“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opened this week, and the Force was with it. Well, sort of. There are no Jedi Knights or light-saber duels. But then taking place literally just before the original Star Wars movie, or Star Wars IV: A New Hope – this new film is described in the first opening paragraphs of that movie’s opening “crawl”:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
This movie is their story. The movie opens with no scrawl – or musical fanfare – but simply gets down to business. One of the nice things about this Star Wars film is that the producers supply helpful subtitles to indicate to the audience which planet the characters are on. Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll also introduce subtitles for their galaxy of strangely-named characters as well.
The Rebel Alliance is somewhat disorganized and at odds with itself about how to proceed against the Evil Empire. An Imperial pilot has defected, with a message from, Geren Urso, the Imperial scientist who created the Death Star, stating that Urso deliberately designed the Death Star with a flaw which can (and obviously will) lead to the battle station’s destruction.
Bodhi Rook, the pilot, isn’t the only Imperial defector. Even droids are fleeing the evil Empire. K-2SO, an enforcer droid re-programmed by the Rebel, helps Jyn Urso (played by Felicity Jones), Galen’s now-teenaged daughter, and a rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Andor is assigned to assassinate Galen, whom the Rebels do not trust.
The team is sent by Rebel Alliance leader Mon Mothma to the planet Yedha, to free the Imperial pilot, who has been taken prisoner by an extremist group of Rebels. The extreme rebels take Jyn and Cassian prisoner as well, where they meet Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind former Jedi warrior who notices a Force necklace made of Khyber stones, the material necessary for a Jedi Knight’s light saber – and for the Death Star weapon.
Once inside, they meet with Galen’s old friend and Jyn’s caretaker after her mother was murdered and her father forced to return to the service of the Empire, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). He plays her father’s hologram message for her, revealing the secret, which she must now use to persuade the skeptical Rebel Alliance to steal the plans to the Death Star.
The race is on, because the Death Star has now successfully completed tests on small targets and soon will be ready to make a full-scale, planetary test, presumably on the Rebel Alliance’s base on the planet Yavin’s moon (once they locate it).
Jones is appealing as the teen-aged heroine defending her father’s reputation and urging the Rebel Alliance to action. Diego Luna as Cassian lends the film a bit of flair and intrigue with his Spanish accent. Is he a hero or a villain? Often, film critics demand emotional complication between action film characters, if the actors can spare the time between laser-gun blasts. You do feel an affection for the characters by the end of the film. Not on the same level as Han, Luke and Leia. But then, the expectations are different. When you see the film, you’ll understand why.
We’ll give away no secrets of the movie. Suffice to say that long-time, die-hard fans will be happy to see more than a few familiar faces in this film. Chief among the faces is Grand Moff Tarkin, the character played by Peter Cushing in the original film back in 1977. Cushing died in 1994. But thanks to advances in film technology, his character is brought to life, using another actor’s body with Cushing’s face eerily and remarkably photoshopped onto the actor’s body. He looks like Cushing and sounds like Cushing. Another character is also transformed (we won’t say who) but the scale of face to body isn’t quite as accurate as it ought to be, with the face looking abnormally large. Well, the technology is still in its infancy and that character only appears for a moment.
Another character who reappears is Darth Vader. This should come as no surprise because, with the making of the three prequels, “Star Wars” really becomes Darth Vader’s story. Back in the day, before the second (or fifth movie, depending on how you count them) – “The Empire Strikes Back” – even hit the screen, there was word in the Stars Wars fandom universe that Lucas had three sets of trilogies in mind. Stars Wars, which would become “A New Hope” would be the fourth of the nine films.
The first set of trilogies (which we’ve now seen) would deal with the rise of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker). The second set would, as we learned later, would deal with his children and their showdown with him, after the destruction of the first Death Star. The fate of the third set of films was murky and unclear. Fanboys and Geekgirls debated whether Lucas – and the original three stars – would live long enough to make these films, set in what then was considered the distant future.
After seeing the third film in the second set (“The Return of the Jedi”), the future of a third set of films was hard to imagine. “Return” had a happy ending and a definitive resolution. The emperor was dead, and his empire presumably defeated along with him, and Anakin Skywalker redeemed by his son, Luke. What more did you need to know?
What fans really wanted filled in was that gap between Anakin’s downfall into the Dark Side and the ultimate rise of the Rebellion against the Empire. How did the Death Star come to be created and who stole the plans (as it turns out, “Rogue One” answers that question, in part)?
