If you’re reading this I hope it is because you’ve seen Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is now playing in just about every first-run theater around the globe. The film is an experiment of sorts, building on an established universe without the characters and set pieces (except one) we’ve come to know. In my review I noted that the film is “a dense, riveting story of hope that addresses the price of freedom in ways no previous film in the Star Wars canon has come close to matching since the release of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.”
…And now we’re going to talk about why. Spoilers will follow. This is your last chance to turn back.
Everyone is dead. Everyone we spent two-plus hours of our lives getting to know from the fictional universe we have spent our lives getting to know is dead. Jyn is dead. Cassian is dead. Countless stormtroopers are toast. Even the audience favorite droid is dead—or whatever you call a robot that has ceased to function. They all died glorious deaths and with their passing we lost any possibility of seeing a sequel.
Do you understand just how monumental this is? In an era of franchises, which arguably came to be as a result of the radical fandom that surrounded properties like Star Wars, no major tentpole in recent memory has dared to end in such a way that we are guaranteed no further interactions with the characters. Everything produced by major studios in 2016 was manufactured to launch at least a sequel, and in any instance where the possibility of continuation was up for debate it was the first question asked at movie press junkets. Rogue One broke the mold, and the company ultimately responsible for that decision just so happens to be the biggest studio in the world, ever.
We probably should have seen this coming—maybe some of you even did. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s comment to Empire Magazine that there wouldn’t be a sequel did feel oddly definitive, and now we all know why.
We know a few others things, too. We now know why the central characters in Rogue One were not present in other films. We also know how Priness Leia came into possession of the blueprints, and exactly what she looked like in the moments before recording her memorable plea to Obi-Wan that we see at the beginning of A New Hope.
We can also make a guess as to why Erso’s team never receive recognition for their efforts (they were literally rebelling from the rebellion at the time of their deaths).
All the answers we need are given to us by the time the credits roll and once you realize that you understand what a rare treat that is in movies today. You paid for a story and you got one. A complete one.
Rogue One went to great lengths to widen our perception of George Lucas’ beloved creation and to challenge our expectations of what a Star Wars film could be. It succeeded in many ways, but perhaps its greatest accomplishment is its willingness to be a stand-alone film. All stories must come to an end, including our own, and even if the Star Wars franchise outlives us all, the characters within it will have to meet their fate. That’s a heavy dose of reality for the world of science fiction, but it’s a message we all need to hear in order to fully appreciate life.