(Contains some strong language)
I came out of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016) buzzing like a motherfucker.
“Now THAT’S how you make a Star Wars movie!”
I hadn’t legitimately enjoyed a Star Wars film since ‘The Return of The Jedi’ (1983) and not left the cinema this jacked by one since the original in 1977. The thrill was also accentuated by the fact that it eased a worry that had been nagging me for years, namely that I wasn’t a negative dickhead who’d pour scorn on anything modern or new in the franchise or had refused to like the latest movies out of some trenchant stubbornness. No, you show me a well made, exciting Star Wars movie and I’ll happily respond to it. The problem wasn’t me, it was with the movies.
Now ‘Rogue One’ isn’t a masterpiece, being a relatively straight forward affair for the first hour or so as it sets events up and, generally, arses about with faux portents as the rebels figure out what this new super weapon is and how to go about stealing the plans for it. It’s serviceable, inoffensive stuff that manages not to fuck up too often along the way. It’s decent, nothing more.
And then the final 50 minutes or so kick in providing not just some of the best Star Wars shit we’ve seen in a while but maybe ever, as we’re treated to an incredible large scale battle both on the ground and in space (remember when Star Wars had great space battles?). Its Empire/Rebel porn writ large as these two sides writhe vigorously on top of each other, rutting like hell until spaceship sweat starts beading up. Now this is what we came to see!
The schematics and geography of the battle are clear allowing us to enjoy every moment. It’s also comprised of some striking imagery with the filmmakers capturing the exact look and those particular shades of spaceship white and deep space black the series did so well. It’s also got some amazing ships which all have a precise and definite function, the Hammerhead Corvette being my particular favourite. ‘Jedi’s battle of Endor is awesome but this is just as good, if not better. I was in heaven and totally surprised. This is what Star Wars was for me.
Cap it all off with an ending that sticks to its guns and ‘Rogue One’ ends on a blistering high. Oh, and why not top it off with Darth Vader’s greatest moment… er… ever? Yeah. When I first heard ‘Rogue One’ had Vader going badass with his lightsaber at the end I was concerned, concerned it would cheapen him and come off silly. Wow, was I wrong as this is easily one of Darthy’s finest scenes and nails exactly what made him so effective in the first place — not being someone’s father, not someone’s son but a terrifying henchman for the Empire dressed in black Imperial leather and cutting through Rebel scum like butter. For the first time in years he was genuinely scary.
Yet, for me, ‘Rogue One’s success raises a very interesting question regarding Star Wars and one the series has struggled with since the originals, namely: what is Star Wars actually about? Is it about the Jedi? The Skywalker legacy? The Force? Anakin’s fall into Vader? No. For me it is none of those and is about two very simple things — Spaceships and the Death Star. Reductive , I know, but hear me out. I love ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) and it continued the original’s story in a logical way, pulling a final twist that was impactful and made sense. Yet, as a kid, when I heard Vader tell Luke he was his father I felt the Star Wars universe shrink a little, that it was now no longer about cowboys fighting space Nazis but was being pulled into the sphere of family. It made emotional sense but, for me, something else, something more expansive, was sacrificed.
Every Star Wars film since then has been burdened with this, the need to link everything to family or bloodline. Lucas’ big mistake with the prequels was making it all about Anakin. Who cares? It limits the series to that of a soap opera and denies the bigger, freer, picture. The sequels are now suffering a similar fate with a needless flip-flopping regarding Rey’s parentage almost as though, from the get-go, this is something that needed to be hardwired into the story. It doesn’t. Everything becomes about legacy and heritage when it should be battles and blasters. It’s also why the franchise has never been able to escape the shadow of the Death Star; it’s been a bigger character than any of them. Besides, the Jedi are boring and overused and I was always with Han anyway — I’d rather have a blaster than a lightsaber any day.
‘Rogue One’ works because it is stripped back, stripped back to when it was just a dude with a robot fighting a baddie in black and trying to blow up his big sphere of doom and all executed with great special effects because the director had seen Kubrick’s ‘2001’ and realise he could do that sort of shit with a kid’s movie. It was never about Joseph Campbell and “the hero’s journey” (I always felt that was an intellectual fig-leaf used to justify blowing up a space station anyway); it was about spaceships fucking each other (the opening of the original Star Wars is, essentially, a sex scene after all) and two dimensional characters with ray-guns and hitting each other with glowing swords… and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.