Guest Writer Sara G.
Some movie quotes are so powerful, that the moment you hear them, the words somehow reverberate in your very soul, and you forever replay them, and live by them like a mantra or a motto. For many, Star Wars is like a Greatest Hits of lines like that. And some lines are transcendent, of course; “May the Force be with you” has become so ingrained in popular culture over the last four decades, it is simply part of our vernacular now. “Rebellions are built on hope,” however, only took four years to become a rallying cry in our lexicon, for finding the courage and faith necessary to fight against injustice and oppression.
Much of Star Wars is about rebellion and resistance, centering upon some ragtag group of underdogs standing up for what is right against all odds. But Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is special. It amplifies those themes and messages, despite or perhaps because of the ways in which it also repackages and repurposes them. Rogue One is a paradox. It is quintessential Star Wars in spirit and scale, but divergent from Star Wars in tone, form, and even genre at times.
Rogue One basically is the opening crawl of A New Hope. As such, the film has no opening crawl of its own (something I was dismayed to have forgotten when trying my hand at Star Wars trivia early on in my love affair with the saga – but more on that momentarily). Instead, the traditional “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” blue text is immediately followed by a jarring, dramatic musical note before we are simply dropped right into the action. Michael Giacchino’s score is reminiscent of John Williams’ yet also distinct. It is familiar yet refreshing: the sweeping melodies and iconic tunes that define Star Wars are remixed and reimagined. Meanwhile, those characteristic screen wipes to transition us from scene to scene are absent altogether, and when we are taken to a new planet we are told where we are via text on the screen.
Everything is gorgeously shot, yet undeniably gritty; I would not be the first to compare Rogue One to a classic Hollywood war movie. Director Gareth Edwards himself, during a reddit AMA prior to the film’s home video release, said “The biggest thing was trying to figure out what the film would be. The initial idea was it’s like a heist movie. But I feel that Star Wars is not just one genre, it’s a whole load of different genre’s mixed together, like fairytale, war, western, samurai, biblical epic etc…” Specifically, in an article entitled “Rogue One Is Actually A World War II Movie,” it is noted that “several critics have compared Gareth Edwards’ movie to Guns of Navarone, in which a small team infiltrates the enemy and destroys Nazi guns that could sink a vital convoy. Given the unsavory makeup of the troops of Rogue One—not soldiers but assassins, spies, smugglers, and saboteurs—a more accurate comparison could be The Dirty Dozen, in which a team of expendable reprobates performs a high risk mission to assassinate Nazi leaders and their families as they party in a castle.”
Within this same article, author Joe Pappalarado notes, “But it’s not just the plot line that screams World War II. Star Wars lives in a universe that has blasters, lasers, and other futuristic weapons, yet uses archaic war technology for its planes and tanks and other weapons. Rogue One has the same science fiction decorations, yet the weapons and tactics that dominate the climactic Battle of Scarif come straight from WWII—or even earlier.”
Indeed, the Scarif sequence during the third act of the film is simultaneously beautiful and brutal. Shots of stormtroopers running against a backdrop of blue sky, palm trees and water are stylized and stunning, especially when compared with the use of shaky cam within the same setting. With the camera positioned low to the ground, the audience is immersed in the battle watching as if actually experiencing the blaster shots blow plumes of smoke and sprays of sand.
These images are compounded in Rogue One’s treatment of war as not simply a genre or a setting, but a theme. Like some of the best episodes and arcs of The Clone Wars and Rebels, Rogue One also exposes and explores the true costs of war, and the imperfections in who we are meant to consider heroes. Jyn Erso, haunted by having to fend for herself for so long, is at first apolitical and agnostic about helping the rebellion, while Cassian Andor has done things in the name of the rebellion that haunt him.
However, it is not just the depiction of these gritty realities of war that makes Rogue One memorable. The juxtaposition of classic and new characters also makes it iconic. Even as we see familiar favorites like Governor Tarkin, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Bail Organa, and Mon Mothma, Rogue One introduces and endears us to an ensemble of new heroes and villains alike. In addition to Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, we meet the hilariously sassy droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, who fits naturally into the pantheon of loveable Star Wars droids with personality just oozing through every circuit. Characters are at the heart of what makes Rogue One such a unique triumph. We all know the story it is about to tell, but the impact it leaves on us is all in how that story is told. We know the ending can’t be a happy one for our protagonists, but the payoff is in everything we know they have set in motion, as seen in the Original Trilogy.
