The 2016 Rewind
The Apex of The Star War
Gareth Edwards drops you into the middle of a war zone and sprays you with Storm Trooper body parts.
There is a shot about two-thirds of the way through Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that solidified for me the film’s place among the rest of the franchise. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler. It’s a shot we’ve seen before – a view from a camera, mounted on an X-Wing engaged in a dogfight, in which we see a little droid frenetically tracking enemy targets. There are iconic renditions of this same shot elsewhere in the Star Wars franchise. In the past, it’s been a way for the films to show us what R2-D2 was doing while Luke Skywalker was heroically zipping around. In the context of Rogue One, however, this kind of a shot is even more alive. Thanks to technological advances and a keen eye of chaotic composition, Edwards and his team have created war sequences that are unlike anything we’ve seen in a Star Wars movie to date. In fact, they may be unlike anything we’ve seen in most war movies. Not only is Rogue One the Saving Private Ryan of Star Wars, it’s also the franchise’s most effective and cinematic rollercoaster ride. Using an incredible depth of field, the battle sequences come to life and explode with immense detail. We’re talking Storm Trooper parts flying around, genuine consequences for heroes, lots of murky grey area morality.
For some, myself included, this is exactly the sort of Star War we’ve been looking for over the years. While much of the central ideology of Star Wars has been wrapped up in the Saga of House Skywalker, the franchise has often dipped in and out of the actual war between the Rebellion and the Empire. Rogue One is most concerned with this war. It’s Dirty Dozen style narrative is both heavily invested in the cost of war and the heroism of ordinary people from all over the galaxy.
This is what places Rogue One apart from other entries in the Star Wars cinematic universe. If war is hell, then Rogue One is the furthest depths of it that Lucasfilm will ever put on screen, considering their commitment to engaging fans of all ages. But there’s plenty that makes Rogue One feel alive with The Force, including the belief of its mostly ordinary ensemble of characters that they are being guided by a higher power – that of the Force, or in some instances, that of Hope. Even though there’s no crawl at the beginning, there is much about Rogue One’s aesthetic that is present. Like the Original Trilogy, the world feels lived in and hand-crafted, even if we know that so much of it is digital. The story feels at home in its own skin, peppering in iconography old and new. Sure, there are a few ham-fisted callbacks to the larger universe and the Saga, but for the most part the story remains confined to the mission at hand.
That mission, combined with Edwards’ cinematic approach to conducting the action, makes for the most thrilling Star Wars experience yet. Everything we learn along the way is supplemental to the stories we already know. The great sacrifices portrayed here add new weight to the stories of Leia, Luke, and Han. From a narrative standpoint, we’re watching the Rebellion grow up in a hurry. From a visual standpoint, we’re watching the language of Star Wars movies evolve into something innovative. It’s like taking everyone’s favorite rollercoaster at a theme park and upgrading it so that it moves faster, feels more dangerous, and runs more efficiently. In the end, it’s still running on the same track, but your endorphins are pumping with greater vigor. The environment is familiar while the sensation is new.
This is the Star Wars film for those who were a little bothered by the repetitive poetry of The Force Awakens, even if that film was fun. This is the Star Wars movie for those who didn’t appreciate all the trade negotiations and the sterile environments of the Prequels. This is for the fans who went deep into the old Expanded Universe and read books about the Rogue Squadrons. This might even be the Star Wars movie for those who enjoy great cinema, but don’t particularly care for the Star Wars universe. It’s for people like me who, while you’ll never get me on a real rollercoaster, enjoy the simulated experience that a thrilling action film can deliver. Because when it’s as expertly crafted and composed as Rogue One, my brain can hardly tell the difference.