Before I go on, I must have to warn you that there will be spoilers in this post. Because there will be spoilers in this post, I'm going to place some images from the movie. Again, there are SPOILERS AHEAD AND IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YOU SHOULD AVOID THEM. UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE WEIRDOS THAT LIKES GETTING THEIR STUFF SPOILED. BY THE WAY, SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE AND LUKE IS DARTH VADER'S SON.
Alright. That should be enough.
So, I'm going to preface this by saying I'm not a movie critic. I'm also not the most hardcore of Star Wars fans. I'm a filthy casual. Here's the level of my fandom: I've watched the movies and prequels a few times throughout my life and played both Battlefronts that came out for the PS2. I only read one Expanded Universe book (one written by Greg Bear) and did not see either of the animated series.
(By the way, I rank the OT and the prequels: 5,6,4, 3, 2, watching paint dry, C-Span on sedatives, watching grass grow, 1)
Last year, I saw The Force Awakens over my Christmas break, I think, a week or so after it came out. It was an entertaining movie.
Rogue One, though, I had no idea what was up with it. I saw maybe one trailer on YouTube and didn't really bother asking anyone what it was about. I had only the vaguest idea where it was set. I avoided io9 or stills or whathaveyou from io9/Gizmodo and wasn't waiting for each trailer to drop. So...real casual fan. I also didn't see the trailers because I didn't go out to the movies much this year. The most affordable theater (matinee wise) is maybe a 30 minute drive away through the worst highway in the continental United States and frankly, I'm not going to spend $15 on a movie.
But Rogue One...I would have. (I paid $7, yay!)
Let me tell you about the movie and why it ruined and redeemed Star Wars for me.
Here's the blurb, courtesy of Stitch Kingdom: "From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves."
The blurb makes it sound like something played out...but man, it wasn't. So the movie follows a group of unlikely heroes:
- Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a rogue maverick detained by the Empire for her crimes against them until freed by the Rebels. She has used many aliases during her life such as Lianna Hallik, Tanith Pontha, and Kestrel Dawn.
- Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, a Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer.
- Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military.
- Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, a Zatoichi-like blind warrior who believes in and has a connection with the Force. He is said to be one of the Guardians of the Whills.
- Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, Jyn's father and a research scientist.
- Alan Tudyk as the voice and motion-capture of K-2SO, a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid whose memory is wiped by Andor.
- Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, a former Imperial pilot who defects to the Rebels.
- Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, a Rebel warrior, mercenary and best friend of Chirrut Îmwe.
- Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, a veteran of the Clone Wars.
The film takes us from "a dozen years ago ish" setting that reminded me of Inglorious Bastards and then fast forwards to the real beginning, where a defecting pilot (Rook) is sent to warlord mercenary Saw Gerrera to deliver an important message from a mole inside the Empire (Galen Orso...also, Mads Mikkelsen aka Le Chiffre as a good guy was a bit disconcerting)
Jyn Orso, meanwhile, is sprung from an Imperial prison transport by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna aka Space Mexican) and robot K-2S0 with the intention of using her to kill Gerrera (a threat since he's not really with the Alliance OR the Empire) and at the same time figure out where her dad (chief architect of the death star) is hiding so they can put an end to him and deprive the Empire of a powerful weapon. Turns out they didn't need to kill Mr. Gerrera because the Death Star fires a warning shot and obliterates the city he's in.
So in the course of that, they pick up Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), who're not really with anyone either and just kinda dig being a thorn on the side of the Empire. They also discover that the plans for the weakness to the Death Star DUN DUN DUN are in a planet called Scarif. But they must find Galen Orso first, and he's in a lab in the planet Eadu. They track him down, he survives...up until the Rebel Alliance accidentally blows him the eff up.
Then they regroup and Rogue One (ah ah ah ah!) decides to make a last-ditch desperate effort to get the Death Star plans out to the rest of the Rebel Alliance. They succeed...at great cost, as in, they all end up dead. And I'm not talking Superman dead. I'm talking Uncle Ben dead.
Then there's a great scene that leads up to the sequel...which came out 39 years ago.
Alright, enough of the recap and let me talk about why this movie worked on all cylinders. Buddy of mine tried to sell me on the movie saying it was a war movie, since I'm big on war movies.
Which is kinda true. I like well-done war movies. I also like poorly-done war movies. The Patriot and Kingdom of Heaven are historically garbage, but man if they aren't fun.
But Rogue One talks about war in its full grey morality and my God it is amazing. That's the thing that I loved the most about the movie. Usually, you have two sides and they're clearly defined. Good. Evil. In the original trilogy, it was clear who were the good guys and who the bad guys are. Rebel Alliance GOOD. Empire BAD.
