Star Wars rose to fame as the personal property of George Lucas, but is now owned by one of the great media conglomerates: Disney.
So with the studio now churning out movies on the regular, it was easy to imagine that a one-off movie like Rogue One would be a generic corporate action movie with a Star Wars patina. But it’s not.
Let me start by saying that if you’re looking for a technical review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one that dissects the arts of writing, directing, and acting, this is not the post you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.
I’m a fan. I’m simply a fan who lives and breathes this stuff, and braved the bitter cold to go see it Thursday night. Every time I drag myself out to one of these movies, I go in with a combination of fears, and hopes.
The fears are all the ones you expect. Disney is going to suck the life out of the series, and turn it into every other generic science fiction action movie, loaded with special effects, predictable events, cookie-cutter characters, and Save The Cat plots. All originality and life drained away in order to ensure a baseline guaranteed profit.
But the hopes are for the opposite. We come to these movies with the dream that those who made this movie are like us, and love Star Wars (or Star Trek, or Marvel, or whatever). We hope they love it as we do, and that they will give us something worthy of the name, carrying on the legacy.
That takes us to Rogue One. This movie is widely reported to be set in the past of the series, before Episode IV: A New Hope, the first movie that was originally known as just plain old Star Wars. It is not the start of a new spinoff series at all though. It’s a one-shot movie, set in a known time, where we know everything that came before, and everything that comes after. It provides vivid context to previously hand-waved events. How do you make that a gripping story that keeps the viewer thrilled to the end?
The way you do that is by finding surprises anyway, and by giving us characters we care about. You’re rooting for them. Obviously I can’t say much about it without spoiling, but if you’re like me, you started this movie thinking that all the fears were true. But then, before you knew it, you were watching a Star Wars movie and all was well in the universe.
There are some novel special effects in this movie, ones that threaten to fall into uncanny valley. I do think they’re slightly distracting, but I think they’re done just well enough not to detract from the movie.
I know others will disagree. We have a generation of purists who grew up with the originals of all these classic series, who are so loaded with nostalgia that nothing new can ever live up to it. Even The Empire Strikes Back was a commercialized monstrosity aimed at luring in children, yet we’re told by these purists that no movie today is good because it has the same problems. Alec Guinness phoned in his lines as Obi Wan Kenobi. The Ewoks existed to sell toys. Nothing’s changed.
If you’re looking for a Great Work, I don’t know what to tell you. But if you’re looking to have a great time watching a Star Wars movie, I think Rogue One delivers. Many Bothans died to bring us this movie. Let’s just sit back and enjoy the show.