Note: After reading his review of “Rogue One,” the author invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
A fan said somewhere on the Web Net that “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” finally filled the void that Episode VII’s “The Force Awakens” had attempted to fill but didn’t quite pull off (though it got much closer than the prequels). I absolutely agree.
As marvelous and nostalgic as “The Force Awakens” was in many ways–and I was completely wowed by it when I first saw it and gave it a very positive review–as months passed I began to notice how some of the elements in it were bothering me. One example: it needed more exposition–especially with the First Order. (How the heck did the First Order rise to such heights of overwhelming power over just a few decades after the Rebels wiped out the Empire and the Emperor was killed? Why is the Star Killer weapon such a surprise to the Republic? How did the First Order manage to build a planet-sized weapon hundreds of times larger than the Death Star and no one knew about it? The overwhelming scope of the First Order’s size and power seemed implausible and it made the huge victory against the Galactic Empire in “Return of the Jedi” seem small and less meaningful. Hopefully Episode VIII will provide enough exposition and backstory to explain all the gaps in Episode VII and make things more plausible.)
I will explain why I feel that way, and then dive into some of the deeper themes of the film. I use an inductive approach to my reviews (observe, interpret, apply) because I believe movies should be more than just entertainment. They should be taken with us from the movie theater and applied in meaningful ways to our lives.
(Observations) Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” takes the essentials of a classic ensemble cast war movie–i.e. “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” or “Fury”–and places it in a Star Wars framework. Not only does “Rogue One” have good writing (with laugh-out-loud humor similar to a Marvel action film or the original Star Wars trilogy), superb acting from the entire cast, and a creative plot, it has these four major positives going for it that I especially appreciate:
- The Breathtaking Worlds. The film takes you into absolutely gorgeous settings, especially the tropical beach-style planet during the third act of the film. It expands the look and feel of the Star Wars universe and makes you want to see the film again just to experience those captivating environments.
- Flying Spacecraft Battles That Make You Cheer. When the Rebel fighters get in the mix, the film does a good job of giving us something new–meaning it’s not just the same old plot line of Rebel fighters trying to fly into the a vulnerable section of a giant killer space station and shoot its power source. They actually can do other stuff too! And we see the Rebel fleet do some creative problem solving to help the main characters of Rogue One accomplish their goal.
- It Actually Ventures Into New Plot Territory That Doesn’t ‘Rhyme’ with the Original Trilogy (Or Mimic its Plot Pattern). George Lucas patterned the prequels to “rhyme” with the original trilogy, and we saw many of the same plot themes and plot points repeated. We got even more of this with “The Force Awakens”–in yet another near duplicate of the Episode IV plot point of finding a huge killer space station’s weakness to blow it up at the last second. In fact, “The Force Awakens” copied almost every major plot point of “A New Hope” from beginning to end. This lack of plot point originality bothered some fans who were hoping for something more innovative. “Rogue One” provides that innovation. It finally detaches itself from Hollywood’s obsessive compulsive need to somehow preserve the plot structure of the original trilogy in every new Star Wars movie. It actually does something new! A Star Wars plot we’ve never seen! What? A heist movie mixed with a war movie mixed with a kung fu movie? “Rogue One” is delightfully refreshing and satisfying as a Star Wars film for that reason–because it is unique and finally gives us a new style of story.
- Its Brilliant, Seamless Fit into “Episode IV: A New Hope.” The way the film welded itself onto the opening events of Episode IV was startling, exhilarating, and, frankly, pure genius. If you appended “Rogue One” to the beginning of “New Hope” seamlessly without any title credits or interruption–just one film spliced onto the other one–you would hardly notice that a new movie was beginning after “Rogue One” finished and “A New Hope” began. It would be one huge 3-4 hour long Star Wars movie with all of the events leading smoothly into the next one. (Though you would definitely wonder why everyone suddenly has 1970s hairstyles and why the special effects look a little older in the second half. Though, even then, you wouldn’t notice too much because the special effects in Episode IV still hold up and look pretty amazing.)
