Spoiler Alert: After this movie some plans are gunna end up in the hands of Luke Skywalker. If fans already knew where Rogue One was headed, why does the film still have such an impact? This movie was exactly the movie it needed to be for the Star Wars universe. It should go without saying, but there are SPOILERS in here.
Seriously, SPOILER warning!
When The Force Awakens came out, there were two competing voices from the audience: one hailing the film as a redemption of the franchise (after the embarrassment of the prequels), and another claiming it was nothing other than a shameless retread of A New Hope.
As I said when that film came out, Force Awakens was exactly the film it needed to be. Disney* needed to prove the Star Wars franchise was viable after the prequels, the film had to be epic in scope to justify its place in the saga, the heroes had to be diamonds-in-the-rough in the most Campbellian sense possible, and the villain had to be visually impressive, inherently powerful, and pitifully untrained to be a real (but escapable) threat to the young heroes.
So if Force Awakens was perfect because of its elegant simplicity and upbeat good-versus-evil message, why would Rogue One be perfect when everyone dies horrible deaths?
(What? I told you there’d be spoilers.)
The Pyrrhic Victory Proves the Need for A New Hope
By the film’s end, all of the protagonists, and even the vast majority of the film’s ancillary characters (both good and bad) die, either because of the Death Star’s impressive weaponry, or Darth Vader’s badassery, but that needed to happen.
The main episodic “saga” films, by definition, follow the monomyth – the hero’s journey that all cultural heroes undertake in some way or another to become mythic figures. They feature greater-than-average heroes fighting larger-than-life villains for the sake of their whole society. As a result, they need to be as damn-near-flawless as possible.
But, if that’s what the “Episode” films are going to do, what does that leave for the spin-offs? So far, only Marvel, Star Trek, and maybe Harry Potter, have pulled off the whole “cinematic universe” thing. Sony failed. Fox has floundered (despite the awesomeness of Deadpool). Rao knows, DC keeps trying.
To really be successful at this whole “universe building” thing, there has to be a diverse universe.
To do that, you have to prove why your big guns are your big guns.
The heroes of Rogue One fail while succeeding to prove just how special the episodic heroes are. If anyone could best the Empire, what was so special about Luke or Rey? The stakes need to be established. And if you’re going to establish the stakes, don’t just pull of a few cheap deaths and call it a day (I’m looking at you, Suicide Squad), you have to make the audience care about the people who die – and boy do we care about the heroes of Rogue One by the time they have to become one with the Force.
It also creates a tonal difference between the main film and the side films. Much has been made about the potential for superhero glut, as if at some point we will hit “peak superhero” just like the US hit “peak cowboy” by the mid-60s, with the Western genre all by dying off by the late 70s.
Marvel has proved this doesn’t have to be the case. While they may eventually age-out the franchise, with the original heroes getting too old and new audiences being less able to buy in, that doesn’t mean superheroes as a “genre” have to go. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a spy movie. Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera. Ant-Man is a parody of superheroes. Each movie is different.
DC can succeed at this universe thing if they start doing the same. They need a variety of movie styles and feels, not one monolithic, monotone, bloody, moody, mess.
The Story Matched the Canon
Fittingly, Rogue One keeps the “galaxy far, far away” bit, but it is the first live action theatrical film in the franchise (bases covered) not to have an opening crawl. And why should it? Even if you’d never watched a Star Wars film before, the dialogue and action fill in everything you’d need to understand this movie, and, as others have noticed, it literally goes beat-for-beat, where the Episode IV crawl said it would go:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”
Seriously. When you consider all of the fluff that weighed down the old Expanded Universe, this film elegantly covered the bases without messing up the story, and even filled in new information that add depth to the existing stories (The Death Star lasers are powered by lightsaber crystals! The hidden Death Star flaw was on purpose!).
Comic book creators have long struggled with the continuity conundrum: Do you slavishly follow the old stories, or do you create a story with no regard to what previous stories have done? This movie seems to prove that great work can be made within the confines of canon, but it takes care and effort to do so.
Oh, and this is also the first Star Wars movie to not have the words “Star Wars” on screen during the title. I hope other spinoffs do the same.
What Comes Next?
Unfortunately, a movie about young Han Solo.
I am not excited for this film, though no doubt the filmmakers will hit another one out of the park and I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
That said, the fertile ground for the gaiden movies is anything not explicitly covered by the main films. The first trilogy already had Han Solo’s turn from heel to hero, so there’s little an origin film could do other than contradict that (If he’s already good, why would having him reveal his good side be a big deal?).
Other things, especially stuff now thrown out with the old Expanded Universe or barely glimpsed, could make for great side-story ammunition.
What about the adventures of young Yoda? Now, I’ve heard it said that Yoda of the original trilogy was a peaceful Jedi and should never be shown fighting, and that Episode II’s fight scene made the cane seem pointless, but this guy is 900 years old. You just know he wasn’t always the wise peacenik of Empire Strikes Back, and there was a time when he too would have been a brash young padawan. I want to see that. Plus, it would give an excuse to see young Maz Kanata.
How about a sports story? I realize this is the stupidest on the surface, but think of it, using the Star Wars galaxy as a backdrop for a Cinderella Man-like gladiatorial movie, or a Days of Thunder-esque pod race or Kessel Run movie? That could be something different.
Heck, they could do a straight-up love story, with an Imperial officer and a Rebel recruit trying to find a life for themselves while their respective groups fight to the death around them.
And you know what the world needs? A Star Wars comedy. It can’t all be doom, gloom, hope, and heroes. Plus, this already existed in the old EU with the amazing Tag and Blink Are Dead.
And horror, of course, horror. Again, the old EU has laid some great groundwork for this with the book Death Troopers (not to be confused with the elite agents from Rogue One).
So what do you think? Did Rogue One’s dark ending work for you, and where could the spin-offs go next?
* Full disclosure, I occasionally do freelance writing for Marvel Comics, most notably the Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe, but I am not regularly employed by Disney. I do love Star Wars as a franchise (though I consider myself a Trekkie first), but my commentary here is mine alone.