With the Rebel Alliance foundering between surrender and extremism, the boundary between the light side and the dark has never been so unclear. The gritty visuals of the movie have been touted since it was announced, but it's this unflinching appraisal of 'the good guys' that makes Rogue One so relevant today.
The movie immediately introduces us to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) the daughter of a prestigious science officer hiding from the Galactic Empire. When her mother is killed and her father forced to return to his work, Jyn falls under the protection of the radical Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Years later, we find her alone and rebelling without a cause. She's strong, capable, and immediately likeable, ricocheting between the Rebels and the Empire during the first act with mostly just self-interest guiding her. There's a bitter apathy to Jyn Erso that resonates powerfully. When asked if she cares about seeing Imperial flags flying across the galaxy, she quips: 'It's not a problem if you don't look up'. This tragic defeatism is characteristic of so many people today who feel powerless and unheard. Young people in particular are often criticised for their lack of political involvement, with voting polls pulled up for scrutiny at every possible opportunity. Felicity Jones as Jyn perfectly captures the bravado of a young woman who feels her actions won't make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Yet, Rogue One more than any story before it is a movie about how the deeds of brave individuals can shape an entire galaxy.
After Jyn is rescued from a prison transit by Rebels, she's partnered with the ruthless Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), whose introductory mercy-killing of an informant makes Han Solo 'shooting first' seem tame. Their job is to track down her old mentor Saw Gerrera, and to discover if there's any truth to the rumours of a new planet-killing weapon designed by Jyn's father for the Empire. The Rebel Alliance has always been seen as the democratic counter-point to Imperial fascism, but Gareth Edwards introduces us to a sectarian conflict where different militant bands operate by their own codes. While the Rebel Alliance reach out to the paranoid Saw Gerrera for his information, he's busy torturing his defector senseless. This breakdown of information directly leads to defeats, setbacks, and tragic sacrifices. It's easy to see why Jyn refuses to believe in the cause when murky politics play out with such catastrophic implications. Even Cassian's militant loyalty is tested by the breakdown of information and tentative political manoeuvring from his superiors.
This diplomatic conflict forces Jyn, Cassian, and a core group of followers to go rogue on a mission to capture the plans to the Death Star. Any Star Wars fan knows where this mission leads.
Just how closely the events of Rogue One knit into those of A New Hope is incredible, with some moments that'll leave fans giddy with nostalgia and excitement. However, it's not about tying the threads together until the dying moments, and despite the plot flowing directly into A New Hope, Rogue One is a story about its own characters with a very definite ending. The knowledge that the mission will succeed never detracts from the tension of The Battle of Scarif, where a series of emotional pay-offs proves the importance of every member of this ensemble cast.
Ultimately the plan would not have succeeded were it not for the sacrifices of every member of the crew. Whether it's Chirrut Îmwe's (Donnie Yen) walk of faith through enemy fire to flick a master switch, or Bodhi's (Riz Ahmed) dash to connect an uplink, every action is pivotal in allowing the Death Star plans to be beamed onto the Rebel flagship. We see small victories stacked on small victories, until the plans end up in the hands of none other than Princess Leia herself.
Jyn Erso might not make the Death Star trench run, or come face to face with the Emperor, but she's a pivotal part of the broader struggle for the galaxy. Her decision to step up and make herself count forms the basis of the Rebellion as we once knew it, even if she doesn't survive to see the victory. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a statement about finding hope, refusing to bend to what you know is wrong, even if it leads to conflict. Above all, it's about taking part in something bigger than yourself. Just because you don't see the effect of your actions, doesn't mean they don't have enormous implications. And just because a Star Wars movie doesn't have a credit crawl, doesn't mean it isn't one of the best entries in the saga.
If you haven't had chance to watch Rogue One yet, book your tickets here.