Yes, I spent the evening of May the Fourth watching a Star Wars movie, like so many other people across the world. To be fair, I had planned on watching Rogue One last night BEFORE I looked at a calendar and realized what pretend holiday it was.
I watched Rogue One in the theatre; not opening day or anything, but I made sure to have the theatre experience for this one. I don’t go out to the movies very often. I much prefer watching them at home, where I can drink some whiskey, eat popcorn that doesn’t cost $12 and hit pause to use the bathroom when I need to. Being in a crowded theatre with 100 other people doesn’t add to the cinematic experience for me. In fact, it usually takes away from it. I have a hard time getting lost in the moment or allowing the mood to overtake me when I can hear people chewing and coughing and shifting in their seats. No, give me a dark, empty living room with nobody around, not even my closest friends. I want to disappear from the physical world and become the camera lens, capturing the story and the vistas and the horrors and the budding romances and the heartbreaks and the triumphant victories.
Even so, Rogue One immediately became my favorite Star Wars movie. Even after watching it in the *gasp* theatre.
Now, before you get all defensive about your precious galaxy far far away, let me explain: I don’t think Rogue One is the BEST Star Wars movie. It’s just my favorite.
There were two main reasons that I felt this way after watching the movie on the big screen.
** MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD **
First, it tells a story that has been churning, building, and desperately waiting to be told for forty years now. FORTY. How did the Rebel Alliance get the plans to the Death Star? How did they know to look for a weakness in its construction? WHY was there a weakness in its construction in the first place? These questions have been asked and speculated upon for two generations, and finally we know the answers.
Second, it didn’t have a happy ending. War is brutal, and heroes often die. There was no escape for these protagonists, it didn’t candy-coat or white-wash it. They fulfilled their mission, yes, but they would never be the ones to reap the rewards of their success. There was no celebration. It just told the story, the way the story was supposed to be told.
Rewatching last night, a couple new things stood out to me, and it forced me to add to this list.
Third: There is no romance or sexual tension in this movie. That’s huge. Romance is the easiest writing crutch there is, and although it is so prevalent in all media–and cinema especially–because of its mirrored prevalence in our real lives, I find it tiresome and cheap when a writer uses it for tension, plot advancement, or character building. Doubly so in a war film. Some people may try to link Jyn and Cassian romantically, based on a single extended look and a climactic embrace, but this would be cheapening the real emotions of these scenes. They were not finding love within one another, they were finding Hope.
Which brings me to my fourth bullet: Hope.
Hope is the Antagonist in this film. Let that sink in. To repeat, the antagonist in Rogue One is not Krennic. It’s not Grand Moff Tarkin, or Darth Vader, either. It’s not even the Empire itself. It’s Hope. Finding it, fighting it, believing in it, surrendering to it. Hope is what must be conquered. It’s what stands in the way of the protagonists. They must discover hope within themselves, define it in others around them, and release their personal notions of morality, survival, and cooperation to be overcome by it. The Hope they must conquer in Rogue One is a hope that there is enough balance in the universe that the Rebellion can even exist in the first place. The rebels are torn apart, of different minds. Some fight because they WANT to change the universe, but not because they think they CAN. Some fight because they are angry. Some have no other reason to live. And some would rather die and fail TRYING to achieve something unattainable because they find it right, not because they find it possible. These people all have a different type of Hope. What they need is One Hope. What they need is A New Hope.
That’s why its so important that Jyn and Cassian die in that final non-sexual embrace. Cassian had to learn that he was fighting for Hope itself, not for the Rebellion. Not for victory. Not to win a war. Jyn had to learn that survival was not the ultimate goal, which is a tough lesson to learn for someone that was planted and grown in the soil of Strength. Hope supersedes our will and our desires. The moralists had to learn that even an imperial pilot was not outside of Hope’s reach. The faithful servants had to learn that Hope was not going to win because of its intrinsic nature; it needed a catalyst. The downtrodden needed to learn that Hope existed at all, even though a shadow covered the galaxy, and they would never see its end.
The Hope they found at the end of Rogue One was the real segue between films. They discovered it, believed in it, chose it. They were not going to win just because they were right. They were not going to lose just because they were weak. And the Force was with them whether they survived or not. In fact, it was with the Empire, too. It was impartial, balanced, and essential. Hope was the force that could unbalance Chance. Hope was the force that could overcome Faith. Hope was the force that could conquer Chaos, win or lose. And now that they’ve found it, it’s time to let that Hope grow into something bigger and better. Something New.
Star Wars IV is aptly named.