I’ve hesitated in talking about ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been a bit withdrawn from the geeky world of the internet of late. I talked about this in my essay ‘My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan’. I’ve been talking about the MCU since January, but because I’m a bit ‘meh’ about Marvel at the minute it hasn’t been as badly affected because of who I have become as a fan in recent months.
Star Wars, however has been, because I am a massive fan, and withdrawing quite a bit from social media pushed ‘Rogue One’ off my radar in-between seeing it at the cinema and waiting for the DVD release. I had originally delayed my review of the film, for the same reason I did The Force Awakens last year; I didn’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’ve come to terms with this personal change in my approach to being a fan, but there was another reason for the delay.
I had a rather strange reaction to Rogue One that I didn’t think would make it difficult to talk about. In truth it should make it easier, but I wasn’t sure how to approach this admission. Let’s just go with head on, shall we?
Rogue One is my favourite Star Wars film.
I’m not going to duck for cover. At first, I was feeling a bit ashamed that the amazing seven episodes of the Star Wars saga so far have been upstaged by a one-off anthology film, whose intent was to tell a story where we already knew the ending in order to make Disney a bit of money. I can remember thinking that when it was announced the film was about stealing the plans for the original Death Star. It was a money making venture; like Titanic, we knew the ship would sink and we knew they would get the plans.
Except it is bloody brilliant. I mean it is a film that cannot work without the existence of the rest of the Star Wars franchise; it wouldn’t make any sense what so ever. I never thought it was a story that needed to be told.
Until I saw it that is, and in truth of all the Star Wars stories (by which I mean the films) that have been told, it is the most important. It is the one that anyone can relate to and for the most shocking reason of all (at least for me to internally process); it is the story most grounded in reality.
I am a fantasy writer and I write about magic. It is one of my favourite fantasy themes, and one of the reasons I love Star Wars so much is because The Force, which is essentially magic, is found within a science fiction setting. Yes, The Force still exists in Rogue One, and having faith in it is certainly one of the most important and prominent themes in the film, but that is all it really is; it is faith in its existence. Proof of it is only seen in the film twice, and never in relation to the main characters. Like Darth Vader, The Force only makes a cameo appearance.
Everything that happens in the main plot can in theory be explained by human ability. And what they are doing is using that ability to fight an oppressive empire bend on destroying freedom in the galaxy. There are so many examples in history of humans having done this for real, which are still inspiring us. Rogue One is a fictional version of fights real humans have made. It is a story of characters sacrificing themselves for the greater good. For hope.
It is the characters that make it the best film. Don’t get me wrong, the Star Wars Universe has many great characters. Very few of them have left me feeling that perhaps the writers and creators could have done a better job. My review of Force Awakens is really just a long talk about how great the new characters are, and when I talked about The Phantom Menace, I even defended Jar Jar Binks.
Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, Bodhi Rook and K-2SO are just in a different league. They are some of the most conflicted and complex characters that have ever been created in the Star Wars films. They aren’t black or white; good or evil. They are grey, they have made questionable choices and they are fighting to make those choices mean something when threatened by defeat and destruction.
From the moment I first saw Cassian shoot his informant in the back in order to spare him from falling into the hands of the Empire I fell in love with the film. Strange moment I know, but it is the first indication the film isn’t just going to be a simple fight of good versus evil.
This isn’t just the story where we know the ending and know they succeeded. This is the story where all of their complexities, their choices, and their faith in the universe is laid out and bared to the audience. It is the story of how they did it, why they did it and what price they paid in order to do it.
It is a human story, grounded in the reality of what it is to be a human facing a seemingly unstoppable oppressive force. It isn’t about the Jedi versus the Sith; it is about everyone else who lives in that universe.
It is about a father sacrificing his life and risking everything to seek revenge for the destruction of his family.
It is about the daughter coming to terms with that and all the pain she has suffered in her life. Facing it again is one of the best character developments I’ve seen, because being brave about what’s going on inside rather than outside is something that needs to be seen more often.
It is about a rebel spy, a man with ethics, giving his life to fight for his beliefs, a fight that costs him the chance to live his life in line with his ethics. A man who carries his prison within wherever he goes.
It is about a pilot, who seeks to redeem himself after being a clog in the oppressive machine.
It is about a blind man maintaining his faith in the Force, despite his life being destroyed and having been every reason to think it has abandoned him.
It is about an enraged warrior, who finds faith again, after the world broke it, when his friend dies and faith is the only way he can find him again.
It is about a reprogrammed droid facing the reality that he has to overpower other droids and even kill living people (seriously with K-2SO the fact Asimov’s Laws of Robotics don’t apply is what makes him intriguing), while he also tells the truth. The sarcasm he does it with is a happy bi-product.
And they all die.
This film is about hope, and for the audience the hope isn’t that they will succeed, but who will survive the attempt. That is one of the most heart-wrenching truths; heroes don’t always survive. They don’t get to see their success; in fact they only have faith in their success. They don’t have proof in it.
Faith in hope carries on right to the last moment; faith in the fight even when Darth Vader brings the one of the few moments of ‘magic’ into the film in that corridor scene, where again everyone dies, and not even everyone who wasn’t trapped behind the door gets onto the escaping ship alive. They all had every reason to think it wasn’t worth it, but they fought on even when they knew it was hopeless for them as individuals. The greater good was what made it worthwhile for them.
No wonder this is my favourite Star Wars film.