Legend tells that if you stay through the credits of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the post-credits scene will be the entirety of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope—the original version even!
Wishful thinking aside, it’s safe to say that Star Wars is now a Marvel-esque product of Hollywood. Since last year’s The Force Awakens underwhelmed as the first taste of Disney Star Wars, it was going to take Rogue One, the story of how the Death Star plans got stolen before A New Hope, to convince me that a Star Wars cinematic universe would be a good idea.
While I still see the potential of a Star Wars cinematic universe, I feel that it’s being squandered on safe bets that, believe it or not, make me more deeply appreciate the Prequels’ singular creative vision, its ever-questionable execution notwithstanding.
As A New Hope is one of my favorite movies, it also seems to be Disney’s favorite Star Wars movie since they’ve homaged it two films in a row: once with The Force Awakens, and once again with Rogue One. But couldn’t Disney have told a bolder, and more necessary, story for their first spinoff movie? Sure, it’s a story that doesn’t leave you feeling entirely happy in the end, but we already have an idea that it wouldn’t.
Subverting the Original Trilogy’s clear sense of good and evil, the Rebels are now shaded in grey with a level of grit that spreads into the spectacular, even awe-inspiring battles, which draw notable inspiration from World War II, the fears of the Cold War, and the War on Terror.
Felicity Jones is engaging as the protagonistic Jynn Erso, especially in the tragic relationship with her father, and Alan Tudyk is hilarious as the droid K-2S0, but the rest of the ‘heroes’ leave something to be desired, either because of the ambiguity or because of a lack of depth. Donnie Yen plays a most intriguing blind Force user who is not a Jedi—not to mention, he delivers the single most gut-busting laugh—but even he could have been expanded upon (plus, what makes a Jedi so special when anybody can use the Force?).
That’s not to say that Rogue One is not a competent film. Some moments genuinely tug at the heartstrings, and its fan service—from its cameos to its references to iconic moments—thrills while it lasts. The problem is that it relies on our familiarity with A New Hope.
A New Hope is the introduction to Star Wars; Rogue One is an afterthought, and hardly the ideal starting point for Star Wars. Plus, watching a gritty, complex war movie and a simplistic fairy tale back-to-back would be quite jarring. I don’t mind the visual style of The Force Awakens since it takes place in its own era of the Star Wars universe; I think the era of the Original Trilogy—very much a product of its time—would be better off left alone due to today’s standards.
Because of this, I can only think of Rogue One as an excellent fan film rather than as a canonical expansion upon A New Hope, even though I like the way it fills in A New Hope‘s most infamous plot hole (then again, it was fun to joke about when it made no sense). Perhaps if the film played out more as a standalone fable about forgotten heroes, I’d be able to accept it as the side story that it is. Alas, its demand to be essential ironically sours its own significance for me.