I’m as big a fan of Star Wars as the next guy; perhaps more so. I’ve had arguments about how many letter Y’s should be in the word Kashyyyk, and I’ve lost friends over the infamous “who shot first” debate. In fact the only thing I’ve never had to argue about is the fact that Star Wars is, without a shadow of an ewok, better than Star Trek.
Which leads me to my question. As a Star Wars fan – someone who has read the comics, the novels, and even watches the animated Rebels show despite being a decade beyond the age of the target audience – why am I excited about Star Wars: Rogue One? Is it because it has the Star Wars label and I can’t help myself, or is it because it’s going to be the best Star Wars film yet?
I think the latter.
There are probably some people who argue that the Star Wars films should have ended after the original trilogy. I don’t know these people, and I hope I never do, but to some extent you can see why people might think this way. It would be nice to talk about our favourite space opera without having the memory tarnished by Gungan rambling or Boba Fett’s lackadaisical death. But overall the series has enjoyed immense success from cynical critics, avid fans, and merchandising. (The Force Awakens grossed 1 billion in 12 days. Almost enough to build an actual death star).
Now that’s it’s back in the spotlight, with a third trilogy just beginning, is there any reason we need an anthology film such as Rogue One, or is it a money grab? Personally, I think it’s the most important Star Wars film yet.
The Force Awakens was not a ground-breaking film. Don’t get me wrong I loved that film; the special-effects were amazing and there was something majestically, nostalgically surreal about being transported back to the galaxy far, far away. But as a writer and a story teller it was hard to be impressed. The Force Awakens followed almost the exact same plot line as A New Hope, except with a bigger death star and an older Han Solo. Not to mention the “Big Bad” was only big because he was a hologram, and only bad because he had a menacing voice. Adam Driver’s Kylo-Ren was more tantrum than rage, and the history of the galaxy felt disassociated from the heroic success of the original trilogy. Last time we saw these people didn’t we… you know… win? What, exactly, has happened since Luke fought Darth Vader? For a franchise that loves political intrigue you have to wonder why we still don’t have an answer. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the writers are still tacking together a backstory.
That’s part of why Rogue One is so essential: it builds on the established universe, rather than trying to clumsily forge a new plot-arc. In fact I hesitate to suggest that The Force Awakens would have been pretty boring if not for the cameos with old favourites. What we need is to understand the history, to see the history, to be part of the history. Under the ownership of Disney most of the literature surrounding the primary stories (the books, comics, and games) are no longer considered canon. The galaxy far, far away is smaller than it has been in decades. We need immersion, and we need it on the big screen!
On that note, we need to see the Empire (First Order, whatever) being evil. We all know that Darth Vader and his comrades are the baddies. They have colour-coded lightsabers, dark brooding outfits, and the soldiers all act suspiciously like members of the Third Reich. But for all that we don’t get to see them being evil very often. Most of the conflicts with the Imperials are instigated by the rebels, and the Death Star (Starkiller Base, whatever) is more of a deterrent than a weapon; not even the First Order want to blow up all the planets in the galaxy.
You can argue this point all you want. There are plenty of examples of the Empire being bad that I haven’t mentioned, and of course we can all use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. But will it do harm to show the villains being villainous? Absolutely not. There is nothing better for us as an audience than to slip back in time and watch the birth of the rebellion at a time when Papa Palpatine was at his most tyrannous. There is nothing better for us than to see what was going on when the first Death Star was at the stage of inception, to see the oppression, to empathise with the heroes.
And one last point: it will be good for Jedi to take a back seat in a big universe. We’ve had seven films now, plus a dozen TV, book, and game spin-offs, and the vast majority of them focus on Jedi. This isn’t a bad thing – the lightsabre-wielding monks of a long time ago are probably the most interesting and successful part of the franchise – but won’t it be nice for us to see a different side of the force? To see a different side of the rebellion? To hone in on the human (and alien aspect) of a war which is as political and ideological as it is spiritual?
Tell me I’m looking into it too deeply, I won’t be insulted. Maybe I am being too fussy. But to me Star Wars isn’t just a movie, it’s a world that’s almost as important as my home. We’re not just witnessing it, we’re creating it, and we’re part of it. It has spanned generations and yet remained at the forefront of our minds, our subconscious, our pop-culture. We deserve more from this world than what The Force Awakens can give us. It’s time to stop recycling and start scaffolding. Put some depth into a world that drastically needs it. Something connected, something powerful, something fresh.
I hope Rogue One can be the new beginning we deserve, and, as they say, rebellions are built on hope.