Everybody hurts in Gareth Edwards’s game-changing Star Wars story
There are major spoilers in this article if you haven’t seen Rogue One. What do you mean you haven’t watched it yet? Remember: Avoid spoilers, enjoy Star Wars stories for yourself, as they were intended. The Force is with you and you are one with the Force.
They’re all dead. I’m dead. You’re dead. — Jack Shepherd
Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some… long after you. — Christian Shepherd
LOST “The End”
In certain off-putting areas of online Star Wars fandom there’s an outright dismissal of any Star Wars content under the Disney banner. Star Wars Rebels comes under particular attack. The argument goes that it is way too kid friendly, with everything having been Disneyfied (whatever that means in real terms) to within an inch of its life. The chatter continues that the Rebels writers are unprepared or not allowed to kill off any major characters. Which is a problem — and here’s where the hand-wringing starts — because by the time of A New Hope there can be no Jedi left. Kanan and Ezra at the very least MUST DIE! But they won’t do it. Disney won’t let them. And so on and so forth… predictable gibberish from the scum and villainy of the internet.
Why not trust that the creative team know what they’re about. They’ve done nothing but earn our trust. Kanan being blinded by Maul at the end of Rebels season 2 was not an act of reluctance or avoidance from Dave Filoni and team. Quite the contrary. The path chosen was the more narratively challenging one. To not only justify a character’s existence, but to develop their character in interesting ways takes more skillful execution than offing them for quick dramatic gain. That’s not to say that characters shouldn’t be killed off, just that it must serve the story in the long run. A character’s death — just like their survival — must be earned.
There’s a prevalent school of thought that suggests dark stories are automatically superior. That killing off major characters by the end of stories equals darkness, hence ensuring dramatic quality. It just isn’t true. I mean, I’m into noir, but I don’t want every story to be a noir. Does anyone really think that Return of the Jedi would have better if all our heroes died except Luke, who kills his father and takes his place at the Emperor’s side? Okay, some of you…but you don’t really mean it. I inevitably think of The Lord of the Rings. Frodo may save Middle-Earth and survive the ordeal, but he sacrifices his own chances at living his life. It’s one of the saddest stories ever told. There are of course many ways in which to construct a story and many qualitative outcomes. A good story must be true to its characters. If at the same time it can be thrilling, moving, thoughtful or any damn thing it pleases — well, those may become the stories that matter. Rogue One is a story that matters.
Jyn Erso is instrumental in saving the galaxy. But rather like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, she cannot save it for herself. At what point — I wonder — does Jyn realise that there is no leaving Scarif alive? Some part of her must have thought it likely before they even went there. From a story perspective, heroes often stake their lives for the greater good, yet live to fight another day. When a character has nothing left to lose however, one may fear they have stepped upon truly dangerous ground. Raiders of the Lost Ark toys with this briefly when Indy believes Marion to be dead. However, that is resolved fairly quickly and he is allowed to get down to saving the day and surviving. Jyn doesn’t have that luxury, for everything in her life has been torn away from her. She says at one point that political opinions are a luxury she has been unable to afford, but her actions are political in their very resistance of a ruling body intent on crushing individuality out of the galaxy.
Although many of us considered the very real possibility that the Rogue One team would not survive their mission, it wasn’t an inevitability. The same is true of the eventual finale of Star Wars Rebels — we await the fates of Kanan and Ezra with great interest.
Apologies: a Rebels via Rogue One aside: I am terribly concerned about the fate of Sabine; it’s super cool that she got the darksaber, but the project code name “Blacksaber” found on Scarif does not bode well. Also, I need to reach out to more eagle-eyed fans than myself: did anyone see the Ghost successfully jump to hyperpace at the battle of Scarif? What if the ending of Star Wars Rebels is above Scarif…I shudder to think.
Other factors came into play. Rogue One was pitched as a war movie and by all accounts Gareth Edwards followed through on that promise. There were also opportunities presented from being the first Star Wars picture outside of the main saga, albeit one that is intimately connected to A New Hope. The stakes had to be high and it had to feel like real people taking on the might of the Empire. I think that as the story developed it must have become clear that the team couldn’t survive. Their sacrifice would allow a new hope to bloom. Yet they wouldn’t be around to see it come to fruition. Jyn is at the heart of this and her story breaks my heart.
Within five minutes of my first viewing of Rogue One I was fighting back the tears as Jyn’s mother was gunned down by Krennic’s Death Troopers. Despite knowing that Jyn gets to grow up, I was nevertheless frightened for her as she ran away and hid. Each of us makes connections to the stories we watch, read or listen to and here I was thinking of my own daughter in danger. Later in the story, I put myself in Jyn’s shoes. After Galen Erso is struck down by friendly fire on the platform at Eadu, Jyn is there to ease his passing into death. She has grown up without her mother or father, the former killed protecting her family, the latter an Imperial collaborator, however unwilling. Jyn has seen the holographic message from her father concerning his built-in sabotage of the Death Star. (I intend to talk about this at greater length in a separate article.) The point being, she understands what he has done and knows it was for her and her mother, for the life as a family they never got to have together. Michael Giacchino’s “Star-Dust” cue is a window into the deeply felt yet all too brief emotional reunion between father and daughter. Jyn feels everything that they have lost. She makes a decision there and then, and she follows through on it to the benefit of the entire galaxy.
I’m drawn to stories concerning the death of a father. My own dad died when I was 21 years old. Like Jyn, I never got the opportunity to get to know him as an adult. I wish I had. That isn’t why I loved Rogue One though. There are many reasons and I love it completely. Perhaps all I’m trying to say is that it felt real. Rogue One is beautiful, sad, thrilling, dark, hopeful — everything and more. And, yes, everyone dies in it. But everyone dies sometime.