trite, or crowd-pleasing. It was a standalone, so it could have been an experiment that went horribly wrong. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – and how could they build a movie about getting some plans?
Apparently rather well. Although I will say the first part of the movie was a little generic, you have your family being torn apart and killed by the bad guys, child escapes and is raised by someone else, I felt that part was a little samey. Although perhaps necessary to understand where Jyn comes from. Her dad being called Galen is interesting, I haven’t yet noticed any thematic connection between the designer of the Death Star and the talented Roman philosopher and physician but I’m certainly trying. However once she gets taken in by the Rebels on Yavin, then the film starts to come together. The familiarity of Mon Mothma and Bail Organa started to place the film for me as being in the real Star Wars universe as opposed to the copy-and-paste new planet Star Wars universe that Episode VII had threatened to fall into at times, again, mainly helped by the familiarity of older characters and references to past parts of the mythology. References that I know from the Expanded Universe would also be helpful in future films, guys, the parts you aren’t planning to actively destroy that is, I’d consider any reference to any of that a good point.
I mean, we do have another desert planet beginning with J, but I like this one better as it sounds like a real Arabian city, Jeddah, just like Tatooine sounds like a real Tunisian place. As far as I know, Jakku is not related to any of that. And it’s on this planet, as the Death Star begins nuking places, we see that some Rebels are indeed uncomfortably close to terrorists as Saw’s lot begin slaughtering stormtroopers, and Jyn gets the message from her father that he was the one who sabotaged it, that Rogue One’s cast really starts to come together. The sarcastic Imperial droid, K2SO, very cool, effortlessly there with a witty line, he shows some lovely growth over the course of the film and is a very benevolent character for someone programmed by the Empire, even with his memory wiped. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, the blind Jedi Buddhist monk (as I can think of no other way that describes him better) and his companion, make some great moments over the course of the film as they argue about the Force’s presence and Chirrut’s acting as being blind is really convincing as he clearly uses his senses to find what they need. Cassian is a good male lead, tough, always right and with some weight on his shoulders, nothing you haven’t seen before but his presence works. It’s at this point, because they’re all rescuing Bodhi Rook, the defecting imperial pilot and it’s him, with his less confident demeanour that makes these six feel like a group of heroes in it for the long haul. Technically most of them are anti-heroes but I find those types more relatable sorts anyway. Indeed, at this point I was wondering whether it was this group of people who would be the founding members of Rogue Squadron, a name I had picked out from my vague dabbles into the Expanded Universe, knew little about them -and Rogue One would seem like the best way for that movie to make them mainstream. That expectation made what happened later even better.
The confrontation at the Imperial Research facility was a good piece of action, I rather liked Cassian choosing not to fire, while the Imperials did, but overall, it went as expected, Galen died in the attack, meaning that a desperate mission has to be started. And it’s this final third of the film that I love the most.
Planned out attacks on a big enemy facility in fiction can often go way too awry early, and ruin the joy I have by seeing a plan unfold at least a little bit. Rogue One’s daring mission actually goes off without a hitch for the first part, they successfully navigate the Imperial shield without it seeming too easy, as Bodhi knows how to deal with this sort of security, they land and move through the paradise island unseen, which is perfectly fine as it’s a big island and they’ve landed at one isolated docking port, and then they open fire. It’s great seeing heroes who are really competent at carrying out what they said they would do.
This then just makes it all the more powerful when despite doing everything right, the huge power of the Empire turns it against them and things start to go badly. K2SO is killed after a heroic struggle far belying my expectations for a former Imperial droid, that’s very sad, but that’s alright, it was supposed to be a darker Star Wars film, we can lose the comic relief droid with no problems. There can always be another one if there’s a followup to this.
Obviously, if you’ve watched the film, and I really hope you have if you’re reading down this far, you know that’s idealistic wishful thinking. Chirrut and Baze die as they get overrun by rebels to switch the radio on, and then Bodhi dies, and it’s then that I start to realise what sort of a film this is. It’s an ending that is supposed to be tragic, because most of the main cast is gone, all meaningfully, all dying doing actions crucial to getting the plans out of Scarif, but all dying. And then a few seconds later I realised that all of the main cast would be gone. There was no way even Cassian and Jyn were getting out alive. Bodhi gave his life specifically to the message up to the rebel fleet to expect the plans (and at this juncture, might I add, seeing the hammerhead drive the two Star Destroyers into each other was breathtaking), and while plans and data could be transported, this isn’t Trek, no transporters for people. They have to die to a nuke. It was really quite sobering, but it was made very powerful by the next few scenes as rebel after rebel is struck down getting the plans onto the small starship of the Princess, at which point Leia’s reconstructed face turns around and says ‘hope’. It was an awesome final act. Because everyone died. It’s something Star Wars has never done before, never really dealt with the people who died, always instead dealing with the incredibly lucky Skywalker clan who scoot their way to victory by the skin of their teeth. That’s partly why I’ve never been so awesomely enthused by the other films, because they don’t depict consequences for the main characters as darkly as I personally believe they should do, even III, for all the rise of the Empire and the downfall of everything good, was remarkably light on the characters you care about, Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan all survived. And this is why Qui-Gon’s death at the end of Phantom Menace was an excellent, powerful moment for me, a character you have spent an entire movie and care about failing and dying. For Rogue One, they went right ahead and pulled no punches in killing their entire cast off. I expected all the way along, even as some of the characters were dying, for Jyn at least to escape and form a sequel hook of her adventures for future movies where she founds Rogue Squadron and does something behind the scenes of Star Wars V. Or something. I’m so used to movies doing that these days, as much as I like arc plots, the goddamn superhero universes never end anything – I don’t like most of them so it just hurts when I watch one and feel like I’ve missed tons of ref… you know what, that’s a rant for another day.
This finality, the deaths of everyone we’d just started to care about, the way the plot just moves the story along to IV, straight, as the end of one story and the start of a new one, made it so beautifully powerful that, because almost entirely down to its darker aspects and attempts to really refresh the franchise in a way that The Force Awakens didn’t do as successfully as it could have, I have to seriously consider whether Rogue One is going to become my favourite Star Wars film. It may be too soon to say for sure, but signs are looking very good. And also because it would make sense that a dark film becomes one of my best 2016 films… oh man I made a reference to how awful 2016 has been. Forgive me.