The film also features one of the most diverse casts of any Star Wars entry: Diego Luna as Cassian, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Each character is fascinating and fully formed, and it can be argued that this cast heralded a new and improved, albeit still quite imperfect and ever evolving, era for representation in Star Wars. And, lastly, any fan service in Rogue One never comes across as distracting, out of place, or cheap. For example, seeing C-3PO and R2-D2 on the Rebel base is a quick light touch that nevertheless helps further cement Rogue One’s place within the larger saga. Likewise, it is thrilling to see Bail Organa conferring with Mon Mothma about who he wants to entrust with this particular mission. Knowing he is referring to Princess Leia, but without him explicitly stating her name, allows the audience in on what feels like a secret glimpse at how the opening events of A New Hope came to be, and gives the audience some agency and credit in connecting those dots.
Given all of that, I have no doubt that Rogue One will only continue to age well and feel just as universally relevant and resonant. But there is something to be said about timing. The film was released in December of 2016, a tumultuous and terrifying time. Now, four years later, many things have only become more uncertain and fraught with tension and tragedy. I was motivated to write about Rogue One after my most recent re-watch precisely because the experience was so profound and moving, and I was overwhelmed by my emotions in a way I hadn’t been before.
I should probably mention that I was not always obsessed with Star Wars. A casual fan at best since seeing the prequels in theatres as a child, The Force Awakens was an awakening for me, serving my re-entry point into the galaxy far, far away. So one year after that film, still feeling very new to fandom but wide-eyed and bushy-tailed about the prospect of a new Star Wars adventure hitting theatres every year, I was beyond excited for Rogue One, but had no real expectations going in. It wasn’t until much later that I even took particular note of all the aforementioned differences between Rogue One and other Star Wars films, let alone appreciate them as I do now.
Flash forward to this year, then, when my husband (who I met prior to my full-blown Star Wars fanaticism and who likes Star Wars perfectly fine himself) said the most romantic thing he could have ever said to me: “I would like to marathon all of the Star Wars movies, and The Mandalorian, because they mean so much to you now.” I also happened to be reading Catalyst by James Luceno at the time, which enriched and deepened my understanding of and appreciation for Galen, Lyra, and Krennic, especially during the suspenseful opening sequence.
These personal contexts combined with the larger sociopolitical and cultural climate, was a recipe for rediscovering Rogue One through new eyes, with every line I already loved – and many others I originally overlooked or missed – likewise falling upon new ears. There are so many poignant and poetic lines in this movie that have stuck with me and other fans these last few years such as the recurring, “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me.” But re-watching in 2020, amidst a pandemic, protests, and political upheaval, there is one line that seemed louder and clearer than all the rest, a line which has continued to echo inside my head and my heart:
“…One fighter with a sharp stick and nothing left to lose can take the day. They’ve no idea we’re coming. They’ve no reason to expect us. If we can make it to the ground, we’ll take the next chance. And the next. On and on until we win, or the chances are spent.”
As a Star Wars fan, it is always fun to say I believe in, or am one with, the Force. But as a human living through unprecedented times, Rogue One, in all its realism, gave me something else to believe in, something more tangible, and therefore, even more important. For me, rediscovering Rogue One also meant rediscovering my own bravery and strength, and the idea that I could make a difference, and take the day. It has meant finding a home in the form of people who stick around when things go bad. In rediscovering Rogue One, I rediscovered hope.
Gareth Edwards, dir. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. United States: Walt Disney Pictures / Lucasfilm, 2016. Digital Release, 133 minutes.
Pappalardo, Joe. “’Rogue One’ Is Actually a World War II Movie.” Popular Mechanics. 23 December 2020. https://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/movies/a24456/rogue-one-world-war-ii-movie/.
Trumbore, Dave. “’Rogue One’ Director Gareth Edwards on Reshoots, Easter Eggs, and the “Lost” Opening Crawl.” Collider. 23 December 2020. https://collider.com/rogue-one-reshoots-opening-crawl-gareth-edwards-reddit-ama/.