Matt at the Movies: 'Rogue One' is the Star Wars film we deserve, but not the one we need
Warning: Spoilers for Rogue One follow.
Early in Rogue One, during the movie’s first real battle scene, there is an image of a young girl crying in the middle of a street as she is caught in the middle of a confrontation between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, blasts and explosions going off all around her. Rebel recruit Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), watching nearby and trying to stay out of the fray, risks her life by jumping into the combat zone and pulling the girl to safety, reuniting her with her mother and solidifying Jyn as the heroine of the story.
Children in the midst of war zones and a heroic solider rescuing them: it’s a conventional image in war films, meant to evoke the juxtaposition of the innocent amidst tragedy. And it's just one of many such wartime images that the first Star Wars standalone “spin-off” uses to remind audience that this isn’t your childhood Star Wars universe anymore.
When Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012, it basically guaranteed that, just like Marvel, we will have untold amounts of Star Wars films, television series, comic books, novels and merchandise from now until we actually begin colonizing galaxies far, far away. In just two more films, the three original trilogies once foreseen by George Lucas will be over (although we’ll see how that goes), and all that will be left to tell is stories that are essentially offshoots of those original stories. But the Star Wars universe is vast, and for the first “Star Wars story,” Disney chose to follow the group of Rebel resistance fighters that stole the plans of the original Death Star, allowing Luke Skywalker and his merry band of X-wings to take it down, thereby dealing the first major blow to the Empire. Rogue One tapped Gareth Edwards, fresh from his surprising success on 2014’s Godzilla, to direct, and from the beginning, promises were made that this would be a movie that actually lives up to the “war” part of Star Wars.
And to that end, it certainly does. In Saving Private Ryan fashion, Rogue One pits a ragtag crew of Rebels against the might of the entire Galactic Empire on a suicide mission as they desperately seek a way to destroy the Emperor's terrifying new planet-killing weapon. Jyn is recruited because her father Galen (Mads Mikkelson, finally getting to play a sort-of good guy), was forced to design the Death Star against his will. Fixing a flaw in the original trilogy’s story, Galen reveals that he built the Death Star with a major weakness on purpose, because he never really agreed with the whole “conquering the galaxy” thing and hoped all along to pass on the message of a weakness to the resistance. It falls to his daughter Jyn, Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a sarcastic, re-programmed Empire droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), two mystical former Jedi Temple guardians (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang) and a renegade Empire cargo pilot (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans to the Death Star and give the Rebellion hope once again.
It’s definitely one of the more exciting stories they could have chosen to tell, and for the most part Rogue One really works, except for one major problem: we all know how its going to end. Even the most casual Star Wars fan knows that the Death Star gets blown up at the end of Episode IV, so ultimately we know that Jyn and Co. are successful in their mission. We just don't know how exactly they went about being successful, and by the end of the film, I was questioning whether I actually needed to. It's like reading a book where you know the ending. It can still be interesting, but some of the thrill is gone.
But it’s still Star Wars, and even the worst Star Wars movie is better than the best, say, Transformers movie, so I’ll take what I can get. Rogue One succeeds in a huge way reinstating something to the Star Wars franchise that even The Force Awakens sorely lacked: humor. Playing the token role of lovable, humorous droid, K-2SO walks away with several zingers in particular. It's great to see a second major heroine on screen in the franchise after Daisy Ridley's Rey, even though Jones' Jyn is a bit of an enigma. That might not be entirely her fault: extensive reshoots took place between an initial cut and the final edit, and as a result, it's hard to know exactly where Jyn gets her skills as a soldier. The overall tone is definitely darker than any of the previous Star Wars films, but it also seems like filmmakers are finally treating the franchise with the seriousness the fanbase has always felt it deserves.
Ultimately though, Rogue One succeeds because Disney plays it safe and sticks very, very close to the original trilogy. The final minutes of the film lead almost directly into A New Hope, and certain characters from A New Hope appear in Rogue One, many of them, controversially, CGI-ed in. Darth Vader makes a glorious comeback, and it's worth the price of admission just to seem him wielding a lightsaber through many ill-fated Rebel soldiers. It works this time around, but it will be interesting to see if other standalone films, especially as they get further and further away from the original stories, will be able to carry the same weight. For the time being at least, Disney seems to be continuing to play it safe: the next non-trilogy film is a Han Solo vehicle, featuring Lando Calrissian, and almost assuredly the first meet-cute between Solo and Chewbacca. That movie certainly won't suffer from a lack of nostalgia.
I, for one, hope that they will make Rogue Two and feature the story of the many brave Bothans who died bringing the Alliance intelligence on the second Death Star. Since Bothans are apparently hairy, Wookie-like creatures that communicate through growling, I definitely want to see that movie next.