What Makes Rogue One Work

While fans are still reeling from the enormous success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, there are still skeptics out there that doubt whether a spin-off of Star Wars was even necessary.  Within a few days, those skeptics will probably be eating their share of crow.  Quite often a movie’s success is determined as much by timing as it is by whether it is a good movie to begin with.

Rogue One was highly anticipated, but it slipped in mostly under the fan’s radar.  It was a huge gamble for Disney and LucasFilm but since the takeover of the franchise, Disney has mainly done no wrong when it comes to Star Wars.  In true Disney fashion, we’ve been bombarded with Star Wars almost constantly since The Force Awakens was heralded a success.  Plans for additional spin-offs rested solely on Rogue One reaching fans and boy did it ever reach fans.


But what led to the film’s overwhelming triumph at the box office?  There are a number of reasons that are not entirely evident.

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A Kyber crystal, used to power Jedi lightsabers are being mined by the Empire to use to power the Death Star’s main weapon.

First, it has ridden on the coattails of the Star Wars franchise as a whole, along with a fan base still not completely over The Force Awakens.  Disney has propelled George Lucas’ box office juggernaut to a new level, reaching out to a new generation of fans.  Slapping Star Wars characters on every conceivable product as also kept it in the forefront for kids and big kids alike.

Second, releasing products and the film before Christmas has had a positive effect on merchandising, again keeping the Star Wars name in front of children and their parents.

However, the obvious reasons of timing and merchandising are only scratching the surface as to why Rogue One as turned into the movie event of the year.

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One of the many scenes shown in the Rogue One trailer that did not make it into the final film.

The basic premise of Rogue One was always known to fans, but the events and those who lived them were completely unknown.  In fact, nothing was known beyond the knowledge that the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the Death Star shortly before the events in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  Explaining the film’s placement in the Star Wars timeline to non-fans was tricky and sometimes frustrating for those entrenched in the saga’s story.  Almost everyone knows the story from where Darth Vader captures Princess Leia.  But the events leading to up that were always the stuff of conjecture among fans for decades.

Given just that basic premise, those skeptics mentioned before were pretty certain that the film wouldn’t work.  The mere mention of a Star Wars prequel still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of fans.  But this time director Gareth Edwards and screenplay writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy had a different approach in mind.  They carefully laid out a story and characters that would not only appeal to Star Wars fans but make them believe again in the very nature of what makes the franchise so fun to watch.

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The Rebel fleet mobilizes to take on the Imperial forces above Scarif.

Trailers and promos were sprinkled with the words hope and rebellion, terms all too familiar to fans.  But Rogue One isn’t one of those films that the heroes are lauded and decorated by a beautiful princess at the end.  Rouge One shows us an ugly and dirty side of the Star Wars universe.  A galaxy under the boot of the Empire, the people looking to just survive from day to day and those willing to fight for their freedom at any cost.  This seems to have struck a chord with moviegoers.

The story is not at all upbeat or all that inspiring.  The viewer gets to see just how oppressive the Empire has become in the years since the Emperor came to power in Revenge of the Sith and the lengths they will go to achieve its sinister goals.  A reluctant heroine who’s sole purpose is to find and reunite with her father.  A rebel intelligence officer who will stop at nothing to defeat the Empire and a ragtag group of freedom fighters pulled straight out of a 1950’s war film.

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General Merrick (Blue Leader) leads the squadron of X-Wings supporting the ground troops during the battle on Scarif.

Another element that helps the film work so well is that it is NOT a typical Star Wars film.  Rogue One for all intents and purposes is a war movie.  The film is riddled with combat and fighting from almost the beginning.  Parents who take their children hoping to see lightsaber duels and plucky droids are in for a surprise.  Rogue One is dark and violent and not the magical story that George Lucus intended Star Wars to be.  There is no happy ending to the film.  Ironically, the Stormtroopers are remarkably good shots and often hit what they’re firing at.  As you’d probably imagine in a film like this, the heroes die fighting.

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No, that is not the Emperor and yes, Darth Vader is in that bacta tank.

Another glorious detail of the film that delights fans is the plethora of Easter eggs implanted throughout the film.  Nods to the original saga and do a fantastic job of tying everything together in a nice, little package.  Subtle uses of existing characters like Darth Vader and Bail Organa connect this film to others in the series.  Not so subtle uses of characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma also give Rogue One a familiar feel without their overuse to help the story flow organically.  From the blue milk of Tatooine to Red Leader and Gold Leader from the Battle of Yavin to the brief glimpse of the Ghost from Star Wars Rebels, the easter eggs spread throughout the film ties the entire saga together in ways that made fans smile.

CGI and special effects were superb without being over the top like some previous Star Wars films.  The use of a CGI Peter Cushing as Tarkin was amazing, giving the character a whole new story beyond his brief life in Episode IV.  Darth Vader also has a very powerful presence in the film in spite of the few mere minutes he is seen onscreen.  Vader’s introduction being only overshadowed by his castle on the planet Mustafar, a location first mentioned in the original script for The Empire Strikes Back.

So as the opening day gross reported in at a whopping $71 million, the film is set to surpass last year’s The Force Awakens.  All of the elements mentioned are lightening in a bottle again for the saga and has propelled Rogue One not only to an instant box office hit but also has cemented it as one of the best Star Wars films since The Empire Strikes Back.

Check out Word of the Nerd’s review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

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About the author

Bryan Brown

The founder of Word of the Nerd and semi-fearless leader. Bryan is an all around nerd, from Star Trek to comic books to collecting action figures. If it's nerd related, he's into it or at least has an opinion on it.


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