It’s been nearly a month since its initial release, and the Force is still strong with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Of course, it doesn’t take a Jedi to foresee that any new “Star Wars” movie is going to be a box office success, but “Rogue One” doesn’t just ride on the coattails of the popular film brand; it’s an exciting movie with an important message of its own.
“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope,” Jyn Erso, the heroine of “Rogue One,” tells the leaders of the Rebel Alliance, as they contemplate going up against the forces of evil.
Hope has always been a major theme in the “Star Wars” saga–the original 1977 film bears the subtitle “A New Hope”–and hope often seems like all the franchise’s heroes have to cling to as they fight against the tyrannical Empire. But in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the series’ most morally ambitious installment, hope takes on a profoundly different meaning.
“Rogue One” is an epic “interquel,” which begins shortly after the events of Episode III (the final chapter in the prequel trilogy) and ends moments before the start of Episode IV (the first chapter in the original trilogy). It follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), as she and her companions search for the plans to the Death Star, the space station from the original “Star Wars,” which has the power to destroy entire planets. Jyn’s father, Galen, is a scientist who has been conscripted by the Empire to help engineer the Death Star and its super-laser; his quiet act of rebellion is that he has secretly embedded a fatal flaw in the station’s design, in the hopes that the Rebel Alliance will be able to destroy it.
Though it may sound like just another “Star Wars” story of good guys versus bad guys, “Rogue One” adds new dimensions to its morality and mythology. Over the course of the film, Jyn encounters Saw Gerrera, a rebel extremist who employs brutal tactics, and Cassian Andor, who, though Jyn’s ally, is determined to assassinate her father for being an accessory to the Empire. These characters bring new shades of gray to the formerly unimpeachable Rebel Alliance, and they raise questions about whether a war can ever be waged ethically.
One of the most fascinating new additions to the “Star Wars” universe is Chirrut Imwe, a blind sage who trusts in the Force religiously. He repeats the mantra “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me,” and aspires to carry out the will of the Force, rather than use the Force for his own benefit. When we first meet him, he is a guardian of an ancient Jedi temple, which has been overrun by imperial troops. Chirrut’s faith gives him courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
For Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy of “Star Wars,” hope came with immediate, positive results, like saving his friends or redeeming his father. For Jyn Erso and the rebels in “Rogue One,” the fruits of hope are far off. We know that Jyn and company will not destroy the Death Star–they’re only running the first leg of the relay race. Their brand of hope is defined by a willingness to fight for a future they may never get to see. The moral of “Rogue One” is that the fight for what’s right is bigger than any one person, and we must all be prepared to make sacrifices for hope to endure. It’s a powerful message, especially as we start a new year, already marred by so much division.
Fans of the “Star Wars” series will not be disappointed by this latest entry, which includes several characters from the original trilogy and some heart-stopping action sequences. But “Rogue One’s” greatest strength is that it does what a good prequel is supposed to do: it enriches the story it precedes. Not only does “Rogue One” broaden the context of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” but more importantly, it deepens the film’s thematic resonance. Hope is worth having, even if its rewards are beyond your reach.