Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has arrived to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Unlike the new trilogy that kicked off with The Force Awakens, which is pushing the Star Wars story into the future, Rogue One looks back to a time before the classic films. Yes, it’s a prequel.
‘Prequel’ is a bad word for a lot of Star Wars fans, many of whom dislike (if not outright hate) the prequel trilogy George Lucas produced from 1999 to 2005. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are very divisive films even now, more than a decade later.
Lucasfilm (now under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy) clearly learned from the mistakes of the prequel trilogy in crafting Rogue One. The new film is a much more fitting companion piece to the original 1977 classic, in both story and design.
Here are 15 Ways Rogue One Is A Better Star Wars Prequel Than The Prequels!
15. DARK LORD OF THE SITH
The prequel trilogy was the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. The films charted his journey from jubilant young child to willful and overconfident Padawan to seasoned Jedi warrior. Though Anakin walked an increasingly dark path throughout the prequels, the iconic Darth Vader we know and love only appeared in the final moments of Revenge of the Sith, and even then, it wasn’t quite what everybody wanted.
By contrast, Rogue One delivers the Darth Vader we saw in the original trilogy and then some. Ruthless, driven, pure evil; there is no redemption in sight for this Sith Lord. Vader’s time on screen is limited in the new film, but that allows his few scenes to make even more of an impact. Not only do we get to see Vader’s castle (originally slated for inclusion in the original trilogy), we learn it’s on Mustafar, the fiery planet where he was mutilated and burned in Revenge of the Sith. His dismissive way of dealing with Krennic is great, as is the brief glimpse of the Sith Lord’s ruined body floating in his own personal bacta tank.
But it’s Vader’s furious pursuit of the fleeing Rebels over Scarif that is the real highlight; watching him stride through a darkened corridor, mercilessly cutting down everyone in his path in a failed attempt to retrieve the Death Star plans is alternately thrilling and haunting.
14. BALANCED EFFECTS (CGI AND PRACTICAL)
There’s no denying that the development of computer graphics has created a revolution in film special effects. Without CGI, the amazing things we see in modern movies (and even on television) simply wouldn’t be possible.
It is, however, possible to rely too much on CGI, to the detriment of a film. The Star Wars prequels were certainly guilty of this; Lucas and his team used so much CGI in those movies that it often seemed like the live actors were intruding on an animated film. The balance between CGI and practical effects was drastically out of whack, and the films suffered as a result.
Compare the CGI-heavy prequels to Rogue One, or last year’s The Force Awakens, and you’ll find the newer films retain that crucial balance between methods. Computer effects are used, yes; these movies couldn’t be made without them. But there are also plenty of practical effects that ground the film and give it a sense of realism that was missing in the prequels.
Consider all the costumes that were made for the film’s alien characters, like Weeteef Cyubee (pictured), Bistan the Space Monkey, or Rebel soldier Pao. The practical design of these characters makes them feel more alive, which makes the rare fully CGI character like K-2SO more convincing, and not just one more in a sea of digital creations.
13. TIES TO THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY
The prequels were limited in how much they could directly tie into the original trilogy. This was partly a result of the timeline; the prequels are set in a period ranging from about 35 to 20 years before that of the classic films. That meant we saw younger versions of some crucial characters (The Emperor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Yoda, etc.) and some of the same locations (mostly Tatooine), along with small hints of what was to come (the Death Star plans, the Republic’s growing military).
Rogue One, however, is set mere days (if not hours) before the events of A New Hope, so its ties to the original trilogy are many and varied.
Perhaps the best tie (and one well hidden by Lucasfilm in advance of the film’s release) is Grand Moff Tarkin, who plays a fairly large role in the story. Played so well by the late Peter Cushing in the original film, this new Tarkin is brought to life by the performance of actor Guy Henry and extensive CGI work to mimic Cushing’s visage. While there is still a slight ‘uncanny valley’ feel to the finished product, it is remarkably close to the real thing.
The appearance of a young Princess Leia (achieved via the same technique) at the end of the film is the perfect way to dovetail Rogue One’s story into that of A New Hope.
