Last weekend we got an early present of Star Wars for the holidays, as it seems will now happen every year until the heat death of the universe. And this year we got Rogue One in our stocking. Amazingly Director Gareth Edwards and his screenwriting team, none of whom has ever produced a movie I genuinely liked, managed to turned out a new classic Star Wars film, and it’s better than I could have ever expected. So many aspects of the original trilogy were brought back in such a grand fashion that it pressed pretty much all of my childhood nostalgia buttons. However, you can find plenty of reviews on why Rogue One succeeded, or didn’t if that’s your opinion. So what I’d like to do is talk about one of my favorite aspects of Star Wars.
Like all good fantasy, Star Wars doesn’t just give you good guys to root for, it also gives you armies of villains that you can get to know. For a lot of people, these villains are bad guys that you want the heroes to beat. On the other hand, some of us grew up wanting a Darth Vader mask. Villain characters are just so much more fun sometimes, they get the best costumes, the quippiest lines, and the best music. Villains don’t have to grounded in reality in the same way, and they can always be a little larger than life. Star Wars always had the best bad guys to be had on screen and in Rogue One they really get to shine. Here are just a few of my favorite moments.
***Absolutely spoilerific territory beyond…if you haven’t seen the movie, listen to some music instead***
It’s only fitting that we start with the new kid on the block, as he’s the one who has taken up most of the advertising. That has a lot to do with Ben Mendelsohn’s steely eyed performance and the amazingly fabulous cape they give him to wear. But Krennic is so much more than that once you get into the film, he comes with a lot of baggage, being the first new major Imperial character introduced into Star Wars. The First Order’s greatest power couple could do their own thing as they’re working for a whole new organization. But as soon as Krennic appears on screen you immediately think: this guy? This is the guy we get? The thing is, so does everyone on screen. Every single character, Imperial, rebel or in between is *so done* with Krennic as soon as he walks into their screen. This misfit image suits him perfectly, it evens the playing field. Luke Skywalker could take care of Krennic in a hot second, just as Darth Vader could easily dispose of most of the Rogue One crew. It’s so utterly appropriate that these ground level, in the trenches heroes get a villain who is merely a greedy ladder-climbing jerk.
Every time you see Krennic on screen he just wants to be Darth Vader so bad. You can just see how hard he’s trying. He has to have his own special stormtroopers, his own special shuttle craft. Even the fact that he wears his over the top white cape absolutely everywhere, even in the rain when he has to swap it out for a waterproof version.
Now that right there is a guy you want to see get beaten. And he gets his best comeuppance when he has to interact with a higher class of villain.
Grand Moff Tarkin
First and foremost, yes Peter Cushing is being recreated with the help of CGI and actor Guy Henry, who played Pius Thicknese in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While you can see the CGI if you look at Tarkin too much, the more amazing feat is how thoroughly they revived the character. Every line delivery on Henry’s part is spot on, and dripping with the kind of disdain that only Grand Moff Tarkin could manage. The characterization of Tarkin in the movie is so perfectly in line, that after the first appearance you never question him again. In fact, Tarkin’s role in Rogue One only enhances how awesomely evil he is in New Hope. He trash-talks Krennic’s work on the Death Star for an entire scene until he goads Krennic into demonstrating the weapon, and once he sees that it works he promptly takes control of it, calls Krennic a failure and kicks him out. Which is nothing compared to the chilling calm he displays when he instructs an officer to blow up their own imperial base to keep the Death Star plans from getting out.
The greatest challenge Rogue One had was making the OG Sith Lord himself a wonderful villain again. Over the years Darth Vader has shifted his way from arch villain to protagonist and back again and has only been hurt as a character because of it. The last thing any of us needed to keep Darth Vader scary was seeing him as a nine year old boy. From the first moment he appears in Rogue One however, you know that Obi-Wan wasn’t lying when he said that Anakin Skywalker was dead.
When Krennic flies over the barren lava fields of Mustafar (and yes it is Mustafar, I can only imagine how that conversation with Palpatine went) to visit Vader in his castle, you see that Darth Vader finally has the dark tower to go with his dark lord status. You see only the briefest glimpse of his mutilated body in a bacta tank before he’s in full armor and stalking toward Krennic, because like everyone else, he is done with Krennic’s shit. James Earl Jones is back at the top of his game and when he deadpans, “Be careful Director Krennic, not to choke on your aspirations” you know you’re in for a treat. And that treat comes in the last ten minutes of the movie.
What you don’t usually think about with Darth Vader is what it must be like for a non-jedi enemy to deal with him. When Luke has to face down Darth Vader he at least has a chance. But in the last seconds of the movie as Rebel soldiers are trying to pass the plans through a half-open door you get to see what Vader was doing minutes before he showed up in Episode IV. The soldiers hear breathing, they look behind them, a red lightsaber crackles to life. All of them fire their blasters but it’s no use, Vader deflects every shot back. He slams one of them into the ceiling, another into a wall, with nothing more than a flick of his wrist, then he rips their weapons away before slicing every one of them to death. And as the Tantive IV escapes you’re treated to one last shot of Darth Vader, cape billowing behind him, lightsaber pulsing, as he glares at the departing ship, and you remember why he was your favorite villain in the first place.
So no matter what else I think of Rogue One in the future, I’ll always owe them this one debt: they brought Darth Vader back. They erased years of prequels, whining about Sand, and “NOOO’s” all in a few seconds. Instead we now get a dark lord in a castle over molten lava, ready to plow through hallways full of rebel scum to get at the Death Star plans, and that’s how it should be.