Movie review: “Rogue One”

Note: this review contains some spoilers. 

I have a well-aired gripe about most war movies: there are too many happy endings. This is for obvious narrative reasons: an accurate depiction of war would involve dozens of abortive attempts at resolution; both pro- and antagonists cut down at random moments in undignified manner; exhausting stints of boredom punctuated by chaos; above all, no clearly discernable message. To market such a movie would be impossible; even movies famed for their “gritty” and “realistic” portrayals of war, such as “Saving Private Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down”, still obey basic laws of narrative—someone survives to “tell” the story to the viewer. Last weekend, I was pleased to watch this rule be broken. I was astonished to watch it be broken by a Star Wars movie.

In “Rogue One: A Star Wars story”, the survivor is not a who, but a what—a tiny strip of golden film containing blueprints for the massive, planet-destroying Death Star. Everyone involved in its creation, theft, and handoff dies. The movie is the story of their sacrifice—a sacrifice made in the shadow of a mounting threat from an aggressive fascist government willing to pawn civil liberty for security. In case the critique is not yet pointed enough, “Rogue One” sharpens the stick and pokes harder: the nascent Death Star makes its weapons debut by destroying a large desert city with the vaguely Arabic-sounding name of “Jeddah”. Unfortunately, the analogy breaks down when it comes to the good guys: a scrappy group of outgunned rebels is all well and good, but whom exactly on the current world stage are they supposed to represent? An obvious answer presents itself, but one would hope “Rogue One” isn’t endorsing any fanatically violent suicide cults, no matter how scrappy. The film leaves the uncomfortable question hanging, and it’s still bothering me a full week after seeing it—which is, perhaps, exactly the point.

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