Rebellions are built on hope: Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

A great movie that came out at a perfect moment for this kind of story, when it seems like a lot of people have forgotten what Star Wars is about

Rogue One


Di­rect­ed by Gareth Ed­wards. Screen­play by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Sto­ry by John Knoll and Gary Whit­ta. Based on char­ac­ters by George Lu­cas. Star­ring Fe­lic­i­ty Jones, Diego Luna, Don­nie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendel­sohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, For­est Whitak­er, Jim­my Smits, Al­is­tair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly and Ben Daniels.

As I watched Rogue One, spin-off of the Star Wars saga, I couldn’t help but think that it came out at the best mo­ment for this kind of sto­ry. The world has wit­nessed the rise of nu­mer­ous fas­cist move­ments in 2016, and hell, even Don­ald Trump be­came pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States! I guess it is only nat­ur­al that a movie would come up this year to re­mind us of the im­por­tance of fight­ing and re­sist­ing op­pres­sion (so­cial or po­lit­i­cal) — some­thing that George Lu­cas’ saga had done be­fore but the world still doesn’t seem to grasp. And what makes Rogue One so spe­cial is that it shows us a bat­tle not fought by Jedis but by nor­mal peo­ple, like you and me.

That is a great step con­sid­er­ing the au­da­cious way that Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens al­ready de­fied gen­der and racial con­ven­tions by hav­ing a woman, a black man and a Lati­no as main he­roes. Rogue One goes even far­ther, cen­tered on a group of rebels formed by a woman (Fe­lic­i­ty Jones, the pro­tag­o­nist), a Mex­i­can (Diego Luna), a British Pak­istani (Riz Ahmed) and two Asians (Don­nie Yen and Jiang Wen). Not wor­ried a bit if this un­usu­al move would push the au­di­ence away (that is, id­iots who feel out­raged by the sight of a fe­male Jedi who doesn’t need to be res­cued by a man), the movie is a re­mark­able ex­am­ple of what rep­re­sen­ta­tion should be about in an in­dus­try dom­i­nat­ed by white faces and male he­roes.

And this is also co­her­ent with the plot it wants to tell. Writ­ten by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from an idea by ILM vi­su­al ef­fects su­per­vi­sor John Knoll, Rogue One is set right be­fore A New Hope (1977), yet it has an in­de­pen­dent struc­ture and could eas­i­ly be watched by any­one who hasn’t seen any oth­er Star Wars movie be­fore. Our hero­ine is Jyn (Jones), a Re­bel­lion crim­i­nal and daugh­ter of Em­pire sci­en­tist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who has been forced to help de­sign the Death Star. Af­ter be­ing freed from Im­pe­r­i­al cap­tiv­i­ty by the Rebel Al­liance (a ploy to use her to track her fa­ther down and kill him), Jyn joins Rebel of­fi­cer Cass­ian An­dor (Luna) and oth­ers who will also have a de­ci­sive role in steal­ing the weapon’s schemat­ics.

Fol­low­ing so many dif­fer­ent fac­tions in­volved in the bat­tle, Rogue One doesn’t show things in black and white. The char­ac­ter of Saw Ger­rera (For­est Whitak­er), for in­stance, can­not be eas­i­ly de­fined as good or bad. He res­cued Jyn as a child when Galen was ab­duct­ed by the Em­pire and now leads an ex­trem­ist fac­tion of the Al­liance — and like any ex­trem­ist, he can be cru­el, para­noid and dan­ger­ous. Even bet­ter is see­ing how each char­ac­ter is so well de­vel­oped and fol­lows strong per­son­al mo­ti­va­tions: Cass­ian is a de­ter­mined man with a se­cret agen­da, Bod­hi Rook (Ahmed) is an Im­pe­r­i­al pi­lot who de­fects and wants to do what is right, Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) is a blind war­rior who be­lieves in the Force like a re­li­gion, and so on.

But the cen­ter of the nar­ra­tive is Jyn. At first, when asked if she doesn’t mind the sight of the Im­pe­r­i­al flag wav­ing over­head, she is re­signed to the state of things and gives a re­veal­ing an­swer: “It’s not a prob­lem if you don’t look up.” Lat­er on, how­ev­er, she starts to evolve from a hope­less con­formist into some­one who de­cides to fight for what she be­lieves is right — and hope is pre­cise­ly what Rogue One is about (“Re­bel­lions are built on hope,” some­one says). Also, the movie of­fers a pow­er­ful com­men­tary on how we can see good peo­ple do hor­ri­ble things sim­ply be­cause they are fol­low­ing or­ders, and I love the mo­ment when Jyn says to a cer­tain char­ac­ter: “Or­ders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a Stormtroop­er.

Of­fer­ing new in­for­ma­tion about the Whills and Ky­ber crys­tals (which pow­er lightsabers), Rogue One also has its share of wel­come ref­er­ences. Those at­ten­tive will rec­og­nize the man that Jyn bumps into in Jed­ha as be­ing the same man who tried (that is, will try) to start a fight with Luke in the can­ti­na in A New Hope, and there are some cameos too. I par­tic­u­lar­ly felt a warm rush of fa­mil­iar­i­ty at the sight of a known face among the rebels, while those dy­ing to see Darth Vad­er will be hap­py to know he shows up (don’t wor­ry, this is not a spoil­er). He gets to have a big en­trance and one of the movie’s best lines, spo­ken to the am­bi­tious Di­rec­tor of Ad­vanced Weapons Re­search for the Im­pe­r­i­al Mil­i­tary Or­son Kren­nic (Ben Mendel­sohn).

And if I men­tioned some para­graphs ago that all this came from an idea by ILM vi­su­al ef­fects su­per­vi­sor John Knoll, I guess it is only nat­ur­al to ex­pect that Rogue One would come up with top-notch spe­cial ef­fects — es­pe­cial­ly since di­rec­tor Gareth Ed­wards (Mon­sters; Godzil­la) is also a vi­su­al ef­fects artist. The CGI de­sign of the plan­ets and alien crea­tures are great as usu­al, like the Im­pe­r­i­al-oc­cu­pied moon of Jed­ha with its gi­ant Jedi stat­ue half-buried in the sand. But even more fas­ci­nat­ing is to see that the movie fea­tures some awe­some dig­i­tal­ly in­sert­ed char­ac­ters from the orig­i­nal Star Wars, like Grand Moff Tarkin, who used to be played by Pe­ter Cush­ing. De­spite his death in 1994, Cush­ing was “res­ur­rect­ed” in CGI and is per­formed by Guy Hen­ry.

Full of ir­re­sistible mo­ments of hu­mor, es­pe­cial­ly those in­volv­ing the droid K‑2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Îmwe (my fa­vorite is when some­one cov­ers his head even though he is blind), Rogue One also de­liv­ers some ex­cit­ing ac­tion, which Ed­wards knows quite well how to co­or­di­nate. And he does an ex­cel­lent job to keep every­thing so in­cred­i­bly tense and ur­gent (un­til the very last scene) even if we know right from the be­gin­ning how every­thing ends.

Star­ring many tal­ent­ed ac­tors who are not big Hol­ly­wood stars, Rogue One is a re­bel­lious movie in it­self, and I hope it will help pave the way for a more rep­re­sen­ta­tive Hol­ly­wood. Let’s just see if oth­ers will fol­low the ex­am­ple and take to heart what this movie is say­ing.

De­cem­ber 18, 2016


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