Star Wars is one of the most popular film franchises in the world. Famous for light sabers and the Death Star, the films’ central conflict between good and evil and sequential continuity have kept fans riveted for decades. In the rush of fighting, however, much of the culture, history, and personality of galactic culture is glanced over or neglected entirely. While much is explained in the prequel trilogy and in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, many things are left unexplained or assumed. This is what makes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, released as a stand-alone film, not just a good movie, but a necessary one.
The movie is a powerful addition to the Star Wars epic. Beyond the recognizable Star Wars tropes– long, spindly walkways over great precipices, whole planets dedicated to an entire task (one whole planet to refine kyber crystal?), and the lunacy of the imperial walkers– it is full of emotion, action, and strong characters, and very little seems forced. Rogue One resonates with purpose and makes every minute count.
Beginning on the moon Jedah, Jyn, the main character, is introduced as a young child, daughter of a former Imperial Science Officer, Galen Erso. Her father is retaken by the Empire, and the story progresses from there. The opening scene serves several purposes and is expertly composed. First, the audience learns of Galen’s reluctance about building the Death Star, an important factor later in the film. The audience also connects emotionally with Jyn, a frightened little girl who loses both her parents to the Empire. Lastly, this all takes place in the Jedi Holy Land, clarifying the close connection between Jyn the and ancient Order in the audience’s mind. This setup makes her ultimate death at the end of the film even more profound, as the audience not only cares deeply about the character, but she is by that point a refugee, a heroine, a renegade, and lastly, a martyr.
The many battle sequences, reminiscent of early World War II films, are tightly cut and more emotionally weighty than in other Star Wars films thanks to Rogue One’s cast of strong and purposeful characters. There is heft to every death, and each sacrifices him or herself for a specific cause within the rebellion that furthers the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Empire and restoring peace; nothing is gratuitous.
Needless to say, the film fits neatly into the Star Wars saga, explaining how Princess Leia came to have the plans for the Death Star in the first place (A New Hope) and why the battle station exploded so easily.
Though it adds continuity and detail, enriching the audience’s understanding of the wider culture of the Star Wars galaxy, fulfilling the want for more funny looking aliens, and revealing unexpected factionalism within the rebellion, Rogue One does differ significantly in composition from its sister films. While Episodes I – VII are very bright with a lot of white light and flashing colors, Rogue One has a much darker and grittier look. Shot on lenses from the 1970s and digitally enhanced to look much more like a traditional war movie, this film diverges from the look of the samurai epic fantasies the original Star Wars and The Force Awakens films were modeled after. This different feel, however, doesn’t clash with the franchise. It adds depth to the Star Wars universe, and, as the title states, tells a very Star Wars Story.
If you haven’t already, I recommend that you see the film in theaters.
(Copyright 2017 Tys Sweeney)