The Death Star Duology

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Death Star Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

Image Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd. 

From the beginning, Rogue One was designed to provide the backstory of a slice of A New Hope’s opening crawl: “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” In telling this story, it makes us care about these “Rebel spies” and imparts emotional weight and cost to the plans that Leia is the custodian of aboard the Tantive IV, but it’s not until the end of A New Hope that we know whether or not the cost was worth it. Imagine if you’ve never seen A New Hope. The end of Rogue One must seem like such cliffhanger. Will the hope that the crew of Rogue One fought for be fulfilled? Narratively, Rogue One almost necessitates a viewing of A New Hope in order to bring the conflict to a conclusion. Taken together, Rogue One and A New Hope form a duology that tells the story of the Rebellion’s fight against the Death Star. The films form their own little story arc, and it’s possible that you could watch only these two films and feel like you experienced a complete story even without the films that surround them which focus more on the telling the story of the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.

Looking at these two films as a duology telling the story of the Rebellion’s struggle to take down the Death Star changes the viewer’s opinion of who the main characters are. Luke Skywalker doesn’t have quite the same impact because we don’t know that Darth Vader is his father and that Luke will one day redeem him. Luke becomes not just another Rebel (because he is the one to eventually destroy the Death Star) but one of many who have fought to ensure that the Empire’s spherical weapon of mass destruction is destroyed. Han and Chewbacca suffer a similar fate and become no more important than Baze or Chirrut because they fill similar roles. They are just new recruits (albeit reluctant ones) in the war against the Empire.

While the importance of Luke, Han, and Chewie’s role may diminish, Princess Leia and R2-D2’s roles in the story grow because they are couriers of the Death Star plans. We hang onto the edge of our seats as Darth Vader boards the Tantive IV because we just saw Leia barely escape with those precious plans at the end of Rogue One. We cheer her cunning and audacity when she hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2 then looks Darth Vader right in the eye and denies knowing anything about them even though she must suspect that there’s a good chance that Vader may have been aboard that Star Destroyer she narrowly avoided at the Battle of Scarif. Even when Leia is interrogated by Vader and her homeworld is threatened by Tarkin, she refuses to divulge where the Rebel’s hidden base is, and at this point, we’ve seen what the outcome would be. We’ve seen the crushing might of the Empire, and if Leia would have relented and pointed Tarkin towards Yavin in order to save Alderaan, the Rebellion would likely have perished. Red Squadron, Gold Squadron, and possibly even that sneaky bastard Draven and any of the others who made it back from Scarif have Leia to thank for their lives, and they came at an astronomical cost to her: her home planet and her family, for hope.

R2-D2 carries the Death Star plans for much of A New Hope, and the deaths of the crew of Rogue One make his journey more important, too. His ingenuity as he deduces that he can avoid capture by fleeing in an escape pod because there will be no life signs is genius, and his drive to deliver the plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi then to the Rebel base, despite being captured by Jawas and sold to a moisture farmer in the middle of nowhere, mirrors the drive that Jyn and crew had. Just as they didn’t give up, neither does he. While some may argue that Artoo was just trying to fulfill his programming, the extraordinary depths that he went through to fulfill his duty despite the near constant danger to himself implies a conscious decision to fight for something he believes in. I dare say that if Threepio were given the plans, A New Hope would have come to a very abrupt and emotionally devastating end. Artoo even suffers a mortal wound that nearly takes his droid life when he helped Luke navigate the Death Star’s trench. As we see his burnt and busted body lowered down from Luke’s X-Wing once they’re returned to Yavin, many first time viewers may wonder if Artoo could be set to join K-2SO in the great, binary beyond. The fact that he doesn’t just gives them more reason to rejoice when they see the small hero shined and joining in the festivities in the Yavin throne room.  

When viewed as a duology, Tarkin’s role in the story of the Death Star becomes much more important (an ironic fact given his digital flesh) because we see him manipulate and cheat Krennic out of commanding the battle station. Tarkin claims it as his own through his duplicity and higher standing in the Emperor’s eyes, and he even orchestrates it so that Krennic’s own green-beamed pride and joy obliterates him. Tarkin is also responsible for at least the death of Jyn and Cassian because if he hadn’t fired on Scarif there’s a small chance that they could have escaped. When Tarkin reappears in A New Hope, we know he’s trouble. We know that he is ruthless and manipulative, so we’re not surprised when he lies to Princess Leia and destroys Alderaan despite her supposedly giving him what he wanted. That’s a very Tarkin thing to do.

On the flip side, without the other films to explain his fall, progeny, and redemption, Darth Vader’s role decreases in importance. The tale is no longer centered on him; instead, he becomes the boogieman. He causes Imperial officers to gasp for air and leaves them quaking in their immaculate boots. He devastates whole corridors full of Rebels and cuts down old Jedi masters. He’s a mechanical monster, but he’s little more than that.  

