A four-year retrospective on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Jyn Erso. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Jyn Erso. Copyright: 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™, All Rights Reserved. /

Four years after its release, Rogue One is still a stark reminder of the ugliness of war and the power of the light in the Star Wars universe.

The original Star Wars trilogy painted the moral landscape of the galaxy in stark black and white polarities. The Empire, marked by oppression and tyranny, was the clear villains of the galaxy while the Rebellion, in their fight to free the galaxy from the Empire, were the good guys. When the Empire fell with the death of Emperor Palpatine, the galaxy rejoiced. The evil Empire was no more.

But the division of good guys versus bad guys isn’t as clear cut as we’d like to believe, and this is possibly never made more clear than in Rogue One. Released on Dec. 16, 2016, not only was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the first Star Wars film not directly tied to the Skywalker Saga, but it was the first time many fans encountered a true gritty picture of what war is like in the galaxy.

The problem of being killed by the good guys

In one of the opening scenes, Cassian Andor, a member of the Rebel Alliance, met with an Imperial informant named Tivik, who revealed that the Empire was building a superweapon, which we eventually learn was the Death Star. As the two were meeting, they were interrupted by stormtroopers, who Cassian quickly killed. and in their attempt to get away, Cassian realized that Tivik’s broken arm would keep him from escaping. Seemingly without choice, Cassian killed Tivik to keep him from getting caught and questioned by the Empire. After all, if Tivik had been caught, he would have revealed that the Rebels knew about the Death Star, and it would have revealed Galen Erso’s betrayal against the Empire.

On the one hand, we understand that Cassian’s action was necessary to the story to keep the Empire from learning about the Death Star’s weakness. But it doesn’t dismiss the moral ambiguity of it. Cassian looked Tivik in the eyes and told him everything was going to be okay, giving him a false reassurance before shooting him in the back. Tivik risked his life to get the information to Cassian, but he certainly didn’t expect to be executed by the people he was trying to help.

War is messier than the good guys versus the bad guys

Rogue One was a powerful reminder that there are often good people on both sides of a war. We can’t assume that everyone who worked for the Empire was a bad person. Many of them were just doing their jobs. The Empire certainly had its corruption, but as Claudia Gray’s Romeo and Juliet-inspired Star Wars young adult novel Lost Stars revealed, there were many people on the Death Star when it exploded who had families and who were just doing their jobs to support their families. And the Rebels killed them.

The Star Wars universe is filled with this kind of moral ambiguity because war is never a neat and tidy battle between the good guys and the bad guys. Good people die on both sides, and war forces even the best of people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Rogue One did a great job of humanizing people we might be inclined to demonize most of the time.

Rogue One was a backdrop for the light

For that reason, it was a powerful setup for the character of Rey, who in the sequel trilogy, despite her familial connection to the Empire’s leader, seemed to genuinely care about people and believe the best in them. Faced with the sheer cruelty of the dark side in Kylo Ren, she wasn’t satisfied with killing him to win the battle; she used the Force to save him, believing he was still capable of good.

War is ugly, and it’s easy to forget that with Star Wars movies focused on the good versus evil dichotomy. Rogue One was a truly dark war movie, but it’s the darkness that often most clearly brings out the light.

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