Rogue One did not interest me when I first saw a preview for it. It’s off the main sequence, a side story. Sounded like a classic cash cow production. The Force Awakens put the franchise back into good health. Don’t spoil it by overdoing it with trivial side stories.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Rogue One is not a trivial side story. It tells an important backstory and thus earns the right to be called the definitive prequel to the Star Wars saga.
Like any good prequel, it derives its main theme from the original and builds upon it. Thus, its theme, hope, comes from the secondary title of the original film (A New Hope). Rogue One is all about hope, its importance, its ability to motivate, and the sacrifices made in its name.
Films provide an escape from the real world, but they also mirror it. Therefore, I could not watch Rogue One without thinking of the real world around me and the crushing reality of the coming presidential administration. This comparison really jelled in the scenes involving the Rebel Alliance Council, the group of concerned galactic citizens gathered together to fight the evil of Palpatine’s new Empire.
They know of the Death Star and want to stop its development. But they could not agree on how to do it. Do they capture one of the lead architects, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen)? Do they kill him? Do they try to steal the plans for it? Given the gravity of their situation, one wouldn’t expect such a high level of indecision or infighting. But that’s exactly what happens. And it perfectly mirrors the Left in this country after the last presidential election. How should Democrats regroup? Should the party go more progressive, more grassroots, in the mold of Bernie Sanders? Or should it strengthen its ties to big money? How should Senate Democrats interact with the new administration, work with it or oppose everything it does?
In the case of Rogue One, a group of rebels decide to defy the Council and steal the plans for the Death Star. This action, of course, ties in directly with A New Hope. They embark on this path because one rebel, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the lead architect, discovers that her father created a defect in the Death Star that could lead to its destruction. Only she sees his message revealing this vital information, before the message is lost. Thus the other rebels had to believe her. And they do, because her plan offers hope.
I love the collection of rebels that make up the team of Rogue One. The movie starts with Jyn as a child who witnesses the murder of her mother and kidnapping of her father by the Empire. She herself escapes and is raised by a stand-alone rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). As an adult, she becomes a prisoner of the Empire and is rescued by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a cocky young man with pain in his heart and a divided soul. He works with a reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who is as snarky as C3PO is polite. And then there are the two polar opposites who are dedicated companions: Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind devotee of the Force with some Force sensitivity, though not a Jedi; and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), an atheist who wants to shoot all of his adversaries in the face. In time we learn that Baze has more faith than he lets on, probably because his friend gives him hope.
Darth Vader makes a couple of notable appearances, but evil is largely represented by Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) and Governor Tarkin (Guy Henry). Krennic helps to create the Death Star. Tarkin, as known from the original Star Wars movie, commands it. The conflict between these two Imperial employees typifies the type of back-biting that often happens within repressive regimes. (Think Nazi Germany.) What sort of back-biting will result in the new Administration? And who will pay the ultimate price in the end?
Guy Henry provides Tarkin’s voice and movements, but not his face. The filmmakers use CGI to superimpose the late Peter Cushing’s face and body on the screen. It comes off remarkably well. At the same time, the artificial edge to the recreation also makes Tarkin appear darker and more menacing.
I got emotional at the final scene of the film. We all know from the original Star Wars who ultimately possesses the plans for the Death Star and keeps them from Darth Vader’s gloved hands. Princess Leia. So the final scene of the movie shows a CGI Leia, hamburger bun hairdo and all, accepting the plans from an associate, who then asks about the data drive he give her. What is its importance? “Hope,” she says.
I saw the film on Christmas Day, just hours after the world learned that Carrie Fischer suffered a serious heart attack. “Please get well,” I said to myself when her CGI doppelgänger appeared. Sadly, she did not. It was one thing to have the long gone Peter Cushing recreated; it felt eerie seeing such a reproduction made of a young Carrie Fisher, knowing that her life hung in the balance.
Hope does not come without a price. The rebels of the Rogue One mission know this, but carry out their assignment anyway, bravely and heroically. Those who plant the seeds of hope do not always see their work fully blossom within their lifetimes, be it long or short. I think of this as we enter this new administration and new era of extreme conservatism. It does not mean don’t fight, don’t resist, don’t struggle. We have to do all of the above. It does mean that we must always keep an eye to the future, to plan for a tomorrow that we may not be here to see. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this, literally on the penultimate day of his life. As long as someone carries that message forward, to each generation yet to come, there will always be hope.
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