It’s hard to believe that Rogue One came out almost two months ago. After trying to avoid (but eventually riding) the hype wave, soaking it in on opening night, and ingesting it twice more, it still feels like an excellent addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe. It sits in that awkward place of not being a good standalone experience but being a perfect fit to expand and add flavor to the existing saga. I still love it, understanding that I am square in the center of its target.
As has been reported, the third act of the movie is tremendously exciting, culminating in a very tense final sequence that leads literally into the opening of the original film. By the third act, I was a little unsure how I felt about the film; I was enjoying it immensely, but it had a distinctly unique tone that didn’t have much of a “Star Wars feel”. But as the third act kicked in, I could feel the wonder, tension, and joy flood back in. The movie might not take off from the get-go, but it sure does build to a fantastic ending.
I was born in 1985, much too late to see the original movies in theaters. I’m sure there were showings here and there over the years, but I was pretty sheltered as a kid (I can only remember seeing a handful of movies in theaters through my high school years), so my introduction and viewing of the original trilogy was limited to a VHS recording of the USA syndication airing (which saw a lot of use). The Special Editions (released in 1997; I was 12) were the first opportunity to experience Star Wars in a theater atmosphere, and I was only able to persuade my mom to take me to A New Hope.
The TV spots for these new movies took the angle that this was indeed the first opportunity to see Star Wars “for the first time” in theaters, given that these editions had never before aired. I distinctly remember one of the spots showing an audience jumping out of their seats, applauding, yelps of jubilation igniting the crowd as the Death Star tore itself apart. “Come see the movies with your people!” it essentially screamed to this Star-Wars-obsessed 12-year-old geek.
Only that wasn’t at all what transpired in my viewing, of course. I sat quietly next to my mom, ingesting all of the new special effects, enjoying every minute of seeing one of my favorite movies ever on the big screen. No one laughed at any of the jokes. No one cheered at the triumphant explosion. As soon as the medal ceremony wiped to the credits, we got up and quietly exited. The theater was sparsely populated as we filed out. Don’t get me wrong; I was beside myself with excitement in some respect. But there was that bit of letdown, enough to stick with me through to today.
Fast forward to the end of 2016. At this point, I’d lived through reading tens of Expanded Universe novels as a kid, played hundreds of games of the CCG, seen all three of the prequels (another exercise is mismanaged expectations), and experienced the promise and delivery of Episode VII (which was fantastic in almost every way). I’m not sure anything can or will ever compare to that viewing; I obsessed over opening night of The Force Awakens so much that I was borderline depressed when I realized that, just for a moment, I was not filled to the brim with excitement (thanks, work). The experience of seeing a new Star Wars saga film for the first time, seated next to my best friends, won’t likely ever be matched, and that’s more than fine.
Rogue One, however, is a movie by and for adult Star Wars fans, those of us who grew up immersed in the mythology. Despite the opening night hype being a step down from the year prior, it was a movie event that I planned my week around. We squeezed our way into a middle row in the first showing, dropping into the only two seats available next to a family that had been there since 9am. It didn’t take long for the electric atmosphere to get to me, and by the time we were watching an Imperial shuttle gliding over a distant, alien ocean, I was 12 years old again, mouth open and grinning wide.
As the third act started kicking things into gear, I began to bounce in my seat with glee. I was enraptured by the simultaneous battle zones, the series of increasingly dire circumstances, and the mental calculations of how what I was seeing was going to tie in to what I already knew. And through the final scenes, as the stakes became higher and higher, I didn’t even notice my heart speeding up. Just after Vader’s final appearance pushed the intensity to maximum, the movie abruptly concluded, snapping me back to my seat and out of the roller-coaster.
Time stopped for a second. I could feel the silence of the crowd, stunned at the presence of the credits on screen. All of the excitement that had been building in me suddenly erupted as I pierced the moment with the most passionate, guttural, “YEAH!” I could and ever will muster. As if I had given permission, the theater exploded into a torrent of cheers, yelps, whistles, and applause that lasted for a solid fifteen seconds. The fan to my right leaned over and said, “Damn was that a Star Wars movie.”
And just then it hit me: I had been the guy in that TV spot so many years ago. My genuine, unexpected outburst had led the charge of passioned exuberance over the conclusion of a new Star Wars movie, surrounded by a crowd of fans that had enjoyed the film in the same way I had: unafraid to cheer, laugh, gasp, and applaud. As we sat through the credits and eventually exited the theater, a deep satisfaction swept over me, replacing the memory I carried with me.
Damn, was Rogue One a Star Wars movie.