"I love the 'Rogue One' cast and I want them all to die!"
That's the admittedly extreme thought that reverberated through my head as I watched the latest trailer for "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." In addition to the frenetic fan-energy I feel every single time I see new "Star Wars" footage, I kept thinking about how excited I am to meet Jyn and Andor and Baze and Chirrut -- and how I really, really want to watch every single one of them die. I'm serious.
For the first time in my life, I'm going into a movie hoping that characters, a potential favorite, will make the ultimate sacrifice. What is wrong with me?
Han Solo's death in "The Force Awakens" wrecked me. I had a visceral, numbing and painful reaction to it. I don't like watching characters die; I don't even really like watching villains I like die. I'll never forget the way my heart dropped when I watched Darth Maul sliced in half in "The Phantom Menace." I was a freshman in high school and, yes, I had slapped a big Darth Maul sticker on my Hawaiian shirt just in time for the screening. A character's death is rarely something I cheer for, let alone crave. But there I was, during the "Rogue One" trailer, feeling those feelings. But I know why this feels different from Han and Maul.
If you pull back and look at the larger picture of the "Star Wars" universe, "Rogue One" features a group of characters that don't matter. Their actions matter, yes, as their mission to steal the Death Star plans results in the major victory that closes out the original "Star Wars" movie. But as far as we know, none of these characters are "chosen ones" and none of them leaves a legacy. When the Rebels hole up in their base on Yavin 4 and plot to blow up the Death Star, these characters aren't there, and General Dodonna doesn't bring up the team that stole the plans. These are characters that do an incredibly important thing, yet they are forgotten in the so-far established canon. None of their names have been spoken before, their faces haven't been seen, and their memory hasn't been honored.
Of course that's because "Rogue One" is set in the moments before another movie released nearly 40 years ago. Of course "A New Hope" doesn't reference Jyn Erso and her team; George Lucas didn't create them and, odds are, even he didn't really know how the plans imade their way to Princess Leia. And fans definitely don't want another edit of the 1977 film that inserts a shout-out to "Erso and Captain Andor" after Dodonna finishes discussing proton torpedoes.
But still, "Rogue One" is a prequel being retroactively inserted into "Star Wars" canon. It's right on top of "A New Hope," and this franchise loves putting together continuity puzzles. Why aren't Jyn Erso and her team in "A New Hope"? We know it's really because Felicity Jones was six years away from being born in 1977, but what's the in-universe explanation? What's the "Star Wars" solution?
The solution I want to see is death. Big death. Lots of death, but not meaningless death. In fact, I want the opposite of that. I want this movie to obliterate my emotions by making me care about all of these underdogs -- and then I want them all to die, because that's the best way to honor them.
We already know these are heroes that go unsung. We know there isn't a big parade for Baze and Chirrut, Bodhi Rook doesn't fly in the Death Star trench run, and medals aren't placed around the necks of Erso and Andor. A movie that shows us their great heroic feats that ends with them triumphantly assembled on Yavin 4 only to then disappear completely for an entire trilogy would feel anticlimactic. It would present a major continuity quibble, one inherent in "Rogue One" from its very conception, which would undermine the film's leads. If they're so special, why aren't they in the original trilogy? Because I'm prepared to love every single one of these Rebels, I want them to go out bigger than that. I don't want to see them brushed aside to only have their tales told in expanded universe stories set in between the original trilogy. There's no bigger way for them to go out, no better way to honor them, than by having them sacrifice their lives for the Rebel cause.
I have to make it clear this is a narrative necessity born out of proximity to "A New Hope." The cast of the animated "Star Wars Rebels" is very near and dear to my heart, and the thought of Sabine or Hera or Chopper biting it fills me with dread. I don't want any of them to die, and that feels right considering their heroic actions take place years before "A New Hope." There's plenty of adventure left with the Ghost crew before the Lucasfilm brain trust has to figure out, you know, why Ezra and Kanan weren't the ones rescuing Princess Leia from the Death Star. But "Rogue One" takes place in the weeks, possibly even days or hours before "A New Hope." The Rebels are already on Yavin 4, the Death Star is already complete; there's no time left for the "Rogue One" Rebels.
