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Set at a brief period prior to the fourth episode of Star Wars, Rogue One has garnered much praise from audiences. Granted, some critics found fault with the way the film tapped into nostalgic aspects of the Star Wars franchise. But, I argue that it was a fresh and nuanced response to the typical Star Wars tradition. Instead, I think it surprised audiences with its sucker punch tone, morally grey characters, and its grim setting. Before I go any further, let me give you a basic run-down of the film’s background information.
Rogue One follows the story of rebels who search for the Death Star's blueprint that shows a big flaw in the destructive machine, which is a key element in A New Hope (or the fourth episode of Star Wars). The rebels are led by Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), who is the daughter of Galen Erso. Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is an unwilling participant in the Imperial side of the war and he is tasked with designing the Death Star. Riddled with guilt, he sends a message to his daughter with Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) where he outlines the flaw he embeds in the blueprints of this big project. The story follows Jyn and rebel-intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as they go on a doomed mission that can only end with their death.
While it may seem that critics agreed on the film’s quality as a standalone story, it was still somewhat mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a whopping 85% Fresh rating. But, there were many critics who found it redundant and too much of a fan-service film. In other words, some critics found that it resembled other Star Wars films too much. For example, in an article by The Wrap, the staff mention critic Alonso Duarlde, who says that the film does not have enough originality to stand out or be memorable. He slams the film for not having more than references to older Star Wars stories.
In the same article, the staff references Leah Pickett of the Chicago Reader, who says that Felicity Jones’ character is often seen as lost within the story. Later on, Will Leitch is included in the article to critique the serious tone of the film. Leitch, who is a writer for the New Republic, says that Rogue One has a more grave approach to the Star Wars franchise’s storytelling tradition. Again, like Pickett, he emphasizes that the lead actors are not lively as others from previous films.
Chris Stuckmann Reviews Rogue One
My Initial Reaction to Rogue One
I watched Rogue One in an almost-empty movie theater with my family. Unlike many audience members, I did not want to see this film because, at the time, I felt like it was a useless addition to the overall story arc of the Star Wars mythology. But, then, I started to place the film in its context. Audiences had witnessed defeat politically as Brexit and an unlikely presidential debate unfolded in the West. The daily news was dark and disheartening. Tensions were high between various groups of the film’s audience. To me, the story felt like a reaction to the messy and chaotic social circumstances of our time.
Dimness of Setting
Rogue One is marked by darkness through the lighting choices the director chooses to include in the story. The only flare of light is the ending burst marking the demise of our main characters. Beginning the film in a chase-scene, we see grim greenery and grey skies, as young Jyn runs to her family.
In fact, the moment Jyn steps into the underground tunnel, the director focuses on her attempts to get the light working (and it doesn’t work until Saw Gererra, played by Forest Whitaker, opens the tunnel to help her out).
The director does not settle for subtle messages on the dark tone of the story. He also reinforces this choice through the characters he chooses to be the leads in Rogue One.
Jyn Erso may not seem to be a powerful choice for a lead, but that is until we examine her ambivalence toward the politics of her time. Jyn does not believe in good or bad sides. When she is faced with the consequences of her choices, which would be the rise of an Imperial rule of the galaxy, she says, “It's all the same if you don't look up." Reminiscent of Brits who did not vote for Brexit, and Americans who opted out of voting to get a point across, Jyn represents a shift in the political attitudes of many young voters across the globe.
But it is not just a matter of ambivalence, it is also because having a political opinion is dangerous nowadays. As political tensions increase, civil discourse regarding one’s opinions is almost unheard of. It is no surprise, then, that Jyn Erso says, "I have never had the luxury of political opinions” when she is first rescued by the Resistance.
But, beyond Jyn, the hopelessness continues throughout the story. For example, Saw Gerrera relies on Bor Gullet to uncover the truth behind Bodhi Rook. The trick to getting the truth, though, is that this creature can lead a person to lose their mind. Truth is presented as rare pearls that are unveiled with extreme pain.
Another example of this hopelessness is through Chirrut and his fellow Guardians of the Whills. Traditionally, they are guardians of temples. But, Cassian presents them as those who have “nothing left to protect.”
Almost a precursor to political doubtfulness and high cynicism, the director focuses his story on complex leads.
Complexity of the Characters
One of my favorite aspects of this film is the multi-layered nature of each character. All is not what it seems. For instance, the powerful moment when Lyra Erso faces with the Orsen Krennic and says that if she and her family were captured, they would be “as hostages,” and Krennic turns her claim on its head by saying that they would be “heroes of the Empire.”
At a time where things are more complex than ever, first impressions are not something to go by here. K2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial droid. He frequently has to rely on his appearance, and its implications, to get his team further into their mission. An example of this is when he has to pretend to be taking Jyn and Cassian as prisoners on Jedha. Another series of examples has to be when the team makes it into the place where the Death Star plans are held, and they need K2SO to access the room. Bodhi Rook is another aspect of this duality. He is an Imperial cargo pilot, who breaks his loyalties to send Galen Erso’s message to the Resistance. Finally, there is Chirrut, who may seem blind but has more vision than anyone else in the story when it comes to the Force.
A Message of Hope
The weight of this film is in how it presented a response to this grimness in its setting, characters, and their belonging to more than one group at a time. Ultimately, Jyn learns from Cassian that, “Rebellions are built on hope.” And, the film ends with the most beautiful princess, A CGI Princess Leia who says that what this group of rebels has given them is, “Hope.” What more can a film present when its audience is cynical in the face of grim times?
Farr, Tom. "Rogue One: A Film for Star Wars Fans." Medium. 20 Dec. 2016. https://medium.com/the-force-analysis/rogue-one-a-film-for-star-wars-fans-3b6602c07631 . Accessed 26 Apr. 2018
Wrap Staff. "6 Problems Critics Have with Rogue One." The Wrap. 16 Dec. 2016. https://www.thewrap.com/6-problems-critics-rogue-one-star-wars/ Accessed 25 Apr. 2018
Holley Hyler from Upstate New York on March 17, 2019:
Wow, talk about serendipity. I'm watching the Star Wars marathon on TNT and this caught my eye when I checked out your profile. I admit, I have tried to watch Rogue One a few times now, but I have either fallen asleep or become too distracted to keep up with the story on my attempts. The way you break it down here and relate it to our politics is very interesting and makes me want to give it one more try, and that's saying a lot! Very well done.
Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on July 06, 2018:
I totally agree. I'm not a big Star Wars fan, but I thought this movie was very well done and connected the two eras of the franchise as a solid solo story. Maybe I wasn't distracted by all of the references that hardcore fans were. I would have liked to have seen more characterization, but I liked that the characters were flawed but sympathetic, and you were able to root for them. They were serious without being wooden. The comic relief moments were fun but not corny. The final battle was intense, and the last 10 minutes are perfect. Great analysis of the film's reflecting the political atmosphere of the time and the uncertainties and sometimes even hopelessness that many are feeling.