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Star Wars New Canon: Rogue One: On Death Stars and Choking on Aspirations

After having finished my coverage of the prelude to Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I'm taking a pause to look at some New Canon stories.  Specifically, I am looking at the stories that are tied to the 2016 movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Movie poster for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  Image from Wookieepedia.

This was the first of the "Anthology" films that would tell stories on the margins of the main Star Wars saga.  Since then, a second anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, was released, and rumours abound about a potential movie about Boba Fett or Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Rogue One, as the first, would set the tone for what these movies might be like.

For this post, I have consumed the following material:
For this read-through, I read Catalyst and Rebel Rising in hardcover and the Rogue One novelization in paperback. I enjoyed the comics digitally, watched the movie on Blu-Ray, and enjoyed a video of one of my favourite Youtube channels, Outside Xtra, play the Battlefront: Rogue One: Scarif DLC. Except for the movie and the Battlefront video, this was my first time consuming any of these stories.

Story:

These stories are all tied into the film Rogue One, which told the story of the theft of the plans to the Death Star.  These books and comics fill in the backstories to Rogue One's various characters and lay the groundwork for how we see them in the movie.

Catalyst is the origin story of the Erso family (Galen, Lyra, and daughter Jyn) and Orson Krennic, beginning during the Clone Wars and ending a few years into the age of the Empire.  Krennic brings Galen into research into Imperial research using Kyber crystals (the crystals the Jedi use in their lightsabers, which the Empire wishes to exploit).  Galen thinks he is creating free energy, but Lyra discovers his research is being weaponized.  We also see Krennic's efforts to build the Death Star, seeking to improve his status in the Imperial court.

Rebel Rising follows young Jyn Erso after Krennic kills her mother and takes her father in Rogue One's opening scene.  She is taken under Saw Gerrera's wing and works for his nascent cell of rebels, usually by forging Imperial documents. She becomes disaffected after seeing a particularly brutal massacre launched by Saw's forces, and is later separated from him. Over time, everyone she loves is taken from her not just by the Empire, but specifically by the conflict between the Empire and rebels, so she learns to ignore the conflict.

The Cassian and K-2SO comic tells the story of the Rebel mission during which Cassian Andor reprograms the droid K-2SO.  A small Rebel team strike an Imperial facility to steal intelligence files inside the droid's brain, but as his base programming keeps making him arrest them, they must erase most of his memory.  Cassian and the droid escape, but with heavy losses on their team.

Guardians of the Whills is a kids book (aimed at kids aged 9-12) telling the story of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus, the two monks who once guarded the Temple of the Kyber on Jedha, which the Empire seized for their kyber mining operations.  They raid Imperial shipments to help feed orphans, and fight alongside Saw Gerrera's partisans as the conflict on Jedha escalates.

Cover of Guardians of the Whills, featuring the monks Chirrut and Baze.  Image from Wookieepedia.
In Rogue One, the Rebels learn about the nature of Galen Erso's research: the Death Star, a weapon capable of destroying planets.  Jyn (newly rescued from an Imperial prison), Cassian, and K-2SO track down a defector who smuggled a message out of Galen's research lab.  They find him, the message, and several new friends among Saw Gerrera's army on Jedha.  Galen is killed in a Rebel raid, Saw's forces are devastated by a Death Star test, and Krennic (now Director of the project to build the Death Star) works to plug Galen's leak and still improve his status in the Empire.  Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, and their new friends (including the monk Chirrut, his pal Baze, and the former Imperial pilot Bodhi) form the team called Rogue One and launch a raid on the Imperial citadel on Scarif to steal the plans to the Death Star.  A rebel fleet battles Imperial forces over Scarif and manages to destroy Scarif's shield, receive the Death Star plans, and some of them (including Princess Leia, Death Star plans in hand) escape.

In the Battlefront DLC, we get to participate in Rogue One's climactic battle on Scarif as a Rebel soldier. However, the battle is depicted differently.  Rather than transmitting the Death Star plans into space, the plans are hand-delivered to a shuttle.  I believe this is based on a previous version of the battle, which was abandoned and re-shot for the movie (and probably made for better gameplay).


Thoughts:

This is the first post in which I discuss multiple adaptations of the same story.  After watching the movie, I read the novelization and the comic mini-series.  In my opinion, the movie is the primary source, and the other two adaptations serve to show us additional details, as permitted by each medium.  If there are inconsistencies, then the movie version wins out.  But prose novels and comic books permit things that movies do not allow, such as exploring what is happening inside a character's mind through narration or thought bubbles.

