Warning: the following contains minor spoilers for Rogue One.
When it comes to Star Wars, I have a terrible secret.
I used to hate it. I never watched the movies as a child, and when I found them later, I thought they were boring and long. I came around eventually, of course, although I’ve always felt a bit of longing when I hear how people have been in love with Star Wars their whole lives. It’s a bizarre manifestation of feeling like I missed out, which is silly, because I have other things that I’ve always loved. I think Star Wars, though, inspires a special kind of devotion in people. It’s a devotion that can seem intimidating when you try to come from the outside in.
As far as fandom goes, I will admit freely that while my love for Star Wars runs deep, I know very little about the video games or tie in novels or expanded universe. This is not purposeful, just incidental. Instead, I find that I love Star Wars because it is a monument of pop culture that is fundamentally optimistic, and we are a world that is desperately in need of some optimism. I am desperately in need of some optimism. Ignoring the complex web of current events, even, I’m tired of being stuck in a dark feedback loop with the media that I consume.
Instead, in a real world that often seems dark and difficult, I am inspired to see others go through their own darkness, always holding on to hope.
I found that optimism in Rogue One, as hope is its primary, sometimes clunkily executed, yet genuine message. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of rebels and conscripted by rebels, but not quite a rebel at the start. Where Daisy Ridley’s Rey undergoes a journey of heroic self-discovery, Jyn is her world-weary counterpart. Jones plays her with a tense jaw and hard eyes, wary of being a hero because she already understands the cost.
Jones’s performance rises above any missteps in script or plot, as do the diverse band that coalesces around her: Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and a charming voice performance from Alan Tudyk as re-purposed imperial droid K-2SO. Although there is unfortunately little room for character development between dazzling set pieces, each link in the chain proves strong. The same goes for the villain of the piece, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Mendelsohn is delighful as the ambitious Krennic, constantly bubbling over with entitled rage.
Rogue One is a grittier, adult-oriented Star Wars movie, but it never once sacrifices optimism for more darkness. Instead, it tells us that the cost of doing good can be tragically high, but it is worth paying for the chance to bring hope back into the world.
(If you need more convincing, see it for the excellent Darth Vader scenes.)