Release: December 16, 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Starring: Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, Mads Mikkelson as Galen Erso
Warning: If you don’t know by now that film reviews contain spoilers, I seriously question your intelligence.
The story opens on the planet Lah’mu, where former imperial research scientist Galen Erso is in hiding with his wife, Plot Device Erso, and daughter, Jyn. Weapons developer Orson Krennic arrives to pressure Galen into completing the Death Star. Plot Device shoots Krennic in a a standoff and is then gunned down. Let this be a lesson, kids, don’t shoot an armed and hostile Nazi in the arm when he is flanked by two armed guards and your only backup is an unarmed middle aged pacifist. Jyn flees to a secret bunker in a cave where she is later found and raised by a confidant of her father’s, eccentric revolutionary Saw Gerrera, the only man in the Star Wars universe with something resembling a normal last name. Jump forward a decade or so and we find Jyn living as a convict under an assumed name. From here, Jyn is rescued by Cassian Andor and K2SO and taken back to the rebel base on Yavin. The rebel leaders convince Jyn to help them find and rescue her father whilst they secretly order Cassian to kill him (double dealing, how… Imperial). They go to Jedah, where Jyn is effectively used as a pass to get information from Saw Gerrera, who has been engaging in piracy and armed resistance against the empire. Gerrera shows Jyn a holographic message from her father that had been smuggled to him at Galen’s request by an imperial defector. In the message, Galen speaks of a small flaw he purposely designed in the Death Star so that it could be easily destroyed. Someone just has to go to the imperial databank on Scarif to retrieve the plans. After a quick jaunt back to the rebel base on Yavin, Jyn, Cassian, K2SO, their new blind ronin friend Chirrut Imwe and his companion Baze Malbus, as well as imperial defector Bodhi Rook, and a small (minuscule) detachment of rebel soldiers make for Scarif in a commandeered imperial ship. Those of you who have seen the original trilogy can kind of guess where the story goes from here.
Watching this film, I couldn’t help but feel that Galen Erso is the real villain here. He couldn’t have made a backup of the Death Star plans and had Bodhi smuggle them to Gerrera along with the message? As it stands, every death in this film rests squarely on his shoulders. Way to go, bro. Another thing that bothered me is the lack of any sort of coherent ideology on the part of the rebels. When Cassian tells Jyn “ze revolucion, she is built on ze hope,” I wanted to vomit. Failed insurrections are built on nebulous concepts and platitudes like “hope” and “solidarity.” A successful revolution is built on coherent philosophy, concrete ideas, and solid principles. This could be the reason why your galaxy is in a constant state of flux. Why the republic gets restored, rots quickly from the inside, and then falls. Lather, rinse, repeat. Say what you will about the empire, but at least they display something in the way of a core ideology. True, it may be authoritarian collectivism, but at least it is something more tangible than “hope.” Not only that, this movie seems to indicate that the rebels may have more in common with the empire than we’ve been led to believe all these years. They sure seemed to have no problem with the empire imprisoning Jyn for exercising her right to armed self defense, they’re not above using people as bait, and they seem to not be above the use of out and out murder as a tactic. Yet the rebel leaders call Saw Gerrera and extremist. Why? Because he kills enemy soldiers? Because he steals enemy supplies? How is that morally inferior to telling a girl you need her to help you rescue her father whilst planning behind her back to kill him?
That being said, I mostly enjoyed the movie. The politics of Star Wars have never really been on very solid footing, and this flick seems to mostly be about the visual spectacle. It definitely delivers in that regard. The battles mostly look pretty good, although some of the CGI on the ship (naval?) battles has its moments of being just outright awful. I swear there was one scene where I saw an X Wing pass right through one of the larger rebel command ships. The hentai tentacle monster that Saw Gerrera uses to extract information from Bodhi’s mind also looks pretty terrible, as do the CGI likenesses of Governor Tarkin and Princess Leia (especially CGI Tarkin). The acting is decent, with one exception: Diego Luna. For me, his performance felt at once flat and too over the top. It’s not a deal breaker though, as Star Wars is and always has been a “space opera,” and as such leans heavily on the farcical and melodramatic. For me, Donnie Yen’s Zatoichi-like Chirrut Imwe is the real scene stealer, and, given the original trilogy’s frequent nods to samurai cinema, was a welcome addition. It was also nice to finally see an on screen depiction of imperial forces roughing up citizens. However, conspicuously missing from the series is still the depiction of any imperial apologists. In the real world we see these all the time. A dictator dies, or an authoritarian regime topples and a procession of ostensibly liberal leaders line up to make excuses for them. I am expected to believe that in a pan-galactic, multi-planetary, multi species, and presumably multi-party republic, there is not a single person or politician who would say “now, see here, Palpatine may be a dictator, he may have imprisoned people simply for dissenting, but at least he gave us free health care?” Come on, step up your game, Disney.
All things considered, Rogue One is a fun ride. Yes, it does feel a little pointless, as anyone who has seen the originals knows how this is going to end. Yes, the plot is more full of holes than Swiss cheese. Yes, the whole thing is pretty much naked fan service. However, you finally get to see someone run through with a light saber, and isn’t that alone worth watching for? That being said, I hope Disney rethinks that whole making Star Wars a yearly franchise idea. This was a fairly strong effort, and I would hate to see this new little universe of side stories get run into the ground too quickly.