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"Rogue One" resonates in a way "The Force Awakens" could not

We have entered a time period of extreme polarization. While we do not have X-wings, Imperial shuttles or droids, our means of fighting have taken root in other forms of reaction and opposition. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story knows its place in the current political climate and is self aware enough to create a narrative that challenges the binary of simply good versus evil. It’s a lesson that resonates with me and will likely resonate with any viewer who has bore the heavy weight of the past year on their shoulders.

Rogue One is a standalone film in the Star Wars canon. Nestled between the events in Revenge of the Sith, released in 2005, and A New Hope, the fourth film released in 1977, it tells the story of the beginnings of the Rebellion. Early in the film, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is separated from her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), an Imperial engineer. As with many of the Star Wars films before it, Rogue One heavily explores the themes of family and unconditional love in the face of morally mixed actions. Jyn herself is marred by her father’s past and his connection to authoritarian rule. She is not Princess Leia, fighting the good fight; instead, Jyn is motivated by her love for her father over any politics.  

Many have attempted to make comparisons between Jyn and Rey, the heroine of the recent The Force Awakens. While both characters are strong, brave women, Jyn’s character harnesses the complexity of the shifting climate in a more nuanced way. It has been no more than 20 years after Darth Vader’s rise to power and the death of the Jedi Council and, in many ways, the choice presented to the Rebel Alliance is often between giving up by fading into the background or joining the fight with the risk of dying. Rogue One, therefore, is a grittier representation of the galaxy far, far away. It is full of uncertainty and its characters often find a crisis of faith when it comes to challenging their own intentions.

At one point in the film, Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) tells Jyn he has been part of the Rebellion since age six. Born into the fight, much of his loyalty is found in the fight’s familiarity and its community. When Cassian is given the missions he must complete, he knows that his success is only a small part of a larger plan. As the film goes on, he begins to question the ethics and morality behind the orders he must follow and his own reasons for his fight.  

Additionally, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot, seeks redemption and absolution as he works with the Rebels, delivering an important message smuggled from an unlikely hero in the Empire to radical Rebel Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker). The themes of redemption flow heavily throughout the film, as several characters struggle between resisting from within the system or risking their lives and those of the ones they love by entering the full resistance movement. Fundamentally, the film asks us to realize the value of both positions and the emotions and complexities within such a difficult choice. 

For what Rogue One is, it is good. Director Gareth Edwards has taken a huge risk in creating a film that merges both the past and present of the Star Wars universe. There is no doubt that some diehard fans and traditionalists may be skeptical, yet Rogue One shines in originality compared to The Force Awakens. It breathes with a uniqueness that The Force Awakens could not find. Instead of relying on that which is tried and true, Edwards shows that the battles we face are not linear and they are not able to be placed in perfect boxes. Furthermore, Rogue One features a diverse cast. Seeing so many new faces, especially people of color, shows that Star Wars is evolving for a new generation of viewers and few things make me more excited than that.

As I walked out of the theatre, I was moved by Rogue One and its relevance to my own life and the unrest in our world. Now more than ever, it is important that we, too, contemplate the fact that we are more than our movements. We are more than our own righteous struggle. Do our ends justify our means? Perhaps so, but that is not for us to decide.  

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in movie theaters on Dec. 16, 2016. 

Grade: B

nzeigler@theeagleonline.com


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