As we look back at the hugely successful stand-alone film we posit an alternate, shorter, and possibly equally moving version
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is having a moment. The incredibly popular stand-alone film just celebrated its second anniversary, is getting an intriguing prequel series, and a new set of posters to boot. It is loved by many a hardcore fan for the introduction of new characters and for expounding upon an otherwise minor footnote in the grand space opera that is Star Wars.
While we are certainly not here to quibble with anyone’s enjoyment of the film, nor the small moon sized box office take, we are going to suggest it could have been told differently, and perhaps more effectively as a short film. Sounds heretical, no? Well, read on.
Less time, more focus:
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As the bard once wrote, brevity is the soul of wit. A short film by its very nature has strict limitations on what it can do. If we consider what was (ostensibly) the main purpose of the film Rogue One – showing how the Death Star plans fell into Rebel hands – it would seem quite natural that the story would fit snugly into a 15- to 20-minute short.
But what of all the cool characters and new locations you ask? Well, it’s simply a matter of focus. If, as is often suggested, Rogue One is a war film telling of the sacrifices made by rebel troops on the ground, having no named main characters makes total sense. Wars are fought and won with more than the lives of just a handful of main characters. It’s more often than not the unnamed heroes who contribute the most.
The film as it exists does allude to this in the final act during the Battle of Scarif. Plenty of unnamed pilots and soldiers storm the stronghold and help to distract the Imperial troops while our heroes acquire the plans in the mainframe. You need only substitute Cassian and Jyn with two other rebels.
Why would we care about unnamed characters you ask? To that we suggest it’s merely a matter of history. We as fans and audience members have lived with Star Wars for a generation now. We know the players, we know the story, and we certainly know the stakes of a fully armed and operational Death Star. At this point, we are either invested or we’re not.
The filmmakers need only to have successfully leaned on that history in order to generate sympathy, and interest, in the plight of unnamed ground forces assaulting the base on Scarif. We as the audience didn’t need to explicitly be shown a single reactor core firing of the Death Star to know that it was catastrophically devastating. Merely seeing it loom over the planet’s atmosphere would be enough to generate the kind of awe and dread needed for emotional investment.
As for locations? Well, again, focus. Scarif is ultimately the most important location in the film. Jedha is of course a close second, but that location could still have been explored in another film or series (taking bets now on the inclusion of Jedha in the new prequel series) thus allowing for a pure focus on the vital location of Scarif.