Wow! I am happy to report that the Star Wars franchise is back on track. Having watched Rogue One twice now, I have to say it ranks very near the top of my favorite movies in the franchise.
What sets this movie apart from its predecessors I think is that it’s less “cartoonish” and more real-world. In particular, real life is messy, full of difficult decisions with real consequences. In the real world, there is less monologuing and more taking action. Less rah-rah and more just doing it. Rogue One is full of that attitude.
It’s very tough to capture the plot in just a few sentences, but suffice to say that the movie focuses on Jyn Erso. She’s the daughter of a well known engineer/scientist Galen Erson but was separated from him when the Empire abducts him and takes him away to work on a secret project against his will. Her mother is killed at the same time. Jyn is orphaned and is cared/for raised by a veteran rebel mercenary by the name of Saw Gerrera. But she eventually gets left behind by even him and she has to make her own way in the world, apparently living just under the radar until she gets caught by the Empire for some petty crime.
But that’s just the setting that the movie launches from. As the movie starts there are rumors of a Empire pilot defecting to get a message from Galen Urso out from the labs and even more rumors about what he might have been working on for the Empire.
The movie follows everyone’s reaction to that event. The rebel Alliance is trying to figure out if the rumors are true and if so what to do about it. Jyn obviously wants to reunite with her father, though if the rumors are true, she’s not sure. The Empire wants to track down the defector and squash the spread of the rumors.
One of the things I really liked about the movie is that no one has all the information. Everyone is acting on imperfect and incomplete information. Everyone’s fears of what Might Be True drive them as much as the facts of the situation. People’s prejudices come out. Everyone is afraid.
Another thing I like about the movie is how the rebel Alliance is portrayed. In other movies they are portrayed as almost mystical keepers of the light and truth. In this movie, the Alliance is fractured, afraid, and poorly funded. People argue. People have varying degrees of dedication to the cause. People have personal agendas. Also, people are injured, handicapped, dirty, and worn out.
Which leads me to the war angle. I don’t think any of the other Star Wars movies have done as good a job of portraying real people fighting in a war. People are afraid, they are taking risks, making mistakes. And most importantly, you get a real sense from the Alliance that they are fighting a hopeless battle but they are doing it anyway. And there is a lot of self-sacrifice for the greater good in this movie. And it’s not done with two minute dramatic monologues followed by a neat and tidy death. No. Over and over again, you see characters in this movie, both major and minor matter-of-factly making sacrifices during battle to make sure there’s still a chance of success. I think that’s awesome.
Finally, I can’t help but make an observation that I hope is not too spoiler-ish. The director seems to have gone to great lengths to make you feel like your watching a real war movie and the movie is chock full of visual references to other wars we’ve seen on TV. There are tons of visual elements that are reminiscent of WW II movies and Vietnam War movies. Once you see the first one, you start to see them everywhere.