(Warning: There are Rogue One spoilers below! Read at your own risk. Also this is me at the theater last night.)
Before I start into my opinions about the new Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, you should know that Star Wars pretty much runs in my blood. My dad saw the movies as a young teen and when my siblings and I reached an appropriate age, we all gathered around the TV, and a new family tradition was born. We watched those movies countless times growing up, and I will always remember going to see Episode One when it came out in the theaters. We watched the movie as a family, went to Taco Bell and discussed it endlessly, then drove straight back to the theater and watched it again. There are many Star Wars enthusiasts, and dare I say even experts, in my family. They may not all share my opinions, but this is what I thought of the latest installment.
First, when I say I didn't "love" it, I don't mean I hated it either. I thought the plot was really well done, and I loved all the references that tied into Episode Four (the Star Wars movie that comes right after Rogue One). I thought the connection between Jyn and her father was well-formed and added a sweetness to that part of the story. The ending was bittersweet, as was fitting since we knew from Episode Four that “many fighters died to bring us this information”.
There were a few small irritants in this film, such as the lack of backstories and making the Force too “religious”, but there were a couple things that bothered me more, and I think are a reflection of some of the ways our culture is changing, so I want to talk about those here.
The first point may seem petty, but I think it’s worth discussion - and that was the flatness of the characters in this movie. Do you remember the variety of personalities in the original Star Wars trilogy? We had Princess Leia, with all her spunk and conviction. We had Han, with his arrogance and recklessness and lovably absurd connection to his ship. We had Luke, the whiney farmer turned introspective brooder turned indispensable Jedi. What tied it all together, what made these movies classics, was the color of their personalities, the sense of history, the development of relationships. It was their tenacity in the fight, their grit, the conviction that the Empire was evil and must be stopped, but it wasn’t only that - their personalities were what made it fun, their flaws were what made us laugh, and you got the feeling that they couldn’t have finally defeated the Empire without being exactly who they were, flaws and all.
I didn’t get that in Rogue One. I was disappointed that many chances to give the characters more depth were not taken. Not only did we get too much Luke Skywalker brooding and not enough Hans Solo reckless and arrogant determination, but the characters in this movie didn’t even really seem to know why they were fighting (except for a brief speech from Jyn on the need to fight against an Empire “this evil”, a mark in her favor). The scene that was most frustrating to me was the monologue from Cassion that was supposed to be inspiring as he pulled all his buddies back into the fight, but the whole speech was really rather depressing.
“We’ve all done terrible things in the name of the rebellion - without the rebellion all those terrible things will be in vain.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the whole speech goes against the reason why my family got hooked on Star Wars in the first place. I’ll tell you why I have loved Star Wars so long - and it’s because Star Wars has always been about good versus evil, and there was no confusion between the two.
In the original trilogy (Episodes 4-6) we have the classic fight between good and evil. It was the dark side and the light side, tyranny and freedom. In that world, you either gave in to the draw of power at the expense of the innocent, or you fought against those who would oppress others for their own gain, or you were one of the countless rabble of spineless bystanders. It made you want to choose what was good, and never give in and let evil win.
In the second trilogy (Episodes 1-3) we see how good intentions aren’t enough by themselves, how you need a strong grounding in what is right and wrong to avoid being seduced by the desire for power. How a hunger for control can twist easily to justify terrible evil, and how governments can slide so easily into tyranny when too much power is willingly put into one man’s hands.
In Rogue One, we have an evil Empire willing to destroy planets to reach it’s ends, and we have a well-established rebellion…who apparently has no idea what they are fighting for, except to make past “atrocities” worth it. And I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it. I don’t want to see a movie of people who are just fighting to justify past misdeeds.
I resent the attempt to muddy up the side we all want to root for. I resent the attempt to give Star Wars shades of grey. I resent the attempt in our culture to remove heroes and cut them down to size. They do it with historical figures all the time, and now apparently we can’t even have fictional characters that are good and right and true, and know why they are fighting. I resent the segments of our culture that say there are no more heroes. Because I don’t buy that. I think there are still heroes who take risks because they believe in what is right - and they don’t have to be perfect but they should know what they are fighting for and believe in it’s goodness. I think there are heroes hiding down in many, waiting to come out when they find something good that is worth fighting for.
I want to see a movie where the good guys know that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and they fight to defeat that evil and preserve all that is good in the world. They fight precisely because they recognize that good and evil exist. That is what Star Wars has always been about to me, and it resonated so much because I think it touched down on that truth in the human heart.
In Rogue One some of the main “heroes” are muddied up and cut down to size, and die simply to undo their own or other’s mistakes or to assuage their own consciences. Some may say that is more true to real life, but the reason I watch movies like Star Wars is for moral clarity, not moral ambiguity. It was not inspiring, it was disappointing.
Will Rogue One ruin Star Wars for me? No, because it’s only a Star Wars story, a side plot. I can dismiss or overlook the parts I don’t like. Should you still go see it? Yes, because there were a lot of tie-ins and themes that were worth the time. But will it be a Star Wars favorite for me? No, because it missed the boat on portraying why I love Star Wars in the first place. I just hope Episode Eight doesn’t continue down this same path, because in a culture where morals are muddied, Star Wars has stood out for making good and evil crystal clear.
P.S. I reserve the right to change my mind, but this is my initial reaction. What did you think of the movie?