Love it or hate it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was something of a boon for the Star Wars franchise. It served somewhat as a “soft reboot”– maintaining the universe of the prior six films but introducing new characters, new stories, and a jumping-off point for the franchise proper to be revitalized, both in the industry and with fans.
While some will argue that this came with a price–many take umbrage with the film’s similarities to the original Star Wars– the most important thing Episode VII did was prove that Star Wars could continue, be exciting again, and be passed off into arguably better hands.
The release of The Force Awakens opened the floodgates for a new era of official Star Wars media and once again made the world excited to explore the galaxy we remember so fondly. With the franchise re-established and fully vindicated, we are given the first side-story–or “a Star Wars Story” as they call it: Rogue One– an imperfect, albeit necessary addition to the metaseries’ canon.
1. It Respects the Lore, Films, and Fans
Many of the complaints about George Lucas’ divisive prequels center around their apparent dissonance with the original trilogy. They’re riddled with plotholes both big and small– Everything from Leia claiming she remembered the mother who died giving birth to her to the technology of the prequels appearing far more advanced, even to arguable details like Yoda’s uncharacteristic wielding of a lightsaber.
They also suffer from a common issue found in some prequels, with many concessions made for the sake of referencing the older films–such as the ridiculous idea that Vader just happened to build C-3PO as a child, or that Chewbacca and Yoda were pals.
While Rogue One has a few blatant nods to the original films (oh hey, there’s the dude who’s got a death sentence in twelve systems), it respects the idea that its events take place mere days to moments before the original trilogy, properly mimicking the feel and design of the set pieces, the technology–even the costumes.
But most importantly, the story contained within the film clicks in with the original trilogy like a puzzle piece without introducing too many convenient additions, respecting the goings-on in the galaxy as well as each of the characters’ motivations, such as Vader’s lack of interest in the Death Star as seen in the boardroom meeting in the original film (and for those paying attention, an empty seat that we can assume would be Krenick’s!).
The film even makes references to the Whils, an omniscient force mentioned in Lucas’ original Star Wars drafts, and Saw Gerrera, a character who originated from the Clone Wars TV series, as well as a reference to Cham Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels.
After the disconnect felt with the prequels, Rogue One feels like a breath of fresh air that fits nicely in with the original trilogy and the metaseries as a whole.
2. It Does Something New
While fans of ancillary Star Wars material (known as the “Expanded Universe” or “EU”) are no strangers to a wide variety of themes and storytelling styles, the primary Star Wars films have always been the definition of space opera adventures, in a sense, and haven’t really ever strayed far from that formula–which isn’t a bad thing!
But for years, fans have craved the sight of what else the Star Wars universe has to offer, such as war dramas, detective stories, and even comedies. With Rogue One, we finally get to see a glimpse of the Star Wars story told through a different lens.
Rogue One plays out like an action-filled espionage film, with scenes of tense, quick action split up by scenes of drama, riding a little closer to a spy flick than a classic adventure serial, like the saga or “numbered”, films do.
But one of the most important things Rogue One does is show a Star Wars story from a different perspective–there’s no “destined” hero who sparks a lightsaber, or a prophecy, or a large, arcing epic– this is a quick and dirty story about a ragtag group of rebels who have seen the horrors of war, but still continue to fight for what they believe in, and still inevitably come to a tragic end.
With Rogue One, we’re shown the Empire’s domain with a relatively unseen, gritty perspective, and we finally get to see militaristic ground combat that we had heard about in the series but hadn’t yet seen so up close (as long as we’re not counting Ewoks bashing Stormtroopers on the head with rocks).
Offering up Star Wars stories from the perspectives of grunts or regular Joes is a huge step for the film series, and only proves that it has enough going on in the galaxy to show what’s happening beyond the primary story of good vs. evil.
3. Vader Gets His Vindication
Time hasn’t been kind to Darth Vader in the minds of the public–the dark, hulking robot man who once haunted young movie patrons in the late 70’s has since been featured on just about every product imaginable, from plush dolls to toaster pastries, and even spotted at celebrations in full costume breakdancing.
The prequels didn’t help either, casting the mysterious villain as a whiny, self-centered brat who was convinced that spinning was a good trick. It’s understandable, then, that he’s kind of been softened–turned into a teddy bear of sorts– and this once-feared murderer has nearly had his legacy tarnished.
After all, even in the original films, we never see him do a lot of what the galaxy fears him for, and it hasn’t been since 1982’s Return of the Jedi that audiences agreed he was “cool” on film.
Rogue One remedies that, with striking–though brief–scenes featuring the Sith Lord doing what he’s known to do best. Between asserting his dominance over even high-standing Imperials like Krenick and storming down a dark hallway murdering Rebel operatives, Vader once again strikes fear in audiences at the cinema, just as he did nearly 40 years ago.
4. The Gritty Life Under the Empire
While the original Star Wars had a few scenes showing Stormtroopers extending the Empire’s reach into everyday life, these scenes are brief and aren’t incredibly imposing–stopping Obi Wan and Luke on their way through town, or popping into the cantina to arrest them.
Rogue One shows us a grittier, more realistic side of everyday life living under the fascist Empire–with Stormtroopers patrolling the streets, roughing up locals, and driving tanks through town.
Characters clearly fear these faceless soldiers we’ve come to mock, and with the introduction of the dark-clad Death Troopers, we’re once again reminded of how terrifying and powerful the Empire and its lackeys can be, making the celebration at the end of Jedi even more of a happy, relieving affair.
5. It Clears Up That One Big Question
For decades, Star Wars fans have been questioning the weakness of the Death Star. How could the Empire, with all their technology and ingenuity, miss that tiny little detail? Why would there be a little exhaust port on the outside connected directly to the main reactor?
If nothing else, Rogue One serves to cleverly explain this little detail, with the Galen Erso, the rogue Imperial Engineer, planting the weakness on purpose in order to give the Rebels, whom he secretly supported, a chance at destroying it. This, along with the #4 point and a few other details, make the Star Wars universe all the more realistic.
6. It Gives Us Hope for the Future
For so long, fans have been unsure of the future of the franchise. George Lucas had been discussing a possible Episode VII even going back to the 80’s, but he didn’t seem to be moving along on it–not to mention the sour taste of the prequels leaving many fans worried about what else he might come up with. With this, the series’ future on film was up in the air.
That changed with the Disney acquisition and the release of The Force Awakens, which, while widely praised, still left some hardcore fans a little disappointed: its purpose as a “soft reboot” meant that a lot of ground was retread in order for it to stand as the first in a trilogy rather than simply the seventh entry in a series.
What Rogue One shows us is that the world of Star Wars is vast and brimming with stories to tell, and in the right hands, these stories can be transmitted to us in new and exciting ways. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but it unlocks a door that’s been shut tight for so long, opening up all sorts of possibilities that fans have been pining for ever since the first EU content was released. This is a good sign, too, as Disney has announced plans to never stop releasing Star Wars films.
In a sense–love it or hate it– Rogue One, like the Death Star plans being passed off to Princess Leia, give Star Wars fans something they were lacking for so long–hope.