(Interpretation) Worldviews, Deeper Layers of Meaning, Edifying Themes
Any kind of deeper worldview, archetype, or theme to be had in this movie must first content with the Star Wars mythology, and this almost makes the exercise hollow and pointless. Why? Because, as far as I can tell, George Lucas formed Star Wars with the goal of touching on ever major archetype and cultural symbol that exists in the modern person’s psyche. It is seriously a Las Vegas buffet of culturally universal symbols and psychological archetypes. I believe he did this as almost a social experiment–an attempt to create the most psychologically relatable, accessible film in Hollywood history. To conduct an analysis of the themes in any Star Wars film is like attempting to conduct an analysis of the entire history of western culture’s symbols and beliefs (including its modern turn toward eastern religious and humanistic ethics and philosophy). In Star Wars we see western civilization’s:
- Jewish/Christian roots (self-sacrifice and resurrection is a repeated theme, the Anakin/Darth Vader story is similar to the various “falls” in the Bible–i.e. the fall of humanity, the fall of Lucifer)
- Arthurian legends of knights and chivalry, dragon-slaying, and princess-saving
- Greek mythology roots (mortals vs. the gods who have the power to destroy the world, the rebels vs. the empire that has the power to blow up planets)
- The more recent culture influence of modern fantasy books like Lord of the Rings. (Lucas has cited Tolkien as a major influence.)
- The recent Eastern/New Age roots that our culture embraced in the twentieth century (i.e. The Force is about as New Age/Eastern as you can get because it presents an impersonal deity-like “energy” that is omnipresent and omnipotent like God but does not have a mind or personality as we see with Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and Jesus)
- Humanity’s love of pets. (The Han Solo/Chewbacca friendship is similar to a person and their dog–i.e. a dog is a person’s best friend. Even George Lucas has said in various interviews that the Chewbacca character was modeled after dogs.)
- Humanity’s increasingly dependent, affectionate relationship with technology. (The way characters have droids who assist them or follow them wherever they go.)
I’m just getting started. That list could go on and on. Lucas hit on every pressure point of cultural meaning when he made Star Wars, which, I suspect, is why it was so hugely successful and unprecedented in its popularity. Lucas really is a genius, and this is one of the areas that reveals where the most potent part of his genius lies: in archetype building.
So where does “Rogue One” fit into all of that? It brings some memorable themes into the familiar universe of archetypes. We see a moving father-daughter relationship in which the daughter expresses an undying loyalty and respect for her father. It’s not a dysfunctional relationship. Instead, the strength and love of their relationship becomes the pillar of the story and–quite literally–the thing that pushes the Rebel Alliance to do the right thing. In other words, the love and respect between a father and daughter rules the fate of an entire galaxy and saves millions of lives from the wicked plots of the Empire.
Those aren’t all the themes, of course, but that’s the one that stuck out to me the most. (Maybe because I have a daughter.) For this reason, I found “Rogue One” to be edifying and encouraging. Instead of a film that disrespects fathers or portrays dysfunctional parent-child relationships, we see a relationship filled with love and mutual respect.
Conclusion (and Application):
As a lifelong Star Wars fan who sees the original Star Wars films as a cherished chapter from the golden years of childhood, I have to admit: I am grateful to have lived long enough to see “Rogue One.” Sure, “The Force Awakens” saw the return of the actual characters and a good dose of the spirit from the original trilogy; but “Rogue One” brings back that raw what’s-going-to-happen-next excitement, unpredictability, and rapturous joy of the original trilogy that made theater audiences clap, cry, gasp, and cheer.
And if there’s something to extract from this story and apply to our lives, one of those things might be this: never underestimate the power of a healthy, loving relationship in your life. Try hard to heal dysfunction. Try to bring reconciliation and love to broken lines of communication. One healthy relationship can have a world-changing impact and help others in ways you can’t even imagine.
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Content advisory for this PG-13 film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: None.
Violence/Gore/Scary/Disturbing Content: Plenty of “Star Wars”-style space violence. Tons of people get killed by lasers and explosions in the classic Star Wars fashion. One character is seen getting impaled by a lightsaber. Other characters get their throat squeezed by the Force as a villain uses the dark side of the Force. A creepy alien monster with tentacles slithers its limbs around the face and head of a character to read his mind, and he temporarily goes insane as a result. The half-destroyed, deformed body of a character is seen before it is dressed in its “machinery” that helps it survive and function. We see entire cities destroyed in nuke-like explosions. Two characters are vaporized in a nuke-like explosion. A robot strikes a person in the head and knocks them unconscious. A character shoots another character in the back and kills them.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Note: The parental guidance content advisory is written from a Christian worldview. I am a person of faith with orthodox Christian beliefs like those expressed in “The Everlasting Man” by G. K. Chesterton, “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, and “The Pursuit of God” by A. W. Tozer. That being said, I do not believe that the depiction of evil, even graphic depictions of evil or negative themes in films, is in itself always immoral. I believe it depends on the context and the worldview behind the film’s depiction of evil. All that being said, I try to report the content that gives the film its rating so that you can make an informed decision about viewing the film. Some people need to know detailed information about the content, some do not, in order to make a decision. I try to provide enough detail to give you a sense of the nature of the content. If you need more detail to make a better decision, I recommend visiting PluggedIn.com, as they provide extremely detailed reports of a movie’s content.