Ah, so we now come back to discuss all the issues with Rogue One that we couldn’t do when we had to keep its secrets. BTW, you couldn’t possibly be in here without knowing you’re going to get spoilers, right?
The short version is: they all die. Yes, every single one of them, even the droid. They didn’t need to die, but die they do. And this creates a big conflict of tone for the film, because it should be—and could be—really tragic and elegiac, but brand imperatives convinced them that it has to be kind of upbeat and hopeful, like the tone of the original trilogy, and, presumably the mid-production reshoots and rewrites took the film off-kilter and resulted in it not being a disaster, but just a dull, muddled mass of gray.
In painting, they tell you that up to three colors can make lovely blends, but adding over three colors and you start to get just an ugly gray-brown, and that’s an excellent metaphor for too many elements being thrown into any film, and specifically this film.
So Jyn Erso is a fine heroine, and could have been a great one. Her father is taken from her and her mother killed in front of her. So later, when she’s arguing that the empire really isn’t that bad, you kind of want to say “Well, the empire has ruined and decided the course of your entire life, right?” When she finds out that her father was taken to design the Death Star and she is tasked with getting the plans for it, I was waiting for her to have a moment of “My God, this space station has controlled my entire life!” And when she dies for it, and every single moment of her existence was decided by the Death Star—it even ends up killing her—the movie could convincingly reach for true tragedy. But that would be kind of a bummer, right? It certainly wouldn’t sell action figures.
And girl, say the word “hope” one more time, and I will fucking cut you.
Her companion Diego Luna, who is pretty excellent in the role, is also given complexities we’re not really allowed to follow through on. He’s essentially a killer, and is tasked with lying to Jyn and conspiring to kill her father as he goes along on her mission, which she finds out to not much effect. They come to trust each other nicely, and the movie does take time to develop their relationship, but it doesn’t come to much. There could have been some culmination to their relationship, even some shared understanding as they’re awaiting certain death together, but again, that might not end on the note of hope.
And much as I could have gotten into an overwhelmingly tragic ending for Jyn, if there’s any character who deserves to finally be free of her curse [other than Buffy], it’s her. Wouldn’t it be nice if she survived and were finally free to do what she wants with her life, or continue going forward with her new-found purpose?
As for the other characters, gosh, I just didn’t really care about them. They were fine, not annoying, but they’re also basically generic. But I also don’t think they needed to die.
The Princess Leia digital cameo at the end was brief enough not to be too distracting, but gosh, maybe she—or someone—could have said a word or two about the great sacrifice these people went through to get those plans? That would have made a good bookend to the story, and also highlighted that it was all for something, and that their efforts were seen and appreciated. I think the lackluster reaction some people are having when they say “you know the ending” is actually that the movie itself doesn’t acknowledge the importance of what we just saw in its eagerness to tie it in to the first few minutes of A New Hope.
So I started to like Gareth Edwards when I read that he deliberately reserved sight of Godzilla so that he remained a highlight, and structured that movie so that it had a real climax, as opposed to most blockbusters, that are so jam-packed with action that the climax has no impact. So I am going to choose to believe that he intended to made a tough, grim, tragic war movie, and that his vision was compromised by the studio being afraid to deliver something that wasn’t in line with the tone and might affect sale of the action figures. I’m not saying that version would have been great, but what we have here is a movie that is set up as a tragedy but is too afraid to follow through on the overwhelming sadness and anguish a tragedy entails. It could have been an incredibly powerful experience that would enrich the experience of A New Hope, but instead we have a dull, wan experience that leaves an impression of a story that didn’t have to be told. But the merchandising sales are safe.