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Rogue One answers a question that didn’t need to be asked

The Death Star had a weak point. Does it matter why?

Walt Disney Studios
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

One of the supposed virtues of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is how it patches, or at least explains, a plot feature that has bothered some Star Wars fans since the first film in 1977: How the hell could a superweapon like the Death Star have a kill switch like the thermal exhaust port, much less one unknown to its operators?

Spoiler alert: This article assumes the reader has seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Rogue One purports to answer this by saying the vulnerability was deliberate. The Death Star's creator left a fuse to be lit, like a cherry bomb, either as vengeance for the Empire killing his wife and scattering his family, or in regret for forcing him to create such a dreadful tool of oppression.

Whatever the explanation is, it's still a point made moot by a story told 40 years ago this coming May. Instead of a story about the people who shaped this Alliance victory — its first, according to A New Hope’s opening text crawl Rogue One chose to describe settled fact more explicitly, and then suture that into the overall continuity. The result is more of a Wookieepedia entry than it is a story.

I could give a shit that Rogue One gives a glib explanation for the Death Star's weakness. That doesn't repair a long running narrative shortcoming any more than it reveals another: The failure of the Death Star to be anything more than a big object built to be destroyed. Rogue One should be the origin story of an ultimate villain in the Star Wars continuity and, better yet, it can't be killed. Instead Rogue One litigates side issues mooted by a future chapter. The exhaust port is one of them.

Do you realize how impotent the Death Star has been throughout three movies now? This is supposedly a terror weapon that removes the need for the Empire ever to send boots to the ground to annihilate an insurgency. It’s the ultimate drone strike. Further, any planetary government even remotely sympathetic to the Rebel Alliance must consider the risk of total destruction when choosing to harbor or even tolerate their presence. This isn't shit I'm just postulating on a Sunday afternoon. Gov. Tarkin himself said as much in A New Hope.

The fear of such a weapon should be a huge motivator. It should give meaning to characters’ actions and invest viewers in their desperation. Yet the Death Star’s existence and capability are treated as fully understood by the Rebellion from minute one of the film. That robs the battle station of any mystery, much less the dread it's supposed to project. Instead of Jaws chewing through skinny-dippers and crippling a resort economy with just the glimpse of a dorsal fin, we have a beached whale on full display in the first 20 minutes, and then the story of its cleanup.

If A New Hope had a plot hole, it isn't that the Death Star had a design flaw. The plot hole is that the Rebel Alliance knew of the exhaust port and its critical vulnerability, yet two squadrons dithered about harassing surface targets instead of everyone pounding down the trench before the Imperials could figure out what the hell was up. Remember, an officer approached Tarkin to say they'd analyzed the attack and discovered a weak point, meaning they had to study their own design, too.

Rogue One is an OK movie, but it, once again, fails where all the other Star Wars films after 1983 have failed: By addressing technical questions that really don't matter and forsaking the rich narrative potential in the lives of the characters who do.


*SPOILERS* Rogue One Wrapup

Star Wars: Rogue One is out now. Our ragtag team of nerds saw it, and now they are going to talk about it. Many Bothans died to bring you this information. Huge spoiler warning!

Posted by Polygon on Friday, December 16, 2016

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