I’m probably the last person in the world to have watched Rogue One in the theatre. That is largely because I thought it was an unnecessary movie. The trailers were interesting, sure, but it felt like a piece of the Star Wars story that didn’t really need to be expanded on.
If you’ve seen A New Hope, you’ll know that a group of Rebels steals the plans to the first Death Star and set up the epic trench sequence at the end of that movie. When I learned that Rogue One was going to be that story, my reaction was largely – meh. We know how that story ends, so it seemed pointless to tell it.
Having finally watched it, though, I am happy to report that I was terribly, terribly wrong.
Rogue One is a fantastic goddamn movie.
In case you haven’t heard, Rogue One revolves around the construction of the first Death Star and a desperate mission to steal the Death Star’s plans in the hope of capitalizing on a weakness in its construction. Felicity Jones plays Jin Erso, daughter of the Imperial Research Scientist who designed the Death Star and built the flaw into the system. Mads Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, her father, and automatically elevates the quality of Rogue One just by being in it.
Aside from the fact that it has Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One works because of the deviations it takes from all of the other Star Wars movies. Since the rest of the saga has been laser-focused on the Skywalker story, the broader strokes of the Empire-Alliance conflict have always been hinted rather than explicitly focused on. By shunting aside the Jedi and the Force and all things Skywalker, Rogue One manages to do what none of the movies before it have done – tell a war story.
It takes a handful of the rebels, all formerly nameless, faceless fighters lurking in the background of the other movies, and puts a spotlight on them. While none of the characters in the movie felt like they received much development, it feels like the Rebel Alliance itself did. Now it’s more than just Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar and the handful of X-Wing pilots that we’ve seen over the years. It’s a bunch of scraggly fighters, sorely outnumbered and poorly equipped, getting by on grit and guts and a whole lot of luck.
Every time a Rebel soldier died on screen I cringed a little, and as each of the movie’s ‘main’ characters died, it was genuinely tragic. This alone is testament to Rogue One’s success at making the Rebel Alliance feel like more than a collection of extras who exist only to get shot by Stormtroopers.
There are a bunch of other things that Rogue One does right, as well.
We’re shown new planets (of course there’s a desert one) and shown that resistance to the Empire manifested in more forms than just the Rebel Alliance. We’re shown the power of the Death Star and why everyone was so terribly afraid of it in a way that the original movies never could simply because of the technological constraints of the time.
Blowing up a planet, for example – Alderaan’s fate in the very first Star Wars movie – is an event so enormous that I can’t really comprehend the scope of it. The Force Awakens suffered from the same problem. But Rogue One puts the camera on the ground – instead of in space – when the laser hits and, for the first time ever I was actually terrified of the power of the Death Star. When watched before A New Hope – for those lucky enough to have not seen any of the movies yet, Rogue One makes the desperate need to destroy the Death Star so much more meaningful.
And then there’s that Vader scene at the end. Holy shit. Even if you don’t like the rest of Rogue One, that Vader scene at the end will probably make the movie worthwhile. It’s been a while since I’ve truly appreciated the Dark Lord of the Sith and, man, Rogue One gives Vader the respect he deserves.
I would have liked a little more character development, though. Felicity Jones makes for a fantastic lead and is a dramatic improvement over people who have issues with sand. I also thought the (fortunately not overdone) romantic subplot was largely unnecessary – just because there are two people in a movie with different sets of plumbing, it does not automatically mean that they are somehow genetically predisposed to be attracted to each other. Also, as I believe has been said before – WTF was up with putting Peter Cushing in the movie? At least they won’t be doing that with Carrie Fisher, praise the Force.
But my issues with the movie are few and far between because Rogue One really is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon. It does a great deal right, far more than it does wrong, and brings some much needed depth and to a conflict large enough that it spanned an entire galaxy.
If you haven’t seen it in the theatre yet it’s probably too late but do grab the DVD/Blu-ray/Google Play movie release/whatever. If you love the Star Wars universe, this is a story worth experiencing. And if you’re new to Star Wars, this is a wonderful place to start.