Star Wars: Episode I is the first movie I remember seeing at the movies. It was 1999 and I was four years old. My dad, sister, and I sat towards the right side of the screen, not too close to the front but nowhere near the top of the stairs. I’m 79% positive we shared a tub of that good popcorn customary for an afternoon viewing. The most memorable part of this experience is definitely that my sister — almost nine years my senior — kept covering my eyes on any of the parts she thought would be too scary for my preschool brain. The memory of this event is kept in my brain’s memento box where I can easily pull it out, unfold the worn edges, and smile.
There are other little memories from my childhood I keep under the Star Wars label: watching the original trilogy for the first time one summer, pretending to be the only girl jedi at a sleepover with a girl from my class, begging my mom to let me be Padmé for Halloween but her saying it was too cold to be showing my tummy in public, and visiting Disney World with one of my closest friends who ended up walking down the aisle to the same song played during Padme and Anakin’s wedding in Episode II. Little moments of Star Wars decorate my past like shiny butterfly stickers in a scrapbook.
But Star Wars and I grew apart for a bit. We were cordial but never pushy, wanting to be reconnected but never knowing where to begin again until…..
Yes, the movie that follows a ragamuffin group of nobodies stole my heart and my love for Star Wars was rekindled. The action! The jokes! The callback to the original films! CASSIAN ANDOR! Everything about Rogue One swept me off my feet.
Why Rogue One?
Homeward Bound, The Outsiders, Bande a part: I’m always a sucker for the stories about groups of underdogs who have seen some shit, and yet use that pain to motivate them to pursue some impossible task.
I like these types of characters because that’s how the world saw me for so long. The awkward girl who cried about everything, including the middle school lunchroom running out of pizza on a Friday. I didn’t just wear my emotions on my sleeve — they were sketched on my skin with permanent marker so that everyone would know not to be too abrasive or the waterworks would start and never stop. I was your classic loser, a hopeless nobody.
As I got older, I was able to find my confidence and the power that lies in the ability to feel deeply. I just stopped caring what people thought about me. When I found the strength to embrace this new appreciation for myself, I became unstoppable and have found myself in places I never thought life would let a fountain of emotion like me into. I know Rogue One doesn’t have any crybabies in the film and honestly, every single character in Star Wars— including Jabba the Hutt, is much cooler than I was as a teenager. But the characters in this movie are the type thatm on their own, do not seem to be capable of stopping the Death Star from destroying an entire planet.
Let’s talk about the crew. There’s Cassian Andor: a Rebel Alliance captain/errand runner (whose secret weapon is being incredibly hot), K-2SO: an Empirical robot who has been reprogrammed with a sassy sense of humour, Chirrut Îmwe: a blind beggar with incredible belief in the Force and killer martial arts moves, Baze Malbus: the tough companion with a total dad vibe, and Bodhi Rock: a scared pilot who finds his bravery in the face of destruction. They aren’t the keepers of some incredible wisdom, nor Jedi that are one with the Force. None of the main characters in Rogue One were born into the Skywalker family. They are misfits and nobodies.
Even as a group they are the type that are overlooked by the majority of the world, including the rest of the Rebel Alliance. This is why they are the ones trusted with the dirty work while the faces of the political movement get to smile and wave, receiving all the applause. Cassian has done stuff he isn’t quite proud of in the name of the Resistance – his choice to be among the other Rebels is less about his want to do good, but more because he is the demographic that is directly hurt by the Empire’s evil. The sudden appearance of Jyn changes his, and the other character’s, perspective which reignites his want to make the universe a better place.
Jyn Erso is My Best Friend
Jyn Erso — the main character of Rogue One and second female Star Wars protagonist of the decade — is an interesting case study on how early childhood trauma can be some badass motivation if you allow it. She is everything I ever dreamed of being: brave, clever, and relentless.
The audience is first introduced to her seconds before her mother is murdered and her father is taken into custody by the Empire. Jyn is presumed dead but she actually hides in a small bunker under a rock leading to her survival. The scene after this incredibly depressing opening is about sixteen years later and Jyn is in captivity. She is being held in a jail cell because they think she is just orphan riff raff that needs to be kept off the street, but in reality she is already doing work that foreshadows her bigger purpose. Her time behind bars ends when the Rebel Alliance discovers that Jyn is the daughter of scientist Galen Erso, the designer behind the Death Star.
The Rebels tell Jyn that she can be reunited with her father when in reality they just want him to be found so they can kill him. Jyn must have been left out of the email chain where they talk about this planned assassination which is a constant tension between her and Cassian — who is in charge of seeing to Mr. Erso’s death. Of course, Captain Andor isn’t able to go through with his plans of killing Jyn’s father. Spending time with his new charismatic friend shows him that there are cracks between the boundaries of right and wrong.
Galen Erso didn’t actually want to be involved in the making of the deadliest weapon in the galaxy but, hey, stuff happens. He discovered the science behind the new technology and his brilliance was the last ingredient to bring it to fruition. Now it’s up to Jyn and the rest of the crew to try to stop the bad guys from destroying all the universes faster than I can say “Marry me, Cassian!”
The Dark Side of the Universe
The most beautiful thing about this standalone film is that I already know what happens after the end credits roll. Rogue One happens just days before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope which is evident in the ending shot that coordinates with the opening of the first Star Wars film that was ever produced. Princess Leia is given a message with the plans of the Death Star which is a huge development for the Rebels. Though this might lead a viewer to believe a happy ending is in the stars for Jyn, Cassian, and the rest of the crew this doesn’t happen because…
THEY ALL DIE.
