I think it is almost human nature to be suspicious of big corporations. Especially when those business behemoths gobble up something we are quite fond of. The perfume industry is full of these stories with results both good and bad. Most of the time I hope for the best and brace for the worst. This was my attitude when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October of 2012. Disney had done the same with another company beloved to me Marvel Comics three years earlier but by 2012 it seemed to be something where hope for the best was coming true. Lucasfilm was another thing entirely because Star Wars might just be the most beloved franchise on the planet. There was so much which could go wrong.
Disney announced fairly quickly after the deal was signed that we were going to get new Star Wars movies. First a new trilogy of Episodes 7-9. Hope for the best was again rewarded with last year’s release of Episode 7 The Force Awakens. Disney wasn’t done though they also announced an ambitious slate of movies that were going to come out in the years in between the main Episodes. They were calling these Star Wars Anthology movies.
Star Wars Anthology movies were meant to be standalone movies exploring a side story within the Star Wars universe. This was where my brace for the worst instincts kicked in. This was where it felt like maybe the Mouse Machine was trying to enact a cash grab on the affection of the fans.
The first of these Anthology movies was released this weekend called Rogue One-A Star Wars Story. The plot is to visually explain everything we read in the opening crawl of the very first Star Wars movie released. If you need a reminder here is what the first thing anyone who viewed Star Wars saw.
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…."
Rogue One tells the story of how those plans were acquired. Director Gareth Edwards promised a war movie and Rogue One is the Star Wars version of The Dirty Dozen who are assembled to chase down the plans. The movie has a typical structure for these kinds of plots. We meet the fringe characters who have endured tragedy. The specialists who bring their specific skills to the job. The comic relief. All of those are here. I loved movies like Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and The Great Escape when I was a kid. Rogue One fits in that tradition except it is also a full-blooded Star Wars movie too. What that means is it ties in to the other seven movies we have seen in ways big and small. This is where the difference really laid for me because at the end of Rogue One I really understood what it took for the Rebellion to win that first victory along with the importance of the plans.
I am not going to go much deeper into the plot and spoil any of the surprises in the movie but I do want to comment on one thing which was just spectacularly done. In the original Star Wars, George Lucas told how he was inspired by the old World War 2 dogfight movies. How he wanted the battles between Rebel X-Wings and Empire TIE Fighters to feel like that. The final battle of Rogue One has evolved that to the ultimate space dogfight footage in the entire series. The battle above the surface of the planet is as mesmerizing as the one going on below. It is this sequence that you want to see in IMAX 3-D.
As much as I dread prequels because as a viewer you know where it has to end; Rogue One foils that by letting you see the effort needed to reach that goal spoken of in the Episode IV opening crawl. I came home and watched Episode IV after seeing Rogue One opening night and it changed the way I saw that movie now. If Disney can commit to this kind of filmmaking hope for the best is just the beginning.