Rogue One: A new approach to the Star Wars Universe
This Thursday I went to the prescreening of the long awaited Star Wars movie: Rogue One and what I saw was simply fantastic.
Rogue One is the first movie in a series of spin-offs planned by Disney to launch the Saga towards new plots and topics that won’t ever be fully explored in a trilogy installment. That is good news because it means the Star Wars Universe is eager to expand and develop other stories that won’t be constrained by the need of emulating the success of the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-V-VI).
In my personal opinion it is much more. It gives the franchise the freedom to appeal to different audiences and also deliver a story that can be more mature and nuanced. I feel that most Star Wars movies are simplistic in their narrative (except for the underlying plot of the prequels that is complex but poorly executed in the big screen). That doesn’t mean this is bad. To the contrary, it has been the key to the success of the franchise. But knowing that the new trilogy will follow a similar path to the story of good vs evil and redemption shown in the OT, I feared Star Wars would go on replicating the same simplistic schemes in the big screen for the foreseeable future. Then Rogue One premiered and its precedent set the spin-off series into a new direction not seen in the original and the prequel trilogies. It is the right bet because it gives Star Wars more diversity and complexity in a universe that literally is the size of one. It also frees the franchise to unleash its complete potential and develop great stories as the ones seen in books, novels, comics and video games, that have informed and nourished the Old Expanded Universe (now branded as Legends), and the young but growing New Expanded Universe. For all these reasons, I am grateful for a movie like Rogue One.
I have outlined here why the movie, proposing a different approach, has succeeded and opens the door for other wonderful projects. Now I want to talk about the things I saw that makes me think this movie is great.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Don’t read if you haven’t watched the movie yet.
In my personal ranking I would say this is my most favorite or second most favorite movie of Star Wars. Here is why:
It is innovative: It is just impressive how Director Gareth Edwards was able to innovate within the rigid aesthetics limits established by the OT. Edwards gave us new designs for troopers, ships and weapons without making them look too technological or advanced for the period in which the movie takes place. In that regard, Rogue One doesn’t have the aesthetic desynchronization seen in the prequels, but neither is it afraid of innovating as The Force Awakens clearly was. These are the new concept arts that Edwards showed us:
Shadow and Shore troopers
Krennic’s Imperial Shuttle
The Hammerhead Corvette
It is nuanced: It is not the typical confrontation between Light and Darkness. Rogue One has a more complex story that gives it more depth and is more in tune with the human flawed nature.
This is the first movie that doesn’t show the rebels as a band of idealistic guys morally superior to the Empire. Instead you have rebels that have committed serious crimes like assassinations, sabotage, bombings and even torture for the sake of a greater cause. A good example of this is the group of extremists led by Saw Gerrera (a character introduced in the Disney animated series: Clone Wars and Rebels). His actions have been so atrocious that the Rebellion broke with him and his group. Cassian Andor, the rebel intelligence agent, admits all the crimes that he and his troops have committed over the course of the war. But what really captures this point is a dialogue between Andor and Jynn Erso (the main protagonist) in which she reminds him that ultimately rebel bombs were the ones that killed his father Galen Erso (the chief scientist behind the Death Star project). This scene conveys the complexity of a conflict that almost always has been simplified through the Emperor and Vader in one side and Luke and Leia in the other. That part also reminded me about the nuanced reality of the Clone Wars, and all the events surrounding the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.
Another element worth mentioning are the tensions seen within the same Rebel Alliance. This fractious coalition of different groups seems at times on the verge of collapsing altogether due to the existence of different motivations, agendas and interests. In fact, the decision by the Mon Calamari Admiral to disobey the resolution of the Rebel Council of not assisting Jynn and her group on the planet Scarif, shows how fragile this Alliance was.
By the way the explosions unleashed by the Death Star on Jedha and Scarif are just beautiful, like staring at hundreds of atomic detonations.
Gerrera during the Clone Wars
Again, Edwards succeeds by providing more complexity to a saga that only projects it indirectly and that, due to the failure of the prequels, preferred to play safe with plots like the ones seen in The Force Awakens or the OT.
The appearance of iconic Star Wars characters fit neatly into the plot: Probably this was one of the best parts of the project. Grand Moff Tarkin is basically a reincarnation of the same one we saw in the OT. We also have the chance to see prequel characters such as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa.
Nonetheless, the most thrilling and exhilarating appearance is that of Darth Vader. I think Edwards used him in a splendid way. His personal castle in Mustafar is a reminder of the pain, hate and agony that has consumed him since his transformation in that same planet seen in Episode III. The scene in which Orson Krennic arrives to speak with Vader is one of the most memorable ones in the entire film. Specially, when the Dark Lord uses the Force to strangulate him, warning the imperial officer not to choke on his own ambition in response to Krennic’s unbounded aspirations. Finally, Vader’s scene massacring rebel guards is just marvelous and well done.
The new characters introduced: In overall terms I liked all of them. Personally, the character of Cassian Andor and imperial robot K-2SO, are my favorite ones on the rebel side. Specially the latter one is not just funny but cynical in a way we haven’t seen in a Star Wars movie. In that regard, he brings a darker humor to the franchise that is much welcomed.
On the Empire side, besides Tarkin and Vader, Orson Krennic is one of the most magnificent villains in this movie. He is so because he has been climbing the chain of command since the Clone Wars, confronting any kind of obstacles and threats to his professional career. The Star Wars novel: Catalyst is set 20 years before Rogue One and it show us an already young and ambitious Krennic that over the course of the time leading to the film has become more unprincipled and driven by pure ambition. Also, he has been constantly pitted against an imperial establishment wary of his actions and in which any mistake can lead to his end. In that sense, his character humanizes the movie even more. Krennic is not a person corrupted by a mysterious external force (The Dark Side). It is rather a normal human being consumed by his own aspirations and his quest for glory.
Director Orson Krennic
Finally, what I really liked about Rogue One is that every main character dies. It makes their final mission to retrieve the Death Star plans more epic and glorious. It also makes the movie more realistic and shows the staggering human cost of messing with the Empire.
The are some Easter Eggs: Especially connections with animated shows (Clone Wars, Rebels) and books (Catalyst) from the New Expanded Universe that I really appreciate as a fan. It makes the entire franchise coherent and interconnected.
Great action sequences: the movie is packed with awesome battles on the field, air and space. As an action movie it delivers outstandingly. Rogue One is truly the first Star Wars film that depicts the severity and cruelty of war. Something that is not the main concern in the other movies. The battle of Scarif is probably one of the best of the entire saga at the level of the Battle of Coruscant in Episode III. Special mention deserves the tactic employed by the Mon Calamari Admiral of using a Hammerhead Corvette to push a Star Destroyer against the other with the result of destroying both and the space ring shielding the planet. Just brilliant.
Though the movie excels in so many ways, it has a minor negative aspect as well
Character development: the movie is so fast-paced that simply there is not enough time to develop the personality of each character. This is especially evident in the case of the main protagonist, Jynn Erso. That makes it a little bit harder to understand the justifications to the actions that some of the main characters take in the course of the film.
Summing up, Rogue One breaks away from the traditional scheme that the OT and Episode 7 have proposed. It is a more complexed and nuanced film and, in that regard, it is more serious, human and realistic. As such, this is the perfect example of the potential that the franchise can deliver.
I can only hope that this movie will set the path for similar installments set in other periods of the galactic history.