When analyzed within the context of the “Star Wars” franchise as a whole, “Rogue One” is clearly a departure from their norms, even more so than “The Force Awakens.”
The differences begin with Jyn Erso, the heroine played by Felicity Jones. Before her, we saw every “Star Wars” main character stumble into the main conflict and their subsequent indoctrination into either side. Anakin, Luke and Rey never intended to become fighters. They were drawn into battle by coincidence. But Erso was always entrenched in the rebellion, maybe not the organized rebellion, but a rebellion nonetheless.
With a father hiding out from Imperial forces and an apparent knowledge of this situation from a young age, Jyn Erso has the most experience with the conflict central to every “Star Wars” movie of any main character. She knows the rebellion more than anyone, including its darker sides, which allows the movie to paint a fuller picture of what it means to be a rebel. Never have we seen the workings of the rebellion in such an all-encompassing light. We see its ruthlessness, its disjointedness and even an extremist branch never before mentioned.
Jyn Erso’s experience also contributes to her exceptional ability to convey the emotions of a rebel. Other main characters have always seemed more confused with the proceedings of the movie; being unexpectedly thrown into an interplanetary battle will do that to you. But Erso’s emotions feel more mature, more hardened. Jones strays from the dramatics of Mark Hamill, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. Her pain, sorrow and joy feel realistic. Her character overall feels more real. And by extension, our feelings towards her feel more real. We understand and connect with her on a much more intimate level.
She feels exceptionally real in her final moments, when her death is not just sad, it is solemn, like losing a friend. Erso is the image of a true soldier. And while audiences can appreciate what Rey has done for women in the franchise and fanbase, Erso outshines her as the multi-dimensional female lead we needed.
Besides Erso, other characters in the franchise feel completely fresh. For example, K-2SO, Cassian Andor’s droid, reminds the audience at first of C-3PO, as a sassy, humanoid droid naturally would. But soon, K-2 becomes so much more than 3PO ever was. K-2 surpasses 3PO’s joke-producer role and acts as a useful and important player in the game plans of the rebellion, not just a bumbling idiot. Like Erso, K-2 feels grown-up as it fights like a warrior, makes cynical comments like an old man and eventually dies like a hero. It represents the seriousness of the new films, a quality that movies with Jar-Jar Binks and C-3PO could never express.
One of the starkest contrasts between the previous installments shows itself in “Rogue One’s” battle sequences. In fact, only one lightsaber appears in the movie. Gone are the incessant lightsaber matches that last entirely too long. Gone are the irritatingly simple blaster versus lightsaber conflicts that mow down stormtroopers like dominoes in a line.
The Force, the shield that usually protects Jedi from any and all harm, also fails to play a prominent role in the battles. This movie has only two Force-users, neither of which assume the lead role and one of which only discovers their Force powers just before the very end. Every rebel we see fighting on Scarif in the final battle of the movie dies as we finally get a glimpse of what it may be like to come under fire from the Death Star’s ray, which truly conveys the destructive nature of war and rebellion.
“Rogue One” is the franchise’s attempt to revamp itself for modern audiences. Its maturity, cynical humor and anti-establishment sentiment are reflections of the events of 2016. And while it may include some of the gimmicks of the original franchise, it makes fun of them at the same time. It seems to diss the comparative light-heartedness of the episodes while giving an excellent depiction of the events that led to “New Hope.” “Rogue One” is what the prequels should have been and what the next trilogy should be.