I have done my best to keep this review spoiler-free and will tag any potential spoilers with **.
After the release of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the world has been hungry for new Star Wars stories. For me, it’s rather fortuitous that the new films are being released mid-December–a trip to the movies to revisit a favorite franchise is the perfect birthday gift for my father. Last year, when my father and I sat down for TFA on opening night, I was nervous that for someone who was there for the opening day of Star Wars in 1977, the new film wouldn’t jive. I worried needlessly. My father loved TFA, and as Rogue One has today proven, the new Star Wars films are carefully designed to please all fans, new and old. Just like The Force Awakens, Rogue One is crafted in such a way that it remind us why we fell in love with Star Wars while offering us a new aspect of the story.
And this story, in particular, is so important. Rogue One is the Star Wars prequel we deserve.
The plot is simple: Rogue One is set between the events of Episodes III and IV. We meet Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the man who designed the Death Star. The leaders of the Rebellion believe that she is the key to locating Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who supposedly has a way to contact Galen. **It is revealed that Galen built the Death Star with an intentional flaw, and he leaves a holograph message for Jyn on where to locate the plans to the weapon. With the help of Rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and other Rebel volunteers, Jyn infiltrates an Imperial base to steal the plans and send them to the Rebellion.**
The narrative starts out jumpy, as the story switches between several different settings and characters. It’s Star Wars, and yet it isn’t. The story plays on familiar themes and imagery, but unlike the newest Star Wars film, we know how this story ends: with the destruction of the Death Star. What we don’t know expect, however, is how quickly Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) will become dear to us. It’s the same universe, but new players–although we do see glimpses of some familiar faces, such as Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa–and yet we quickly care about the reunion of Jyn and her father, and the friendship between Cassian and his (rather sarcastic) droid, K-2. We know that, in the end, good will triumph over evil, but what Rogue One tells us is the price that must be paid for that to occur.
If you were paying close attention in A New Hope, you already know how Jyn and Cassian’s story ends.
It is this idea that gives life to Rogue One and makes it such an important film to the franchise. The Force Awakens proved that modern filmmaking could still bring forth a film that fits seamlessly into the style of the original trilogy, and Rogue One proves that it’s still true. The settings, the costuming, and even the CGI was so artfully done that even I, who has watched Star Wars since before I could speak, had a difficult time discerning that Grand Moff Tarkin (originally played by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994) was CGI. The music–composed by Michael Giacchino–of course, is evocative and will linger in your mind long after you’ve left the cinema.
But the heart of this film, the true heart, is in the motivations of the characters. Though the Force is mentioned, there are no Jedi in this film: Rogue One show us what the Empire was like without the Jedi and without hope. Jyn Erso begins as a skeptic convict. She fights for no one but herself because she believes that she’s been abandoned. Cassian Andor is a soldier who fights for a cause that he knows has no chance of winning. Things change because of Galen Erso and what he can offer to the Rebellion: hope. Together they, and the other Rebel fighters they pick up along the way, find something worth fighting, and dying, for. A rebellion, they say, should be built on hope.
The casual moviegoer will see the film for its spectacular action sequences. The lifelong fan of Star Wars will see it to measure it against its predecessors. I went for both those reasons, and walked away with much, much more than that. We do not face a Death Star, but we do face war, like the one currently waging in Aleppo. We do not live under the strangling power of an Emperor, but we do face threats to our basic human rights. We do not have such a clear definition of evil in our world, but we do face injustice. This is a film that reminds us that sometimes hope is more powerful than anything else we can face, and that it is worth fighting for.
Hope, that’s the film’s final word. Hope.
Rogue One opens in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2016.