Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

By now, I’ve watched Rogue One twice in theaters. Yes, it’s that good.

Rogue One is, without a doubt, the fourth best Star Wars movie of all time. The original trilogy will always rank in the top three, of course. So fourth is the absolute best that any other Star Wars movie could ever hope to accomplish.

Rogue One takes place just before the original Star Wars, with the story centering on how the Rebellion acquired the plans to the Death Star. The movie follows Jyn Erso, whose father, Hannibal Lecter, is a scientist who was kidnapped and coerced by the Empire to design the Death Star. As being enslaved to build a planet-destroying super-weapon tends to piss people off, he carefully crafted a small design flaw in one of the thermal exhaust ports. Fifteen years after being separated from his daughter, he sends her a coded message about how to destroy the Death Star. Jyn Erso then rallies a ragtag group of misfits on the suicidal mission to rescue her father and steal the Death Star’s blueprints.

I didn’t think I was going to like Rogue One at first. The first teaser trailer was atrocious:

“This Is a Rebellion, Isn’t It? I Rebel!”

Ugghhhhh….. That cringeworthy line means more Mary Sue girl-power, feminist bullshit like Rey in The Force Awakens.

At least that’s what I thought. But fortunately, I was wrong.

Maybe that’s how Disney initially envisioned Rogue One. But maybe they also sense the culture is changing with the election of President Trump. Half of the scenes in the teaser trailer weren’t even in the movie.

What initially looked like another shameless milking of the Star Wars franchise starring Jyn Erso, a one-woman army taking on and winning against the entire Galactic Empire by herself, turned out to actually be a dark, thoughtful, gritty war movie that highlights the horrors and true cost of war and the casualties suffered by both sides.

Oh, and it takes place in space. With lasers. Pew! Pew!

There’s so little SJW bullshit in this movie, I hardly recognize it as a mainstream movie released in 2016.

There is one scene where Jyn somewhat implausibly beats up a small squadron of Stormtroopers. However, I’ll forgive that scene due mainly to the fact that almost everyone in Star Wars seems capable of beating up what is somehow supposed to be the galaxy’s most terrifying and fearsome fighting force. Hell, this movie even had a blind guy beating up Stormtroopers! So, I’ll let it slide that a girl could do it, too.

Jyn Erso is somewhat annoying at times, in what is perhaps a vestige leftover from when Disney originally wanted a more girl-power narrative. Thankfully, she is balanced out by her male counterpart and foil, Cassian Andor. He breaks new ground in movie-land by being a man who sometimes not only dares to disagree with the girl, but also has the balls to talk back to her when she throws a tantrum.

The biggest criticism I’ve seen of SJWism creeping into Rogue One was in its use of diversity. However…

Diversity Actually Works in Rogue One

Alright, so the Rebellion is a taste-the-rainbow of diversity. Besides our female main character, as far as the humans go, we also have a healthy sample of Hispanics and Asians. Or at least that’s how I’d describe them from my Earth-centric perspective. In a galaxy far, far away where there is no Spain or Asia, I’m not completely sure how to describe these races. I’m sure there’s a Star Wars nerd out there who can chime in where Asians come from in a galaxy that doesn’t have an Asia.

Meanwhile, the Galactic Empire is an evil organization staffed entirely by evil white males. And one big, black dude.

Open-and-shut case that whites are bad and non-whites are good, right?

Not quite.

Remember, movies are a visual storytelling medium. Dialogue alone isn’t enough to tell the story. Visual sights must also be used.

What is the ultimate story of Star Wars? It’s about a ragtag, motley crew coming together to overcome overwhelming odds in destroying the large, oppressive Galactic Empire.

How do you visually represent that a team is cobbled together from whoever they can find to fight for the Rebellion? Hmm… maybe by making the team as diverse as possible? The diversity among humans in race and gender, as well as the added diversity of throwing in some Ackbar-like aliens, visually represents that the Rebellion was strewn together from whatever they could find. Much like all my last-minute Halloween costumes.

