So heads up this piece is definitely about Rogue One; If you haven’t yet seen it turn away for here there be spoilers. Of course feel free to come back and engage with this after you’ve seen it but the discussion I want to have requires a working understanding of the film.
So before I went and saw Rogue One I had seen this piece by one of my favourite YouTube content creators. I enjoyed the analysis that the video put forward and the evidence seemed to support the thesis. So I was super pumped for this film to be a gritty Blade Runner-esque New Space Opera. What I feel I got however was worlds different to what I was expecting – but it was just as good.
For me at least Rogue One feels like the best elements of the traditional fantasy adventure – particularly the type of narrative I am used to seeing in the pulp fantasy novels in the D&D canon I.E Dragonlance or the R.A Salvatore novels. There is a deeply personal narrative that creates a through line for the protagonist and the audience but also political level sideplots and tie-ins to make the stakes high enough to be interesting.
The thing I’d really like to draw attention to is the wonderful feeling Rogue One manages to elicit in the way it presents both the build up and eventual diminishing of ‘The Party’. This for me iOS the strongest element of the film. For the first half of the film we see the rebels pulling together the rag tag and unlikely bunch of heroes. The standard assortment of Prisoners, criminals, spies and holy men that typify the pulp fantasy genre. These characters are given scope to bounce off one another for comedic banter and development which is always heartwarming in it’s execution. It feels natural and easy much like the banter around a D&D table does and this helps draw you into the world the film presents.
At the halfway point of the film we get a shift into the more emotionaly and politically complex subject matter of the film concerning both the protagonist and the political parties within the film. A traditional complication in the three act structure – this serves to round out the characters and show us slightly different and human sides of them – even those that aren’t human.
The final act is where things take on their most tropey tones for me- I must stress here that this isn’t a criticism, Star Wars as a franchise is responsible for so many cinematic tropes and this film subverts some of the most famous ones that it is very rewarding to see Director Gareth Edwards embrace the full value of the tropes he utilises in this final act.
With the heroic last stands and sacrifices of every member of the team getting loving attention and individual scoring it is hard not to be sucked in by the majesty and honour of their endeavour. As the team members lay their lives on the line and sacrifice themselves one at a time to ensure the success of the mission and the greater good it is hard not to bring to bear the collective experience of every similar sacrifice we have ever seen committed to film. This is the value of embracing the tropes ion this final sequence, allowing this film to so explicitly reference the traditions of the pulp[ genre that gave rise to it allows these short sequences to be so so much more than what their running time might allow. It really is an ingenious move by Edwards.
The final great strength of the film I’d like to put forward is the villain. It is not very often that we get as compelling a beaurocratic villain as what we are treated to by Rogue One. Krennic is a wonderfully menacing character that doesn’t fail when asked to stand shoulder to shoulder with cinematic titan Darth Vader. The inclusion of Vader, who is a far more traditionally impelling villainous archetype, would have sunk a lessor villain – he would have been completely overshadowed by the two cameos that Vader makes. Krennic’s insidiousness is so palpable that he still remains compelling despite inclusion of not only Vader but also Grand Moff Tarkin.
If I have one critique of the movie – it is that whilst it is incredibly structurally pleasing and refreshing to see new ground covered within the Srtar Wars universe Rogue One fails to have anything new or challenging to add to it’s own tradition. Again this is part of why the film is so so good to watch – but it does feel like it won’t quite hold up to the type of analysis that other franchise films like A New Hope are subjected to. Not a huge flaw and certainly not one that impedes repeated viewings.
All in all the point remains Rogue One manages to be both original and referential in equal parts to incredibly great effect. Whilst watching it I felt the film drawing one he sum of my experience not only in the Star Wars universe but also in fantasy and SciFi more broadly. We finally have an anthology Star Wars film and it has stuck the landing – Bring on the Bobba Fett film!!