Besides its impact on the perceived importance of various characters, viewing these two films as a duology also has a profound impact upon the overall plot. Prior to the release of Rogue One, there was a lot of attention paid to the fact that it would not have an opening crawl. It didn’t fit with tradition. If it’s taken as the first in a duology of films though, it makes more sense. All the exposition is handled in the beginning of the film anyways. A young girl is essentially orphaned by a tyrannical empire that is nearing completion of a devastating super-weapon and needs her father to help finish the job. When she grows up, this same girl briefly reunites her father before teaming up to with a bunch of people who have been hurt by the same empire to strike back against their oppressors. It makes sense why A New Hope would need to have a crawl. At the very least it needs to explain how Princess Leia gets the plans and their importance. The crawl is the “Last time on Rogue One…” of the duology.  

If you were to look at the plots of the two films together, Rogue One climaxes with the death of the crew of Rogue One and leaves us, as Leia says, with hope. The Rebel Alliance starts A New Hope fresh off what is the biggest success they’ve ever had. They have bloodied the nose of the giant but at a terrible cost. Early in the film, that hope is nearly dashed as Darth Vader catches up with the Tantive IV and attempts to snatch the plans back. It’s only through their persistence and guile that Princess Leia and R2-D2 are able to conspire to keep the plans out of Vader’s grasp. The fate of the Alliance is endangered again as Tarkin has decided he has had it up to here and decides to dial up the Death Star’s malevolent power to eleven and start cracking planets with it. The Alliance’s (and the audience's) sole hope is that Jyn and her friends did not die in vain, and the Death Star plans can be used to snatch victory from Tarkin’s grasp. The plot of A New Hope feels much more desperate because we have started the film knowing the danger. Whole cities can share Jedha’s fate, and the promise of planets joining the pyre is not far off. Characters we grew to love can and will die unless the hope of those costly plans is fulfilled. The atrocities committed by the Empire in Rogue One make A New Hope’s climactic battle worth even more. It means more, despite being less spectacular and extravagant visually, because there is no tomorrow. There is no more running for the Rebels. They either win in the dark ether above Yavin, or they are destroyed along with the only evidence of Galen Erso’s revenge. When that one in a million shot is made and the Death Star blows up, it’s no longer just for Luke, Ben, or Leia. It’s also for Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi, and K-2SO, who gave everything to ensure that the shot could even be taken. When the shot succeeds and all that remains of the Death Star is so much scrap, we cheer all the more because we know now that their deaths were worth it.

Cutting out six of the eight available Star Wars films does limit our time with Jedi and pares down the amount of information we are given regarding the Force. We only see one Jedi and one Sith, and the Sith is not even referred to by that term but only as a servant of the dark side of the Force. Even with such a limited quantity of information, one is still able to come to a pretty good understanding of the mystical energy field because of the quality of the information. Through Chirrut’s belief in the Force and his prayers, we see that the Force can bring a deep peace that surpasses the understanding of a normal citizen of the galaxy. We see a similar peace in Obi-Wan Kenobi, who with only Rogue One and A New Hope to guide us, we would assume is the last Jedi in the galaxy. Both Obi-Wan and Chirrut would teach us that the Force can be used to accomplish things that would seem like sorcery. From Chirrut, we would learn that you can sense things about people through the Force, as he seems to do multiple times with Cassian. From Obi-Wan, we see that the Force can be used to influence the weak-minded. The last thing we learn about the Force from these two films is that it can also help you to accomplish great physical feats. Chirrut’s whirling fighting style is clearly beyond human and without the other films, viewers are likely to interpret it as being fueled by the Force. Even with the other films, many of us feel like he may be Force sensitive. In addition to Chirrut’s physical mastery, we also see Vader use the Force to brutally pin a Rebel troop against the room of the corridor connecting Admiral Raddus’s ship the Profundity and the Tantive IV as well as using it to rip several Rebel troopers blasters from their hands. By the end of both films, we have fair understanding of the Force. The real tragedy may be that we might question what exactly what makes a Jedi so special. Baze clearly states that Chirrut is no Jedi in Rogue One, and in A New Hope, we see an Obi-Wan who is decidedly subdued in his use of the Force compared to his younger days. Whether that’s because of choice or because he fell out of practice, it would be possible for someone who has only viewed these two films to wonder what’s so special about the Jedi and why Darth Vader doesn’t quit toying with Kenobi and just kill him earlier when he seemed so much more devastatingly powerful just one film prior.

Clearly, you would miss out on some of what makes Star Wars great if you only watched Rogue One and A New Hope. You wouldn’t ever travel to Dagobah and meet Yoda. The Emperor would be a threat mentioned and discarded in a single line. The story of the Skywalker line would be irrelevant. You’d miss seeing Han and Leia fall in love. The story would be one-hundred percent less smooth without Lando. You’d fail to see the myriad aliens that made up the Jedi council. You may even get the impression that there must of been some cataclysmic disease that wiped out many of the double “X” chromosome carriers because there are so few women in the galaxy when you remove the prequels and the animated series. I wouldn’t say that watching these two films solely as a Star Wars duology is the best way to experience the saga, but it is an interesting exercise. It asks you forget what you have learned and experience a much more streamlined tale of an alliance of rebels who dared to stand together against the overwhelming might of an empire and still find a way to win.

What do you think of this method of watching the Star Wars saga as a Death Star Duology? Share your opinion with us on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 or @farfarawayradio using the hashtag #deathstarduology .