How do you visually represent a Galactic Empire that imposes its will across the galaxy through its sheer size? Simple. You maintain a homogeneous appearance of all Imperial officers. When every member of the Empire looks almost the same, the movie-goer perceives the Empire as a faceless organization. This is a blank slate for the movie-goer to imagine an infinite number of atrocities committed by the Empire. Thus, the Empire becomes scarier.

This is the same visual trick used by countless horror movies. The monster is rarely seen because the movie-makers want the audience to use their imaginations to enhance the illusion of terror.

Uniformity in the Empire also increases the appearance of its manpower. The movie-goer’s brain merges all the faces together into one large entity, creating the illusion that the Empire is far more expansive and far larger in number than it really is. This visually makes the Empire appear terrifyingly overwhelming.

Picking one race for all of the characters in the Empire achieves this job. The same effect would be achieved if the Empire were all black or all Hispanic or all Asian. But since the original trilogy had all white actors in the roles of Imperial officers, it only makes sense to continue that tradition with Rogue One.

Incidentally, it’s this same reasoning that makes the diversity in The Force Awakens fall apart. The First Order and the Resistance are both composed of diverse members. The Force Awakens gave us both a black Stormtrooper and a female Stormtrooper! This removes any meaning from the diversity in the movie. Thus, the multiculturalism in The Force Awakens, of course, feels shoe-horned in as nothing but an SJW propaganda move.

Grand Moff Tarkin and the Uncanny Valley

How else could you visually present the Empire as a tool of the Dark Side?

Well, you could feature a zombie as a high-ranking Imperial officer.

Rogue One does just that, using the magic of CGI to resurrect the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin.

Contemporary special effects are a marvel to behold, as the CGI likeness almost looks like the real Peter Cushing from 1977. But it doesn’t quite make it across the Uncanny Valley, leaving a sense of corpse-like eeriness in every scene featuring Tarkin. And Tarkin appears frequently throughout the movie, being the Grand Moff in charge of the Death Star and all.

I’ve read some criticism of Rogue One regarding this as a major flaw. However, from my perspective, this is actually a major strength of the movie. A man who cruises around the galaxy in a moon-sized super-weapon whimsically blowing up planets for shits and giggles should have a sense of corpse-like eeriness to him.

The Damsel Finds Herself in Distress

A damsel in distress who actually needs to be saved. Now that is something I haven’t seen in a mainstream movie in a long time.

How did the SJW writers let this one slip by? The teaser trailer originally set up Jyn Erso as another Rey: an ass-kicking girl who don’t need no man. And apparently who don’t need no other personality traits, either.

Rogue One, however, sets up Jyn Erso as an actual character. Flawed. Vulnerable. And most importantly, human. Unlike Rey, Jyn actually feels real. She accepts that she needs help from her compatriots. She knows that she can’t win the mission by herself. And she doesn’t try to be a one-woman army.

This is where contemporary, feminist-influenced movies fall apart. Feminists and SJWs try to invert the “damsel in distress” trope by creating a female character who doesn’t need help from anyone. What they fail to recognize is that the “damsel in distress” trope is only a subset of the larger idea that EVERYONE needs help from time to time. This is a normal part of the human condition. Human beings are social animals, and man or woman, we need each other for survival. This is why we invented concepts like the division of labor.

We also invented concepts like storytelling thousands of years ago as a way for us to explore the human condition. When you take away one of the most fundamental, primal concepts of being human–that we need to band together in tribes for survival–the entire story falls apart. In The Force Awakens, when Rey rebuffs all of Finn’s attempts to help, she’s also rebuffing her own humanity.

Contrast this with the original movie, A New Hope. Princess Leia needs help from R2-D2 and C-3PO in getting the stolen Death Star plans into the hands of the Rebellion. R2-D2 and C-3PO need help from Luke Skywalker in escaping the Jawas. Luke Skywalker needs help from Obi-Wan Kenobi in learning the ways of the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi needs help from Han Solo in escaping Tatooine. Han Solo needs help from Chewbacca in fending off Jabba’s bounty hunters. He also needs help from Princess Leia in learning to trust others and that he isn’t alone.

