Star Wars tells stories of galactic danger and adventure, and the seven live-action movies that make up the core #StarWars saga keep us from getting lost in the boundless galaxy by focusing on multiple generations of the Skywalker clan and they effect they have on the Empire's rise and fall. Themes of friendship and family have always been the true center of Star Wars.
While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a standalone movie set just before the original 1977 movie, it's still part of the franchise, and those same themes are the heartbeat of Rogue One. Director Gareth Edwards has made a war movie set in the Star Wars galaxy, focused on the Rebel plot to acquire plans for the Death Star battle station, but the new movie is also an intimate character piece, set against the backdrop of a galaxy about to explode into civil war.
Our familiar Star Wars guides – Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and others – are not on hand to pull us through the story. But Rogue One does feature a new family dynamic in the father/daughter set of Galen and Jyn Erso, each of whom is paired against their own partner or foil.
So who are these new characters, and how do they fit into the series' grand, overarching concepts of friendship and family? Here's the lowdown.
Felicity Jones is the star of the show, as Jyn Erso. This determined and nearly cynical young woman was brought up in a close family environment – one that fell apart when it was forced to flee from the Empire. It's not so easy to outrun the Empire, however, and on the planet Lah’mu Jyn is forced to watch from the shadows as her father is captured by the Empire.
Jyn lived on the streets of various cities for over a decade. During that time, she developed a fierce independence, with bitter experience proving she could depend only upon herself. The young Erso built up a criminal record, for forgery of Imperial documents, possession of stolen property, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest! Jyn ultimately attracts the attention of the Rebellion, albeit not for any reason she expected.
Separated from her father for over a decade, Jyn is rocked as she learns that Galen is still alive, and the opportunity to rescue him, and in so doing strike against the Empire, galvanizes the anarchic loner. This plan puts her at the front of a strike team, dubbed Rogue One, as the Rebellion searches for Galen Erso and ultimately tries to acquire plans for the Death Star.
If Jyn is to triumph, she must learn what it means to be part of a team, setting aside the harsh lessons learned in years on the street, and allow herself to trust her biological family and the surrogate Rebel family which skeptically adopts her as one of their own.
It's not such a stretch to see this Rebel captain as this movie's analog for Han Solo. Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, is given the difficult task of keeping Jyn Erso in line. Cassian is no dynamic leader; he's essentially a spy. Andor typically works alone, supported only by a reprogrammed Imperial droid whose sardonic candor is voiced by Alan Tudyk. Let's just say Cassian isn't exactly a people person!
Anrod is a deeply wounded man, not least because he's been working for the Rebellion for some time and his missions haven't always gone well. The spy, who works in the grey moral area required of agents doing dirty work for a war effort, has been captured more than once, and in a galaxy where the Empire has created Interrogator Droids we can't imagine what he must have suffered. The fact that he's still going, and that in spite of being captured he evidently managed to escape, is testimony to Cassian's skill.
So Andor and Jyn Erso are similar in many respects – both loners who have little regard for "proper methods" – but their immediate goals may be more at odds than they think. So even as they forge a tentative partnership, the teamwork between Andor and Erso, who could almost be surrogate brother and sister, has to be based on a mutual trust that takes time to develop. Just as Jyn Erso has become bitter thanks to her difficult life, Cassian Andor's black-bag work for the Rebellion has led to a closed-off emotional life. His greatest challenge is to lower his defenses, and to dare to hope again.
Just as the story of Luke Skywalker and his absent father defines the great arc of the original Star Wars trilogy, the father/daughter tie between Galen and Jyn Erso is the spine of Rogue One.
Mads Mikkelsen's Galen, the father of heroine Jyn, is in some ways the story's most important character. Erso's life's work sets everything in motion; he's an expert in crystal structures who dreamed of curing the Galaxy's energy crisis through research on Kyber Crystals. The scientist's old classmate, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) saw the potential military application of the Kyber Crystals, however, and soon manipulated Galen into debt. The Erso family worked on the Kyber project for years, blissfully unaware their technology was being channeled into the Death Star's super-laser.
Fortunately for Galen, his wife Lyra was more suspicious than he was, and she ultimately discovered Krennic's betrayal. The family escaped with the help of extremist Rebel Saw Gerrera, and for a while managed to hide from the Empire. Sadly, with Galen's genius critical to the construction of the Death Star, the Empire wasn't willing to let him go and Erso was forced back to work.
While his daughter Jyn becomes guarded and bitter thanks to the Empire's actions against her parents, and the life she lives afterward, Galen Erso maintains some level of hope. Galen realizes the threat posed by his own work, and seeks to undermine the Empire's new weapon. His strength of character, guided in large part by his own familial devotions, guides his efforts. He may look like an Empire conspirator, but Galen Erso's actions are more complex.
The main villain of Rogue One, Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic is a ruthlessly ambitious member of Palpatine's inner circle. Krennic saw the fall of the Old Republic coming, and positioned himself close to Palpatine in order to flourish in the New Order. He saw problems with the Death Star's super-laser as an opportunity.
Krennic also leveraged his long-standing friendship with the Erso family. The man who once might have been an uncle to Jyn – tied to the family by emotions, if not blood – manipulated events so as to leave his old friend Galen Erso in his debt, the better to recruit Erso into a project supposedly meant to provide the Galaxy with 'unlimited, cheap power'.
The faceless grey bureaucracy of the Empire can be just as imposing as the government's weapons, and Krennic is a prime soldier for the Empire's army of middle management. Craven and increasingly anxious about his position in the Empire, Krennic will do almost anything to maintain his control over the Death Star project, and in so doing preserve his ties to the Emperor. Galen Erso's resistance against the Empire is an affront to Krennic, not because Krennic holds some great devotion to the Empire, but because it undermines his tenuous power.
The prequel trilogy showed decaying friendship between Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as it was poisoned by power-lust and betrayal. The backstory of Orson Krennic and Galen Erso is largely implied (and told in more detail in Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel) but their relationship is similar, if somewhat more contained, than the Skywalker/Kenobi pairing.
While Rogue One has the look of a large-scale war movie, this is perhaps even more of a character piece than any other Star Wars film before it. One family, broken by the tyranny of the Empire, seeks to maintain its ties, as it struggles with the betrayal of old allies and the evolution of trust for new ones. Though they don't know it, Galen and Jyn Erso are about to light the spark that sets the Galaxy ablaze!