It started with the Death Star, with the jolt that went through me the first time I saw it over the horizon of the then still unfamiliar Scarif. I couldn’t quite push the image from my mind. Immediately, I knew that things would shift in the Star Wars galaxy with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; I didn’t yet know that for me, the shift would be drastic.
When I first learned that a “stand alone” Star Wars film was being made, I scoffed. I couldn’t imagine why. Weren’t we all caught up in the thrill of having another trilogy made? Fresh on the heels of the fabulous Star Wars: Episode Vll The Force Awakens, it seemed like a giant step backward to venture into this….other….entity, one that would feature characters we’d never heard of before let alone had a chance to get to know. Why? I just couldn’t imagine.
But then that Death Star. I wasn’t simply seeing a ball in the sky, the “that’s no moon” space station destination that could shoot deathly rays from afar. I saw the Dark Side come to life. I saw context, the way something like the Death Star would realistically appear in the sky from a doomed planet. All of the suffering in the galaxy at the hands of the empire became more real than it had ever been. In a dark, frightening time in the world with far too much conflict everywhere, I saw the reality of a Dark, frightening time.
If Star Wars deserves to take any real flack, it might be for the “fluffiness” of it. Here’s this story at the heart of a sweeping, deeply moving saga buried beneath cutesy Ewoks and witty droids that know more than the humans do. We’ve got loose wire cracks and sappy romantic banter and the swaggering space pirate and his princess, an enormous slug villain, slobbering Gungans. It’s cheesy. There. I said it. I love every sappy silly moment, but sometimes Star Wars is incredibly cheesy. It’s my only criticism, and it’s because I love the story so darned much. I love the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, and with the introduction of the characters in Episode Vll, Rey in particular, the gray area that lies between the two extremes. In Rogue One, I finally have the film that stamps reality on everything else that happened before and certainly, after.
Rogue One completely changed my decades-long Star Wars fandom.
Hope is no longer simply part of the revised title of the first Star Wars film. It is now THE foundation on which Star Wars is built, just as that early Rogue One movie poster says: “A Rebellion Built on Hope.” Let’s be honest. By the end of Rogue One, hope is pretty much all we have left in the form of the transmitted information that is handed to young, beautiful Princess Leia. Hope, and a whole lot of dead characters. Even the cool droids die in this film along with the handsome reluctant hero and the rest of the quirky entourage who come together to surround and support the best hero in the saga, Jyn Erso. Jyn. Wow. She’s the epitome of what Star Wars is about for me now.
Jyn comes so far in such a short period of time. When we meet her, she wants nothing more than to keep her head down and survive. It’s all she’s known since she was a small child. Survival. But Jyn quickly learns about meaning in life, the fight for what matters, and the terrible price some are forced to pay.
There are people who are very upset that “everyone” dies in Rogue One. I’m a happy endings kind of girl and would normally agree. But it has to happen that way, not just for the cinematic fact that these characters are seen nowhere from that point, on, chronologically. It has to happen because that’s the way it is in battle, in war. People die. Sometimes the people we love most, die. Sometimes change requires sacrifice. Without the sacrifices of the characters in Rogue One, nothing else that happens afterward could exist. We had to see that. Had to know. Had to feel the tragedy of Jyn and Cassian’s deaths as they are consumed by the effects of the Death Star’s blast. It hurts, but so does conflict. So does war. And that’s what’s sorely missing in Episodes I – VI.
I even “like” that Han Solo is killed at the hand of his son in Episode Vll, and I wonder how that will affect the films yet to come? It’s tragic and awful and hard to watch, but it’s real and lends to the entire saga an authenticity that it didn’t have before. The Sith are bad news. Period. Before this, I had a somewhat unrealistic “roses and sunshine” outlook on Darth Vader, more interested in his heart than his heat. I always will be to some degree. Now with Rogue One and the death of Han Solo, the slaying of younglings is that much more real. People die. They die at the hands of the Empire, of its spawn, Kylo Ren, and of Darth Vader. Jyn Erso is dead because Darth Vader lives.
When you were younger, making “pew, pew, pew” noises from your plastic blasters (I did), talking Yoda-speak to your friends (who hasn’t?), roaring like Chewie (sadly, I still can’t do it), and waving your hands in front of automatic doors to “open” them with the Force (has anyone not done this?), did you ever think about what it must have been like to suffer under the oppression of the Empire? I know I didn’t, not really, and certainly not as much as I should have. I’m not saying that Star Wars shouldn’t be fun. It is FABULOUS fun! But now it’s also more real for me than it has ever been, and I love it that way.
Rogue One grounds Star Wars in reality. It had to happen, and the saga is better for it.
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