Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I am a nerdy gamer girl. I know exactly which Hogwarts House house I’m in (Slytherin), I know my favorite race to play as in the world of Skyrim (the Nords), and I have a favorite Star Trek captain (Janeway, of course). I could go on, but that’s not the point.
The point is, my friends, that if a book or movie hits the airwaves smacking of anime, steampunk, sci-fi, fantasy, or a derivative subgenre, I probably know about it.
I’ll kick us off with a bit of geek trivia. I want to outline Rogue One’s place in the Star Wars canon. You may remember a scene from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in which the character Mon Mothma says, very emotionally, almost too emotionally, “Many Bothans died… to bring us this information.” This is uttered during a briefing before the Rebels attack the Death Star, and many fans have been falsely assuming that this is the same Death Star as in the world of Rogue One.
While that would be poetic, I’d like to point out that this is not the case. Rogue One is concerned with the first Death Star, the original one - the one that gets blown up in Episode IV: A New Hope. Tell your friends. This has been a PSA.
When the trailer for Rogue One went live, I sort of rolled my eyes in acknowledgment and decided I wouldn’t bother with it. I’ve been very disenchanted with the trilogy structure of popular films and didn’t understand that this one would be a one-shot, stand-alone project.
The plot follows young orphan Jyn Erso who has been at the center of civil unrest between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance since she was a young child. Her parents were fiery rebels until her craven father defected and joined the evil Empire. Though a self-proclaimed neutral party, Jyn finds herself picking sides as she matures.
(Side note: watching this movie really made me want a gin martini. Because Jyn sounds like gin which sounds like fun and relaxation and quiet bars.)
Rogue One fills in the gaps that subsist in the original Star Wars trilogy, episodes IV, V and VI, but it is also able to stand on its own. Rogue One occurs just before Episode IV: A New Hope in the Star Wars timeline. The characters involved in Rogue One are pivotal in covertly delivering plans on the first Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. It’s clever. Also, there are very few instances in modern cinema where it’s appropriate to play an elimination card. In this case, it works. That’s all I’ll say.
I’ll start with the good stuff; chiefly, representation. The central character Jyn Erso is a woman; model-pretty Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) does her best. Her counter Cassian Andor is played by Diego Luna, who is of Mexican descent and uses his natural dialect throughout the film. Also in the forefront are Chinese actor and martial artist Donnie Yen (Yip Man) and African American legend Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). A cast like this is something to celebrate.
My favorite thing in this whole movie is Alan Tudyk, who plays the voice of K-2SO, a CGI droid. What can I say? Tudyk always rises to the occasion. He is, after all, “a leaf on the wind”.
The movie isn’t without its flaws and controversial elements. While it’s a delight to see the New Hope-era aesthetic (the helmets! The ships! The suits!) much of the movie’s action in the early and middle sections is tricky to follow or, at times, a bit boring. The third act is worth the wait, but it’s a bit of a journey to get there.
John Knoll, chief creative officer of Industrial Light & Magic, has been credited with the idea for Rogue One, and thus with the CGI recreation of both characters Princess Leia Organa and Grand Moff Tarkin - a controversial touchpoint with viewers. Carrie Fischer (When Harry Met Sally), our dear Princess Leia, was still living when Rogue One was in production but had aged significantly since her introduction to the universe in 1977. And Peter Cushing (Son of Hitler), the original Tarkin, has been deceased since the early ‘90s. Since both characters appear in Rogue One, a decision was made by the creative team to recreate them digitally.
Some fans were delighted to once again see these characters in their prime. Some were totally grossed out. CGI characters have bugged me in the past (Maz Kanata The Force Awakens made me want to duck out of the theater) but Leia and Tarkin didn’t bother me. In fact, as a consummate geek, it was sort of magical to encounter a young Tarkin - especially when I knew the actor had left us long ago. And beautiful Leia, whose trademark hairstyle we see before she turns around and faces the camera, made me smile fondly. If anything, I’m more concerned about the artistic use of long-dead celebrities’ visages and the related human rights implications (see Robin Wright in The Congress).
Good and bad elements aside, it was refreshing to watch a Star Wars movie about just one thing. The film wasn’t concerned with setting up new plotlines or fulfilling old ones; characters aren’t being primed to reunite with long-lost siblings or lovers two or three movies from now. This band of fighters has a straightforward mission, and we get to tag along without straining to remember a previous installment or looking ahead to the next. It bodes well, I think, for future Star Wars stand-alones!