Last December, we were transported back to a galaxy far, far away and were reacquainted with some familiar friends. For some, The Force Awakens was a little too familiar, as though J.J. Abrams and Co. we’re treading on hallowed ground. It was an almost impossible challenge facing Abrams; trying and meet the massive expectations of a rabid fan base while telling a new story in a complex mythos. To his credit, Abrams delivered a thoroughly enjoyable film that extended the Skywalker saga for a new generation. But with all these things in mind, it’s no wonder he played it safe by sticking close to the original trilogy in tone and structure.
Rogue One was a much riskier proposition. Director Gareth Edwards was tasked with creating the first Star Wars film unconnected to the Skywalker saga. This required a film with an entirely different structure, and since it was a direct prequel to A New Hope, it needed to be steeped in the sights and sounds of 1977. Moreover, this film had to prove that stories unconnected to the Skywalker saga were worth telling.
Rogue One is a triumphant addition to the Star Wars universe. Not only does it add layers of depth to A New Hope (an almost 40-year-old movie) but it also serves as connective tissue between the prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Rebels, and the original trilogy. It does all this while telling a gripping and inspiring story about the fledgling Rebel Alliance.
The most compelling message found in Rogue One echoes a line from last year’s The Force Awakens. As Finn is rescuing Poe Dameron from the clutches of the First Order, Poe asks him why he’s doing what he’s doing. Finn responds, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” This theme—doing the right thing in spite of the circumstances—is what drives our characters forward in Rogue One. For our main heroine Jyn Erso, it’s easy to see how she’s inspired to do the right thing during the course of the movie. A glimmer of hope, her father’s love, and the full reality of what the Empire is capable of is all it takes to push Jyn back into the fray.
Ultimately, the film isn’t really about Jyn Erso though. Its true poignancy lies with all the other characters around her. Rogue One is an homage to the unknown soldiers, the X-Wing pilots, and the cargo haulers. These background characters—some even have names like Chirrut, Bodhi, or Baze—are all thrown into the middle of this galactic conflict. They’re not heroes like Luke Skywalker; they’re not going to save the galaxy by defeating Darth Vader or the Emperor (which is made plainly clear in the final scenes of the movie). But each one of them makes a choice to do the right thing, to defy the inescapable oppression of the Empire. And though none of these characters survive their suicide mission, their small individual contributions are collectively vital to the greater Rebellion and inspire great hope in others.
The title of Episode IV (A New Hope) certainly points towards Luke’s role as the last Jedi but now it gains an entirely new layer of meaning. The entire Rebel Alliance, fractured and on the edge of despair towards the beginning of Rogue One, draws on the heroic sacrifice at Scarif to rally in the face of mass destruction and terror. I think that’s why Rogue One is so successful. It’s a story about how the collective actions of a few determined people can inspire hope for the galaxy. It’s a story about you and me making a choice to do the right thing in the face of terrible circumstances.
Lucasfilm and Gareth Edwards unquestionably proved that there are compelling stories to tell in a galaxy far, far away. The Skywalker saga will always give us the epic conflict of good versus evil. These new stories will help fill in the gaps, whether they’re stories about the little guy like Rogue One or origin stories like the forthcoming Young Han Solo film. The Star Wars universe is ripe for new and different themes and narratives. I’m excited to see what Lucasfilm can come up with next.