I don’t even know what to say.
I’ve seen Rogue One twice now, and it’s just nowhere near enough. What an amazing, thrilling, beautiful story. This is what the prequels should have been.
Now, I have to start this by saying SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen Rogue One yet, aside from the myriad problems which undoubtedly arise from living under a rock, you will not be able to read this article. Now that I’ve said that I’m going to go crazy with the spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Firstly, I want to expand on one of the previous sentences: This is what the prequels should have been. When I say that, I’m talking mostly about the tone and atmosphere of the story. Now, with a story like this, we’re dealing with a situation where everyone knows what the end result is: The Rebels steal the Death Star plans and get them to Princess Leia, and the Empire is close on their heels at the beginning of ANH. So we know roughly how the story ends, the same as we did for the prequel trilogy; We know that the jedi are wiped out and the Republic becomes an Empire, we know that Anakin becomes Vader and has two children who are hidden from him, and we know that there was something called the Clone Wars. But the fun is supposed to be in the journey, and that’s where Gareth Edwards showed his audience that he truly understands this essential facet of storytelling in a way that George Lucas absolutely does not. The OT was mostly injected with all the amazing aspects of its story through external creative input: Ralph MacQuarrie’s phenomenal visual design, John Williams’ legendary music, and in terms of story (for ANH, anyway), a lot of the tension of the film came from Lucas’ wife Marcia, who came up with the idea of having Han show up last minute in the Falcon, and who changed the pacing of the end scenes completely from drawn out conversation about destroying the Death Star to a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat climax. After ANH, the writing and direction were handled by others, whose vision (in my opinion) captured what Star Wars truly is. Irvin Kirshner (Director of ESB), Lawrence Kasdan (writer for ESB & ROJ), Leigh Brackett (co-writer for ESB), and Richard Marquand (Director of ROJ) are the ones who really gave Star Wars its timeless essence. George Lucas is a great ideas man (mostly; he’s had some doozies), but other than ANH (which as stated before, owes its greatness mostly to others) he really sucks at actual film-making and even storytelling (before other people slapped some sense into him, the original title for Star Wars was “Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars” – seriously). He is and always has been an experimental, indie film-maker caught up in a billion dollar franchise he was unable to handle.
So by the time the prequels came around, George Lucas was sick of making these massive movies catering to the broadest demographic. He was old, and lazy, and sick of the ordeal of big budget movies. He was also a billionaire, and used to being on a gigantic pedestal. So he made the prequels how he wanted, and his laziness, cynicism and ego bleed through those movies painfully obviously. No one told him no, no one took over the director’s chair or writer’s chair, and no one had any creative input other than Lucas. By that time he’d forgotten what Star Wars really was, and he didn’t have the patience to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Now, despite how harsh that was, I actually don’t mind the prequels, for what they are. I just happened to be the perfect age when they came out to enjoy them as much as the originals and desperately want all the toys, which is exactly what Lucas wanted. But from an objective standpoint, I can quite clearly see that they aren’t at all of the same calibre as the OT. The only reason I went on this anti-George Lucas rant is to highlight the comeback that Star Wars is making, and more importantly, to highlight WHY it is making such a huge comeback.
We’re now getting Star Wars films made by people who grew up watching the original Star Wars, and who understand what makes it so special. Those of you who have visited my site before have hopefully read my thoughts on The Force Awakens. I won’t go into too much detail about it here, but JJ Abrams was the first in the new generation of fan/film-maker hybrids who is helping to make Star Wars as beautiful and timeless and amazing as it was in the 80’s. Now I love The Force Awakens, but I’ll say it now and never take it back:
Rogue One is something else entirely. Watching Rogue One FELT like watching A New Hope. It is an unforgettably breathtaking experience from start to finish. Its style is raw and real, and parts of it are shot like a war movie (I’m thinking of the Jedha battle sparked by the bombing of a tank, and the shoot-outs on Scarif). There is danger, and tension, and darkness in surplus. But there is also heart, and hope, and even humour.
