Let me take you back to December 18th 2015. Star Wars fever had just hit an all-time high as many were looking forward to watching Episode 7 in the franchise. Controversy flew with nay-sayers striking like tie fighters while the X-wings of hopeful wishes fought back. The movie was finally finished after months in theaters pulling in over two billion USD in box office revenue. Yet with the promise of forgetting the flaws of the past films and the strong critical reviews, I left the theater rather under-whelmed by the repeated themes and re-hashing of old hat ideas.
Fast forward nearly a year later and Rogue One was released. Though skeptical, an opportunity came to see the movie on its opening night and I took the chance to see it. When I left the theater I could only say good things stating to my sister that Rogue One was “everything I hoped Episode VII would be and all the action I was hoping Battlefront would have had”.
When a movie makes that kind of impression, I try to figure out what happened. In this case, I tried to figure out what Rogue One had that The Force Unleashed didn’t. I narrowed it down to three different ideas: 1) Rogue One was not afraid to acknowledge the Prequels, 2) Rogue One enhanced my vision for what the other movies were and 3) Rogue One expanded the known Star Wars universe in new and interesting ways.
Acknowledging the Prequels
I remember the excitement over the release of The Phantom Menace and I remember the positive reviews and fan love that was directed to it. Was it perfect? No, but the prequels weren’t horrible either. They did a lot of great things that changed the way Star Wars worked and as long as you are intelligent about the prequels you can continually pull great material from them. Kevin Smith gets it:
For a long time there was a rumor of a “no prequels policy” when making the new sequel trilogy (VII-IX) and I think to an extent that there might have been a policy like that in place, either officially or unofficially. This is taken from the idea that the only references to the prequel trilogy movies were in fact a reference to them no longer having an impact.
Rogue one however acknowledged the other half of Disney’s 4 billion dollar purchase in such instances as Darth Vader setting up his base on Mustafar, or the entire presence of Bail Organa. Though the instances were few they did help Rogue One set up a smooth and coherent transition between events in Episode III and Episode IV.
Enhancing the other movies
Whenever a movie or comic or tv show or anything else is added to a fictional universe it is important that each addition enhances the experience of the others. The events of The Force Awakens didn’t do much to enhance how we saw any of the movies. Perception of the prequels was virtually unchanged and the all it did for me as far as the original trilogy is concerned is that it made me confused as to how almost nothing could change after the emperor was defeated.
Rogue One though changed how I saw the entirety of Episode 4. Everything from the weakness in the Death Star to the capture of the princess all the sudden became very significant. The stakes of the death star felt higher after words and Luke Skywalkers importance was set up stronger than ever before. Showing different deeds of the Empire through the film changed the way I saw Anakin’s choice to change to the dark side as well as making me question the events of the prequels and how they led to the state the galaxy was in. Did Palpatine really want the empire in the state it was in? How in the world did he get people to buy into it? Was the galaxy actually better than before the empire? Rogue one opened up the prequels to me in a new and interesting way that I would not have considered before.
Expanding the Universe
A bit of my history. My introduction into Star Wars was actually not the movies. When I was in Middle School I had an English teacher with a class library of Star Wars extended universe books that I used to read all the time. As far as I was concerned, Han Solo and Leia were always supposed to be married with twins, Luke was always supposed to restore the Jedi Order which would last another thousand years, the main group were to fight in about 12 different wars to secure the position of the new republic, and Palpatine had about a dozen clones of himself (not all of it was good).
I got caught up in the euphoria of excitement over The Force Awakens and found myself kinda disappointed in the end after I left the theater. Somehow I felt like nothing had changed or expanded. The hero was still from a barren dessert planet, The Resistance (what’s a synonym for resistance? Rebellion) was still on a Yavin-like planet, The First Order (Empire) still had a death star (it’s just bigger) and it was even destroyed the same way as the second one. Essentially I didn’t find anything unique about the film. At least initially.
Rogue one was not that way. One of the first things we see is a farming planet that visually looked different from anything we had seen before. We learned more about the empires control through means such as worker prison camps and a slave trade (odd, seeing as how the number 2 guy was a slave and likely hates the whole idea of slave labor).
Each place that the characters went to was unique from anything we have seen in the movies up to that point and even the planets that were repeated looked fresh and exciting. One thing that this movie excelled at was expanding our understanding of the Star Wars universe and the rules that are involved therein.
Rogue One gave us the Star Wars movie that I believe we were asking for, which is a good thing. Rogue One did not have the advantage of hype that Episode VII had and it didn’t have the classic characters to ride off of other than about 5 minutes of Darth Vader looking beast. The tech was more impressive than nearly anything else we have seen in movies with the resurrection of Grand Mof Tarkin and the emotional punch was beyond satisfactory.
The bar has been set. Hopefully we can keep it there with Episode 8 and beyond.