I am *not* a movie buff by any stretch of the imagination, and therefore the declaration of "Char's Counterattack" (CCA) being my favorite movie of all time should not be taken as an especially valid indicator of how good this movie is from an objective standpoint. Rather, my declaration should indicate how much this film impacted my life when I first saw it, and how I continue to watch it over and over again, coming away with something new every time.
I think writer-director (and Mobile Suit Gundam creator) Yoshiyuki Tomino is a genius; his concept of "newtype" humans in my opinion is very realistic, and I've never been the same since seeing CCA. This film remarkably captures the essence of what the original Gundam story was about: "Newtypes", and the complex beauty of the human condition.
Unlike most animated action/sci-fi films, all the conflict takes place within the human race, rendering the overall narrative substantially more plausible than say, Robotech, and hitting the cognizant viewer much closer to home. Humanity has moved into space, and a class division has resulted: the space colonies which orbit Earth are essentially treated like second-class citizens in Earth-sphere. With a history of rebellion (one particular colony started the catastrophic One-Year War 14 years prior to the start of this film), the colonies are ruled from Earth, by the Earth Federation.
The problem is, the Earth Federation has grown corrupt since the end of the One Year war with Zeon, the group of colonists which started the war in the first place. However, humanity prefers a corrupt government that keeps the peace than all-out war, so peace prevails for quite some time. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Char Aznable (a pivotal character since the first Gundam series) emerges as the leader of Neo-Zeon, a new group of rebel colonists.
The mission of Char and his Neo-Zeon is simple: to force humanity into space by rendering the planet Earth uninhabitable. The reason? Because "newtype" humans (who have enhanced psychic abilities) first emerged among the colonies. Newtypes are the next step in the evolution of humanity, and as a newtype himself, Char believes that the cause of all human suffering (war, selfishness, evil, etc) comes from "oldtypes" on Earth. Char believes he is doing humanity a favor by forcing the hand of evolution. In doing so, he plans to destroy all life on planet Earth, by dropping the asteroid "Axis" (significant name) on it.
Newtype ace Amuro Ray, the hero from the One Year War (depicted in the first Gundam television series) is back to stop Char, as a part of the Federation's special anti-terrorism unit, Londo Bell. Amuro and Char are longtime enemies; their mutual hatred solidified when Lalah Sune, a profoundly powerful newtype was killed (accidentally) by Amuro when she trying to stop them from fighting during the One Year War. As soldiers for Zeon, Lalah was Char's protoge. However Lalah and enemy pilot Amuro developed a "newtype" (spiritual) bond that Char was understandably jealous over. At any rate, Lalah was now dead, and Amuro and Char bitterly blamed each other for it ever since.
CCA introduces new characters: Quess Paraya is a profoundly powerful newtype, who plays a notable role in the film. Hathaway Noah (the son of Bright Noah, commander of Londo Bell) also displays newtype abilities as the film progresses. It should be noted that both Quess and Bright are born on *Earth*, and not on the colonies...
Amuro's Nu Gundam RX-93 is an amazing piece of mecha, equipped with remote weapons referred to as "fin funnels", that are controlled by his psychic abilities. The Nu Gundam is also enhanced with a form of technology called psycho-frame, which allows a newtype to wield an unprecedented amount of mind control over his mecha. The psycho-frame is also highly sensitive to the thoughts of others, and the human spirit -- just as newtypes have a higher sense of awareness in general.
My favorite aspect of this film is the way in which it deals with the human spirit, manifested. Whether the human spirit is guiding remote weaponry, moving mecha, or simply engaging characters both living and dead, instances of everything I just mentioned take place during this film. Lalah Sune seems very much alive in spirit during this film. And so does another character close to Amuro, who even after death is able to accomplish her goal and help him against Char and his plot to drop the asteroid, "Axis" on Earth.
Char and his Neo-Zeon load "Axis" with nukes to ensure that both radiation, and drastic climate changes caused by the asteroid's impact, will kill everything on Earth. Londo Bell plans to stop the asteroid (once discovered) with nukes of their own. To me, the "Axis" also represents the 'turning point' in human history in *our* world, when we entered the nuclear age during World War II...
I believe that the ending of this film is really the dawning of a new age for humanity in Tomino's eyes. To me, that brilliant light we see represents the manifestation of the human spirit. Just as newtypes are able to move weapons, once properly harnessed, newtypes are also able to move people, and each other towards a common good. Once humanity is truly connected (meaning through our minds and spirits) then, and *only* then will there ever be an end to bloodshed, misery and war. This message is so simple, yet so seemingly impossible to accomplish, that it should move anyone who truly "gets it" at the end, to tears.