Gareth Edwards is an absolute genius and a true Star Wars fan. He understands that a story like this is about the journey, not the destination, as I said before. So, even though the audience knows exactly what is coming, Edwards somehow still made us sit wide eyed on the edge of our seats, cheering with every success and gasping at every disaster. In telling his story so expertly and lovingly, he made us forget about the fact that we know what will happen, and experience the story as it happens, completely in the moment. If the prequels were made with the same energy and care, the audience would have been brought to tears by Anakin’s downfall and transformation into Darth Vader. But instead, I stare uncaring and even a little derisive as the whiny self-obsessed brat straight up murdered children and destroyed the Jedi order for no reason other than his mentor wasn’t enabling his bloated ego. If George Lucas had’ve relinquished creative control of his media empire to the right people at the right time, the prequels would have been unbelievably amazing. But he eventually saw reason, and now we are getting unbelievably amazing Star Wars movies after all.
Now I’m gonna go through this movie in my usual half-organised, half-mad-rant kinda way and list the aspects that I believe make it so utterly amazing:
One of the hardest things to get right in this kind of story, tone is something that can easily make or break any movie on its own. Now, I’ll admit to being quite apprehensive when Gareth Edwards was announced to direct Rogue One because all of his previous works were either low budget indie movies or kinda “meh” (yes, sorry, the Godzilla remake was meh). Monsters was… interesting, but I’ve honestly never felt the need to go back and re-watch it, and I re-watch fucking everything. So I just really was not too excited about it early on. But Gareth Edwards just absolutely nailed it. I don’t know how or why, maybe the chance to add to the Star Wars Mythos just brought out his inner genius, or maybe indie/monster movies just aren’t his forte and he didn’t realise until now. Whatever the case, the tone of this film is so ridiculously on point that I cannot believe how absorbed I am when I watch it. The time flew by both times, I sat down at the beginning, went under a trance of awesomeness, and then it was suddenly over after what felt like five minutes. Now that’s not just because of the tone, but it just demonstrates how perfect that tone is. Let me go into a little more detail instead of just ranting about how good it is on a surface level. This movie is dark. Really, savagely dark. It’s gritty and heavy and you really feel like you’re right in the middle of a brutal war in a much more defined and pressing way than in ANH. But there’s humour too (K-2SO is absolute gold all throughout the movie – “You’re letting her keep the blaster? Would you like to know the odds of her using it against you? They’re high. … Very high”). There’s also a desperate hope that the audience can’t help but feel while the characters are grasping for it. And there’s love. So much love in this movie. Not romantic love, there’s actually no love story (which I, for one, am very relieved about). But a simpler, more beautiful love that comes through in two different ways: Gareth Edwards’ love of Star Wars shines through the entire story, in a subtle, undertone kind of way; but also there is a shared love between the characters and you can see them bonding as they go further in their mission (one of my favourite scenes and the best example of this is Jyn saying to Cassian “I’ve never had anyone stick around when things go bad”, and Cassian’s amazing reply of simply “welcome home.”). It’s all perfectly balanced and flows so there’s no jarring scene where you’re dragged from one emotion to the next in an instant.
2: Attention to Detail
This was something that was always going to be an absolute necessity since Rogue One is linked so closely with ANH. It’s also something that I can say with 100% certainty that George Lucas would have fucked up beyond repair if he was in charge of Rogue One. But now that we’re in the era of Star Wars fans making Star Wars movies, this kind of thing really should not be a problem any more. Gareth Edwards, as I said earlier, is a true Star Wars fan. And he understands the purpose of continuity and attention to detail. He put an incredible amount of effort into making countless links and references in to Rogue One, not just because he knew fans would be dissecting it, but because he knew that he would genuinely love to see his movie merge so flawlessly with his own favourite movie. From Star Wars Rebels’ Ghost making a cameo, to Mon Mothma, to the amazing CGI Peter Cushing, to the Tantive IV and Darth Vader. Bail Organa mentioning his “old friend” from the Clone Wars who could help, and sending someone he trusted with his life to get a message to him safely (which leads seamlessly to the Tantive arriving above Tattooine at the beginning of ANH). All the original Stormtroopers and Rebel pilot outfits and the X-Wings and TIE Fighters and perfectly integrated ANH footage spliced into the space battle. The same camera angles and ignition sequence for the Death Star. Beautiful.
