There was a man with his maybe six year old daughter sitting next to me at the Rogue One showing I attended and every time there was a callback to previous Star Wars movies, whether by cameo or visual or spoken reference, he would turn to her and explain what it meant. Two hours into the movie, I heard him say “There’s too much to explain, but once we get home I will tell you everything.”
I can only imagine that the little girl will now spend her Christmas vacation discovering the world George Lucas crated forty years ago, and waiting anxiously for every new movie that Disney will release each year until our planet dies the same way Jedha did.
A year ago I had my qualms about the studio releasing Star Wars stories every year, as The Force Awakens felt more like a remake of A New Hope instead of something crafty and ambitious. I figured that the massive success of that flick would signal other studios to follow suit, until eventually we were left with nothing but sequels to a reboot of a prequel of a remake that was an adaptation. And while Rogue One tries hard to conform to what came before and after, there are stretches where it doesn’t really feel like Star Wars, and that is wonderful.
The entire final sequence feels more like a World War Two epic than what the audience has come to expect, with generals giving orders, captains trying to outmaneuver incoming missiles and foot soldiers in a last stand. Even the talk of the Force feels more organic, more akin to soldiers praying to God than something mystic. The many instances in which this movie strives to be something unique are without a doubt the series best.
Consider the scene in which Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is watching a hologram of her dad before she is interrupted by the Death Star destroying the city she is in. As she has been listening to her dad speak, she is barely holding in the tears; when she is interrupted, she falls to her knees, unsure of how to process everything she just heard.
It is a moment of rare poignancy for Star Wars, better known for loud, emotional moments than small and intimate ones.
Indeed that moment reminded me of the devastating scene in Interstellar when Matthew McConaughey watches every video message his children recorded while he was away.
It is not as equally as effective, but the fact that this moment made it into a Star Wars movie, the blockbuster saga that is the textbook definition of fan service, gives me hope that whatever comes next will be as bold and ambitious as the Rebels dreams are.