The prequels included a number of characters we met in the original films, some of them in leading roles. With 20 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the potential for recognizable cameos was limited, though there were some Easter eggs thrown in, like Captain Antilles, Chewbacca and Tarkin.
Set as it is just before A New Hope, Rogue One has the ability to include a number of cameos, and it does so, but not so much that they distract from the story being told.
Some cameos are extensive, while others are of the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ variety, but all of them are rewarding for diehard fans of the saga. Among the more unexpected cameos are those of Ponda Baba and Dr. Cornelius Evazan, the tough guys who have an infamous disagreement with Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina. In Rogue One we see them jostle Jyn Erso in the crowded marketplace on Jedha, presumably on their way to the spaceport so they can head to Tatooine and that ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’. We also get to see Red Leader and Gold Leader, both of whom are destined to perish in the Battle of Yavin at the end of A New Hope, and we witness the demise of the pilot known as Red Five, the call sign that Luke Skywalker will soon inherit.
11. IT’S FUNNIER
Nobody would mistake the Star Wars movies for comedies, and yet there were a lot of great moments of humor in the original trilogy, like C-3PO and R2-D2 trading insults, or Han Solo giving his beloved Millennium Falcon a good smack to get it working, or Princess Leia offering to go outside and give the old ship a push.
With the prequels, George Lucas tried a little too hard to work humor into the proceedings, and the results were mixed at best. The most obvious offender is Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. From stepping in “icky icky goo” to getting his hand stuck in a pod racer engine, it was all very slapstick.
Rogue One is far more effective in utilizing humor. Like the original trilogy, the jokes (if they can be called that) arrive organically, adding a bit of lightness to balance out the film’s grim theme and plot. Moments like K-2SO dropping the supplies Jyn hands him, or the blind Chirrut pointing out the absurdity of putting a sack over his head, provide genuine laughs without pulling the audience out of the dramatic story.
10. BETTER ACTING
There have been a lot of complaints leveled against the prequel trilogy over the years. Perhaps chief among them is the quality (or lack thereof) of the performances. While some of them were undoubtedly strong (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid), others were met with no end of criticism (Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman).
Rogue One, however, is blessed with strong performances across the board. Felicity Jones is particularly strong as Jyn Erso, convincingly selling her gradual evolution from an ambivalent scoundrel to a devoted Rebel. Diego Luna is fantastic as Cassian Andor, a conflicted Rebel operative who is dedicated to the cause, but uneasy in tackling some of the more brutal tasks assigned to him. Though his screen time is limited, Mads Mikkelsen shines as the haunted scientist Galen Erso, particularly in his emotional holographic message to his lost daughter.
On the villainous side of things, Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic feels like he just walked off the set of the classic films. He fits in perfectly with classic Imperial villains like Grand Moff Tarkin, General Tagge and the Emperor himself.
9. DIVERSE CAST
The Star Wars galaxy is a big place, and people (and creatures) come in all shapes and colors.
That reality wasn’t always represented in the first six movies. Lando Calrissian’s presence in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi gave rise to countless “only black guy in the galaxy” jokes, after all. The prequels didn’t fare much better in this regard, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu the only person of color in a notable role.
It’s to Lucasfilm’s credit that they are placing an emphasis on diversity in their new films, with female leads in both The Force Awakens and Rogue One. The new movie’s cast is particularly diverse, with Mexico’s Diego Luna, China’s Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, Denmark’s Mads Mikkelsen, and Britain’s Riz Ahmed (of Pakistani descent) all having key roles. By utilizing such a diverse cast, Lucasfilm does justice to the idea of a galaxy that is incredibly vast and filled with people and cultures of all kinds, while allowing fans of all backgrounds to more easily relate to the story.
8. RELATEABLE HEROINE
With the new Star Wars films, Lucasfilm is prioritizing the creation of strong female characters in leading roles. Rey was the first example, and she was certainly a hit in The Force Awakens last year. Rogue One continues in that vein with the introduction of Jyn Erso. Felicity Jones brings plenty of life and spirit to the character; she’s a capable warrior and survivor in her own right, and she is not defined by her relationship or love story with any other character.
