Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now arriving in theaters, and its a big milestone for the franchise. As the first of Disney and Lucasfilm's "Star Wars Standalone Movies," Rogue One doesn't just have to entertain, it has to prove the case that Star Wars, as cinematic brand, can stand on its own outside of the main "Episode" format.
The unspoken question looming over this little experiment, then, is this: Is a Star Wars movie as effective without the core Skywalker Saga connected to it?
Just last year we got proof positive that Star Wars films bolstered by the Skywalker Saga still connect with viewers in a big way. Star Wars: The Force Awakens made $2 billion, and aside from being a uniquely special cultural event (first Star Wars movie without Lucas, OT cast returning, etc.), a lot of its resonance was found in exactly what the title implies: young outsiders discovering their heroism and power through the force.
With Episode VII, that resonance reached a whole new generation as well as new demographics (women, people of color), but the themes were largely the same as what those that made Episode IV - A New Hope the phenomenon it originally was.
By comparison, Rogue One tells a great story of heroism and sacrifice - but not one that necessarily resonates on the level of Luke Skywalker or Finn and Rey's story. Even in this first slew of reviews and reactions (at the time of writing this) it seems like Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso is one of the most common criticisms. It's not that Jones didn't do a good job in the role (she definitely did); rather, viewers had a hard time connecting to her, or having her story resonate with them in that classic Star Wars hero way.
The issue with Jyn is that there is no classic hero's story built around her. Jyn has a tragic start, a tragic middle, and a (heroically) tragic ending - there's little to nothing in her experience that would make a viewer want to identify with her or imagine themselves in that position. Her tale lacks the same grandeur and sense of destiny that Luke or Rey's story does, and that limits the film's appeal as a grand epic.
Of course, to be fair, a lot of the point of Rogue One is to illustrate how so many other people and moving parts were required to bring about the Skywalker destiny - people whose names never rang out across the galaxy after the war was over.
Comicbook.com's Lucas Siegel has already made the case for why Rogue One is just as powerful telling a story about the reality of war, chaos, sacrifice involved with the Rebellion - and it's hard to deny that (at least in the third act) director Gareth Edwards and Co. deliver just that. The question becomes: is that the sort of thing a Star Wars movie needs to deliver - and my in my own opinion, it's fine, just not as exciting.
In the end, Star Wars became a huge phenomenon in part because it inspired belief in so many viewers that they, too, could be plucked from obscurity and revealed to have a great heroic destiny to fulfill. It's why there's a feeling of such elation when Luke finally blows up the Death Star, or Rey finally pops her lightsaber and defeats Kylo Ren. For the viewing audience, that moment of potential and destiny being fulfilled is everything that arguably makes Star Wars special.
...And inevitably, no matter how much Rogue One (or any other Star Wars standalone set outside the Skywalker Saga) gets right, they will likely never equal the epic feeling of seeing a heroic Jedi achieve prophecy. That's why Star Wars needs the Skywalker Saga that started it all.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits US theaters December 16, 2016. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it's the first of the new standalone features from Lucasfilm and Disney, which take place outside the core "Skywalker Saga" of films noted by an Episode number. Rogue Onetells the story of the small band of rebels that were tasked with stealing the plans to the first Death Star. The story spins directly off the opening crawl from the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. In that crawl, it read: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."
MORE STAR WARS NEWS: Who are the Characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? | Star Wars: How Gareth Edwards Found the WWII Feel for Rogue One | Kevin Smith Says Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Is Empire Strikes Back Great | Mark Hamill Thinks Star Wars Standalones Have An Advantage Over the Saga | Why Darth Vader's Costume Changed for Rogue One| How Rogue One Opens Without a Crawl
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