A Star Wars Movie for Everyone
Even if you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars movies, it’s not hard to recognize the symbols that have not only become intertwined with the series but ubiquitous in pop culture. The mechanical and menacing breath of Darth Vader with his muffled voice that sends shivers down his enemy’s spine, the glow and buzz of Light Sabers through the epic and futuristic melee combat, and that “[Luke,] I am your father”. These icons have become cemented in popular culture more than any other movie franchise and this epic space opera has garnered millions of diehard fans across the globe. Yet, there are far more people who haven’t seen any Star Wars than those who have. In December, Disney released their second movie expanding off George Lucas’ masterpiece saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the perfect starting point for those who have never seen Star Wars but would like to give it a shot.
Star Wars is a saga about a group of rebels who try to overthrow a massive Empire that reigns over the galaxy. Rogue One serves as the missing link between Episode III (2005) and Episode IV (1977) when an especially small group of Rebels somehow managed to infiltrate the most secure part of the Empire and retrieve plans to a massive, planet destroying weapon known as the Death Star. Jyn Erso, a former member of the rebellion whose father is the lead engineer and designer of the Death Star, joins up with Cassian Andor, a lifelong member and spy for the Rebels, together with the comedic robot K-2SO, a defected Imperial pilot, and two former monks they manage to steal the schematics.
Rogue One, like any action/sci-fi flick has a huge amount of battle and explosions yet it doesn’t succumb to many of the cliché tropes that we see all too often with this genre and with the other Star Wars films. There are no unnecessary characters, there is no unnecessary romance, and best of all there are virtually no Jedi or Sith (the superheroes and supervillains of the Star Wars universe). It is a tale only about humans, a first for the franchise, which brings it down to earth and allows any audience to connect. The struggles they face are at a human level and the sacrifices they make feel real.
In the first scene of the movie, when Jyn was just a little girl, her father left her behind when the Empire forced him to return to construction on the Death Star. Immediately, the audience understood that this was going to be a dark movie with raw, unfiltered emotion with themes of sacrifice and difficult moral decisions. The ideas of sacrifice, righteousness, and hope persisted throughout the film and it followed Jyn’s path from a cynic and disgruntled member of the rebellion into a leader and passionate advocate for the cause. The emotions are not only heavier than other Star Wars films but they fall on the shoulders of humans. The gravity of the situation sinks in and the audience can fully appreciate what the characters are doing. These emotions are universally understood by everyone and thus there is no need for previous Star Wars knowhow to be enthralled into the film.
The movie fully captivates and immerses the audience into this far away galaxy. It’s something Star Wars has always been good at but Rogue One was the best yet. In the most powerful scene of the movie, the director in charge of the construction of the death star has to confront Darth Vader. The director stands in a long, walkway suspended over lava where the he is visibly nervous. Darth Vader’s infamous and ominous song, the Imperial March, plays slowly while a door opens on one side revealing a bright light and a dark silhouette. The director, now washed in red light is dwarfed by the shadow of a massive cloaked figure rising above him and after huge build up the audience finally sees Vader’s face. The gravity and the power of the Sith Lord was masterfully presented from a human perspective that sends chills down the spine of anyone who watches it. This moment would likely be the same for anyone, because the narrative is so clear and powerful that it immerses you into the scene.
This does not mean that the movie is infallible or that those not familiar with Star Wars will be able to understand everything. The film has faced criticism for having a main character, Jyn, who never has to make any important decisions on her own. There are also plenty of allusions to the past films that someone new to the franchise wouldn’t understand. These however, are not egregious failures which would make it unwatchable for first time Star Wars viewers.
It’s the humanity of Rogue One from the emotion, tension, sacrifice, and hope that make it so special. It makes you feel things like no other action film does and it truly transports you into that Galaxy far far away. Its stand-alone format, raw and captivating emotions, and human scale make it the perfect gateway into the Star Wars Galaxy, besides, in the timeline of films, it skips over the dreadful Prequels (Episodes I-III). If you have been reluctant to watch Star Wars or need a place to get started, Rogue One is a perfect jumping off point; but be warned, you may never be the same.