Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a movie based on hope, and it’s because of that important theme the ending works as well as it does.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Rogue One.]
Someone called Rogue One the “Saving Private Ryan of Star Wars movies,” and in many ways, that’s a pretty accurate description. At the end of Rogue One, almost every hero dies. Some deaths are more dramatic than others, but the small army of Rebels that take on a nearly-impossible task to inevitably save the lives of millions all meet the same fate.
There’s no sobbing. There isn’t a last-minute attempt to somehow band together and figure out a way to escape death. Instead, it’s quiet and subdued. The inevitable is accepted and, almost like martyrs, they internalize what’s about to happen. There’s a moment of camaraderie, as they take comfort in the belief that they succeeded in their mission to steal the plans to the Death Star.
The ending to Rogue One wasn’t just inevitable and logical, it was also the first time that Star Wars felt as dark as its subject matter really is. In Polygon’s review of the film, Entertainment editor Susana Polo said, “Rogue One is a war film.” It may seem like a strange sentiment — every Star Wars movie, after all, is a film about war — but none treat it with the same kind of harsh reality that Rogue One does.
Think about the endings to Episode IV: A New Hope or Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Both films result in joyous celebrations. The first features the ragtag team of Luke, Leia and Han receiving medals for their heroics, while the latter features Padmé showering the Gungans with gifts and appreciation. Anakin even gets his wish to serve as an apprentice under a reluctant Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although there are major deaths in both films — including the death of the older and wiser Obi-Wan in Episode IV — the impact of war is never really felt.
In Rogue One, that’s the main focus of the film. These are a band of misfits who are searching for some kind of redemption for their actions. Captain Cassian Andor needs to believe that the terrible acts he’s committed, like the murdering of friends and allies, was all for a purpose. Jyn Erso has to believe that her life is worth more than her current actions, and joining the Rebels on this suicidal mission to restore balance to the force is something she can actively do to accomplish that goal. Even the other members of their troupe, like Bodhi Rook, the pilot who defected to help the Rebels, have similar reasons for why they undertook the mission.
But unlike Han or Luke, they didn’t go into it thinking they were going to make it out alive. That’s the key ingredient to Rogue One’s success; a never ending hope that they would achieve their goal, even without the optimism that they would be alive to see if they changed the course of history. They trusted in themselves and the Force — a line that’s repeated throughout the film — but they weren’t planning for their future.
The death between Jyn and Cassian is particularly well shot. After stealing the plans to the Death Star and broadcasting them to other Rebel ships, the two main characters collapse on a beach and watch as the impact of the Death Star’s laser striking the base takes effect. It’s calm and sad, but it isn’t exaggerated in its dramatics. It is, in many ways, a war film through and through.
Of course, there are logistical reasons for why the characters had to die. The biggest being that Rogue One takes place before the events of Episode IV, and if they had made it through, they would have had to appeared in Episode IV. It was inevitable that the characters would have to die, but the way their deaths are handled doesn’t diminish the film. If anything, it makes it stronger and tuned for an adult audience.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is currently playing in theaters worldwide. Be sure to check out Polygon’s in-depth, spoiler heavy discussion of the movie below.