The prequels were decidedly less successful in creating a relateable female heroine for audiences to embrace. Natalie Portman is a terrific actress, and she did her best with what she was provided in the three prequel films. But the characterization and scripting of her character were less than ideal. On one hand, Portman’s Padme Amidala is a very successful politician who bravely stands for the issues she believes in, even when it places her in the cross-hairs of the powerful Chancellor Palpatine. On the other hand, she falls desperately in love with Anakin Skywalker for no discernible reason over the course of a handful of poorly written scenes. Worst of all, her eventual death, ‘losing the will to live’ after Anakin has turned to the dark side, is completely at odds with the inner strength she had shown throughout the entire trilogy. The twin children she literally just gave birth to would seem to be a good reason to go on living, after all.
7. MYSTERIOUS FORCE
Midi-chlorians. A word that makes many a Star Wars fan gnash their teeth.
The Phantom Menace infamously introduced midi-chlorians as a scientific element behind the previously mysterious Force; microscopic beings that live inside a person’s cells, and communicate with the Force.
The midi-chlorians are right up there with Jar Jar Banks on the list of things people hate about the prequels. Many fans agree that the Force is best kept mysterious, and Lucasfilm might feel that way too, since the ‘M word’ hasn’t been used in any of their recent projects.
Rogue One restores some mystery to the Force. Where the prequels were filled to the brim with Jedi, there are none to be found in the new movie. The characters are aware of the Force, but none can use it. Chirrut Imwe is a true believer in the power of the Jedi, and while he can’t touch the Force, he speaks to it often, and it seems to come to his aid when he calls upon it.
There is some science to the Force in Rogue One; Galen Erso works with kyber crystals (which were used in Jedi lightsabers) to power the Death Star weapon, and these crystals have a definite connection to the Force. But the extent of that connection is for the viewer to decide.
6. VISUAL TIES
Rogue One is sprinkled with a ton of visual cues that connect the film directly to A New Hope. As previously mentioned, the film’s reliance on practical effects wherever possible make it seem much more ‘of a piece’ with the classic trilogy than the CGI-drenched prequels do. While no big-budget film produced in 2016 could ever truly look and feel like a product of the 1970’s, the visual language in the film is worlds closer to A New Hope than that of the prequels.
A number of characters themselves serve as visual ties to the classic films, like Mon Mothma, Darth Vader and Tarkin. We also see plenty of classic stormtroopers, TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers, fighting against classic Rebel cruisers, X-Wings and Rebel soldiers in their familiar garb. The Rebel base on Yavin 4 is also featured extensively, looking just like it does in A New Hope. It might not be fair to criticize the prequels for lacking those elements; the timeline dictated many of them simply couldn’t be used. Still, it’s both thrilling and oddly comforting to see so many familiar things in the new movie.
5. BETTER ENSEMBLE
Luke Skywalker. Han Solo. Princess Leia. Chewbacca. Obi-Wan Kenobi. R2-D2 and C-3PO. A New Hope works as well as it does because of the quality of its ensemble. There is a character for everyone to choose as their favorite, or to see themselves in.
The prequels weren’t as successful in creating a memorable ensemble. Splitting the crucial character of Anakin between two actors (though necessary for the story) is one reason why such an ensemble couldn’t be built. The story of the prequel films was also a little too splintered to allow such an ensemble to form; characters like Obi-Wan, Padme and Yoda are given their own plotlines to work through.
By contrast, Rogue One was clearly designed as an ensemble story. Jyn Erso is the lead, but each member of the team she builds is crucial to the success of the mission, and every character gets a chance to shine. Supporting characters like Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus don’t get lost in the shuffle, even though they have less time on screen than Erso, Cassian Andor or K-2SO.
