Rogue One transports viewers to a bigger Star Wars universe

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For months, I insisted that I wasnt going to see Rogue One.

I was kind of a whiner about it: Yes, I did see The Force Awakens, and yes, I mostly liked it, butI kept telling friends that I didnt need to buy a ticket to a new Star Wars movie every year for the rest of my life. I repeated that speech right upuntil I found out that a certain TechCrunch editorhad overlookedhis invite to apress screening.

So last night, despite my protests, I found myselfwatching another Star Wars movie. Even then, I told myself it was for journalisms sake. I maintained the lie for as long as I could, but by the time I walked out, I had to admit thatI loved Rogue One more thanForce Awakens, morethan any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.

To be clear, it has its share of problems. The characters are drawn in such broad strokes that I imagine thefinalscript was littered with Post-it notes reading FILL IN CHARACTER ARC HERE. Its only thanks to the heavy lifting of the actors that our heroes feel like more than a generic band of ragtag rebels.(Hey, that was true in the original trilogy, too.)

But despite the underdeveloped characters, this isan exciting start toDisneysanthology films, which will explore stories outside the main Star Wars narrative. Rogue One in particular focuseson how the Rebel Alliance getsits hands on the plans for the Death Star the same Death Star plans that Princess Leia is fleeingwithin the very first shot of the very first film.

Now,that mightnot sound terribly promising:Was anyone really demanding to know who stole the Death Star plans and why? The premise soundsparticularly worrying since this is a franchise witha recordof filling in itsback story inthe most disappointing way

But it turns out that Rogue Ones setup is exactlywhat was needed it allows director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (working from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) to tell a very different kindofStar Warsstory.

Think about seeingA New Hopefor the first time. Think, in particular, aboutthe Mos Eisley cantinawith its seemingly endlessvariety of aliens. Even more than the justly famous shot of Luke Skywalker framed against the two suns of Tattooine,thatsthe moment when the movie convinces you as no science fiction moviehad before that theres a biggerStar Warsuniverse beyond the edges of the screen.

InMos Eisley, youcould almost believe that every single creature atthat bar had an interesting story to tell. The subsequent films are alsostuffed with cool aliens, spaceships and other hints at that broader world a worldfurther fleshedout inthe gone-but-not-forgottenexpanded universe of novels, comics and video games. (Theres evena book about Mos Eisley.)


But the actual plots of Episodes I through VII suggest that theres only one story that reallymatters, namely the grand battle between Jedi and Sith, Rebels and Empire and only a handful of characters whoreally matter to that struggle.Everyone else isa bit player.

Maybe itsa personal thing, but this hasalways felt a little unsatisfying to me, as far as space opera fantasies go. Thankfully,Rogue One isnt about that grand narrative.Its not about someone discovering that theyre the Chosen One destined to bring down an evil empire. Instead, its about people who are barely more than a footnote in the bigger story.

This seems to free Edwards and his writers in a number of ways. For one, theres a surprising grimness to the plot. You might not think that this kind of fatalism belongs in a Star Wars movie, but if anything, it makes Rogue One feelmore grandly heroicthan its predecessors. The rebels reallydont know if theyre going to succeed and even if they do win, they know victory will come at great cost.

Rogue One doesnt look like other Star Wars movies, either. Its certainly full of visual nods to A New Hope, but Edwardshas also talked about his desire to create a gritty war movie, which turns out to be surprisingly accurate.No, were nottalking about Saving Private Ryan here, but the action scenes have a visceral, down-to-Earth quality that putsthem in a different universefrom the carefully choreographedlightsaber duels of the prequels.

Everything comes together in the finale, whichconnectsa muddy gunfighton the surface of atropicalplanet withaspectacular battle in the skies above. Its a beautiful, thrillingsequence, leadinginto my favorite ending of any Star Wars film.

So ultimately, I left the theater resigned to the fact that Ill beseeing moreStar Warsmovies in thefuture. Im sure Ill be disappointed by some of them. But Rogue One convinced me that thisfar away galaxy still has plenty of interesting corners worthexploring.

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