3: Love of ANH
This ties in to the previous point, but is a little more specific. This movie is basically a love letter to A New Hope. This is one fans answer to the movie that changed the world. It’s a way for us to experience that same amazement and wonder, but all over again and brand new at the same time. It’s a way for us to see our favourite movie from a new angle, with new information and context. I would not have thought it possible, but Rogue One actually retroactively improves A New Hope. It makes what many consider to be the best movie of all time even better. That’s what a prequel does when it’s made with a real love of the source material, George (I know George Lucas will never read this, but I can dream).
4: The “Grey Area”
Now this is something I’m REALLY excited about. This movie shows the Star Wars universe from the perspective of normal people fighting desperately against an evil and seemingly unstoppable Empire. This was the premise of the Original trilogy, but they had the force and Jedi and Harrison Ford on their side so it made it fairly obvious that the underdog was gonna own shit and win the day. But Rogue One presents to us a world where the Jedi haven’t come back yet. They were wiped out in the Clone Wars, and non-force-wielding people have had to pick up the slack in the fight against evil. Except the thing about this story is that these normal people are fighting a real war, not a space-monk-knight magical war, which means they have to do horrible things to achieve their goals. Sabotage, murder, collateral damage, torture. These things happen in war, and the Rebels are outnumbered and outgunned, which means they need to resort to these things way more that the Empire. The thing about war is, there are no good guys and nobody wins, and Gareth Edwards understands that. I mean, the movie starts with two different scenes where two different characters established as “good guys” shoot at someone, one cold blooded murder and the other a desperate attempt to save her family, but still. This story shows the moral, emotional, and physical toll that war takes on people, and it does not hold back. One of my favourite scenes is a sudden bombing in a city square in Jedha, which was filmed using the angles and techniques used in actual war movies.
It starts with a grenade being thrown under an Imperial tank, followed immediately by a group of hidden Rebels revealing themselves and firing openly into Stormtroopers even while innocent people are still right in the crossfire. The camera evens pans over a small screaming child, trapped in the middle of the square while lasers and explosions go off all around her. A really powerful, really effective scene. Then there’s Saw Gerrera. Oh boy, is this guy something. It wasn’t until after my second viewing that I realised he is a clear mirror image of Darth Vader himself. Saw is half man, half machine, and in his own words, “there’s not much of me left”. He is brutal, uncompromising, and feared by both sides of the war. He is deluded by paranoia (like Anakin in ROTS); he even assumes Jyn (a person he has known since she was a baby) is trying to kill him, and wildly overreacts to perceived danger (he set a mind-reading animal known to turn people insane loose on an Imperial defector even after the defector willingly gave him a recorded message from Galen Erso, saying “lies, all lies.”). But all Saw does is “for the cause”. I love moral grey areas in fiction, and Rogue One got it absolutely perfect.
5: DARTH FUCKING VADER Y’ALL
OKAY. ALRIGHT. I cannot describe how the last ten minutes of this movie made me feel. I literally do not know how to convey that feeling in words. I could take the last scene of Rogue One, play it on repeat forever without ever doing anything else, and die a happy man. This scene IS Vader. This is as pivotal a moment for Vader’s character as his reveal in ESB as Luke’s father. It finally delivers on his oft-promised but never-quite-delivered status as the most powerful of the Jedi and the Sith, the Chosen One. And I think the reason is that we’re seeing him from the perspectives of non-Jedi. These are people who’ve never seen a lightsaber, who’ve never seen the Force in action. I love this scene so much. It is ridiculous. My whole body reacts with chills and goosebumps even just thinking about that reveal in the corridor. It is so incredibly powerful. I can honestly say that it’s one of the single greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and as a Star Wars fan, I’ve never felt more loved and more fulfilled than seeing Vader lightsaber-fuck his way through a bunch of terrified Rebel soldiers like a rage hurricane.
If I had ten minutes left to live, I would spend it watching the end of Rogue One, and I would have absolutely no regrets.