Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the direct predecessor of the original 1977 Star Wars. It’s a premise first conceded by LucasFilm visual effects supervisor John Knoll some ten years ago. It started filming in August 2015 and was initially slated for a May 2016 release date. But Rogue One didn’t come out in 1977, or 2005, or 2015, or May 2016.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out in December 2016, and it can be hard to pry it free of that context.
Rogue One offers the first cinematic look at a galaxy under the rule of the Empire and explores what that rule inspires, costs and means to those without Skywalker blood in their veins. It’s a film that winds up being startlingly timely, as its backbone is an examination of how we respond to political discontent.
When the status quo twists your guys in a knot, how do you respond and with what level of passion?
In the words of Saw Gerrera, that somewhere between trailer and final film ended up on the cutting room floor, when subjected to intense pressure “what will you become?”
Saw Gerrera himself violently lashes out against the status quo while frothing at the mouth. On the opposite side of the conflict are those like Orson Krenick who look to defend the status quo and prop themselves up with it. Between the two we see a myriad of effects and responses.
Some allow themselves otherwise unjustifiable moral and ethical luxuries in the name of fighting for what they believe in. Some enshroud themselves in their beliefs while others abandon them entirely. Some abandon their posts. Some sacrifice their souls.
As the events of Rogue One are set into motion, Jyn Erso has decided to react by looking away. Her days of fighting the status quo are over, her days surviving in its shadow sprawl endlessly ahead of her. Jyn is not only our window into the conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, she’s a surrogate for our own views on an imperfect world. She’s the shackled potential of the first steps toward change – an understanding that things are not as they could or should be that is never acted upon.
In the face of Imperial subjugation understanding is not enough. Belief is not enough. The rebels of Rogue One aren’t heroes because they believe the Empire is evil. They’re heroes because they believe the Empire is evil and they do something about it.
Rogue One is a film that compels the viewer not to let their beliefs become accessories, to use them as fuel for honest, actual, boots-on-the-ground action. Retweeting Wikileaks post on the Emperor’s baller new laser iMoon isn’t enough. Change requires you to stand up, go outside and steal those Death Star plans!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story lucked into being the halftime locker room speech that’s come smack in the middle of a divisive and grueling 2016 and an uncertain and daunting 2017. It finds itself burdened with not only the immense fan expectations of being the first Star Wars spin-off film, not to mention one that is meant to serve as a prelude for the original Star Wars, but also by being a film about political rebellion released in period of particular political resentment.
Despite the weight of its preceding films and whatever intentional or unintentional political readings punk ass bloggers might saddle it with, Rogue One is a thrilling blockbuster in its own right, one that may serve as a pop culture touchstone for a particularly heated period it couldn’t have predicted.