Image Credit to Comingsoon
The following review contains spoilers.
By now, you’ve probably heard enough to decide if Rogue One is the right film for you. Rather than provide a comprehensive review, then, I thought I’d focus on one aspect: the climactic, long, and epic action sequence. While falling short of the original trilogy’s technical brilliance, Rogue One’s use of action to expresses its thoughtful vision of heroism saves the film from a mediocre set-up, makes it unique among modern blockbusters, and allows it to convey a heartbreaking experience.
The final action sequence involves watching Rebel Alliance soldiers, who just learned about the Death Star’s existence, travel to the planet of Scarif, engage in a battle with an Empire fleet, and attempt to retrieve plans that reveal a structural flaw in the Death Star all without the Rebel Alliance’s full support (its leaders decided to surrender due to the Death Star’s power). Three things are striking about this sequence. First, it eschews traditional outcomes for big, blockbuster battles: these Rebels/Rogues are not trying to save the world or universe, rid it of an evil force, or even survive in this specific moment instead they’re merely trying to retrieve and pass on information, to gain knowledge, as a means of preserving the possibility of future success. Second, few of them are traditional heroes in the sense that they’re consistently good; rather, most (like the mission’s leader and protagonist, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)) are people who’ve done dark deeds or ignored others’ plight in favor of advancing their self-interests. Lastly, from the sequence’s outset and certainly as it unfolds, the Rebels’ actions focus less on slaughtering the enemy till they win like in other action films (a near impossibility here considering they’re outnumbered) and instead center on buying enough time so they can transmit what they’ve learned about the Death Star. In other words, the film forsakes all the typical, triumphant, chest-beating aspects of other Hollywood Blockbusters to build a final battle sequence around idiosyncratic, smaller, and possibly even worthless acts that the morally ambiguous people on the morally right side take to preserve a chance of winning.
But it’s the idiosyncrasies of Rogue One’s final battle that make it powerful, particularly how those idiosyncrasies express the work’s conception of heroism. By not focusing on epic victory, but a small, life-threatening battle that may prove to be meaningless, Rogue One disentangles heroism from triumph, a link most blockbusters uphold without even thinking about. Rather, the film suggests that true heroism isn’t about vanquishing evil enemies, but trying to do the right thing when it’s easy to do otherwise. When we cheer in Rogue One, we do so not because we believe the Rebels will save the galaxy today, but because these morally dubious men and women have shown up to fight when they could’ve easily ran. We’re not inspired by them because they dominate their foes or always do right, but because they fight when it matters most, not because they’re superheroes, but because they’re heroes now. It’s a subtle difference, but one that makes Rogue One stand out amongst modern blockbusters (particularly DC and Marvel films), helps it deal with its biggest (and for the first half, fatal) weakness of relying on underdeveloped characters by establishing a commonality that makes us care for them, and allows it to turn suspenseful and heartening in its final moments as these characters come closer to the end.
Rogue One is far from perfect. Aside from its undeveloped characters, the film’s direction needs to offer more moments for viewers to breathe by lingering on the beauty of the landscapes it creates instead of rushing through them for plot purposes. And even the action, which I just spent time praising, could stand to be a little less unwieldy (as in, make the sequence tighter by limiting how many locations it takes place in). Nevertheless, when the film uses action to express an idea, to get to the heart of heroism, Rogue One is special. I pray other Hollywood blockbusters take lessons from it.