We live in a post-film era for big blockbusters. Being an entertaining, self-contained, couple hours of fun isn’t enough anymore as franchises work their own larger continuities into the mix to keep fans coming to the theatres. While criticized for being a largely derivative film, The Force Awakens was praised for setting up the franchise for future annual offerings. As a standalone film, Rogue One demonstrates what a movie can be without the weight of obligation.
Rogue One takes place during the long eighteen year period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, enough for General Motti to remark, “your sad devotion to that ancient religion,” in the latter film. There’s a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, but the leads are complete unknowns. The presence of rebels not related to the Skywalker/Solo/Kenobi/Binks clans was rather refreshing as the mind tends to focus on the film itself rather than the potential parentages of the characters. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna captivate in the leading roles, never once suggesting that the two may be related or that one owned a droid built by the other’s father.
The film moves at a rapid pace, taking little time to explain who its characters are. You probably won’t remember most of their names. There is a natural inclination to knock the film for giving the audience little reason to get behind the characters, except the film’s standalone nature and lean 133 minute runtime stand in direct contrast to most action films these days. Rogue One doesn’t have the luxury of spending the entire film setting up future entries for its characters and it’s better off for not trying. I liked the characters enough to care if they survived various explosions. Isn’t that enough?
Which isn’t to say that it’s a perfect film. The cast is a little bloated and the story relies heavily on dramatic clichés to advance the plot. I’d care more, but I was having too much fun watching a movie that wasn’t trying to be a different movie or sell me on the next one.
The idea of standalone Star Wars films has existed since the Caravan of Courage/Battle for Endor duology back in the 80s. The world George Lucas created offers endless storytelling possibilities, which made J.J. Abrams’ decision to remake A New Hope and The Force Awakens incredibly frustrating. Rogue One doesn’t deviate quite as far from the original films as the Ewok movies, but certainly demonstrates what the franchise is capable of when separated from its beloved characters.
Rogue One succeeded for many of the same reasons as the original. It offered satisfying escapism with breathtaking special effects. It pays homage to its predecessors, offering numerous easter eggs for dedicated fans that don’t take away from the enjoyment of those who don’t even know what the Ewok movies even are. It doesn’t shoot for the stars, but one has to wonder if any film is going to in the Disney era. If this is as good as it gets, I’ll take it, as long as there aren’t any post-credit scenes.