What about the children of Anakin Skywalker, Luke and Leia? We know what Luke was told about his father’s fate (two lies). But what about Leia’s upbringing? What was she told about her parents? From the movie, “A New Hope” we know that she had at least one previous encounter with Darth Vader. How did that story go? As for Leia’s adoptive father, Senator Bail Organa, Obi-Wan and Yoda presumably told him of Anakin’s allegiance to the Emperor and the Dark Side. What in the world must he think the first time he encounters Darth Vader?
And what about the Imperial Senate? Those who’ve studied Roman history know how that worked out. But Star Wars fans want to know how the Rebel Alliance came together. The Imperial Senate was only disbanded in “A New Hope”? What did they do in the meantime? How did they react to being turned into an Empire? How did they feel about having to answer to an Emperor? How did their constituents react?
Who became the Rebel Alliance? The Separatist Planets? Did other planets, enthralled by the Empire, also “rebel” against the Empire? Children who have watched the animated series “Stars Wars Rebels” know the answers to some of those questions. Sort of. But adult fans don’t.
The “third” set of films actually should have been the second set, the dark second, second act, detailing Darth Vader’s career and the creation of the actual Rebel Alliance. That would have been the correct dramatic construct for the series. The deeply unsatisfying “Stars Wars VII: The Force Awakens” did nothing to inspire true Star Wars fans. Rather, it created a generational divide between those who grew up with Star Wars and “separatists” wanting to jettison the old generation, beginning with the Han Solo character and create entirely new characters totally unconnected with the original, beloved series. Incidentally, there’s the subject of another center movie (which, to their credit, the producers are reportedly considering) – the young Han Solo and how he, Lando Calrissian and the Millennium Falcon (animated series fans already know the story of Calrissian and that revered spaceship) came together.
Star Wars fans were “lost in space” once “The Force Awakens” came out. Unless there’s a family connection (and separatist fans are yearning to break the family ties) other than that sorry excuse for a villain Kyro Ren, or Ben Solo, a younger Skywalker to carry on the “Light” side of the force, the next installment will hardly be worth watching. We know Mark Hamill will be in the movie and supposedly, he doesn’t disappoint. But still. We want hope, not disappointment and without the family connection, we can’t hope for much.
Darth Vader and the two robots, C-3PO and the irrepressible R2-D2, are the true center of the films. They anchor the films in the Stars Wars legend. Using “heart” to describe Darth Vader wouldn’t be quite correct. Not only does he play an important role this film, rather than a mere appearance, but Imperial clods once again intrude on his privacy. (Don’t they ever knock? If I were Darth Vader and one of these knuckleheads intruded on my private bath, which one does in this, I’d put the chokehold on them). The unclothed, and detached, Darth Vader gives the intruder a decidedly dirty look.
The producers should consider renumbering the films, once again, and give Rogue One its proper place in the Star Wars canon as an important film. Let us hope we can look forward also to “second act” films about a young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, a young Luke and Leia (around about the age of four, when Luke would have ordinarily been recruited into the Jedi order), and the ongoing problems of an “Imperial” Senate facing an increasingly insupportable form of government and its dangerous, corrupt emperor.
Why do we need to look further beyond the Star Wars timeframe for the further adventures of the Star Wars gang? Some things can’t be helped, like aging actors, directors, and composers (this is the first film not scored by John Williams, who is now 84, and pretty much retired after a notable career as a film and television theme composer – he composed the themes for the TV series, “Lost in Space”).
As for this movie, fans who complain that there are no new characters will not be disappointed. Some critics have argued that there wasn’t enough time for them to develop. Well, excuse me, but perhaps they weren’t old enough or weren’t born yet, when the original came out. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher were relative unknowns. The best-known was Carrie Fisher, and that, only because of her mother. She was 19 when the movie came out. Harrison
Ford is now worth $230 million. But their chemistry was right for the film and for the times, and thanks to the supporting cast of the robots, Chewbacca, and, of course, Darth Vader, they all became household names by Christmas of 1977. Later on, after everyone has pretty much seen this movie, we can discuss why the characters of Rogue One shouldn’t be forgotten. The characters in The Force Awakens, except for Kylo Ren, deserve a chance, depending on the attitude of the writers. Kylo Ren just isn’t in the same league as his grandfather, Darth Vader, and I just can’t help thinking so.
Thanks to technology, though, it seems old and even deceased actors can be resurrected.
Go see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. It’s the movie they should have made in the first place (after the prequels came out).
One last note about “Rogue One.” Despite incessant rumors, which were finally silenced by Disney, one character who never makes so much as a remote appearance in this film is Donald Trump. Not even a hint of Donald Trump could be detected.
And in any case, if he ever does make a cameo appearance in a Star Wars film, it should be as a hero, not a villain.