Rogue One is storming through the box offices worldwide right now, and is still trouncing all opposition, not unlike the Death Star tackling a planet it doesn’t like. So, I wanted to write a piece on what I thought the film accomplished in the context of the Star Wars universe.
SPOILER WARNING! DON’T YELL AT ME! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
Part I: The Rebels
Something fans may not have noticed from the classic trilogy at first glance, but which becomes apparent in Rogue One, is that A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi all depict the Rebellion from the top-down. We see the leadership, the big meetings, the nobility of those fighting, and an emphasis on honor and dignity even in the face of an evil enemy. Rogue One, in a way, corrects this within the first fifteen minutes, by showing rebel operatives kill innocent people to protect a secret, the extremism of some rebels, and the disunion of the early rebellion. We see rebels act in manners both villainous, cowardly, and dishonorable ways; hell, the eponymous task force steals a valuable ship, which was originally stolen in the first place, of course, which helps to define what I’m going on about: the honor is not in the action of leaving, or the theft, but rather by the characters putting aside their differences, acknowledging their own faults, and deciding to do what they feel is right. They are not new characters, they have still committed horrible acts, acted in cowardly ways, and been willing to do “whatever is necessary” for the rebellion, and we are not asked to forgive them, but just to cheer for them.
Part II: The Imperials
We see a far different side of the Empire as well, with an implied battle between the scientific and military factions of the Empire serving to remind the audience how ruthless and cruel the Empire is to their own people. Tarkin’s appropriation of the Death Star, along with Vader’s apparent endorsement of the change of command, reveals how the military is the foremost power within the Empire, and all other forces are subservient. The ability of the film to depict this without hitting it too on the nose is a brilliant stroke, with the revelation that the military was always going to take over the Death Star as soon as it was operational. Another factor, both obvious and subtle, is that whilst the rebellion is quite diverse, and indeed, the rebels in the main cast are women and minorities primarily, the imperials are all white men; although the expanded universe (now Star Wars legends) novels show that women are in positions of power, Rogue One purposely chooses not to show this at all.
Part III: Expanding the universe
One of the major issues I had with The Force Awakens was that it really did not expand the Star Wars universe in a substantial way. Granted, it had to also fill in thirty years of continuity, but it would have been nice to see more worlds and other parts of the galaxy. Rogue One shows us many different worlds, each one unique and with its own character, including the imperial data center, something I find amazing, since the visuals were quite stunning.
The character of Jyn Erso is one which I truly did enjoy watching on screen. Someone who has been effectively abandoned by society, who may have been taken care of by the Old Republic, but is left to fend for herself under the Empire, which in turn leads to her becoming a rebel. The abandoned peoples of the galaxy are a theme not touched upon by any of the other films, and I’m glad it’s being introduced here prior the Han Solo film, which will undoubtedly double down on this theme. It’s also implied that her mother is a freedom fighter, which helps explain her aimlessness; she knows what happened to her parents, but fears that fate, but in embracing their passion and beliefs, she also risks her life and has a monumental impact on the galaxy, something her parents would have been proud of.
Cassian, by contrast, is a hardened individual; when Jyn confronts him about his orders to kill her father, he doesn’t deny it, and tells her he doesn’t need to justify it because the rebellion is justification enough. He ruthlessly kills an informant to slow down the Empire from finding out about the leak regarding the Death Star; he willingly accepts orders to kill someone who may be innocent. In turn, his affinity for rough work, coupled with a growing respect for Jyn, leads him to get a group together to raid the Imperial archives, knowing that everyone is probably going to die in the process.
The expansion of the universe is handled brilliantly, largely because Gareth Edwards does not overdo it. It’s enough to see the great battle, without trying to outdo the Battle of Endor; it’s nice to see Darth Vader’s castle, without showing it off too much. He is a Star Wars geek above all, and that makes the film worth watching.
Part IV: Bridging the gap
Rogue One achieves more in bridging the gap than any other Star Wars property, largely because a lot of people will ignore the animated series. The wise decision to bring back Jimmy Smits speaks volumes to this, since he was pretty wasted in the prequel trilogy. Bail Organa is a key figure in linking the films, since he was there in the Old Republic and his daughter is a key figure in the rebellion, and that adds to the film’s mystique for any dedicated Star Wars fan. The references to the demise of the Jedi, including a subtle reference to sending Leia to retrieve Obi-Wan, the destruction of a Jedi temple, the Erso’s moisture farm, the AT-AT’s, the AT-ST’s, red and gold squadrons (including unused footage of their leaders), as well as Tarkin saying “you may fire when ready” all link past and present, bridging the stories we have seen thus far, and providing closure in a sense. It also serves, to me, as further proof that Lucas mishandled the prequels, since he could have done part of this story in Episode III.
Part V: The darkness and the light
Arguably, Rogue One’s greatest achievement is getting the tone just right. It balances the darkness inherent with an imperial ruled galaxy with the hope of a new day. Empire is a dark movie, with imperial power overriding rebel hope; A New Hope and Jedi both balance the darkness with the hope of a better day, with an implicit acknowledgement that all the sacrifice and death is justified to bring down such a horrific enemy. Rogue One captures this feeling perfectly, from the characters, the dialogue, and the action, all the way to the ending, with Jyn and Cassian’s embrace signifying their hope and sacrifice. The deaths of the major characters reminds us that wars cost lives, and when men and women are willing to die for a cause, anything can be accomplished.
Part VI: What it accomplished
Rogue One is a great film, but more importantly, it is a great Star Wars film. It does more than add to the Star Wars universe, it expands it with a synergy that does not come without hard work and dedication to the saga. However, what it truly achieves is helping to perpetuate and expand a love of Star Wars for another generation, so that yet another generation will grow to love Star Wars as their parents and grandparents did.