There's also the major problem the Empire poses in this film, namely that the Empire has to be more powerful than they were in much of the original trilogy. At this point in the timeline, the Rebels have scored no decisive victory against the Empire. On top of that, the Empire's been able to construct a massive weapon without anyone, not Rebels or politicians or various other parties, stopping them. Nothing has stood in their way in the decades following "Revenge of the Sith," and the Rebellion has yet to be anything more than an inconvenience or nuisance to them. They don't take the Rebels seriously. The Empire seen in this film is at the height of their power and won't experience their first major defeat until the next movie (which was released in 1977).
These characters also feel destined to die because of the film's unique relationship with stakes. "Rogue One" features a faceoff between a band of Rebels that history forgets and an Empire that cannot be defeated, and therefore has to come up with a different set of stakes. Two major points of tension have already been dealt with before the film even starts: we know that the Death Star doesn't destroy a planet, as Alderaan was its first, and we know that the good guys' mission is successful. "Rogue One" has to find stakes and tension in other smaller, more personal areas. Just in the trailers alone, "Rogue One" is already building up a number of different dynamics that you can really feel: Erso and Andor, Baze and Chirrut, Erso and K-2SO. This film's drama can't come from whether or not the Death Star blows up a planet, but it can come from whether or not a well-rounded, newly-beloved character dies.
And I want "Rogue One" to go there because it can go there. So many blockbusters can't kill their characters, and audiences tend to know that because actor contracts make headlines. Once Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth get to the end of their contracts, maybe then we can start accepting the fact that Captain America or Thor might die. But until then? These characters feel almost invincible. None of that is in play with "Rogue One." This film is an anthology film, meaning it can stand alone and apart from the rest of the "Star Wars" trilogies. These aren't characters with multi-film arcs and their placement in the canon almost dictates that they can't be. Pretty much every circumstance surrounding "Rogue One" gives it permission to pull off storytelling that big movies never get to do; the characters in "Rogue One" feel way more vulnerable than any other movie leads in any other major franchise ever. I would be thrilled to see "Rogue One" take that chance and do something truly new.
I'll toss in one major caveat, though, because "Rogue One" has the kind of multicultural cast that moviegoers need to see more of. It's set in a galaxy far, far away, but it looks a lot like our world. Killing minority characters is a huge trope, one that's super dangerous to continue to perpetuate. If any of these characters die, it needs to be in service of the story and respectful of the character -- and Disney needs to make sure that all representation doesn't fall on the shoulders of one character. "Rogue One" doesn't need to be a fluke, it needs to be the standard. Thankfully the new "Star Wars" trilogy launched with "Force Awakens" also features a diverse cast (one with plenty more female characters compared to "Rogue One's" one), and "Rogue One's" ensemble indicates that Disney is committed to making sure that all of the Star Wars films are representative of all of our world. Put the "Rogue One" team through the wringer, and continue to commit to diversity.
I do think there's another major way that "Rogue One" deaths would ripple throughout the canon. Think about the retroactive impact that deaths would have on "A New Hope." You know how I said no one wants Disney to reinsert new heroes into that classic film? If "Rogue One's" filmmakers succeed in their mission, they have the opportunity to recontextualize -- and possibly enhance -- the ending of "Star Wars." Even if Captain Andor sacrifices his life to transmit the plans to Bail Organa, or if Jyn Erso loses her battle with a TIE fighter but gives her team time to escape, we know that they succeed. We know that their death isn't in vain. When we rewatch "A New Hope" and see the Death Star explode, we'll know that it's because of Bodhi and Andor and Jyn and the rest. The X-wing pilots might not know their names, but we will. Their mission and sacrifice will be rewarded in that moment, a moment filmed forty years prior. That's movie magic.
I want this movie to go for broke and break my heart by giving these characters a full hero's journey, complete with sacrifices like we've rarely seen in this -- or any other -- franchise. I love the "Rogue One'" cast, and I'm excited to properly meet all of them this December, but that's why I want them to die.
Directed by Gareth Edwars,"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Jiang Wen, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk and Jonathan Aris. The film opens Dec. 16.