Around this time last year, I watched The Force Awakens. It is fitting, then, that the first film I watched upon returning to Hong Kong was Rogue One.
The prequel to A New Hope, the film tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance procured the death star plans (and hence knew they had to blow up the reactor). Action-packed, suspenseful, and right in the heart of the galaxy, Rogue One thoroughly achieves what it sets out to do—although its aim, as I'll later explain, can be considered problematic.
The film must primarily be commended for its stellar cast. Felicity Jones was bold and badass (this franchise deserves female protagonists), Diego Luna was kind and indefatigable, Riz Ahmed nailed the stressed-out-rebel-pilot vibe. But I must give a special shout-out to Donnie Yen, who is a Big Deal in Hong Kong and absolutely kills it as Chirrut (I was super happy to see his Yip Man skills strengthened by the Force). The action scenes in the film were well-paced and thrilling— by the time the Jedah scene was over, I had already stress-eaten all of my popcorn.
Rogue One is in many ways a classic Star Wars film—ships jump into hyperspace (and there's always some anxiety regarding this jump), an endearing talking droid is present, the Force is ~there~ but often scoffed at, the Empire is making everyone miserable, the protagonist has unresolved questions about her father, and so on.
But Rogue One is also different from the other films in that it is considerably darker (although that opening slaughter scene from The Force Awakens still gives me chills). ONLY a film like this—sandwiched between existing (and very successful) films, Episodes III and IV—could pull off killing all its main characters. After I walked out of the cinema, I somehow could not remember the names of Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi, and this usually isn't a problem for me. It's almost as if the film set up its characters to be unmemorable, nameless nobodies (Bodhi is more often referred to as "the pilot" than by his name). Through killing off the rebels, the film implicates (without every explicitly saying it) that the rebellion on the ground level is essentially a suicide mission. This perspective puts a *yikes* but also realistic spin on the film, which repeatedly tells us that "rebellions are built on hope".
The ending—despite the predictable yet nevertheless much-welcomed Leia entry—is truly kind of unsettling, given that it was preceded by a string of deaths (and nasty ones, too, at the merciless hands of Darth Vader). Leia tells us in the final scene that the chip she holds represent hope, but that somehow doesn't seem like a very satisfying answer. For me, it represents the tenacity and sacrifice of the rebels we just spent the past two-ish hours following; condensing all their efforts into 'hope' feels unjust.
And how many moviegoers genuinely care that pretty much every character we just rallied for died by the end of the film? They were never part of the 'big' picture. Ultimately, any new Star Wars film will always hinge upon the shadow of episodes IV-VI. That's why C-3PO, R2-D2, Vader, and those familiar headshots of goggled rebel pilots flying their ships had to be in the film. That's also why so much effort was made to extremely impressively and unsettlingly recreate Grand Moff Tarkin and Leia via CGI (honestly, I was floored by the results).
So, Rogue One did feel a little extra in the context of the whole Star Wars saga (the obliteration of the opening crawl already seemed to distance it from the other films). But I do like how it introduces more diversity into the galaxy and presents a view of the Star Wars universe that is less lightsaber-centric than its predecessors were. I grew up watching Star Wars as a kid and am honestly just happy that I get to keep watching these films as an adult.
As the url of this blog will always read, may the force be with you!