We’ve had this amazing relationship throughout these soon to be forty years. Together, we’ve ridden that proverbial roller coaster, have both had our triumphs and our failures, and managed to still have people love us. Star Wars has been a part of my life since I took my first breath and I would consider myself a pretty big fan.
I’ve gone to most opening nights when new movies have come out, save for the first two where I was still in diapers and toddling around the house getting into trouble. Yet, science fiction was like food for the soul in my house and my father made sure we saw them when we could understand what was going on. I fell in love. I wanted to be Princess Leia.
In 1999, I researched Phantom Menace despite the secrecy and dressed up as Queen Amidala for the premiere. Now, I know you’ll scream about pictures and it doesn’t really count if there aren’t any, but there aren’t. Sorry.
I remember the intensity of that night. News crews were there interviewing die hard fans. The mood was electric. We grabbed our popcorn and cheered at the iconic scroll. We all know how that evening ended. Check that–we all know how that whole series ended. <insert sad face>
The Force Awakens premiere had a very similar atmosphere. This was my chance to introduce a new era of this space opera to my own kids. I prayed to the cinema gods that we would see something amazing. We left that theater pumped up. I loved it. My girls loved it. We had all sorts of theories on Rey’s lineage. We were in shock over Han’s death. We can’t wait for Episode 8. For an excellent distillation of this movie, see this video of Movies with Mikey.
Star Wars has had a profound effect in my life. It’s the kind of saga that makes you question a lot of things in both the crafting of said universe, and how those things may apply to your own.
So naturally, when the previews came out for Rogue One, it was a definite “must see.” I had booked our vacation before the release date, but we happened to be sailing to the Bahamas on the Disney cruise line on opening day. We sat on the slightly rocky Dream, at 11PM in a full Walt Disney Theater, and waited for the credits to roll. The audience went wild.
And from the first few scenes, we knew we weren’t watching a typical Star Wars story. It was gritty, relentless, and depressing.
Yes, some may argue that Empire Strikes Back was depressing, or hell, episodes 1,2,3 were soul crushing in their own way, but this was a different kind of depressing. One that shakes you to your core, because you know this movie isn’t speaking about the characters on the screen, but right at you. It holds a different kind of weight.
I wanted to hate it. I wanted to hate it for all the technical and storytelling reasons. I checked my watch to see just how much time was left. I silently cursed at the rapid jumps from planet to planet and wondered just what had been cut. There were scenes that were obviously missing from the previews. Saw Gerrera’s story was superfluous in this version and I wanted to love Jyn Erso, but couldn’t. I also didn’t care for the CGI’d Tarkin or Leia as it pulled me right out of the movie, but in the end, those things didn’t really matter. I could pick at the details forever. I want to talk about the overall theme here:
Rogue One couldn’t have come at a better time. Coupled with all the fear and angst invading many a psyche, the message is simple and very powerful. Hope is essential. Hope can be rekindled from even the smallest, dying ember. Hope should be fought for and is worth the ultimate sacrifice.
One by one, we watch as each of the characters pay the price to keep hope alive in an untenable situation. They do it because at some point, keeping that ember burning for others transcends the self. It becomes essential for the greater good.
“I am one with the Force, the Force is with me” is not only a mantra for self discipline, but speaks to the bigger picture of what the Force actually represents. It is everything–life, death, happiness, sadness, love, and hate, despair, and that much repeated word, hope. It is all of the things that make us who we are. With hints in episode seven that perhaps this light side/dark side thing isn’t so black and white, I think Rogue One gives us a real look on what it takes to maintain the balance.
Despite Rogue One’s problems, I think the movie ultimately succeeds in showing that there are many ways to fight for something. From standing up to a bully threatening to destroy her family, Lyra Erso holds firm with a blaster and still shoots, even though she is woefully outgunned. Galen Erso literally fights from inside the belly of the beast and forges the hope in the form of an Achilles heel. Cassian Andor kills his contact when to the best of his knowledge, the message keeping hope alive is in peril. Chirrut Imwe crosses a field in one of the truly beautiful moments of this movie, to throw a switch, knowing he will pay the ultimate price, but does it anyway. Scores put their lives on the line and die, passing on plans to stop this horrific Goliath as it carves its destructive path through the universe.
The payoff? Watching the camera pan in on Darth Vader and knowing that even through that mask, he was rattled. Watching the Empire destroy a planet which held unique copies of pretty much everything because they knew they could be beaten. Watching how the smallest group of people willing to stand up, put their foot down and shout no, had mighty results.