Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Rogue One. If you haven't seen the movie yet, now's your chance to make the jump to hyperspace!
When I walked out of Rogue One, I was reeling. Unlike The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One had dared to do something truly different with the source material, while still grounding the movie in Original Trilogy nostalgia. I'm not bashing The Force Awakens, as that movie is amazing in its own way, and after the mess of the prequels — movies which, in trying to do something different, drifted too far away from the source material — we really needed something quintessentially #StarWars.
But Rogue One went a step further. By setting the action mere days before A New Hope, and leading directly into it, the new movie didn't just invoke our love for the good old OT, it did something revolutionary: Rogue One changed the Original Trilogy forever.
The Unsung Heroes Of The Rebellion
In the Original Trilogy, we follow the heroes of the Rebel Alliance, while discovering the mysterious Jedi as Luke Skywalker realizes his power in the Force. This is the grander story, the scifi-fantasy epic that redefined cinema and spawned a thousand copycats, ripoffs, and parodies. We're safe in knowing that Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker will not die: They are the legendary heroes, the protagonists, the chosen ones. It's the other characters who die, the background rebel soldiers who are just there as plot devices, moving the saga along with their constant, quiet sacrifices. Rogue One is their story.
In Return of the Jedi, when the Rebel Alliance faces the second of what now seems to be an endless parade of Death Stars, Mon Mothma explains that the crucial plans to this battle station came at a price.
It's almost an offhand comment, and that's the last we hear of these mysterious Bothans, as they are merely tools to establish the gravity of the situation.
But with Rogue One we get an up close and personal look at what the Rebellion was really like: The sacrifices made, the morals compromised, the brothers-in-arms lost to this relentless war. Rogue One is emotionally brutal, as each beautifully nuanced, well-rounded character meets their sometimes dramatic, sometimes mundane end.
This is a refreshing change from the Star Wars saga, which sometimes feels like the only people who matter in the galaxy are those with the last name Skywalker. As much as the episodic movies are iconic, poignant, and bombastic, they do sometimes make this vast galaxy feel small. Rogue One has the opposite effect — and now that we know the tragic story of these minor but crucial Rebel soldiers, we're never going to be able to watch the Original Trilogy in the same way again.
The Weight Of War
Rogue One really, really makes you want to watch A New Hope — which now acts as a spiritual sequel to Rogue One. The final moments ramp right up to the opening scenes of Star Wars Episode IV, and the way this is executed (pun intended) adds a great weight to the next chronological film. We now know exactly what Leia was doing before she was captured by Darth Vader, and as she loads R2D2 with the plans we know that Jyn, Cassian, and the entire Rogue One team died for this.
When we see Luke again, we'll feel much the same way Wedge Antilles and the other rebel fighters felt when this bright-eyed, idealistic young recruit stumbled into their midst. Why is he moaning about power converters, doesn't he know there's a war on? (Having said that, I will forever defend the power converters line. It's crucial for setting Luke up as a naive kid, who will later become the savior of the galaxy.)
Everything in A New Hope now has more weight. Darth Vader is infinitely more menacing, now we've seen him viciously tear apart rebel soldiers as he tried to retrieve the plans. Han's desire not to get caught up in the war now doesn't seem cowardly, but sensible, as the war isn't just a distant notion any more — it's real and it's cruel and it just killed characters that we care about.
Now, it's easy to understand Leia's constant anger: This is a woman who has been fighting the war for years. She's seen countless Rebel soldiers die, and many of them will have been her friends. And I dare you not to shed a tear when Leia, helplessly trapped by Vader and Tarkin, watches her entire planet destroyed by the Death Star — especially after Bail Organa's painfully ironic line in Rogue One.
But Rogue One doesn't just change A New Hope. The entire Original Trilogy is no longer just an adventurous romp, and we can really believe that this is a desperate struggle to end a war that's claiming the lives of billions of people. Many of these people aren't necessarily innocent heroes — as we learned when Cassian killed his informant in cold blood — but soldiers willing to do whatever they must to help the cause.
The next time we watch Return of the Jedi (which Rogue One emulated fantastically in its stellar third act), we will truly understand the devastation that plays out before us. As Luke observes the battle from the second Death Star, unable to help his fellow Rebels, we will know exactly how he feels — and we'll know just how great a personal toll the battle will take.
All of this doesn't undermine Luke's journey, but it does make the situation in the Original Trilogy carry much more emotional weight. Thanks to Rogue One we truly understand the power of hope, why rebellions are built on it, and how this idea passed from Rogue One to Star Wars Episode IV. And we're satisfied with knowing Jyn, Cassian, and the others didn't die for nothing.
Tell us in the comments: What did you think of Rogue One?