“Rogue One” is a beautiful film with an emotional center and a complexity that’s missing from the prequels – and, for that matter, “The Force Awakens.” The latter is probably best treated as table-setting reboot, a warm, familiar movie that one hopes develops into something more compelling.
But, whatever happens with VIII or IX or XXX, “Rogue One” has proven that standalone Star Wars “stories” may hold more promise than the core trilogy. It also demonstrates that there’s a big audience for Star Wars films that shed the cutesy aspects of the original and embrace galactic realism to make sense of the universe. Like, for example, clarifying why a technological marvel like the Death Star can be obliterated by a single torpedo.
But to realize its full potential, a Star Wars standalone should trend even darker. We need more bad guys, because the bad guys are the best thing going in Star Wars. They always have been. And when I say “bad guys,” I mean the alleged bad guys. I subscribe to Jonathan Last’s take on intergalactic politics: The Empire is preferable to the Jedi Order, an unelected body of religious fanatics who rely the vagaries of their feelings (voices in their heads) to impose arbitrary rules on the entire galaxy using terrorism, pseudoscience, and magic.
The worst sin of the Jedi, cinematically speaking, is that they’re so boring. Let’s remember this is the organization that could subdue Samuel L. Jackson.
Despite the cultural havoc George Lucas wreaked on us by mishandling his second greatest idea, his most compelling creations have always been the ones who stood against the Jedi. Emotionally. Physically. Conceptually. The least surprising moments in the Star Wars films are the ones where talented people defect to the Dark Side. That’s the side, after all, for winners; home of a meritocratic system where a self-motivated dreamer can build an entire Death Star if he puts his mind to it.
Consider the prequels.
If you get past the midi-chlorian counts, the trade disputes, and the endless pod races, you will find Darth Maul, the most exhilarating presence in Episode I. The Sith Lord ninja with the dual light saber is finally struck down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, but only after mortally wounding Qui-Goon, the morally confused Jedi who believed guarding princesses was more important than freeing slaves.
Or consider the enigmatic General Grievous, not only one of the most appealing bad guys in all the prequels, but perhaps in any of the movies. “I’m no errand boy, and I’m not in this war for Dooku’s politics. I am the leader of the most powerful droid army the galaxy has ever seen!” General Grievous explains to his soon-to-be murderer, Kenobi. This self-made “red-skinned reptilian humanoid” enveloped in armor likes to collect the light sabers of the Jedi he has defeated. I want to know more.
And, of course there’s Emperor Palpatine — Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith. Unlike the dour-faced Jedi, Palpatine seems to really enjoy his job. Working within the Republican system, he gained power, outfoxing the Jedi at every turn. The moment Sidious reveals himself at the council in Episode III is one of the most dramatic in the entire chronicle. The Emperor is only stripped of his power after being betrayed by the mercurial traitor Anakin Skywalker. Palpatine is (probably) the man who murdered Darth Plagueis, the Sith able to manipulate life and death. Why do we not know more about this?
The prequels couldn’t even ruin Boba Fett, whose father Jango was the genetic template for the entire Grand Army of the Republic. As a boy, Boba was witness to the great battle where Jedi Master Mace Windu decapitated his wounded father. Imagine the emotional trauma these moments had on a young Boba. There is plenty of space for a standalone. (The next Star Wars “story,” centering on a young Han Solo, will be directed by the guys who made “The Lego Movie.” So though it might not be very dark, it might feature Boba Fett.)
Even with Lucas gone, the bad guys are still excellent, even if they’re harder to root for. “The Force Awakens” has transformed the Empire into “The First Order,” which basically means a bunch of space Nazis, down to the draping red flags and salutes. But Kylo Ren is saddled with the kind of emotional struggles that Lucas was always trying to create but could never quite get right in lesser actors.
And though Jyn Erso is a fantastic cinematic hero — perhaps the most intriguing in the entire Star Wars story — I still prefer the reserved ruthlessness of Orson Krennic or brilliant ruthlessness of Grand Moff Tarkin (even in digital form) to the confused and harried Rebel council members, crippled by fear every time the Empire makes a move.
Disney also recently announced that
General Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the truly superb characters of the old canon, would be returning to Star Wars in “Star Wars: Rebels.” Disney is about to reboot the entire canon, so there’s a chance we’ll see more.
It should also be mentioned that “Rogue One” also rehabilitated Darth Vader. The movie goes a long way in helping us forget the whiny, emotional wreck that screams, “Noooooooo!” at the laugh-inducing Frankenstein-monster ending of “Revenge of the Sith.”
Yes, Darth Vader’s archaic look and calculator chest-plate seem a bit out of place in the contemporary “Rogue One.” Until, that is, Gareth Edwards gives what is perhaps the greatest Darth Vader scene ever: As a Rebel ship receives the plans for the Death Star, Vader emerges from darkened corridor to inflict carnage as the insurgent soldiers scream for their lives. It is one of the only times in any of the Star Wars movies that the viewers understand exactly what Vader is capable of and why he so feared.
So why not reboot the prequels and make Darth Vader great again. He deserves it.