M.G. Siegler with some spoiler-free Rogue One thoughts:
Given that we now live in the Marvel world of extremely interwoven and long-building storylines over several films, it’s also impressive to see the Star Wars franchise pull this off after the fact — almost 40 years after the initial fact, in fact! While there may have been a general storyline for the original trilogy, we’re far beyond that now. And with all due respect to George Lucas, there was no Kevin Feige hand at play here. Tacking something like Rogue One onto one of the — if not the — most beloved franchises in cinematic history seems substantially harder than planning it from day one.
It’s like blowing up a Death Star. Or, at the very least, stealing the plans to do so.
First, if you haven’t already seen the movie, you really should. It’s pretty great.
Second, this isn’t a spoiler-free zone.
Rogue One really drove a spike into Star Wars’ generation gap. The original movies are now 40 years old, making for an incredibly diverse and wide-ranged audience. My dad was 9 years old when Episode IV was released and he is 49 years old now.
What was once cool to my dad and what was once evil to my dad are not necessarily cool or evil for younger audience members today.
Even when I was a kid, I found Darth Vader to be a big puppy dog. I learnt at a young age that he was Luke’s father and I knew Vader would return to the Light Side. I knew Vader only killed one person with his lightsaber in the entire original trilogy, and that person happened to be sacrificing himself. I knew that he could Force choke his admirals and generals through a screen, but it only happened a few times in three movies.
In other words, Vader has never felt evil.
Then Lucas came along and gave us the prequels, making Anakin/Vader even more of a wimpy bad guy. He murders young children in the Jedi Temple, but we never actually see young Vader do the deed. We witness a young boy podracing, a maturing teenager lashing out at some battle droids, and an immature young adult who chooses the shortcut rather than the more arduous path.
I’m willing to bet I’m not on my own. Darth Vader stands as one of Hollywood’s most powerful, destructive, terrifying villains, but younger audience members have seen all the villains to follow Darth Vader — villains that are darker, more powerful, and more quickly to pull the trigger.
Rogue One changes everything I know and feel about Vader. Instead of cutting away from the scene when Vader ignites his lightsaber — like they do in Episode III with the younglings (probably rightfully so) — we witness Vader hack and slash through a plethora of trained Rebel soldiers.
Vader finally feels evil.
Same goes for the Death Star. The Death Star gets blown up in the original trilogy more often than it blows up other things. The one planet it destroys has no emotional connection to the audience as the planet is destroyed too early in the original film.
But Rogue One changes your fear of the Death Star. It destroys cities for breakfast and is actually used by the Empire to instil fear in the galaxy.
On their own, these two aspects make Rogue One great. Not only is Rogue One itself a fun movie to watch, but it makes every original Star Wars film genuinely better. I came home after the pre-screening on the 15th wanting to rewatch Episode IV. Rogue One acknowledges the generation gap by giving older audience members glimpses of their favourite original characters, and it gives younger audience members a chance to witness the true terror of a hateful Darth Vader that audiences originally felt in 1977.
In short, this is the Vader you were looking for.