A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe. It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot. And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.
For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw. I have to admit that I was often one of them. No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal. If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?
Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer. We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.
Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology. Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films. In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction. When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun. When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star. Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.
Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters. Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts. No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy. Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.
Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies. For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys. Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film. There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen. The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot. The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done. For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.
Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy. I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney. I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.