[Spoiler Alert: There be spoilers here.]
As I sat in the theater next to a bright but irritatingly noisy child who must have been only about five years old or so, I had all kinds of thoughts to make a humorous introduction to this review. After all, I had done something I do not always do, and that is went into this movie entirely unspoiled, having never looked at a trailer for the film or read any reviews, spoiler-free or otherwise, before going to watch this. After having watched the film, any desire to begin this review with a lot of silliness or humor seems entirely inappropriate. Instead, I left this movie with the same sort of dread mixed with admiration that has been associated with quite a few of the films I have watched over the past few years and felt it necessary to reflect upon .
Explaining this dread, and its relevance to this film, requires a bit of context. In watching the film adaptation to the Hunger Games, I was living at the time in a land whose propaganda films, including one that showed right before the movie, was similar to that which was credited to the fictitious realm of Panem, showing the close connection between art and life, and the later films of that series showed Katniss Everdeen, a character I can greatly identify with, struggling with the scars over her losses and traumas. Likewise, The Dark Knight Rises featured a broken Batman and the need for self-sacrifice in the face of a cynical and divided Gotham City. This film, like those, had a strongly dystopian feeling, where there were no absolutely good guys and where loss and trauma marked the lives of the people discussed in ways that were quite jarring to me, not having been prepared for it beforehand.
I will admit that like many viewers of the film, I found the first act somewhat confusing. There were a lot of characters introduced in ways that did not make a lot of sense, and a lot of obscure places that were discussed, but I decided to let the film sort itself out and see if it would make sense of the whole picture, and it did in ways that were pretty horrifying. There are some fantasy films that have the feel of escapism, but this film is quite the opposite. Here is an example of a fantasy film that forces some of us to look squarely into the darkness inside our own hearts and our own lives, and does so by presenting us with a small group of heroes who we grow to care deeply about and who all end up dead. There is no happy ending here for any of the people we care about: the father who pretends to serve the empire loyally while secretly building a flaw into the Death Star has an assassin sent after him by the Rebel Alliance, and does not have the time to tell his daughter all that he wants her to know after being killed by an alliance attack after having failed to protect the lives of those endangered by his treachery to the Empire dies seemingly pointlessly. So too does that assassin, who ends up being a noble and tormented soul, one among many rebels who had committed various acts of atrocity and sabotage in defense of their ideals and who volunteered for a suicide mission in order to provide some sort of redemption and meaning for their sacrifice of their morality and decency over the course of years of rebellion, the daughter herself whose life of petty crime and cynicism is redeemed just in time for her to make a noble sacrifice in revealing the vulnerability of the Death Star to the rebel alliance, just in time for the original Star Wars trilogy, a blind believer in the force and his more able-bodied protector, and even a cynical and pessimistic robot who knows the odds are never in his favor but does the right thing anyway until he is overwhelmed by numbers.
What makes this film seem ominous is that many of us, myself included, can see large parts of ourselves in these characters. How many of us travel this life with enough personal baggage to fill a space ship while we struggle to hope that our lives can have purpose and meaning and that people will stick around when things get rough? How many of us wander through the world as walking wounded, having been faced with loss and trauma, parental abandonment, or other horrors going back for years? How often have we been told that if we just do one thing or another we will be free of the burden of our past and will have a chance to start again? That is what the heroine of this story is told, and the movie does not give her that new start. Instead, she becomes the catalyst for hope for others, even as her all-too-brief life is wiped out thanks to the Death Star she helped destroy. Sometimes the only fresh start we can look forward to is in the world to come, a religious hope that this film, against all expectations, manages to encourage.
Over and over again, in nearly every scene, there is self-sacrifice of one kind or another, where doing good appears like a tactical mistake and where doing the right thing may even make one doomed, but where it is necessary for people to do what is right even when they themselves will not be able to benefit from it to keep everyone else from being doomed. And so I walked away from this film, wiped the tears away from my eyes, and pondered once again why I was being implicitly asked in a film yet again to be willing to sacrifice my own happiness and even my life in the dark warfare which I did not choose for myself but which was forced upon me quite against my will and inclination. In this warfare, there are no good guys, everyone is struggling to hope against hope, and even the bad guys are victims of the evil empire that they serve and which cares nothing for their abilities or their ambitions. At its heart, this film is like Braveheart set in the Star Wars universe, where a group of commonfolk with dark personal histories and a certain idealistic drive find their own lives extinguished, but in a way that makes it possible for others to be free after much suffering and sacrifice. We do not get to choose whether or not we die, and sometimes there is no escape from the horrors that are sent our way, but we can choose to be brave and courageous as long as there is breath in our body, and sometimes that choice is enough for our lives to have great purpose and meaning even if we remain as obscure as the lovely and doomed Jyn Erso and her equally doomed associates.
 See, for example: