Okay, this is going to have spoilers. Some might say that you can’t really spoil Rogue One, but I would disagree, and I will explain why just as soon as I type enough that this doesn’t show up in the initial blurb on Facebook. There… Are we ready? You sure. Okay, let’s begin…
Okay, granted I expected most of the main characters to die. But not EVERYONE.
About 15 years ago I ran a long Star Wars roleplaying campaign with friends, and I took to taking those adventures and compiling them into stories. I had my players part of a Special Operations (SpecOps) unit. Going through those stories recently I was thinking “Wow, I killed off a lot of NPCs.” I wanted to make my adventures more gritty than the movies, more real and a bit more dark. To show the side of the grunts as opposed to the invincible heroes. As I was reading them I wondered if I had gone a bit overboard.
But watching Rogue One it’s like the movie looked at my stories and said, “That’s cute, kid. Hold my blue milk and watch this.”
Geeez! Even Saving Private Ryan had survivors!
On the one hand, this is a bold move, but at the same time I’m not certain it was the right one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there should have been a happy ever after and medal ceremony and true love’s first kiss and all the rest. I love the fact it had some serious sacrifice and consequences, but you’d think at least Jyn would have survived. A vessel for the viewer to feel some relief through. But nope. TPK. Total Party Kill. Rocks fall, everyone dies. (old roleplaying term)
And it’s not like there weren’t ways that she could survived and still not been involved with the rest of the trilogy.
I watched Episode IV the day after this, and it had an interesting side effect. It suddenly felt like the stakes were higher. The boarding of Leia’s blockade runner at the start feels a lot more serious when you see the last ten minutes of Rogue One. Alderaan’s destruction has more impact once you’ve seen the devastation created by the Death Star on the lowest possible setting. In some ways the end of Rogue One breathes in a more serious life into A New Hope.
But it also creates a tonal mismatch. Consider this: many older grumpier nerds complain about things like Ewoks and Gungans being a blight on the Star Wars universe. Obvious pandering towards kids to try and sell toys and taking away from the excitement through too much levity.
The thing is, that can cut both ways, and it does. It’s almost like Rogue One is catering to opposite end of the spectrum, to the adults who hate the silly elements of the other movies and giving them something darker and grittier–a Rebellion with shades of grey and moral ambiguity.
In theory, I have no problem with this. One of the things I like about Star Wars is that over time it has expanded to become a universe where a whole range of adventures can be had and still be considered Star Wars. We’ve had great cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels come out, for example. We’ve had whole libraries of books created crossing a wide variety of sub-genres, the new jedi, military fiction, straight up adventure, small scale smugglers and bounty hunters. Hell, there were even zombie stories. And there were the roleplaying games, which actually expanded the Star Wars universe far more than many people realize (when the literary resurgence occurred, it was the RPGs as source material that helped guide the way).
So I’ve got no problem with a story exploring sides of the Rebellion we might not normally see, making difficult and even questionable choices.
But I think you have to ask yourself, did they go too far? A knee jerk reaction will probably be “Hell no!” by fans, but remember what I said about those looking to silly elements like Ewoks and Gungans as not belonging in “proper” Star Wars stories. Can’t the opposite be true? Much like the Force, the truth lies in balance. I’m trying to look at the work as a whole, not just fanboying and getting what I personally want out of it.
When I came out of Rogue One, I had to wait for a while as a friend used the washroom. And in the hall was a father holding his son who had this utter look of shock on his face. It was the classic “Can’t sleep, clowns will eat me,” look. And from what I could hear of what he was saying, it seemed he was trying to process the massacre he’d just witnessed.
Star Wars is supposed to be for him, too, you know.
Like I said, I went in expecting most of the main characters to die heroically. But I also expected at least one person to live, because of the relief that gives the viewer, a chance to catch their breath, just a little. For a movie that goes on and on about hope, it actually gives the viewer very little. A good death is the best you can hope for. The end with Leia barely escaping can’t possibly count (despite her use of the theme of hope as well) because it’s only setting up Episode IV ten minutes (or however long they were running) later.
And unfortunately the main two characters aren’t truly developed enough to “feel” for their deaths as much as I’d like. Both Cassian and Jyn aren’t given enough character, a squandered opportunity in the first half. The two leads are just, well, broken. Beaten. Downtrodden. They should still have spark and life, which would make that weariness really hit home when it shows through. Han Solo is world weary and cynical but still charming. It’s possible to have it both ways.
Ideally, I had expected to connect more with Jyn. She’s clearly a person who’s lost everything (and loses everything again after a brief moment of “hope” for something different being shot down). Her only catharsis is that her father would be proud of her before she’s swept into oblivion.
There are those who looked at the Harry Potter books/movies and said that JK Rowling should have killed Harry off at the end. Stephen King publicly said that he really hoped Rowling didn’t do that in the last book, and he was absolutely right to say that. In fact, I was baffled by those who thought him dying at the end was the only “right” way to go. A noble final sacrifice of Harry to save everyone completely misses the point of the whole damn series. What is the one thing he’s been lacking and suffering from his whole life? Being denied a family, over and over again. It only makes sense that his reward for all that he’s been through is to get a family of his own.
So with that in mind, that’s part of what I think made for a tonal misstep in Rogue One. They gave us a girl who loses everything, is dangled a bit of hope to get some of that life back, loses that as well, and ultimately saves the Rebellion at the cost of her own life. It makes sense in the frame of a war story, but not here. As I said, for a story where hope keep being repeated, it ends with precious little of it for the players.
Now, I’m coming down pretty hard on this one element, but you should know I actually really like the movie. I just think that those who are crushing on the “dark” elements of Rogue One need to ask themselves if their seven year old selves would have loved it just as much, or if they would have needed to be held by their fathers while they tried to process what they saw.