In Rogue One, there are still distinctions but you also see the dark side of the so-called good guys. Captain Cassian Andor makes his appearance by interrogating an informant, whom he then kills in cold blood because, hey, liability. You see the Rebel Alliance send assassins to get rid of political opponents or innocents that might get in the way. And war is like that. War isn't pretty. There are no true good sides in war. We'd like to think the Allies were great but we forget (or look past) the Soviet Union killing 30 million of its own citizens and the United States bombing the city of Dresden. Make no mistake, the Nazis were the baddies, but we weren't exactly golden.
So what that does is create complex characters. If you're a writer, you're paying attention to Cassian's hesitancy to shoot Galen Orso. Not only is it a yay moment since, you see that he's starting to question his orders; but it is, strangely enough, an OH NO moment because his hesitancy gets a ton of engineers executed.
And it leads me to the next point...the reason why this movie succeeds is that it kills off the main characters. There's no happy ending unless you call the Ewok-Rebel Jubilee in Return of the Jedi a happy ending. But the way it does it is it lets you care about them. Maybe some of them are a little underdeveloped (if they expanded, it'd be a six hour movie, so that's a wash) but by the end, you're rooting for all of them. And you think, oh, maybe one's going to survive, right? RIGHT?
You think so because there's a speech resembling an "ALRIGHT LADS SUICIDE RUN!" pep talk that usually ends with a few people surviving.
You think so because there's a concrete plan to get everyone away.
You think so because they're the good guys and damnit, they have to make it.
But no. You realize that when K-2SO sacrifices himself to buy Jyn and Cassian some time. He starts getting hit and you're going...okay...ha ha ha...he's alive, right...he's...okay, that blaster shot's not good...wait...oh shit.
And one after the other, they fall, with the rest of the Rogue One squadron. In a way, it reminded me of Band of Brothers, how yeah, there's a certain air of Plot Armor around some of the characters. And then outside of Belgium, a shell takes out Muck and Penkala *snap* just like that. That's how it felt watching this.
And I think it's done so masterfully because you, the audience, really believes that this is all going to be pulled off. The distractions work, the coordinated attack, the scrappy soldiers, the X-Wing squadrons that rush out to assist Rogue One. It looks like they're going to pull it off and then...they don't.
And I gotta give absolute credit to Gareth Edwards (who last directed the 2014 Godzilla remake) and the writers of Michael Clayton and American Pie (yes, that American Pie) for pulling this off. I don't think I've ever had hopes lifted and then gut punched to the extent they did in this movie.
Things start going wrong for the Rebels...the shield couldn't open, X-Wing fighters start getting shot down. The infiltrators are slowly pushed back by the Imperial troopers, and then the Death Star fires on the base. Jyn and Cassian don't make it.
Then, there's a sad moment where the rebel command ship that had joined the battle receives the transmission and sees the destruction caused by the Death Star. The commander makes the order to make the jump, and you think, okay, these good guys make it...and then...BAM, Imperial fucking Destroyer right up in their grill.
That's the hopelessness of war. War isn't fun. War isn't pretty. War makes friends of enemies and enemies of friends. War is gray. War is sometimes David facing off against Goliath and getting utterly dunked on.
I appreciate that the movie took the risk it did. I think it would have been cool to have at least one of the Rogue One soldiers make it, but honestly, that would have cheapened the movie. I go into more detail with some friends here in their podcast.
There's something for everyone in this movie, and if you have the chance, you should definitely go see it. To me, it's made me want to power through the rest of the series again. Right now, I'd rather watch Rogue One through The Force Awakens than the LOTR trilogy.
If you're an Original Trilogy fan, it suddenly gives A New Hope much more complexity. You really fear for the Rebel Alliance. You understand that it's really just a fractured group of people and the fact that they can even band together to stick it to the Empire is downright miraculous.
You really appreciate the power of the Empire. You, as my friend pointed out in the podcast above, see that Han Solo going fuck this I ain't fighting no damn Empire doesn't come from being a coward, but it comes from seeing that you could have everything: talented pilots, experienced soldiers, everything going right for you...and still lose.
But...wait. How did this ruin Star Wars?
I think it's going to be hard to top this movie. The Han Solo...solo...movie is going to come out in two years and the problem is it's not going to be able to take the risks Rogue One did because we know Lando Calrissian and Han Solo are going to survive. It'll be a good movie, but I doubt it'd have the same sort of emotional impact Rogue One did for me. So, I'm already a little bit iffy about getting on 290 to see it in opening weekend.
I want Episode 8 to surprise me with how good it is, but I'm not holding my breath.