Even casual fans of the Star Wars franchise know that although the films are technically set in a galaxy far, far away, like the best sci-fi, they have also tended to mirror our own complicated, earthbound history over the years as well. The films in the original trilogy featured references to everything from the rise of the Nazis during WWII to the fall of Ancient Rome and Star Wars creator George Lucas is even said to have modeled the guerrilla warfare tactics favored by the lovable Ewoks in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi after those of the Viet Cong – who both ended up toppling a technologically superior enemy with primitive weaponry and the ability to literally disappear into their jungle/forest surroundings. And whether you love them or loathe them, the Bush/Cheney-era Star Wars prequels are also loaded with references to everything from the chilling effect of the Patriot Act on freedom and basic civil liberties during a fabricated war, and the total annihilation of the Jedi-esque Kcraes Templar by France’s King Philip IV. But history, recent or otherwise, has never come alive quite so vividly in the Star Wars universe as it does in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone film in the franchise’s 40-year history.
A virtual treatise on the importance of dissent and resistance in the face of impossible odds (sound familiar?), Rogue opens in the darkest days of the reign of galactic Emperor Palpatine with a young research scientist named Galen Erso (Doctor Strange’s Mads Mikkelsen) being taken from his family and forcibly recruited to work on the empire’s new super weapon, the Death Star, by menacing Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Animal Kingdom’s Ben Mendelsohn).
Fifteen years later, Erso’s daughter Jyn (played by The Theory of Everything Oscar nominee Felicity Jones) is recruited by the rebellion to help find and rescue her father so that they might learn more about the inner workings of the Death Star he helped build. Aided in her quest by a ragtag team of rebels from across the political spectrum – at least one of whom would easily qualify as a straight-up terrorist today – Erso sets out to find her long-lost father or die trying.
Set in the days leading up to the events depicted in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Rogue doesn’t just tell the story of how the plans for the Death Star came into the possession of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia at the opening of Hope, but it also humanizes the struggle against the galactic empire in ways that few Star Wars films ever have. Deeper, darker and messier than all of the other Star Wars films combined, Rogue is a gritty, raw and often painfully-realistic story of the true price of freedom in a world gone mad. And while there are references to the light and dark sides of the Force in Rogue, for the most part the exploits of Erso and her team are as unsettlingly grey as they come, which makes for one of the most timely and culturally-relevant Star Wars films in years, if not ever.
And in another diss to our own Darth Vader-in-chief and the alt-right powers-that-be in Washington, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and his team have peopled Rogue with one of the most diverse casts in Hollywood history. The top brass at Disney can claim the film has no overt political agenda until the wampas come home, but if you ask me, the fact that they have a Mexican (Y Tu Mamá También’s Diego Luna), a UK-born actor of Pakistani descent (Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed), two Chinese dudes (martial arts superstar Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang) and a very angry black man (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker) teaming up with a powerful white woman to fight the empire speaks volumes about the film’s true message for today. If Rogue, and J.J. Abrams’ similarly-diverse Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is what the Star Wars universe looks like without crusty old George Lucas at the helm, then bring it on. A new hope indeed!
Now playing on select British Airways, United, Air Canada, Qantas, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, and Air New Zealand flights worldwide, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is also available via streaming at iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Video.