SPOILER WARNING: this post contains major spoilers from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
For “Star Wars” fans, the main ending of “Rogue One” was already widely known, especially once the plot details for the film were released. For its first anthology film, Disney sought to chronicle the group of rebels who led the mission to capture the plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s planet-destroying weapon of mass destruction. Set up as the main events that lead directly into “A New Hope” from the original trilogy, many wondered just how much of an impact the film could have when most “Star Wars” fans worth their salt knew how the results of the mission played out.
But that didn’t stop the film’s ending from having the type of revolutionary impact not yet seen from LucasFilm or Disney, putting a largely unforeseen twist on the events widely held by the fans at large.
With a diverse, motley group of rebels led by Jyn Erso, this group defies orders by the Rebel Alliance and infiltrates the planet of Scarif. This sparks a full-on battle to obtain the plans, after the reveal that her Galen Erso, an engineer for the Galactic Empire, was responsible for the flaw within the Death Star that brought about the famous trench run by the Rebellion in “A New Hope.”
But in the process of obtaining these plans, this entire group of rogue rebels is truly forgotten, as all of our main cast meets their demise on Scarif during the battle. From reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO to Chirrut and Baze Malbus to Bodhi Rook and Cassian Andor, all of the main cast makee the ultimate sacrifice to obtain the Death Star plans. Even Jyn, the main protagonist, did not escape death at the hands of the Empire after striking a major blow against it.
It was a revolutionary decision from Disney and Lucasfilm that, ultimately, could wind up paying serious dividends for the future of the “Star Wars.” Despite the film’s other shortcomings, “Rogue One’s” ending is the kind of bold risk the franchise needed to take with its first anthology film. It is also the sort of risk that it needs to consider for its future anthology films and even its remaining trilogy titles.
Director Gareth Edwards and Disney could have played it safer, keeping some of these characters alive, leaving doors open for them to potentially appear later in other “Star Wars” material. But killing off the entire cast in such a manner separates “Rogue One” from its predecessors in that it shows the brutality of the war in a way that hasn’t really been seen yet. In other words, it was the most ‘war’ we’ve seen in any of the “Star Wars” films up to this point.
The impact of the actual war between the Rebellion and the Empire hasn’t been felt through characters that weren’t Force-sensitive or Jedi of some nature. As the only film of the franchise not to feature any of those elements in the main storyline, the ending was one of the most significant moments in the franchise’s 40-year history. Even with the (very) limited on-screen presence of Darth Vader, the deaths of the entire cast served as a cruel reminder of the type of hopeless desperation the Rebel Alliance finds itself in when compared to the vast might of the Galactic Empire.
Knowing the rebels would eventually succeed in stealing the Death Star plans didn’t take away from the impact of the massive battle and what was lost to obtain them. In fact, the ending added more needed depth to the war between Rebels and Imperials, increasing the actual stakes of battles reinforcing that no character is safe or off-limits from pershing major battles like this. The depiction of their deaths is a powerful statement and keeps the stakes high on all fronts.
In the case of “Rogue One,” this particular group of rebels is, in every sense of the word, rogues. They’re all depicted as outcasts in some way, shape or form, a group that just happened to be thrown together solely by circumstance with no real reason to work together. They were all certainly skilled, but not necessarily all that special in regard to their backgrounds and circumstances. It’s not as though they did enough for viewers to develop as deep an emotional attachment to them. Heck, most of the characters didn’t have time to develop emotional attachments to each other. Even upon their deaths, these rogues are left as the faceless heroes of the Rebellion.
Despite all of that, the means in which the characters’ deaths all occur as a chain reaction to one another in quick succession as the Empire’s might begins to overwhelm the Rebels makes this battle’s stakes feel higher than any other before it. There was no time to mourn them, no tear felt goodbyes between them or fleeing the planet together as the Empire began gaining ground. It was a very realistic moment that showed the kind of brutal, fast fleeting concept of war that viewers hadn’t really seen in films yet, and one that was delivered amazingly over the course of perhaps the best on-field battle within the franchise to date.
Having an ending in which all, or at least some, of the rebels lived simply would not have had the same effect, and it wouldn’t have given fans as many new or intriguing elements to add to the “Star Wars” mythos. Playing it safe wouldn’t have necessarily made “Rogue One” a worse film, but it would have sent a message that the franchise was not willing to take any major risks. It would have lessened the impact of what it took to overcome what had been portrayed in previous “Star Wars” material as the Rebellion’s most desperate hour against the Empire.
Keeping them alive would also have certainly raised questions about more unaddressed plot holes within the original trilogy, as fans and critics alike would question where these rogue survivors are and their lack of presence within the main story. But this decision speaks loudly about the franchise moving forward and opens up potential avenues for future anthology films to take, especially in light of the success the first has seen thus far.
For a franchise that has a slew of films on its docket, it’s important that, in telling these stories, “Star Wars” seeks to keep its world fresh moving forward as they continue expanding into a galaxy that’s far, far away. It means deviating from that familiar, comfortable formula, instead bringing something new to an audience that wants to see what a galaxy brimming with so many stories has to offer. Thanks to its daring and bold ending, “Rogue One” accomplishes its mission by giving audiences an additional twist on an ending they already knew, while offering a fresh take on a galaxy far, far away.
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