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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Five Years Later

Rogue One was released on this day five years ago and was a huge success. How this film made it through the toxic storm of Star Wars fandom and came out on the other end with a series.

The Concept Was Genius

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.

Star Wars Opening Crawl, 1977

A perfect way to blend new from old and get the closest to the Original Trilogy by grabbing hold of two lines in the opening crawl of A New Hope. The concept was pitched by the current Chief Creative Officer of ILM, Justin Kroll (and co-founder of Adobe Photoshop), and Gary Whitta ten years before production. The story has the same McGuffin as A New Hope, the Death Star plans but the heroes are not a princess, a handsome smuggler, and a chosen-one pilot. They are a team that comes together in the third act to go on a suicide mission. We know their sacrifice works out because most people know that Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star, but a sense of dread hovers over these Rogue One characters.

The Third Act is Close to Perfect

Rogue One has a third act so action-packed, so filled with emotional moments that it makes one forget how mediocre the second act was. For reference, the second act occurs when Jyn accepts the Rebellion’s mission and goes with Cassian to Jedha to find the pilot (Bodhi Rook) and ends when Galen Erso dies on Eadu.  

Some questionable decisions were made on what the focus of the second act was and what scenes had more time than others (the amount of time spent on Bor Gullet could have gone towards more character development for Saw through his conversation with Jyn or Bhodi). It is Star Wars silly but undercut Saw as a man torn apart literally and figuratively by war and reduced him to a joke. Luckily, that is not in the third act. It is hard to track where Tony Kushner’s rewrites came into play and what could have been in Edward’s cut though there is at least one more scene with a younger Saw Gerrera in the original footage, which was used in the first teaser trailer. Despite the changes, Rogue One was a complete success critically and financially. It crossed the billion-dollar threshold expected of Star Wars films and is a fan favorite in the Disney era. And, without a doubt, the third act battle and Vader hallway scene contributed to its success. 

Star Wars Made a True War Film

The Dolby poster looks more like the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s War Drama Full Metal Jacket than a Star Wars film

To each his own on what the core of Star Wars is (Fantasy, Science Fiction, Space Opera), but there are parts of Star Wars that are more accessible to the mainstream and casual fans. Some people need to see Jedi in their Star Wars, and some would rather see less. Rogue One is a good balance and is the second least fantastical film in the franchise (Solo: A Star Wars Story pulls ahead because it does not have a floating squid who can read minds). There are some creatures but there are even more new Stormtroopers. There are new X-Wings, new weapons, and new AT-ATs, and a new Mon Calamari General. Rogue One is a WAR film. So, while it feels like Star Wars aesthetically, it also feels different because you are watching characters who are not around in the Original Trilogy; therefore, their fate is more up in the air.

Watching the film for the first time, it was reasonable to think that one or a few characters would die. All of them die, and that is a risk for which Lucasfilm does not get enough credit. There was no last-minute armada coming in to save the day like so many episodes of Rebels or in The Rise of Skywalker. I discuss this in my Medium article, Star Wars: More War, Less Fantasy, but it is refreshing to see deaths that come suddenly and are not built up to a grand hero moment. The Rogue One crew knew the risks, executed their plan, did their part, and paid the ultimate price. 

The Production Design Felt Both New and Familiar

Rogue One runs right into A New Hope, and Edwards, Gilroy, Greig Fraser, and constant MVP Doug Chieng did an excellent job of creating that period in Star Wars with modern technology. We get a Mustafar scene, the elusive planet that never revealed itself in the Original or Prequel Trilogy. There is Scarif, a beach planet so lush and beautiful you cannot help but feel bad when it gets annihilated by the Death Star. I mentioned new Stormtroopers and Rogue One introduced some of the best design trooper armor (Death Trooper and Shore troopers in particular). As far as the look of the film there is a great article from Film School Rejects, who sat down with Gareth Edwards, that goes in-depth on the cameras used and the technology behind filming the battle scenes using what we would come to know as StageCraft from ILM.  

And When the Sky Was Opened…

Awesome or uncanny was the range of response towards Tarkin’s return in Rogue One both of which could mirror Major William Gart from The Twilight Zone | credit Lucasfilm ltd and CBS Productions

Is the name of a fantastic The Twilight Zone episode, but it also is apt when describing the face technology lines Rogue One crossed. First bringing back Peter Kushing’s face to reprise the role of Grand Moff Tarkin and then a younger Carrie Fisher (who unfortunately passed away shortly after the release). And Rogue One was just the beginning as Lucasfilm would have a younger Luke and Leia in The Rise of Skywalker and recreate Return of the Jedi Luke in The Mandalorian season two finale. A mixture of performance capture and facial technology (NextEngine 3D scanner) produced mixed results for moviegoers (though not distracting enough for people to be taken out of the film). And having characters tied to A New Hope helped make Rogue One feel like they were watching a true prequel to the original film.

The Legacy

The Death Trooper has appeared in other Star Wars shows like Rebels and the Stormtrooper doll has an official canon name, Stormie | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

The Star Wars franchise lives on Disney Plus right now, so it is a good sign that the Rogue One part of Star Wars is expanding on the streaming service. Whether Cassian Andor was the best choice as a character for a spin-off series, it is another opportunity for Rogue One to bring another genre to Star Wars live-action: spy thriller. The stakes for Cassian Andor’s life are zero (we know how his story ends), but the character does have family that we do not see by the time of Rogue One. The production value of this show based on the BTS video released in 2020 looks to be the largest for a Star Wars Disney Plus show and hopefully will cut the cord on Tatooine locations. Andor should feel larger in scope because the life of a rebel spy is more fast-paced than a hermit living on Tatooine watching over a child from a distance. Boba Fett being a bounty hunter should also take him to many places, but he has retired from that life and is now a crime boss…on Tatooine. 

Whatever the future of Star Wars live-action holds moving forward, I hope Lucasfilm takes the triumph of scope from Rogue One and brings it into their Disney Plus shows. We visit nine locations in Rogue One, and most are unique and unlike the other locations in the film (Jedha is different from Mustafar, which is different from Eadu, and none of them look like Scarif). That is the type of scope we should be seeing in Andor, Ahsoka, and The Acolyte. And it is nice to see that the end of Rogue One was not the end of the characters. Hopefully, Andor is just the beginning of the Rogue One resurgence. 

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