Rogue One: The second anniversary of the first Star Wars story and its greatness


It’s been two years since we first learned what a non-saga Star Wars movie would look like. Rogue One not only stands out, it might be the best Star Wars film.

December will mark two years since Rogue One: A Star Wars Story first appeared in theaters. At the time, many fans felt the story alluded to in the opening scroll of A New Hope wasn’t one that needed to be retold on the big screen. Some even maintained that the old Expanded Universe had told all the story we needed to hear with Kyle Katarn as the spy who stole the Death Star plans and who would later go on to be a Jedi in Luke Skywalker’s new Academy.

The film turned out to be a surprisingly large hit, and remains the third-highest grossing Star Wars movie to date. It has proven popular enough to spawn its own prequel series. Hitting a sweet spot between nostalgia and new content, Rogue One manages to introduce a number of new, compelling characters while bringing a fresh feel and high stakes to the galaxy far, far away.

It also manages to take all of those new characters and (two-year-old spoiler alert) kill them all.

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It was a bold decision for the first non-saga film Disney would produce in the franchise, but delivers a dramatic punch that pays off beautifully. Somehow, with all of these heroes meeting their violent ends, the movie still clings to the best intentions of Star Wars.

Rogue One manages to be about hope, leaving that as literally the final word in a climax mere moments before the opening of the original Star Wars.

It is not the first film in the franchise to take a darker path. All the way back in 1980, The Empire Strikes Back decided to let the bad guys win, leaving our heroes captured, broken, and on the run. The ambiguity ESB leaves us as to the fate of Han Solo, or if Darth Vader was lying when (38-year-old spoiler alert) he revealed himself as Luke’s father was hard to swallow for some fans. A search through’s collection of Starlog magazines (see issues 37-40) from 1980s shows us not only people impressed with that sequel, but frustrated with the lack of resolution.

Yet, as years passed, The Empire Strikes Back has emerged as a clear favorite among fans. It is the standard to which all Star Wars films are held. The question is whether time will be as kind to Rogue One, ESB’s thematic heir, as it was to Episode V.

If my recent re-watch is any indication, I think that answer is an easy “yes.”

Rogue One photo by Giles Keyte via WD Studios PR

I took Rogue One in three times during its original theatrical release, and at least twice more on home video. I settled in on Thanksgiving Eve to again watch a band of disparate Rebels come together to do what the larger Alliance won’t: strike back at the Empire on their own. Despite how resistant I tried to be, I may have come away with a new favorite Star Wars movie.

The characters are wonderfully flawed, and delivered with many of the strongest performances in the entire franchise. Between Jyn Erso dealing with repeated abandonment and unable to count on anyone, and Cassian Andor, who’s “been in this fight since I was six years old,” we get two heroes who have failed to live up to their own moral standards, much less those we would expect of the Rebel Alliance. Yet as their retinue grows and the path they must take to save the Galaxy becomes clear, they begin to trust one another and their group. The character development is palpable and believable, particularly considering these are characters we have never seen before.

The conflict in these characters is reflected in the larger Rebellion as it struggles to decide just how to act when faced with the threat of the Empire’s new super-weapon. It’s jarring as a fan to see the Rebels decide NOT to act; but the steadfastness of Jyn and Cassian’s decision to act anyway, later supported by Admiral Raddus and his fleet, shows us the organization that will take down the Galactic Empire. The line in the opening scroll to Episode IV, “…have won their first victory against the evil Galactic EMPIRE” takes on new gravitas as we realize it is literally their first organized victory, and it is only hours old!

Rogue One also gives us a deeper look into the Empire. The interplay between Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin as career bureaucrats vying for position harkens back to what we see in Episode IV.

Vader’s brief moments on screen serve to bridge his character with the Anakin Skywalker we see in the Prequels when he cruelly jokes with the man he is choking. Then, in the last scene we are reminded that Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, is terrifying. After 40 years of Star Wars across multiple media, it is the single best appearance the Dark Lord has to his credit and manages to still elicit a gasp from the audience, even when they know it is coming.

Photo Credit: [Rogue One: A Star Wars Story]LucasfilmAdditionally, we get an entirely new way of seeing The Force. It’s not just the magic powers Jedi and Sith toss around; it’s not just the spectral artifacts of microscopic midi-chlorians. It is the principle of faith for multitudes who come to the holy city of Jedha to worship and the Guardians of the Whills who once kept that city safe.

In Chirrut Imwe, we don’t see a Jedi firm in their (perhaps too arrogant) mastery of the Force. We don’t see a Sith bending the Force to their own will. We see a man who allows, a man who lets the Force use him when most needed, listening to its motion rather than actively pushing it in a specific direction. The bond between him and Baze Malbus is tangible, demonstrating the Force at work in all life in Star Wars, not just Jedi and Sith. Are they a couple? I’ll leave that to your head-canon.

Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Rogue One’s heroes are not archetypical farm boys and roguish adventurers and wizards; they are normal people walking through our favorite space fantasy. A cargo pilot, a lost little girl grown and alone, a child soldier grown into a covert killer, a machine built to serve a dictatorship. Yet they all go beyond what any of them should be capable of, and in their ultimate sacrifice set the stage for a liberated galaxy.

The Last Jedi will later work to democratize the heroes in this epic, giving us a Jedi girl who really is from nothing and not the secret child of powerful mages. Rogue One does it first, and makes you feel every moment one of these characters–more relatable than any others in the saga–sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

Rogue One does not just hold up two years later; Rogue One may set a new standard for Star Wars in characterization and story telling. When the nostalgia surrounding the rightfully beloved The Empire Strikes Back is set aside and the films are examined objectively, it may be Rogue One that stands as the best of the series. Perhaps that’s blasphemy among Star Wars fans, but I have hope for how this film will be judged as it ages.

And Rebellions are built on hope.

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Rogue One is currently available on home video and some streaming services. Cassian Andor will return in his own series on the new Disney streaming service.