Throughout the course of the movie, we see these characters band together into their own tribe by mutually assisting each other. This is what gives such warmth, depth, and charm to the original trilogy: the audience feels like the characters actually care about each other. We root for them because of this. However, none of that was present in The Force Awakens. I’m glad to see the concept emerge once again in Rogue One, as all of the characters need to rely on each other.

The Rogue One cast learns to become a tribe throughout the movie. Not only is this necessary plot-wise as the characters need one another to complete their insane mission of stealing the Death Star plans, but it’s also necessary for the audience to care about the fate of each character. And given that quite a few characters meet their fate, it is especially necessary that the audience empathize with them.

The Horrors of War

One of the most important aspects of the human condition that the story of Rogue One focuses on is that of war.

Previous Star Wars movies have focused on making cool special effects for space battles. Or they’ve focused on the inner struggles and conflicts experienced by the main characters.

But Rogue One is different. While the space battles are cool, Rogue One gives us a glimpse into the dark, gritty reality of war. That is, war is hell. It’s sorta like Saving Private Ryan… IN SPACE!

Both sides suffer casualties, win a few battles, and lose some of their humanity in battle.

People die in war. Even the good guys. That’s one of the sacrifices that must be made in the name of achieving victory. Rogue One shows us this detail in all of its heart-breaking glory.

Rogue One doesn’t end like most movies, where the main characters come out on top and are better off for their experience. No, doing that here would cheapen the experience. Instead, the characters come out battle-hardened and traumatized from the brutality of war. Rogue One forces us to confront that, up close, and I love that about the movie.

Darth Vader Is in Top Form

No review of Rogue One would be complete without mentioning Darth Vader.

Despite only having ten minutes of screen-time, Darth Vader is, without a doubt, the absolute best thing about Rogue One. He steals the show in both of his scenes.

We finally see the version of Darth Vader that everyone has been waiting nearly forty years to see. No more whiny, bitchy Anakin Skywalker who does little more than complain about sand. We finally get to see the menacing, rage-fueled, cyborg warrior in action as an unstoppable killing machine. Just like how we all play Darth Vader in any video game where we get to control him.

His scenes make me long for a stand-alone Darth Vader movie that takes place between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. I could envision such a movie telling the story of Darth Vader’s inner struggles adjusting to his new suit while hunting down the remaining Jedi. If anyone from Disney is reading this blog, please make this movie.

In Rogue One, we first meet Darth Vader in his palace on Mustafar. Why does Darth Vader keep a palace on Mustafar? Hell if I know. If I had three of my limbs amputated and was left to die while burning alive in a river of lava after a lightsaber battle with my former best friend on a volcanic planet, I certainly wouldn’t keep a summer home there.

I guess the scenery makes for a cool backdrop as Darth Vader does the one thing he does best: choking bitches with the Force while snarkily quipping cheesy one-liners.

Darth Vader is the only Force-user present in Rogue One. This makes sense for this period in the Star Wars timeline, as the Jedi are all but extinct. Instead, this is the time period where rogues and scoundrels have to survive in the galaxy using nothing but their wits, nuts, and guts.

However, it creates an interesting contrast in a movie which tries to ground itself in gritty realism. Out of nowhere, here comes a heavy-breathing, lightsaber-wielding, cyborg wizard who can telekinetically manipulate the world with his mind! This sets Darth Vader apart from the rest of the movie, giving him a sort of ethereal quality that serves to highlight his awesomeness even more.

Speaking of lightsabers, Darth Vader is the only character who uses one in this movie. And he doesn’t break it out until the very last scene of Rogue One, which takes place immediately before the opening of A New Hope. I won’t spoil the awesomeness of this scene, but it’s nothing but complete, 100% badassery.

If for no other reason, you’ll want to watch Rogue One for the last scene alone.