Wedge Antilles is my favorite Star Wars character. In a fantasy world built on a foundation of fairy tale conventions, this humble fighter pilot represents a more grounded, “realistic” counterpoint to the tragic heroes and Chosen Ones. While the Skywalker clan enacts its epic family drama, Wedge trudges through the mud and the grime, not a warrior poet combatting the personification of Evil, but a simple soldier taking the fight to the corrupt politician that abolished his representative government.
Although I have always enjoyed the sweep and grandeur of Lucas’ iconic space opera (and I always will), Rogue One provides a refreshing change of pace, offering the viewer an intimate glimpse at the Star Wars narrative through the eyes of the likes of Wedge Antilles. It’s one thing to hear Mon Mothma solemnly intone that “many Bothans died” to secure vital intelligence; it’s quite another to actually see Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and Riz Ahmed portraying the spies, saboteurs, and assassins who laid the groundwork that would allow Skywalker, Solo, and Organa to make history, even as their own names and deeds faded from memory like so much cosmic dust.
As a consequence of this shift in perspective, the War part of the Saga’s title feels as though it carries genuine weight for the first time. Sure, we’ve seen planets reduced to rubble from orbit in previous episodes, but that lacks the visceral punch of watching a splinter group of Rebel extremists open fire on Imperial troops in the middle of a crowded marketplace. And though they publicly condemn such actions, the “mainstream” Rebels we spent three movies rooting for do not escape scrutiny; in his introductory scene, Diego Luna’s character coldly guns down a wounded ally in order to prevent his capture and eventual interrogation. He later justifies his blind acceptance of morally questionable orders by tearfully confessing that he’s been fighting the Empire since he was six years old, which casts a horrifying new light on the series’ central conflict.
All that being said, Rogue One should not become the new model for all future Star Wars films. The franchise is a cultural phenomenon for a reason, and Episode VIII should follow the example of previous numbered installments. When it comes to these side stories and spinoffs, though, I look forward to seeing how Lucasfilm continues to subvert, deconstruct, and redefine the traditional formula. If even half of them are as innovative and surprising as this first foray into the unknown, consider me on board for the duration of this crazy ride.
[Originally written December 19, 2016.]