When I was eight years old, some friends of the family gave me The Star Wars Storybook. Back in 1979, there was just one movie (and a confusing, once-seen Christmas special), and the action figures.
Everything I could learn of the larger universe of the movie that had changed my life was in that book. I wanted to know about the rebels, the past of Darth Vader and Kenobi, and who were these alliance pilots and Grand Moff Tarkin?
Some questions were answered in Empire, and Return of the Jedi, and others I got through comic books (I really enjoyed the Marvel Star Wars comic series started in 1977). And of course, we have the Jar-Jar infected prequels, which, with just enough denial, can be watchable for the light saber fights, or shown to children, who love them.
But it was only yesterday, when I saw Rogue One, that I saw the world I’d glimpsed when pressing my face against the glass as an eight-year old. I watched Rogue One with my brother, his eleven-year old son, and my own eleven-year old. And I really enjoyed it, in a complex way.
The first half was action-packed, with dizzying scene cuts that came a bit too fast for me, in part because no one in the movie is known to us. We have the Imperial Defector, the Spy, and the Hero, each with their own history and context, disconnected from the other.
The pieces started falling into place solidly at about half an hour or forty minutes, but it wasn’t that the beginning wasn’t working. It was a roller-coaster ride rather than the slightly more sedate openings of New Hope, Empire or Return of the Jedi (the latter two of which have the advantage of us already knowing the cast).
The tone was also different, in a way that really worked for the forty-something me. Firstly, the tone was set in the casting. The casting alone more broadly reflects the city I live in, something that has been missing from the franchise. This alone made me take it more seriously.
Secondly, while the Star Wars franchise has always been violent, thematically based as it was on Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Samurai movies, the consequences have always been emotionally distant and off camera.
Rogue One quite firmly puts the consequences of both Imperial rule and Rebellion tactics as prominently as if they were cast members. From Stormtroopers roughing up locals, to Darth Vader’s motivational talks, to the hard choices and sacrifices of the rebels, this is several steps grittier and harder than Ben Kenobi kicking butt in the cantina or Luke losing a hand.
I’ve said for many years that all six original movies are aimed at fourteen year-olds (plus or minus seven years), which is why the three prequels were so hard to swallow. But Rogue One really deserves its PG rating, and both eleven-year olds were a bit surprised by what happened in the movie, to the point of protest.
Remember in the original trilogy when Mon Mothma said “Many Bothan spies died to get these plans”? Well, consider that the 10% of the tonal iceberg. Rogue One is deftly good at making us like all of the rebels, from the humans to the unclassifiable and incomprehensible and reprogrammed.
But some of the things the rebels have to do aren’t safe and it’s not really a spoiler to say not everyone makes it out safely. This was a bit of a new experience for my eleven-year old. But he still loved the movie. And so did I.
I’ve seen some chatter about it on my twitter feed, friends comparing it to the other movies, and they’re ranking it pretty highly, in the top three of the franchise. I tend to agree. This is the first movie of the franchise I’ve watched as an adult where they’ve treated me as an adult.
That’s not to say they didn’t leave room for plot quibbles, but I’m not going to get into that. Maybe after everyone has seen it and there’s no risk of spoilers, I’ll do a post on my quibbles. But for now, I’m really happy with the movie. Feel free to comment your thoughts below (spoiler-free of course).
Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec. He blogs here every two weeks and tweets from @derekkunsken. Asimov’s has recently podcast his Aurora-nominated short story “To Live and Die in Gibbontown,” the story of a monkey with a bad visa, a euthanasia company and a high-powered rifle. You can listen to it free here. (Caution: swearing, adult diapers, and bullet-proof chimpanzees.)