“So this proves that, if you whine about a plot hole enough, Lucasfilm will eventually make a movie to fill it,” my friend said to me as the Rogue One credits began to roll. She had a point; while Rogue One was an enjoyable movie, if asked what it added to the franchise, the only hard and fast answer is “an explanation as to why the Empire’s superweapon had such an easily exploitable weak spot”. Ultimately, while Rogue One was a good movie with many strong emotional beats, it never quite made it to great.
Spoilers for everything below the jump!
We begin with protagonist Jyn Erso as a child; she watches her mother get murdered as her father Galen, a weapons engineer, is taken by the Empire to help them build their superweapon. Many years later, we return to Jyn, whose exploits have apparently landed her in prison. She is shortly sprung by the Rebellion, as they have learned her true identity and want to use her to get intel on her father’s involvement in the Empire’s plans.
Jyn is first sent to a planet called Jedha, where the Empire has been harvesting kyber crystals from the old Jedi temple, and where an anti-Empire extremist named Saw Gerrera (a Clone Wars character!) apparently has intel on the weapon. Gerrera is also the guy who raised Jyn after her father was taken, so even though the Rebellion has cut ties with him because of his tactics, they’re hoping that Jyn will be able to get the deets out of him. Gerrera shares the hologram transmission he’s received from Jyn’s father through a defector. In the holo, Galen explains that he stayed on the superweapon project, which they’ve called the Death Star, because the Empire was going to build it no matter what, and if he protested it he would be killed. Alive, however, he can work against the Empire in ways that they will not notice, such as – aha! – designing the murderstation with a hidden but easily exploitable weakness. If the Rebellion can get its hands on the Death Star’s schematics, located on a planet called Scarif, they will be able to take it down.
Unfortunately, the staff of the murderstation in question decide that Jedha City would be a great place to test the Death Star’s beam on a low-power, city-destroying setting. While escaping the blast, Jyn fails to grab the drive containing the holo transmission. Without this proof, the Rebellion’s leaders only have Jyn’s word on the matter, and they are loath to engage in a frontal assault on the Scarif databases without harder evidence. That’s where the “Rogue” part of the movie comes in. Together with a Rebel agent, two fighters they picked up on Jedha, a defector Imperial pilot, and a crew of Rebel grunts, Jyn commandeers a vessel and they head to Scarif anyway against the Council’s orders. After much infiltration and storming of beaches, they discover where the plans are located and are able to transmit them back out on a Rebellion channel. However, while the plans are received and passed off–to a young Leia, of all people!–it’s too late for our brave rogues, who all die when the Death Star is used to destroy the Scarif outpost.
One thing I do commend this movie for is that it really does stand alone. While it adds to the existing universe, it isn’t necessary to see it to understand the others, and it isn’t particularly necessary to have seen the others to see this. And in a world where everydamnthing is coming at us with sequels, it’s nice to see a story that begins and ends for good in two hours and change.
However, I was concerned to see that, as I was worried from the second trailer it would be, Jyn’s story is too tightly tied to her relationship to men. Her importance to the Rebellion is not due to her own rebellious skills – in fact, it’s unclear what skills she does have besides being a “strong female character” – but rather due to her relationship with her father and to Gerrera. We only get the bare bones-est of information why she was in prison, for example, so we have no idea what her skills even are. A great deal of the material from the trailers seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor, as even her rallying “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel!” line isn’t in the movie. We never really get to know her as a person, although this may be a fault of the large cast rather than poor writing of women, as we don’t spend a ton of time getting to know the rest of the cast either.
While there were more women in and around this movie’s Rebel Alliance than there were in A New Hope‘s, there still weren’t a lot. They did go to the trouble of including (white) women amongst the X-wing pilots. While Jyn and Mon Mothma do briefly speak, I can’t recall the topic and am therefore not certain that it passed the Bechdel test. Furthermore, this movie still doesn’t do right by women of color. While the joke about Marvel movies is that they have more white dudes named Chris as leads than anything else, Star Wars seems deeply committed to their “brunette white lady” casting. And while The Force Awakens at least had women of color in a variety of visible minor roles as pilots and officers, the bulk of the women on screen in this movie are white. I’m leery of reviews calling Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s role inspiring representation; she is on screen for a total of a few minutes, and her role is narratively negative–she’s one of the Rebel leaders who don’t want to move on Jyn’s word-of-mouth intel.
