Rebellions are built on hope...
Rouge One: A Star Wars story is (deservingly) cleaning up at the box office. This stand-alone Star Wars story is a thrilling adventure tale with one of the best major battles in a Star Wars movie since 1983's Return of the Jedi.
It also features several Easter eggs and homages to the original trilogy and the dreaded "prequels"-- including a blink-and-you'll miss it cameo from two characters of the original Star Wars movie.
Most importantly, the film does what the prequels tried to do but failed: insert serious political themes into the movies without making them dull.
Rouge One takes place right before the first Star Wars movie (which is the fourth episode in the original Star Wars saga). The film tells the tale of Jyn Erso, a criminal whose scientist father is being held captive by the Empire. The Empire needs his help to construct the Death Star, the planet-destroying starship that played a key role in the original Star Wars movie.
While most call it the Death Star, the first time it is mentioned by an imperial officer in the movie it is called a "peace keeper." This is not the first time in a Star Wars movie that a member of the Empire justifies their actions as necessary to restore order or bring peace to the universe. For example see this scene from Revenge of the Sith where young Darth Vader brags about bringing peace, freedom, and security to his new Empire.
And in this classic scene, an older Vader offers his son the chance to rule the galaxy with him to bring order to the chaos.
Jyn is broken out of jail by the rebel alliance, which needs her to help find her father. She thinks that the goal is to extract her father, but the rebel soldier who accompanies her is under secret instruction to assassinate him.
Over the course of their quest for Jyn's father, they end up allying with a defecting Imperial solder who brought with him a message from Jyn's father, a force sensitive blind guardian (but still an effective fighter) of a Jedi temple, and a rebel fighter. They also have a smart-mouthed droid.
It turns out that Jyn's father hid a flaw in the Death Star that made it possible to destroy it (yes it is the flaw that enables Luke Skywalker to destroy it and yes the film does answer the question of why did they build it that way when it makes it so vulnerable). In order to figure out how to take advantage of the flaw, the rebels must steal the plans from the Empire. So Jyn and her team must embark on a mission to retrieve the plans. They do so against the orders of the politicians leading the rebellion, most of whom advise weakly submitting to the Empire.
As you can see, unlike the originals, this film does not present the rebellion as a flawless force (no pun intended) for good. Instead, it honestly looks at how, in times of war, even good guys will do awful things.
Rogue One also shows the internal politics of the Empire in the form of a power struggle between Grand Moff Tarkin and Orson Krennic, Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military. Krennic developed the Death Star, but Tarkin is determined to ensure blame for every failure on Krennic in order to keep him from threatening his position.
Rogue One benefits from outstanding special effects and sharp performances form Felicity Jones as Jyn, Donnie Yen as the force-sensitive temple guardian, and Diego Luna as the Rebel officer. Ben Mendelsohn is also quite good as the Krennic.
However, for me the standout performance was Peter Cushing reprising his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. What made this performance more remarkable is Cushing died 20 years ago but, thanks to the magic of CGI, he is brought back.
The highlight of this movie (at least for this Star Wars geek) is the cameo appearances by Darth Vader. Forget the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader of the prequels. This is the classic Vader that made me terrified of breathing machines when I was a child.
While Rogue One is not the best genre movie I saw this year (Civil War for one is much better) it is a fun movie with some serious themes. Those who, like me, grew up with classic Star Wars, will love the Easter eggs and references to the original films.
Tags: Liberty at the movies