Warning: This review contains spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Hope. It inspires action, builds rebellions, and shines like a candle in the darkest of times. It’s also the most prominent theme in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a film that all but radiates a firm and decisive message against oppression and authoritarian regimes.
In many ways, Rogue One is a film that reignites a passion for freedom and democracy with its unwavering themes of peace and goodwill, of hope for the destruction of oppressive systems and the downfall of tyranny and bigotry; it’s also the movie that has firmly reinvigorated my hope for the future of the Star Wars franchise.
Rogue One follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of prominent Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who finds herself swept up in a desperate mission with the newly formed Rebel Alliance. The mission: meet with militant renegade, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and acquire a secret message sent from Galen concerning the Empire’s newest weapon of mass destruction. Joining Jyn on this mission are Rebel Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a captured Imperial protocol droid reprogrammed to serve the rebellion.
Meanwhile, ambitious Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) oversees the completion of the final stages of the Empire’s new colossal superweapon, the Death Star. As the weapon nears its initial testing phase, Krennic attempts to navigate through the machinations of Imperial leaders higher up than him and finds himself constantly overshadowed by Darth Vader and the ruthlessly cunning Governor Tarkin. As Jyn and crew bring the fight to the Empire, they are joined by Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen)—a warrior-monk who worships the Force—his protector, Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and a former Imperial shuttle pilot by the name of Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Together, this crew of renegades make up the eponymous Rogue One squad who ultimately find themselves on a seemingly suicidal mission to steal the Empire’s architectural plans for the Death Star and send them to the rebellion leadership.
In many ways, Rogue One is a Star Wars fan’s dream come true (at least for me). For the first time in the history of the franchise, we finally get to see, on screen, elements of the universe that are not directly related to the Force or the Skywalker lineage. We also don’t get to meet any new Jedi Knights, not even the few who supposedly escaped the Empire’s purge of the Jedi Order. What we do get to see is the rise of the rebellion and the hopeful mission that acts as a catalyst for the civil war that spans the entire original trilogy.
Altogether, these changes to the often formulaic Star Wars story come together to create a film that is equally fun and refreshing. The film manages to capture the Star Wars spirit (witty one-liners, intense action sequences, themes of hope and honor) while also providing a fresh and creative spin to the series. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I can honestly say, without a doubt, that I’m now more excited for the future of the Star Wars series than I was with The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong, that film was great, but all too often it held fast to the typical Star Wars formula, creating what was essentially a rehash of A New Hope. With Rogue One, Disney (and the director, Gareth Edwards) have created something that is both familiar and fresh, and I am very excited to see what is yet to come from the future Star Wars Anthology films.
Of course, as a film that is steeped in the ideas of hope and active rebellion against an authoritarian regime, Rogue One is a movie that has become increasingly timely in recent weeks. Its themes reflect the values inherent in American society, values that many believe are under attack with the new administration. I won’t drag real-world politics into this review, but I will say that, whether intentional or not, Rogue One finds itself in a unique position to become the type of film that may very well be a symbol of our times.