Now that Rogue One has been out for a while, I felt it is finally time to write an analysis of the characters and plot of the latest Star Wars installment. Few people can deny that this is the prequel that captures the spirit and feel of Star Wars (those who do are entitled to their opinions, but the rest of us seem to think it’s great).
As a note, I’m adding some filler here just to make certain anyone who wants to avoid spoilers won’t have anything spoiled. *Spoiler Warning: The rest of this review will delve into some plot and character details*
While Rogue One is a fast, exciting, and tension-driven war movie set in the Star Wars universe, the beginning is something of a mess. There’s no opening crawl, a decision made to thematically separate the movie from the space opera feel of the others. It arrogantly states, “We don’t need to tell you what’s happening, pay attention and we’ll show you.”
Which is all well and good, except at the very beginning it jumps around from planet to planet and through time rather quickly. If you aren’t paying attention (and possibly even if you are, you’ll have no clue what’s going on right up until Jyn Erso is sat down at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 when they explain everything through exposition.
It’s sort of like they made the decision not to have an opening crawl and then decided, “Crap, we need to slip it in, we’ll just have some characters explain it all.” Which is fine. We get some time to meet some of the characters, to establish Captain Cassian, Jyn Erso, and to see that the Director Krennic is kind of an asshole. Still, it feels like they could have done a bit more showing than telling, but it’s a style choice that works, despite being a bit silly in some regards.
Moving on, we’ve got the Imperial defector, Bodhi who gets captured by an apparently unhinged Saw Gerrara, the leader of a splinter faction of rebels on the planet of Jedha. Bodhi is carrying a warning about the Death Star, sent by Jyn’s father, Galen Erso. Now this is another area where I feel the film sort of loses it’s course. Saw is an enigmatic character, who seems to have lost touch with reality, one moment being helpful and the next… well, the next he’s accusing Jyn of being there to kill him. It doesn’t make a terrible lot of sense, and there’s so much odd stuff about Saw that we’re left wondering: what’s up with his legs, how was he injured, why exactly has he lost it, why did Jyn’s father trust him with his daughter’s life?
We can extrapolate a lot of this, but it’s all distracting from the overall plot for a character who gets killed so early in the movie. There might have been some wider idea for the character in other outlines for the film, but what we’re left with is sort of a box of crazy that distracts overall. His splinter group of rebels, on the other hand, fits in very well with the overall “dirty” theme of the movie. Not all of the rebels are going to be idealistic, kind-hearted folk like Luke Skywalker and Leia. Saw’s rebels are scary and violent, opening fire on the Empire in a crowded market place and using grenades indiscriminately.
The torture of Bodhi, the Imperial defector sort of serves that point too, but it feels like another rabbit hole at the same time. The Bor Gullet seems like a random thing to throw in there, particularly when it’s stated power didn’t seem to convince Saw Gerrara of anything. And the “madness” that it caused didn’t seem to last long enough to serve any plot point. Mostly it leaves you with some confusion about what the thing is and how it does what it does… then it’s gone.
Rolling onwards, we see the rivalry between Moff Tarkin and Director Krennic, which culminates in Krennic utilizing the Death Star to obliterate the rebellious city and the old Jedi Temple in a display of the Death Star’s potential. This is a fantastic scene for a number of reasons, many of them fairly subtle. We see the casual disdain for life that the Empire’s senior officers hold, where Krennic feels nothing but relief that his weapon worked and then anger that Tarkin steals the credit. We see Tarkin’s arrogance in how he only cares about how the Death Star will improve his standing with the Emperor. All the other Imperials just seem to want to lick up scraps of power from the two officers, their shock at the destruction turning to support for Tarkin as Krennic is sent scurrying to plug security leaks that made him look bad.
The “beautiful” comment from Krennic is particularly good as it shows that he has an appreciation of beauty, yet lacks any morality to consider that he just killed thousands, possibly millions, of people.
In a not-so-subtle detail, the Death Star eclipses the sun for the city, circling in an orbit that blocks out the light to the planet just before it obliterates the city. It’s an ominous omen, one that sets the viewer on edge as they realize what’s about to happen.
Another subtle detail is that, unlike Alderaan, we actually see the place they destroy. The audience sees Jyn Erso rescue a young girl in a firefight on the streets, delivering the child to her mother. That girl, her mother, and everyone else in the city is annihilated. We don’t see their last moments, but we see the city vanish in a cataclysmic explosion that also kills off Saw Gerrera and his rebels.
The main characters barely escape, witnesses to the terrifying might of the Empire. They also come to the decision to go to rescue (well, Captain Cassian is there to kill) Galen Erso, after Bodhi gives them the location to find him.
Their travel to Galen’s research facility is an excellent use of characterization. We see the different characters play off one another. Chirrut and Baze were earlier introduced well and their few words in this scene establishes them further. Chirrut is obviously a force sensitive, not a Jedi, but in tune with the Force. Baze is cynical, but his bond with his friend is strong, showing that there’s some depth to his character. The way they address the destruction of their home is subtle but strong.
The interaction and chemistry between Cassian and Jyn also works well. Cassian, dark a character as he is (lets face it, he shot a former friend in the back at the start of the movie), wants to believe in Jyn, but at the same time he’s determined to follow orders.
The battle at the research facility is fantastic. Confusion between Cassian’s superior and the team sets up a series of mistakes that results in the rebels bombing the facility, killing Galen in the process. Cassian is given a moment to kill Galen, but decides to trust Jyn instead, only to see a rebel Y-Wing blow up the platform anyway. We get to see Bodhi, Chirrut, and Baze all do what they do, all in interesting ways.
