When I was little, this was my favorite Star Wars figure:
Sure, everyone rooted for Luke Skywalker, but I was always much more taken with all those other Rebels, the ones who weren’t lucky enough to have magic powers and flashy lightsabers. The ones who flew out in patched-together fighters (or in some cases, ran out on foot) to face a vastly more powerful enemy, and knew that there was a good chance they weren’t coming back. But they did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.
With so much of the focus of the Star Wars films being firmly zeroed in on Luke Skywalker and why he’s so special, the gritty, everyman feel of Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One was a breath of fresh air. These are the grunts of the Rebellion, the ones who get their hands dirty to get things done, clearing the way for the guys who get all the glory and medals.
While the new characters introduced here, Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor and Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus among them, don’t have the immediate charisma we saw in The Force Awakens’ Rey, Poe and Finn last year, they do have a much better story to tell, feeling much less like just a retread of the original 1977 film, and more like a proper prequel, bringing us back to the world of A New Hope far more effectively. The biggest surprise of the film for me was K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid used by the Rebels as their pilot and occasional muscle, and he gives the movie a much-needed laugh here and there, and even in the end an unexpected bit of heart. And with more than a few familiar faces from A New Hope unexpectedly turning up (but not excessively so), it really does feel like you could roll right from this one into the ’77 classic without missing a beat.
In a larger sense, we see a Rebellion here that we never really got a glimpse of in the original films. They’re much more human. They make mistakes, cross some lines that maybe shouldn’t be crossed, even for a greater good. When they learn just how powerful the Death Star is, they’re frightened, they bicker, they shy away. All of which makes their eventual decision to rally and enter the fray all the more heroic.
Also, much credit to Lucasfilm and Disney for keeping so much of this film out of the trailers. I can’t remember a film with as many genuine surprises that delighted me so much.
It’s not a perfect movie, I’ll admit. The first hour is a little slow, and I’m not sure how really effective it would be for someone who’s not steeped in Star Wars lore. But it sure felt like Star Wars to me, and more to the point, the Star Wars I always wanted to see: the stories that were taking place just off camera, just around the corner. The stories of the guys who were making all the real sacrifices.
We can’t all be a Jedi Knight. That’s just the luck of the draw. But in these uncertain and intimidating times, stories about regular people who do the right thing have never felt more welcome.