by Michael B. Hock
The Star Wars movies are interesting to me. They’re not strictly science fiction, they’re basically fantasy movies with laser swords and space wizards, one of whom happens to be a cyborg-wizard. They were also very progressive in their use of brother and sister sexual tension before Game of Thrones decided to out-do them. But for all of their talk about countless galaxies of adventure, two droids that happen to be everywhere, and senate that manages to get less done that the U.S. Senate (take THAT, politics), the story generally focuses on the Skywalker family.
Every once in a while, there’s a charming space-pirate, or a space wizard, and whoever the hell Rey turns out to be, but the general focus is on the Skywalker family. While a lot of people make jokes about this, it makes sense. Star Wars, for all it’s pew pew laser battles, is a typical heroes journey, which we can talk about in many other posts.
So, when I heard that they were going to start making “Star Wars Stories” which amounted to finding out what happened across the galaxy to people not named “Skywalker” my two thoughts were “What took them so long when even the prospect of Darth Vader yelling ‘Yippee’ made 80 billion dollars” and “how are they going to tie everything together?”
The answer to the second question after seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is… incredibly well.
Rogue One is about that little piece of yellow text that starts off A New Hope which basically says some Rebel spies managed to steal the plans for a massive space station called “The Death Star”. Which is odd, since it wasn’t stolen by any number of people working on it who might not want to be involved with building something called “The Death Star.”
Anyway, it turns out one of those rebels, Jyn Erso wasn’t much of a rebel as so much the daughter of Galen Erso, the designer of the Death Star, because this is Star Wars and everyone in the Star Wars universe has father issues. Anyway Galen sends his daughter a message about getting the Death Star plans, and so she goes off to steal them with a rag-tag group of rebels, including a blind Monk, a defected pilot, some non-speaking cannon fodder, and a wise-cracking robot.
It’s better than it sounds.
Oh, mild spoilers from this point on. Not enough for me to use the Hamlet picture, but if you’re one of those who has decided that any mention of a movie is a spoiler, you’ll want to not read any of this review, including what you already read.
Star Wars has had a… let’s just say complicated relationship with Prequels. I’d argue that the Prequels we got weren’t so much “Prequels” in that they relayed information that we didn’t know (other than the galaxy is apparently only about the size of Rhode Island, so everyone knows everyone else) so they were just backstory that someone filmed. Rogue One, however, manages to take something that we know… the Rebels stole the plans for the Death Star… gave us a reason for them stealing it, and put together a compelling story. While not perfect, it is highly enjoyable, especially for a movie that ends the way that it does.
If I had one complaint about the movie, it’s that the rebels that did the stealing were a little bland, save for Jyn Erso (Played by Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). These characters could have carried much of the movie by themselves (and they did) but they had the most fleshed out stories, particularly Jyn who is originally in it to save her father, and then is in it to see his vision completed.
This is what separates Rogue One from the other prequels with Jar-Jar “Comic Relief in your Face” Binks. Remember how there are a million jokes about how the Empire might not know about the weakness of the Death Star being an exhaust port that will destroy it? Turns out Galen put that in, which is why Jyn is so keen on getting the plans to the rebellion – to honor her father by allowing them to destroy it. It’s a small thing, but its an example of taking something that could be a complaint, and using it to your advantage. It’s unexpected, but it’s one of the things in which the movie excels.
The other characters, however, tend to fade into the background a little too much. For instance, there’s a great character in Donnie Yen’s Imwe, a blind monk who just wants to to learn the Force. But other than cool scenes where he does blind monk stuff, he doesn’t do much. Same with Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus. I had to go to the imdb page to even remember their names. The have some cool moments, but they’re essentially blank slates for a blind monk that reminds us all the Jedi used to be around, and a weapons guy that has a cool weapon.
The real standouts, however, were Ben Mendelsohn as Oson Krennic, the guy who oversees the Death Star creation. While the villain of this as he has a personal stake in the creation of the Death Star and his relationship with the Ersos, he has many moments where he plays opposite original icons like a terrifying CGI Representation of Grand Moff Tarkin, and the OG Dark Jedi, Darth Vader.
One other moment I won’t spoil but I’ll tease: There is a moment in this movie in which you fully understand why so many people are terrified of Darth Vader. It could have played terribly, but in this instance it is just filmed so wonderfully that I could have watched four hours of just that. It’s the moment you wish was in the Prequels.
The other standout as mentioned in every review, is Alan Tudyk’s K2, a reprogrammed Imperial Droid who is the comic relief. When I heard this, I had visions of Jar Jar, but I’m happy to say he’s just the right amount of comic relief, doing what he’s programmed to do and most of the comedy coming from the fact that he doesn’t have the ability to censor his thoughts.
The last third of the movie is where it really picks up, as the great Death Star Heist is played over a space and ground battle that demonstrates what was really at stake in the Empire vs. Rebellion battle that was touched upon in the movies. But it was also a reminder that the Star Wars stories proper are a very personal story. They are the story of the Skywalker family, and not just an intergalactic space opera with wizards. That’s one of the reasons this movie succeeds so much, because it does manage to capture the giant space battles vs. a personal story – one of a daughter trying to fulfill the legacy of her father.
Not the best Star Wars movie by far (It’s no Empire Strikes Back) but it is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars stories. And it gives me hope for what else is coming.