So let’s talk about this shocking ending. George Lucas created these science fiction heroes tales to be for children: fun entertainment for the entire family! Obviously, he was unaware of the complete fandom he invented that would eventually lead to Disney paying $4.05 billion for his cinematic characters and universes. Lucas and his story of Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and Darth Vader was a positive one overall, however, stories that are specifically marketed for the whole family rarely kill off a film’s main characters much less the entire cast.
I’m still perplexed how this happened after Disney acquired the licensing because it’s so not a ‘Mickey Mouse’ move. I usually associate Disney with the cute little animals with tiny hats that help Cinderella sew as she sings about her dreams — but let us not ignore this is the same studio that killed Bambi and Nemo’s mothers. Still, the bold move to kill off Jyn, Cassian, and the gang shocked the Star Wars community and still hits me straight in my soul each time I see the movie.
“Rebellions Are Built on Hope”
In my mind, the crew’s whole purpose was to be like me — the crybaby, nothing special, the butt of the joke — and a majority of the film is focused on having the audience fall in love with their relatability. I empathise with Jyn and Cassian, who attempt to cope with their missing family members by risking it all for the rest of humanity and of those at risk of the Dark Side. They are everything I wanted to be when I was a child and continue to aspire to, but Rogue One’s finale — though cynical — is not in vain.
It is Jyn’s ethical do-good attitude that motivates her, even before teaming up with her gang. The possibility of losing her life in the process isn’t what she’s afraid of. She accepts her role in the mission, to save the good that the Rebel Alliance was birthed from. Plus, she knows if no one else risks it all, there won’t be much of a life to live. Her active choice to pursue the Death Star plans without fear is of course inspiring, but most importantly, her courage spreads among the mismatched crew that have joined her.
Yet, there is always some hope they could become heroes. If the team of misfits not only steal the Death Star plans and stop the Empire’s most destructive weapon to date, they would be known across the universe. Imagine parades and confetti and Jyn wearing a flower crown! Bohdi would smile with his new found bravery like he is the lion in The Wizard of Oz that just got his courage and K2 would think the celebration is just for him. Maybe there would be fire dancers in the background as Cassian gives Jyn the most romantic kiss ever seen in movie theaters across the world!
Instead, these fantasies are left to the fanfiction out there that dwell in a world where this alternative ending allows, what the internet calls the Jyn/Cassian ship: ‘RebelCaptain,’ to happen. But the film has no hint of romance as it focuses on the scale of the situation and the small nobodies that are some of the most important players in the battle of good versus evil. They fit perfectly into the bigger picture, making their ending much more special in the context of the original films.
Realistically, a happy ending is unlikely to happen because of the infamous villain with the red lightsaber getting ready for his debut. His black robe has been ironed nicely and his custom leather gloves cover his hands as he puts on his scary breathing mask. While Darth Vader has been around for decades, Rogue One brought him back in a truly terrifying fashion. He isn’t some joke or movie trope but a scary villain that evokes fear into all that surround him, audience included.
The Bigger Picture
As the final shot of Rogue One suggests, this story fits right before the original Star Wars film. This quick appearance of a re-imagined young Princess Leia — that supposedly Carrie Fisher laughed with joy at the sight of — helps to connect the passion of the Rogue One posse to the bigger cinematic picture. The story of Jyn Erso’s brave sacrifice strengthens the entire Star Wars canon and brings light to the smaller players in the fight between good and evil. Before Leia, Luke, and Han are fighting against the Empire, there was a mismatched group of nobodies that realised their fate was a part of something much bigger than themselves. Their story of sacrifice was unknown prior to December 12, 2016 but now we are able to applaud their actions and remember these characters forever.
I know some people might laugh at the thought that Star Wars can be seen as deeply as I’ve made it here. Heck, these are nerdy space movies that were originally produced to be entertainment for children. But Rogue One brought me back to the fandom, and I’m proud of the franchise. The Star Wars movies continue to be successful in different countries and have become a sense of comfort for people of all demographics. That means there is solace that can be found in the fact that everyone — from the most insignificant seeming to the most famous name — has a place in this crazy real-world story called life.
So here’s to Rogue One — a film about a bunch of losers — and to all us losers out there that love a good cry, which is why we watch our favourite Star Wars characters die over and over again. I can use the excuse that it’s completely cathartic but in reality, it takes me back to a nostalgic place where I’m prying my sister’s hand off my face so I can see the evil man with red makeup fall into a bottomless pit.
I’m not exaggerating when I say everything has changed since The Phantom Menace’s release in 1999, and not only for the Star Wars franchise. I still cry more than the average person, that is true, but I’ve found a certain strength in feeling everything deeply. This doesn’t mean I’ll be wearing a ‘Proud Crybaby’ shirt any time soon but it has helped me to be open about my emotions and talk about my own life experiences in essays like this one.
Also, my sister no longer covers my eyes during the scary parts of movies for a couple reasons, but mainly because she’s a mom with a little boy of her own to watch out for. As he grows and his personality becomes more and more evident, I’m excited to share all the movies with my little nephew. (Heck, I made him watch The Graduate when he was not even a year old so he knows what he’s in for!) But even if our movie tastes differ dramatically, I am happy he’s growing up in a time where Star Wars still exists.
Rogue One reminded my generation — and the couple before that are still around — of the good ‘ole naivety of our childhood while reinventing itself for the newcomers. My nephew will grow up looking at strong people that aren’t just special because of their birthright, but because of their skills and dedication to doing what is right. There is really something comforting about that sort of representation.
by Shea Vassar
Shea Vassar is currently studying film at Hunter College in New York City. When not exploring themes of female experience in cinema, she likes to cheer on the Oklahoma City Thunder (a basketball team) and not talk about herself in the third person. Her favorite films are Mulholland Drive, Singin’ in the Rain, The Love Witch, and The Lure. You can follow her on Twitter @justsheavassar.
Categories: Anything and Everything