Yesterday, I went to watch Rogue One in the cinema with my brother. My friends who reserved tickets for first day screenings were all raving about it and I saw quite a lot of buzz on Twitter that even non-Star Wars fans enjoyed it a lot. I’m not a big Star Wars fan myself and I find myself quite critical of the films because I love science fiction and fantasy and I love movies and so I approach each film from that point-of-view. I liked The Force Awakens because it’s a well-made, fun film. I have no sentimental feelings towards the franchise like many of my friends do.
But Rogue One, as a film, is a different beast on its own and after watching it yesterday with my brother, it really is the best one of the franchise. I believe it’s the film that adds depth to the entire series. Star Wars and all the films before Rogue One somehow managed to single out individuals in this galactic battle between good and evil, the Empire and the Rebellion, and it made the franchise’s narrative feel small. It made Star Wars about Luke and Leiah and Han Solo and Darth Vader. It was a story about these particular people and how they navigate the particular issues and challenges through a setting of political strife and struggle.
What Rogue One does, as a film, establishes and presents the setting and makes it tangible. All of a sudden, the universe of Star Wars isn’t just about the Skywalker family and their issues nor is it about this battle between good versus evil. What Rogue One does is show you exactly what evil is and what evil does. It shows you exactly what the Rebel Alliance is fighting for and why they are fighting in the first place. It legitimizes the external struggles and the setting of the Star Wars story by making the world that the Skywalkers inhabit as something we can now truly see and relate to and understand.
Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters) was tasked to tell the story of how the Rebel Alliance managed to secure the plans of the Death Star that leads up to the big finale of the very first Star Wars film. Screenwriters Chris Weitz (Cinderella, The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy (The Jason Bourne films, Michael Clayton) managed to give us wonderfully whole characters with personal ideals and ambitions but placed them within the framework of a film that is essentially about war and revolution and politics and governance and our individual place in this social dynamic.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds herself as a key figure in the Rebel Alliance’s continued effort to dismantle the Empire. She wants nothing to do with all of this but her personal history is directly connected to the Death Star and in the process of working with the Alliance to negotiate for her freedom, she discovers her path and a sense of purpose. Felicity Jones approaches Jyn Erso as the reluctant heroine forced to join a revolution because of her particular history. Jyn Erso, in the course of the film, changes and evolves from an accidental piece in the chess match of two powerful forces and becomes a purposeful key player in the struggle. Felicity Jones, completely in control of her character and narrative, is never overwhelmed by the alien worlds and the special effects and pushes Jyn Erso’s story front-and-center without overshadowing that this film is about revolution and the battle against oppression. The shift from a victim of circumstance into a voluntary power player is so well-defined in both the story and in Jones’ performances that Rogue One becomes a story not just about revolution and war but also about one person’s coming into his or her political stand.
It’s Rogue One‘s heft that I particularly enjoyed and how it balanced a fun and enjoyable adventure but still unafraid to get down and deep in its exploration of war and politics. A film can be enjoyable and still strike true at serious issues. What also made the film so striking, for me, was the relative absence of The Force, a staple Star Wars fixture. Without The Force, Rogue One becomes a story about the importance of each individual’s contribution to a cause regardless how ordinary they may seem. The Force, in the universe of Star Wars, has a way of making people important for the sake of regardless of whether they are deserving of it or not (case in point, Anakin Skywalker in Phantom Menace all the way to The Clone Wars). Without it being integral at all to the story of Rogue One, it manages to highlight the everyman aspect of its story and how every individual’s contribution is important and necessary.
Rogue One is my favorite film in the whole Star Wars series. Without having to rely on the gimmicks of the franchise, like The Force, it still manages to deliver a compelling adventure with characters we root for and believe in despite only really appearing for the first time.
It was so enjoyable, after the movie I wanted to go to Uniqlo and buy a Rogue One shirt. I almost did too.