Rogue One, despite the marketing, is an ensemble film that tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance came to know of the weakness of the Death Star, the individuals who fought to acquire this knowledge, and the price that was paid for it. The cast of characters is what you would expect from the caper genre: a motley collection of losers, double dealers, and criminals. The lead is Jyn Erso(Felicity Jones) a criminal who is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to seek out her father Galen(Mads Mikkelsen) who is the lead architect of the Empire’s devastating new weapon. She, Rebel scoundrel Cassian Andor(Diego Luna) and his partner K-2SO(Alan Tudyk) make up the original team and along the way they are joined by defecting Imperial pilot Rook(Riz Ahmed), pseudo-Jedi Chirrut(Donnie Yen), and goon Baze(Jiang Wen).
There isn’t anything particularly clever about the way Rogue One tells it’s story; there are no memorable scenes and the dialogue, with the exception of K-2SO’s cutting observations, is stale and utilitarian. Unfortunately, there is also nothing particularly bad about it, so you won’t be able to enjoy it on that level either. In addition, Rogue One is filled with references and callbacks to prior films in the series such as a Ackbar doppelganger and a CGI Moff Tarkin. This all adds up to give the film a workmanlike, almost mercenary, quality and makes it seem as though the plot was designed by committee. Which, seeing as this is a Disney film, it probably was. However, there is something about this film that makes it affecting and noteworthy: the themes it chooses to explore.
Living and Dying
By starting out with a scene depicting the destruction of Jyn’s family, Rogue One leads the audience to believe that they are about to view a simple story of her rise to power, culminating in her taking revenge for her suffering. But as the plot advances and Jyn’s relationship with both her biological and adoptive fathers is explored those expectations are subverted.
There are two main themes explored in Rogue One. The first is What does it mean to stay true to yourself under oppression? and is explored through the characters of Galen and Cassian. Both Galen and Cassian reluctantly do awful things in the service of their employers and are tormented by them. While the end results of this internal conflict are illustrated by Galen’s regret and insubordination, the journey to that point is told through Cassian’s struggle with his mission of assassination. In both cases there are no ideal solutions and both men can only hope that what little they can do will amount to something in the end.
The second, and much more subversive, theme is introduced through the character of Saw and becomes dominant in the second half of the film. It is the idea that There are things and principles worth being destroyed for. When I say being destroyed I am not just referring to dying, even though that’s part of it. I mean being utterly ended with no family, no monuments, nothing but your deed left behind. In most movies, even ones about war, dying a noble death is portrayed as beautiful and cathartic with some great victory achieved in exchange. In Rogue One the end comes quick and ugly and the dying are only allowed the hope that it will all be worth something down the line. It’s a lovely and gruesome reminder that most people in the world die without accomplishing much, if anything, of what they set out to do. This stands in stark contrast to what is espoused in other family movies: that the worth of your life is measured by the number of people that adore you and your tangible accomplishments.
In the end Rogue One is a worthwhile film that will stay with you after you leave the theatre. Not because it does anything exceptionally well but because it has an uncommon message: You’re not going to come out on top, but what you do still matters.
What were your thoughts about the latest film in the Star Wars canon? Let me know in the comments.