When it comes to Rogue One, manage your expectations
As if the year in politics hasn’t been polarizing enough, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest film in the Star Wars Universe, is capping 2016 off with an audience torn between heartfelt praise and fretful discontent. However, the latter is more likely the result of some viewers’ misguided expectations of what Rogue One is supposed to be, than it is the result of any ostensible flaws in the movie (which, however, isn’t to say that there are none).
So to tilt the dish and realign those expectations, it’s important to understand the context: Rogue One is the first in a series of Star Wars anthology films that Disney has planned out for the next few years, each in the interim of the franchise’s main installments. These anthology films act as decrescendos to the main canon, expanding the Star Wars Universe by exploring other ends of it. Rogue One’s end is the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope; it’s about the events that directly preceded Episode 4, just before Princess Leia dispatched the schematics of the Death Star and set off the greatest sci-fi odyssey in movie history. The next anthology film, due out 2018, will be about a young Han Solo, long before he ran into Luke Skywalker. These stories are meant to exist in the peripheries of ones that we already know—adding and cultivating rather than continuing.
It isn’t meant to inspire the same sort of awe that, say, a lightsaber battle does; nor should it have elicited fear the way the Rancor and the Sarlac Pit did in Return of The Jedi.
It’s for this same reason that the movie is entitled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and not “Star Wars: Rogue One.” It’s also why the franchise’s signature opening crawl wasn’t deployed here, and why the score almost hesitantly deviates from John Williams’ opus. To put it simply, this isn’t a Star Wars movie—at least, not in the way that some of the disappointed audiences expected it to be. It’s a movie within the Star Wars Universe, concerning the same lore and some of the same characters while paving its own arc rather than tracing the one followed by Episodes 1 to 7.
This is the nuance that drives critics to the problematic comparison of Rogue One with its immediate predecessor, The Force Awakens, and all other Star Wars films before it. Problematic, because Rogue One is designed to be a different thing entirely. It isn’t meant to inspire the same sort of awe that, say, a lightsaber battle does; nor should it have elicited fear the way the Rancor and the Sarlac Pit did in Return of The Jedi. It does not possess the same kind of imaginative, operatic whimsy that we all loved about previous Star Wars films, but it was never supposed to.
Instead, as fulfillment of its true purpose as an expansion, rather than a continuation, Rogue One shows a different side of the Star Wars Universe. It is successful as a military movie, in its ability to paint a theater of war with grave circumstances, dire consequences, and a catastrophic upheaval looming overhead; all the while zooming in and out of the lives and individual struggles of its players. Yes, this is a familiar, if cliched narrative—but seeing it performed in the context of a beloved sci-fi universe is exhilarating and, in its own way, magical.
The film’s main character Jyn Erso is the fulcrum of Rogue One’s wartime story. Her pursuit of vindication awakens a rebel in her—one that calls a loosely assembled rogue’s gallery to arms in an effort to steal the plans of the Death Star and relieve the Empire of its absolute, destructive power. She also seems to act as a vehicle for a relevant statement: one can’t help but see, in Jyn, the newly politicized youth in all parts of the world, whose personal experiences in a time of injustice have become the impetus for revolution. Jyn is played by Felicity Jones, who ably embodies the character’s initial indifference which, through the course of the film, is shaken to erupt into a passionate defiance.
Rogue One also introduces us to a host of other characters, the most interesting of whom might be K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), an Imperial security droid that’s been reprogrammed to aid the rebellion. K-2, who often interjects with sarcastic deadpan, represents a familiar brand of humor that did well to keep things light in previous Star Wars films. This is especially crucial amid Rogue One’s heavy-handed dialogue. He’s one of the many ways that the movie, despite being significantly different from all the other Star Wars installments, manages to “feel” distinctly like it’s set in the same universe.
It is successful as a military movie, in its ability to paint a theater of war with grave circumstances, dire consequences, and a catastrophic upheaval looming overhead.
Of course, there are also many far less subtle nods to the previous movies and established canon than K-2SO’s wit. Rogue One gets off on Star Wars references—the kind that have had fanboys squealing and clapping in the cinemas. In fact, the references are littered throughout the movie as a clever way of contextualizing the plot as it unfolds. Never are any of these contrived, though—they’re always tasteful, cheeky, and brief. In fact, the filmmakers even manage to make cinematographic references to the original trilogy, which is a testament to the Rogue One’s loyalty to the Star Wars fanbase. All these eventually culminate in the film’s final act (which we will leave out for you to enjoy), when the audience is made to comprehend exactly where the movie has lead us.
But while nostalgia is a huge part of appreciating Rogue One—and one might even argue that the film was meant to evoke that in fans—it never seemed to rely on that nostalgia to tell the story, nor did it ever seem to pander. If we were to disregard, for the sake of assessment, all the references and Star Wars-isms that helped make Rogue One so enjoyable, it would still stand on its own a beautiful, action-packed war movie. It does start off a little slow before picking up a satisfying pace, has some bits of clunky dialogue, and just a few minor contrivances, but all of these are thoroughly redeemed by the movie’s exciting scenes, iconic lines, and sheer spectacle.
Rogue One is an excellent addition to the Star Wars Universe, and a great step forward for the franchise under Disney. Apart from being an entertaining way to spend two hours and 13 minutes, the film is a demonstration of the Star Wars Universe’s potential for expansion, leaving fans hopeful for installments that have yet to come.