But in terms of racial representation for the guys of color in the movie, it was far better than previous Star Warses. The entire team of rogues excepting Jyn is men of color, allowing them to inhabit different roles rather than just being tokens. Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, is a once-dutiful Rebel agent who finds himself questioning his (admittedly trigger-happy) captain’s orders. The movie also departed from the stereotype of the Latin lover; despite some chemistry between Cassian and Jyn, the movie ended without a kiss or any explicit declaration of feelings. (I was also very excited to see that the Rebellion’s base in this movie is on Yavin 4, Poe Dameron’s home planet, which was based on Guatemala and whose primary form of architecture in this movie appeared to be Mayan-esque stepped pyramids. Unfortunately, Poe’s parents, Shara Bey and Kes Dameron, did not make an appearance.)
Bodhi Rook is played by a Middle Eastern actor, Riz Ahmed, and is the Imperial defector pilot who escapes the Empire at great risk to himself in order to bring the Rebellion Galen’s intel. Saw Gerrera is played by Forest Whitaker in a departure from his Black authority figure role in Arrival; rather, his hyper-paranoid extremist tactics have resulted in his excommunication from the Rebellion. It’s also cool that he’s a carry-over character from the Clone Wars TV series, as it means that more from that and the Star Wars Rebels shows may appear in the cinematic universe as well.
Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, played by Asian actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang respectively, are an odd-couple who combine Chirrut’s Force-sensitive martial arts with Baze’s more aggro guns-blazing fighting style to great effect. Chirrut, however, seems like the weakest character out of the bunch; he is blind, which would be good representation except that he is essentially Force-sensitive Daredevil, and his blindness therefore has no real effect on his ability to fight or defend himself. Combined with the fact that he’s also basically a super-spiritual martial-artist monk, he seems like a bit of a hodge-podge of Asian stereotypes. While it’s progress that Star Wars finally featured actual Asian characters in their universe, given that it’s so strongly based on a mishmash of Asian cultures and religions, Chirrut really wasn’t given enough time to develop into a nuanced expression of that.
I’m also worried that people are going to point to he and Baze as being queer representation. While the two are shown as being very close in the movie in a way that felt strongly queer-coded, there is no clear confirmation that their relationship is anything more than the homosocial bonds often formed by fellow soldiers. It’s disappointing that the movie didn’t take this chance to introduce a nuanced queer PoC relationship into the Star Wars canon–especially as the two of them, along with the rest of the Rogue team, both die at the end, so it wouldn’t be like they had to worry about including them in other things. In a situation where the entire main cast is going to die anyway, it feels less “bury your gays” if the queer characters die along with everyone else. Although this wouldn’t be the first instance of queer representation I’d necessarily want in a Star Wars movie, making Chirrut and Baze explicitly queer would mean that they would have been two heroes who weren’t defined by their attractions and that the only noteworthy romance in the movie would have been a queer one. So this would still have been important for representation. The reaction could also have helped the studio gauge the potential response to a different queer person of color relationship that I for one would like to see in the main series *cough* Stormpilot *cough*.
As a final note, I did think that the inclusion of characters from the original movies was very well done. I thought Vader was used just enough; he is not the main villain of this movie, but it would have been off for him to not appear at all. He is sinister and menacing, but also apparently not above making a fucking dad joke about force-choking a dude. Some serious CGI movie magic allowed the film to include both Grand Moff Tarkin (who is still simply Governor Tarkin in this movie) and a young Princess Leia in the film. While Tarkin’s inclusion was more necessary to the plot and Leia’s more just a quick cameo, I was highly impressed with the realism of the graphics used to recreate them. I know people are grossly divided on the issue of whether including a young Leia was stupid or awesome, but I’m firmly in the latter camp. While it is obvious to infer that the safely transmitted plans’ next stop was beginning-of-A New Hope Leia, her few lines at the end helped underscore the theme of the movie, which was that out of darkness and destruction, our bonds with other people and willingness to sacrifice ourselves for them can ultimately deliver hope.
While people keep trying to pretend that Star Wars has never been political (ha) I’d be remiss finally not to comment on the political message of a movie that’s literally about a group of scrappy and diverse underdogs who believe in freedom heading up against a fascist Imperial government. The film’s creators seem to be aware that their overall message of hope in the face of insurmountable odds is one that’s very timely. I just wish that the movie had done a bit better by its characters, as a Rogue One with richer and more relatable characterization would have been on an entirely different scale of awesome.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!