The rest of the movie moves along with an inevitable feel. The rebel council reject an attack to seize the Death Star plans. The main characters decide to go anyway and Captain Cassian comes forward with a grizzled host of warriors who volunteer for the mission. Without going into detail, he establishes them as desperate, hardened fighters and they look and act the part.
The final fight is a chaotic mess and in that they do a fantastic job of capturing the feel of combat. The rebel plan goes well enough as Cassian, K2, and Erso infiltrate the facility. I had a moment of eye-rolling as the unshaven Cassian walks around in an officer uniform, but other than that, the scenes play out well. The firefight kicks off, many of the rebels knowing that they’re going to die just to create a distraction and buy time for Cassian and Jyn.
The firefight kicks off, quickly becoming a mad scramble as more and more Imperials flood the area, an entire garrison against a handful. We get a moment of excitement as the rebel fleet goes to help… but that’s dampered by the fact that the rebel arrival results in the closure of the shield gate, trapping Rogue team on the planet.
At this point, every character seems to realize there’s no escape and the movie does a fantastic job of showing that realization. Every one of them reacts in a different way. Bodhi is shaken, almost panicked. Chirrut seems to accept it. Baze scowls. Jyn and Cassian are all about how to accomplish the mission. It’s a fantastic bit of storytelling that sells the characters even more.
As an observer, I’ve got to say that it’s the second time that the rebels seized defeat from the jaws of victory (the first being where they kill Galen Erso with a bomb when he would have known best how to destroy the Death Star). Granted, there’s no guarantee that Jyn and Cassian could have got the plans out of the facility, to the shuttle, and then escaped, but they aren’t left with that option as the fleet arrives and the Imperials close the shield.
At this point, characters begin to die. K2 goes first, the quirky and humorous droid going out in a poignant fashion, saving Cassian’s life and doing his duty to the last. With the realization that they need to transmit the plans, Bodhi has to get a message out, setting up a sequence of events where a transmission switch needs to be activated in the middle of a firefight.
Chirrut by far has the standout scene here, chanting “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” As he walks through blaster fire to activate that switch, in a scene where every other rebel who tried was cut down. This scene is fantastic and as he blindly flips the switch, only to be blasted the next instant, we’re given both a heroic moment of self sacrifice and a gut-wrenching blow as a character we’ve grown to enjoy dies in his moment of triumph.
Bodhi transmits to the rebel fleet to prepare for the data transfer, but then he dies a moment later as a stormtrooper grenades him. It’s a quick, abrupt death, Bodhi not even having time to say anything before his shuttle explodes. Yet he’s done his job, he got the message through.
Then we come to Baze. Here he has an excellent moment, where his faith in the Force is restored as his longtime friend, Chirrut, dies. This crowning moment results in Baze taking up his friend’s chant… only to kill a few enemies and die to a random grenade. In my mind, it’s the one flaw to he end sequence. Baze should have either died with his friend or had some suitably essential role. His death as it is is just sloppy.
We’re then back to Jyn and Cassian, the latter who has a brush with death. Jyn sets up the dish to transmit, nearly dying in the process. She gets to confront Krennic, Cassian saves her, and she transmits the data to the fleet, not even knowing if they received it. Then she and Cassian stumble out of the facility just as Moff Tarkin fires the Death Star.
Krennic’s death is appropriately ironic, dying from his own creation, given just enough time to realize it and then vanishing. Jyn and Cassian have a heartbreaking moment, long enough for them to say that they did the right thing, that they gave the rebellion a chance, a bit of hope, before they perish.
Then Vader arrives. His star destroyer smashes several rebel ships as they try to escape, and he boards the rebel command ship to regain the plans. His scene where he appears in the corridors is again, excellent. The tension and terror is raw. This isn’t a scene where the death of these nameless rebels doesn’t matter. They’re dying as one of their number tries to get the plans to safety. It’s a brilliant scene because, like their compatriots on the planet, they know they’re going to die.
The last bit of the movie, as the plans are passed off was done perhaps a little too smoothly. I see some logic issues with the command ship having the Tantive IV docked inside it for the entire battle. Couldn’t they have used that firepower in the battle? For that matter, why not have a last desperate transmission… and why didn’t Vader’s star destroyer block it’s escape? We know it’s got to have the plans in A New Hope, but couldn’t they have showed that in a less orchestrated fashion? It’s a small thing, but it disrupts what is an otherwise fantastic ending, giving us a “feel good” for all that the characters all died before the movie really ended.
Thematically, the film is an odd mix of darkness filled with hope. The rebels really are fighting a desperate battle against tremendously long odds. They’re always outgunned, always on the run, they are never safe… yet they fight on.
The movie gives fantastic depth to the older movies. Rewatching them afterwards, there’s far more impact as rebels die, knowing that each of them has their own story and seeing the terrible cost to the rebel alliance for each victory.
Rogue One is a fantastic story. It’s a fitting prequel, the prequel that many fans wanted from the beginning. This is a tragic story, one about normal people caught in a terrible time. Yet at the same time, the characters exhibit some of the best traits of soldiers and humans in general, exhibiting faith, self-sacrifice, and loyalty unto the end.
There’s some flaws overall, but those are small things, minor imperfections in an overall fantastic movie that had excellent characterization and a powerful message of hope.