It seems that we’re going to be getting a new Star Wars movie every single year around the holidays for the foreseeable future (thanks, Disney!). This year, the gift is Rogue One, a film that fills in some of the gaps between the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. The story follows the character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who teams up with a few members of the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the Empire’s new moon-sized superweapon, the Death Star.
With the revival of its popular franchise, Star Wars has continued to evolve the way its universe reflects its audience. These days, there are more women calling the shots, like Rey and Jyn; there are people of color who play significant and heroic roles, like Finn and Chirrut. Each of these new additions to the Star Wars world give fans the opportunity to find inspiration in characters who look like them, in representation they may not have seen in earlier films.[/nerdist_section]Movies like Rogue One are a solid example of the power of science fiction to truly speak for the potential of our world, and its core message resonates even more in our current society. Even as we witness the ongoing struggles and disappointing outcomes that women often face when enduring the terrain of politics, business, and entertainment, we can turn to the power of the sci-fi narrative to show us what is possible. In Rogue One, a woman can lead a dangerous mission to turn the tide against an enemy that seems insurmountable. Anyone can be a hero, no matter what they look like.
Since the very first trailer, the folks behind Rogue One have made it clear: this movie may have an ensemble cast, but its primary story arc belongs to a young woman. The film begins with Jyn as a young girl unexpectedly ripped from her family, setting the stage for what’s to come when the Rebellion recruits her 15 years later. Her connections to the Empire are why the Rebels want her, and while she’s initially reluctant to help them, her journey eventually develops into more of a personal mission for her as well. She is driven by the opportunity to help her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) make amends for his actions. Up until that point, she’s been content to keep her head down and not get involved, but the characters she ends up surrounded with refuse to let her off the hook – and that makes her final decision to stand her ground and fight all the more meaningful.
While the plot of Rogue One mostly revolves around Jyn and her journey—to quote Force-sensitive Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), “Her path is clear”—we’re also given a close-up of the very unlikely but very capable band of companions she amounts in her fight against the Empire. They’re all valuable in their own ways: the aforementioned blind warrior Chirrut is lethal in hand-to-hand combat; assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) knows his way around a heavy cannon; reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is as quick with witticisms as he is with a blaster; and former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is exactly who you’d want to have on hand to infiltrate an Imperial base.
But there’s no question about which character Jyn butts heads with the most (and has the most tension with): Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebellion intelligence officer who, by his own admission, has done a lot of bad things in the name of resistance since he joined up at the age of six. Cassian doesn’t have the braggadocio of Han Solo or the wide-eyed sincerity of Luke Skywalker; he’s more disillusioned and a lot less optimistic about the struggle ahead. Even from his introduction it’s made clear that Cassian is not a hero; he’s a haunted man. Underneath all his continual clashing with Jyn, you feel that he’s still drawn to her, in spite of his better judgment.
Up until now, we’ve never known the names of those Rebels who managed to steal the Death Star schematics; their efforts were originally limited to a few lines in Episode IV: A New Hope to clue audiences into the reason why Princess Leia gets captured by Darth Vader in the first place. However, those stolen plans are what kick off the entire plot of the very first Star Wars movie. Without Rogue One, the reality of what’s at stake may never have been made apparent for many Star Wars fans, both new and old. Putting diverse faces and names to an already familiar story personalizes the struggle, raises the stakes that much more. And yet even though we’ve already seen the future for the Rebels in the original trilogy, we still need to fill in the missing pieces as to how they got there. Rogue One not only accomplishes that, but it makes you feel for each of the characters who are taking it upon themselves to carry out such a dangerous mission. After watching this movie, it’s impossible not to see Episode IV in a whole new light.
Throughout the years, Star Wars has been on the receiving end of understandable criticism; the original trilogy was released in a different era of filmmaking, when genuine diversity in casting wasn’t necessarily in the foreground of conversation. For all its lasting popularity, that galaxy far, far away never quite seemed to act as a mirror for all of its fans. Before the release of the prequels, Lando Calrissian was the only character of color with a significant amount of dialogue. Although Episodes I through III didn’t achieve the same respected place in the Star Wars pantheon, their cast makeup definitely showed signs of improvement with additions like Mace Windu, Bail Organa, and Jango Fett – characters who made significant contributions to the plot, but still weren’t officially part of the main group.
However, Rogue One successfully continues the progressive course set by last year’s The Force Awakens; it features a beautifully multicultural cast of characters, each of whom brings something to the table. There’s something that feels especially revolutionary about these unsung heroes of the Rebellion because of what they represent – the most powerful ability of science fiction to offer the possibility of more diversity on-screen, as well as showcase different people banding together under one common goal. Young people can look up to smart, realistic heroes like Jyn, Cassian, and Chirrut as true survivors who, despite their flaws, find the courage within themselves to help save the galaxy. First and foremost, though, Rogue One offers up the resonating message that people should never find themselves complacent under the crushing fist of oppression; the important thing is to always, always keep fighting.