Rogue One May Stand Alone, But its Dark Underbelly Shouldn’t

WARNING! There are spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story up ahead. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it yet.

Rogue One is many things, but mostly it’s a shock to the system. The first indication of this is an abrupt shove into the plot instead of the iconic text crawl we’re used to. Rather than setting the scene with choice backstory of a galaxy at war, we’re booted headfirst into space before witnessing a family being torn apart. It’s a powerful statement of intent.

The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren't necessarily good either - concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim
The Empire may be evil, but the Rebels aren’t necessarily good either – concept art shown at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim

What follows is no different. Although there are hints of the loveable cheesiness you’ll recognise from older Star Wars films, this movie plants its flag in a morally grey quagmire. The Empire remain fascist dictators, but now we know the Rebellion aren’t paragons of justice like we thought them to be either.

This wrinkle adds oodles of depth to the original trilogy. When Luke Skywalker joins those plucky Rebels in A New Hope, they’re portrayed as a ragtag yet idealistic group of freedom fighters who have a lot in common with Robin Hood’s Merry Men. A collection of brave souls who’ve given up everything to defeat the corrupt establishment, they’re one step away from giving all they steal to the poor. However, Rogue One peels back the curtain to reveal an organisation with considerable amounts of blood on their hands. From outright murder to acts of terrorism, their actions challenge the idea that they’re entirely ‘good’.

Despite evicting Forest Whitaker’s radical Saw Gerrera from their number, they still make use of some dubious contacts and count very dodgy individuals amongst their number. More to the point, their superior officers are happy playing dirty. Captain Andor kills his informant at the beginning of the movie in cold blood, whilst his commander orders him to assassinate an Empire asset… despite said asset’s contributions to the Rebellion. Rather than being heroes, we learn that they’re not always to be trusted. It’s an intriguing but chilling twist.

This kind of revelation doesn’t just inject complexity into the saga; it allows our imaginations to run wild too. What else have the Rebels been up to that we don’t know about? Do we even want to know? Andor suggests he and his crew have done some dubious things in the name of freedom, and those blurred edges open a trove of stories begging to be told. If that doesn’t demand a comic series, novel or video game, I’m not sure what does. Though we won’t get a sequel to Rogue One, hopefully the franchise isn’t going to let this dark underbelly stand alone as well.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.  

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