A lot of people do not like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), and I am not sure why. My suspicion is that it is not enough like other Star Wars films. To be sure, there are X-wings and blaster battles and assorted adventures in outer space. But there are no Jedi, which has been a part of the lore since 1977. In fact, you do not see a single lightsaber. While I love the Jedi, and their culture was formative for me as a lad, I found their absence in this movie refreshing. As the opening crawl to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (of which Rogue One immediately precedes) proclaims, there is a Galactic Empire out there that the Rebels are trying to defeat. “Galactic” and “Empire” imply rather large areas. If you are familiar with A New Hope, Jedi are in rather short supply. Thus, even in such a big place as the Star Wars universe, it would have been a little jarring to see the lightsaber wielding heroes appearing in this film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as mentioned, takes place just before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. It introduces the character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who designed the first Death Star, a moon-sized laser with the ability to destroy entire planets. The film opens with Galen Erso being forced to return to the Empire by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the military governor of the Death Star. In the process, Jyn Erso is separated from her father and ends up in the care of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel leader. When we next see the grown-up Jyn Erso, she is in prison but rescued by the Rebel Alliance who believes she is the key to contacting Galen Erso and stopping the Death Star. They think this is possible because Galen Erso got a message to them via a defecting Imperial pilot named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Thus they send her, along with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk) to Jedha to make contact with Saw Gerrera, who had imprisoned Bodhi Rook. Along the way, they also acquire Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), guardians of the Jedi temple that used to be on Jedha (I guess there is at least one tie-in to the legendary Knights). This collection of characters finally make it back to Yavin IV and inform the Rebel Alliance that they knew where to find the plans for the Death Star. The Rebel command initially balks at the idea of launching an attack on Scarif where the plans are housed. Not to be deterred, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor gather the old gang and a few other Rebel soldiers to talk their way onto Scarif and obtain the plans. This bold act prompts the Alliance to act, and they send a small fleet to support their efforts. All the main characters die, but the plans end up where they are supposed to be: the hands of a CGI Princess Leia. I am sure you can guess what happens from that point on.
As much as I enjoyed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, there was one thing that annoyed me about it: Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the Dark Lord of the Sith was shoehorned into this film. Perhaps the bigwigs up at the Mouse, which now controls the events in a galaxy far, far away, were afraid if they did not have something easily recognizable as being part of the Star Wars universe in the movie? I am sorry to say, but Darth Vader did literally nothing to impact the plot. His scene where he Force chokes Orson Krennic did not impact the director’s decisions. Him showing up and murdering a bunch of Rebel soldiers did not stop the plans from getting into the hands of the Rebel Alliance.
Despite the lack of a point for Darth Vader’s appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I wanted to take a moment to comment on his character in the Star Wars universe overall. To be blunt, it is complicated. One of the key aspects of Catholicism, and Christianity in general, is that redemption is not only possible, but a lifelong process. If you are familiar with the prequels, you will know that in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) where Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), having given himself over to the dark side of the Force, marches into the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and brutally kills everyone he can get is lightsaber through. This includes children. Aside from how awful are the prequels, this scene has always particularly troubled me. This act had added weight because of Darth Vader’s status as a cultural. I am pretty sure that (if you are able to go out right now) you can see somebody wearing the t-shirt of the black masked villain. While his redemption is completed by his son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), in Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983), the thought of so many seemingly idolizing such a character has always made me a little uncomfortable. I wish we could celebrate him turning away from evil, like the father rejoicing over the return of the prodigal son, but that is just me.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a PG-13 rating, and that is somewhat surprising. The scene I discussed where Darth Vader slashes his way through a group of Rebel crewmen is the hardest one to watch, and probably primarily responsible for this rating. Also, while it is full of the kind of adventure you would expect from a Star Wars film, it is without a genuinely hopeful ending (though “hope” is the last word in the film). I suppose the pining for something better comes in the next film, and it probably would have been awkward to explain where all these characters were during the events in the rest of the films if they were not all killed.