“Rogue One”: Not your Mama’s Star Wars

*****************SPOILER ALERT*****************

There are major (REALLY!) spoilers in this blog.  If you haven’t seen “Rogue One” yet stop reading now.  If you have gone a full month without seeing the movie and have avoided spoilers, well done.  If you are a Star Wars fan, though, you should really see it already.  it is very good and well worth the price of admission.  But honestly, I’m going to give away some major plot points.  Stop reading.  You have been warned.

*****************SPOILER ALERT OVER******************

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.  I knew that it was an immediate prequel to “Episode IV: A New Hope” (the movie that us oldies just call “Star Wars”), but I didn’t how immediate.  The final scenes lead directly into Episode IV.  You could show the two back to back and (setting aside technology) feel like you are watching a two parter.  It’s very well crafted narratively.  It is also very different from any other Star Wars movie I have ever watched.

If you remember, I blogged about “The Force Awakens” about a year ago.  I called that blog post “Star Wars: Coming Home” because Episode VII felt so much like the movies I remembered from my childhood.  That is not the case with “Rogue One”.  I was settled into my seat with my popcorn, drink, and Junior Mints; the movie started and there was no crawl!  No intro, no words heading into space, nothing!  They just started the movie.  And then, to add insult to injury, they didn’t even play the song!  The instrumental was reminiscent of the Star Wars theme, but it WASN’T the Star Wars theme.  For someone who has been watching these movies in theaters since I was six it was jarring.  Being a calm and reasonable person, I thought ‘Perhaps this is intentional’ and of course it was.  It is to prepare us for the fact that this movie will play out much differently than the movies we are used to.  Within a few minutes, blasters are out, a parent is dead, a child is traumatized, and the emotional blackmail has begun.  We, as an audience realize that this is the world of the Empire that we have never really seen.

“Rogue One” is unquestionably dark in a way no other Star Wars movie has managed to be.  Even “Revenge of the Sith” couldn’t quite manage this level of anxiety in the story telling. Because they were prequels, we knew how the story ultimately ended. We know that Obi-Wan defeats Anakin, but that Anakin survives to become Darth Vader.  We know that no matter how devastating the battle between Yoda and Palpatine, they both survive to fight into the next generation.  I remember literally having that thought in the middle of that fight and disconnecting because the outcome didn’t matter.  “Rogue One” features a group of characters who are not in the second trilogy and never will be.  Their fates are fair game and for the first time in a Star Wars movie, an entire cast dies.  This is what fighting against the Empire looked like before the Skywalker twins and their friends.  For the first time in its 40 year film history, audiences really get to see how evil the Galactic Empire was.  It is shocking and sobering.  It is not the first time I have cried in a Star Wars movie, but it may be the most.  (In my defense, I did actually see the movie the day Carrie Fisher died and was already feeling somewhat emotional.)

Several reviewers commented that “Rogue One” changes the middle trilogy  and gives it both weight and depth that we were unaware it was missing.  They are right (read one of those reviews here:  https://moviepilot.com/p/rogue-one-changes-star-wars-original-trilogy/4170927).  We can now understand why the Rebellion is willing to go to the lengths they are.  We recognize the sacrifice of the thousands of people in the Rebellion who aren’t Skywalkers and their immediate friends.  We understand how truly cruel the Empire is and how much death and destruction that are willing to bring about in order to maintain their own power.  For the first time we know that this is a fight not just worth winning but worth dying for.  If you can watch “Rogue One” and not want to immediately head home and pop in your copy of “A New Hope” you are stronger than me.

It was not the movie I was expecting, but it was good.  Unlike the first prequels it added to the movies I love and made them something more.  It was different from any other Star Wars movie to date, but it was stronger because of it.  I am looking forward now to the other two Star Wars stories that have been announced.  Hopefully they will be equally as satisfying and as successful in filling out more depth in the Star Wars Universe.

 

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