I saw Star Wars (later called Episode IV-A New Hope but when I saw it, it was only Star Wars) and I was amazed. I was seven and the entire movie was magical for me: talking robots; a kid without a father finding a purpose; spaceships; blasters; lightsabers; and a really evil bad guy with a great deep and scary voice. I saw that movie over 20 times in 1977, oftentimes sneaking into the old Holiday Theatres on Union Road as other people walked out with my best friend who was a few years older than me. I waited three years for the Empire Strikes Back and I loved it but I didn’t like that it ended in suspense. I then spent three more years and three more summers arguing with friends about whether or not Darth Vader could really be Luke’s father and when I got my answer in 1983, I loved it, Ewoks and all. I saw the second trilogy on opening night for all three films and although I didn’t like them as much as the first three, I liked them and I was happy that the modern myth that Star Wars had become would continue for another generation. I have a friend with a 14 year old son whose middle name is Jedi because his other brothers and sister got to pick his middle name in 2002. I loved last year’s The Force Awakens for many of the same reasons, although I liked it better than any of the Episodes now called I, II, and III. This series of films has shaped much of my life and my understanding of the world. It peaked my curiosity for travel. It made me want to read and learn about “ancient cultures and old religions” that many saw as nonsense. It reinforced the value of redemption and it made me start to question both the good guys and the bad guys while realizing that those terms were a bit more fluid than I once believed.
Rogue One is not a Star Wars movie. It is a one-off that ties Episodes I,II, and III to Episodes IV, V, and VI together in a bit of filmmaking perfection. It is a part of the Star Wars universe but it stands alone and its story is complete at the end of the film. There is no word scroll at the beginning of the film and I loved that because it shows that this is a break, the first major picture break, from the trilogy of trilogies way that this saga has previously unfolded.
I am going to forgo a summary in this review except to say that the film is set in the time after the Jedi have been scattered and the Empire has begun to tighten its grip on the Galaxy. The Death Star is under construction and filled with all of those poor contractors and plumbers that Randal Graves worried about in Clerks. The main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is hidden away by her father (Mads Mikkelson) as a child as he is dragged back to supervise all of those contractors and build the Death Star. She grows up under the influence of a rebel leader, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and runs afoul of the law (much like other characters in the series) and she is filled with a hatred for the Empire that tore her family apart. She aims to rebel and a plot is born so she can save her father and try to make all well in the Universe.
In the end, nothing in the film is made well. This film is dark. Characters who we like and dislike die. Entire cities and their populations are wiped out indiscriminately by the awful power of the Empire’s new killing machine. Valor and goodness and light do not clearly win out in the end and we are left with the hope that something will be done with those plans so all of those heroes did not die in vain. Those of us who grew up with Chewie, Han, Leia, and Old Ben know what happens next, but Rogue One still delivers suspense and a sense of uncertainty in spite of that knowledge.
See this movie in 3-D if you can simply for the images of Star Destroyers inside of a planet’s atmosphere and the battle scenes in space over the last 35 minutes of the film. Also pay attention to a new robot, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) who steals the film though an amazing acting performance that is only delivered though a voice. There are plenty of small details that will please the dorks among us but they do not come as an expense to the main storyline of the film. May the Force be With You!
-Roy Bakos/Guest Critic