My son and I went to the Kingdom of Intellectual Property near us and watched Rogue One. It’s visually pretty cool- I’m sure everyone who worked on it loved getting the Imperial Destroyers and AT-ATs to look just right (it takes place immediately before the original 1977 Star Wars) and there are lots of well-composed shots that 1977-era Lucas would’ve appreciated. The story’s kind of a mess for the first half, and then it settles down to a single long Rambo-meets-Platoon-meets-Battle of Midway sequence that is nihilistic and bloodthirsty but well done, if depressing for my kid. The strong message throughout is that the Rebel Alliance you loved, the repository of your childish hope and aspiration, was mostly full of stone-cold killers- and needed to be in order to threaten the Empire.
There’s been some silliness about the Rogue One writers saying explicitly what was pretty obvious from The Force Awakens, that they see the Empire as a Nazi-like white (not just human) supremacist organization, opposed by a feminist, multicultural (not just multispecies) Rebel Alliance. Some people online claimed the movie had been through rewrites to make it more anti-Trump, over the summer. This doesn’t seem very likely, and the racial element is actually downplayed slightly relative to last year’s movie, if still unmistakeable. It’s actually kind of funny that Diego Luna appears here as the inspiringly non-white lead, given that his first big film, Y Tu Mama Tambien, was all about Mexico’s racial politics, with him as a privileged and feckless light-skinned playboy.
More appealing to my own sense of cynicism and paranoia is that the movie was intended to seduce its audience into supporting another military adventure in the Middle East, with early scenes taking place in a sand-blown Jedi Holy Land and a group of violent turbaned religious zealots positioned as potential allies, if scary ones, in unseating a merciless regime, much as the CIA has been arming al-Qaeda in Syria in an attempt to unseat Assad. If I wanted to be extra cynical, I would say that the bloodiness of the second half of the film is about reconciling the audience to endless, grinding, almost-fruitless conflict, with Our Multicolored Boys and Girls going off to die for a Grand Purpose, but one that we’ll never see the end of.