Rogue One is actually pretty good

By Aristophanes


Readers, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been a Star Wars fanatic since the days of the original trilogy. Although aware of the prequel trilogy’s many flaws, I still get a kick out of seeing Jedi knights of the old Republic at the height of their powers. I’m a big fan of the Clone Wars and The Clone Wars television series (yes, they are separate things). And I’ve enjoyed the tremendous return to form of the Disney-produced sequel trilogy so far, 2015’s The Force Awakens and 2017’s The Last Jedi.

But, until now, I haven’t fully appreciated the lone Star Wars anthology film to date, 2016’s Rogue One.

Following the release of The Last Jedi in December, I revisited the Star Wars canon, prepared to rank each of the live action films from worst to best. I placed Rogue One at No. 7 — third to last.

After rewatching the film for the first time in years, I can tell I made a grave mistake.

Rogue One isn’t set in the same time period of the other Disney-produced films, but rather takes place immediately before the start of the original trilogy’s first episode. Rogue One ends mere minutes before A New Hope begins.

The film tells the story of the young Rebel Alliance’s plot to steal vital schematics of the evil Empire’s planet-destroying super-weapon, the Death Star. In this, we see a reimagining of the series’ lore. Did 1970s-era George Lucas really intend for Princess Leia to partake in the final moments of the Battle of Scarif, just minutes before she delivers the line in the clip below?

Probably not. But it doesn’t matter. The entirety of the Star Wars saga was hardly conceived in full with the original trilogy. Instead, the series, passed from one creative team to the next, has grown and morphed into something large enough to defy singular interpretation and intent.

Star Wars has always been replete with inconsistencies; after all, can anyone truly believe the Luke and Leia of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were always meant to be siblings, not potential romantic partners? And why can Vader sense his family connection with Luke, but not his connection with Leia, his daughter, while torturing her via interrogation droid in the original film?

The answer: Star Wars isn’t a destination, but a journey. It’s a story made up along the way, sometimes without a clear ending in mind. So Rogue One, as unnecessary as it is, manages to tell a fulfilling tale, nonetheless.

First, the cinematography. In my previous ranking, I claimed The Last Jedi “is quite possibly the most beautiful film in the Star Wars canon.” That’s still true, but Rogue One surely gives it a run for its money. From the sandy beaches of the Polynesian-themed planet Scarif to the windswept imperial research facility on Eadu, Rogue One gives us beauty as well as variety. My inner fanboy still geeks out over the film’s modern remaking of Yavin 4, the original Rebel stronghold we see nearly destroyed in A New Hope. 

And above it all stands the eerie presence of the film’s central villain. No, I’m not talking about Director Krennic or Grand Mof Tarkin. I’m not even referring to Darth Vader. Rather, I’m alluding to the Death Star itself.

In the original trilogy, the Death Star is fairly static. It sits in space, mostly waiting for others to act upon it. When it does rise into action, such as when it obliterates Leia’s home planet of Alderaan in A New Hope, it does so with little bluster. It fires a large laser, but that’s it. There’s no panache, no style.

In Rogue One, that changes. The Death Star is a creeping monstrosity. Over the desert planet Jedha it looms, slowly ushering in the doomsday of Jedha City during the film’s first act. In the film’s final moments, the Death Star enters the Battle of Scarif, like a parent dividing unruly children, ready to end the fray for good. The station destroys the imperial outpost (and several of our beloved heroes along with it) in fantastic fashion. We see its rotating eye upon the horizon, then a blast, hailing the apocalyptic firestorm that ends all.

Rogue One‘s re-creation of perhaps the most infamous of all science fiction super-weapons sends shivers down the spine in all the right ways. This is what modern Star Wars should be.

But the delightfulness of Rogue One hardly ends with the scenery. The feel of the movie is dark enough to inspire real worry but never so terrifying as to destroy the fun of the space opera fantasy. Our robotic sidekick, K-2SO, is legitimately hilarious. He bemoans his feeble-minded human handlers while decrying his lack of a blaster. His sarcasm is witty and on point. But in the end, it’s his sacrifice for the film’s two main heroes, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, that elevates his character into the realm of admiration.

Finally, no overview of Rogue One is quite complete without a discussion of the film’s final moments. As the Rebels forward the Death Star schematics in an attempt to keep them out of imperial hands, Darth Vader, in full modern glory, mows down soldier after soldier in a ferocious display of unmatched power. Words cannot do it justice. Short as the clip is, the moment is truly terrifying and darkly giddy. And, despite the costly sacrifice of human life, good still triumphs over evil.

And so, looking back, I’d have to revise my rankings. Rogue One deserves better than third to last. But how much better?

In light of my Rogue One rewatch, here are my new rankings:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. The Force Awakens
  3. A New Hope
  4. The Last Jedi
  5. Rogue One (+2)
  6. Revenge of the Sith (-1)
  7. Return of the Jedi (-1)
  8. The Phantom Menace
  9. Attack of the Clones ■

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