4. NO FORCED ROMANCE
One of the more maligned elements of the prequels (and that’s saying something) is the love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. It was necessary for the prequels to tackle the story of Luke and Leia’s parents, but the execution left a lot to be desired, even with two fairly talented actors in Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen playing the roles. Most fans would agree the problems lay with the script. In Attack of the Clones, the pair fall in love in a handful of poorly written scenes, none of which are very convincing.
In a blockbuster film like Rogue One, most studios would be determined to include some kind of romantic storyline so as to broaden the film’s appeal. To the credit of Disney and Lucasfilm, however, they chose not to shoehorn such an element into a story that didn’t require it. The most obvious candidates for a love story of some kind would have been the pairing of Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna certainly have chemistry in the film, and there are a few moments where the pair grow closer. But the relationship remains one of respect and admiration, with no romantic entanglements introduced. The embrace they share in their final moments as they prepare to meet their fate is a moving one, and a kiss wouldn’t have added much to it.
Star Wars is renowned for its great supporting characters, like R2, 3PO and Chewie. The prequels attempted to add to that legacy with the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks, but we all know how that turned out. Poor Jar Jar was met with immediate disdain from many fans, and to this day is one of the first examples cited when people gripe about the prequels.
With K-2SO, Rogue One has introduced a character that may earn a place alongside those classic characters from the original trilogy. Like Jar Jar, he is a CGI creation brought to life with the help of an actor both on set and in the recording booth. Ahmed Best certainly provided a spirited performance in The Phantom Menace, but Jar Jar’s characterization worked against him.
With 17 years of development in animation between the two films, K-2SO is a far better digital creation than Jar Jar, but performer Alan Tudyk deserves a lot of credit for his work bringing the reprogrammed Imperial droid to life. Between Tudyk and the script, K-2SO delivers a bunch of standout moments thanks to his deadpan delivery, incredulous reactions and some genuine heroism. His last stand and ultimate destruction may be one of the movie’s most heartbreaking moments, a testament to everyone involved with the character’s creation.
2. HIGHER STAKES
The prequel trilogy had a fairly large storytelling disadvantage built in; the fates of many of the characters were already known. Fans knew going in that Anakin Skywalker would become Darth Vader, that Obi-Wan Kenobi would live long enough to meet his fate aboard the Death Star, that Luke and Leia’s mother died young and that the Jedi would be wiped out. Right off the bat, the stakes of the story were lowered considerably. The best George Lucas could accomplish with the prequels was to flesh out a backstory that, some might argue, didn’t need to be fleshed out at all.
Theoretically, Rogue One should suffer from the same issue., being an immediate prequel to A New Hope. And sure, we the viewers know that the mission to acquire the Death Star plans is a successful one. But by stocking the film with a cast of original characters that are not seen or mentioned in the original trilogy, the filmmakers assured that there would be considerable stakes attached to the outcome of the story. Would these new characters survive their battle with the Empire? Their aforementioned absence from the original films may have suggested that was a foregone conclusion, but the galaxy is a big place; it’s conceivable they could have survived and simply been elsewhere.
Of course, they didn’t; each new character dies for the cause of securing the Death Star plans for the Rebellion, and their sacrifices are equally heroic and moving.
1. COST OF WAR
With ‘Wars’ right there in the title, Star Wars movies are expected to deliver big on the action front, and usually they do. The classic trilogy, while small in scale compared to today’s blockbusters, ably depicts a galaxy spanning war between the oppressive Empire and a desperate Rebellion. Practical effects and live actors were crucial in selling the idea of a galaxy at war.
On the other hand, the prequels featured parts of the Clone War and a relatively small (in comparison) skirmish on the planet Naboo. More to the point, they featured CGI battle droids battling CGI clone troopers on CGI battlefields. As good as the effects were, that approach just couldn’t create the visceral warfare that the originals boasted.
Rogue One takes an approach more in line with the original films. The practical effects and costumes, along with the live actors and location shooting, lend invaluable grit and realism to the film’s battles. In particular, the desperate final battle on Scarif is utterly convincing, thrilling, and emotional. It’s a hopeless battle for our Rebel heroes, and one after another they pay the ultimate price to secure the Death Star plans and give the Rebellion a fighting chance.