I want to begin by saying that I love Rogue One.  I think it might be my favourite among the Disney-made Star Wars movies.  It had good action, good humour (in particular from the monk Chirrut and the droid K-2SO), an interesting look at an extremist version of the Rebellion (in Saw Gerrera's partisans), and explained some crucial plot points leading up to the first Star Wars movie.  The villain, Director Krennic, was interesting; I liked his efforts to position himself as a major player in Imperial affairs, but his incompetence meant that the Death Star plans were lost and the station ultimately destroyed.  As Darth Vader put it, he choked on his aspirations.

One of my favourite scenes from Rogue One.  Image taken from Reddit.
Speaking of the Dark Lord, both major scenes featuring Vader were amazing.  His conversation with Director Krennic taught us much about Vader's current status quo, as someone with the Emperor's ear but who interacted with people like Krennic and Tarkin, which is exactly where we see him in A New Hope.  His lightsaber sequence during the Battle of Scarif showed him as an unstoppable killing machine, which we've only really seen once in New Canon (in the novel Lords of the Sith, and even then we mostly saw it from the perspective of other characters) and not really at all in Legends.

We also learn some fun details, like how Darth Vader has a castle on the same planet where Obi-Wan nearly killed him, or the manner in which the Death Star plans were canonically stolen (a long time from now I'll cover the stories that depict this in Legends, and they're extremely inconsistent).

Vader's castle on Mustafar.  Image from Wookieepedia.
Rogue One featured the technical achievement of bringing to life characters whose original actors have either died or aged away from being able to play their roles.  Using digital effects and actors with similar body shapes and voices, we got to see Grand Moff Tarkin, despite Peter Cushing being dead since 1994, and 19-year-old Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher was still alive at the time, but much older than the 20 she was when A New Hope was filmed.)  Even just six years earlier, movies couldn't achieve this (see: Tron: Legacy, with real-life Old Man Jeff Bridges and a plastic-looking digital Jeff Bridges circa 1989).  I'm looking forward to seeing what other performances we can get with this technology going forward.

We get some great additional details in the novelization and the comic adaptation.  The novelization gives us some short sequences focussing on miscellaneous characters (an old woman, a man and his daughter, some abandoned stormtroopers) on Jedha as the Death Star fires on them.  These were very moving sequences showing the real victims of the Empire.  We also learn more about individual motivations, and get an expanded sequence between Jyn and the Rebel council.  Cassian is depicted as a much worse person, having done many unforgivable things for the Rebels.  I'm not sure his arc was enough to redeem him of his terrible past.

Perhaps best of all, the novelization presents snippets of letters, memos, and intelligence reports in between certain chapters.  One of these is correspondence between Galen Erso and his supervisor, which ultimately led to the addition of the exhaust port that is the station's ultimate weakness.

The comic reads as a very compressed version of the story; I read all six issues in about an hour.  Nevertheless, they added a few interesting scenes, including the conversation between Galen Erso and the pilot Bodhi Rook, Bohdi's defection, Admiral Raddus deciding to attack Scarif in support of the Rogue One team, and Chirrut explaining to Baze how fighting to steal the Death Star plans is their way of avenging the desecration of their holy temple.  We also see that Saw Gerrera's last thoughts were of his long-lost sister, who died in the Clone Wars.  Unfortunately, the artists of this comic series don't do a great job at making characters look right.  Only Jyn Erso looks like she does on screen.

Cover of Rogue One #6.  Image from Wookieepedia.
Regarding the tie-in stories, I'm reminded that James Luceno is very good at writing origin stories.  In my last post, I discussed the Luceno's Legends story Darth Plagueis and how it provided a great backstory to Palpatine/Darth Sidious before Episode I, and before that I discussed Cloak of Deception, in which Luceno provided further backstory to the blockade of Naboo.  In a New Canon story (which I read before starting my blog), he did the same thing for Governor Tarkin (the villain from the original Star Wars who wasn't Darth Vader) in his novel Tarkin.  He did it again with Catalyst, essentially giving us everything we need to know about Galen Erso, his family, his research, and why Orson Krennic needed him so badly to finish the weapon on the Death Star.  We also see so much of Krennic's manipulative side, as he desperately wants to climb the social ladder in the Empire in direct competition with Tarkin.  Luceno needs to write more origin stories like this.

Young-adult (YA) fiction is an area that Star Wars historically avoided.  Books were either for kids or adults, never for teens (with the exception of the Young Jedi Knights series, which I feel was above the 9-12 age range but still not quite YA lit; the characters were around 13-14, not the usual 16-20 we see in most YA books).  Disney and Lucasfilm have tapped this market and released several YA novels, two of which I'd already covered (Lost Stars and Leia, Princess of Alderaan, both by Claudia Gray), Rebel Rising, covered here, and two more I have yet to read (Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston and Most Wanted by Rae Carson).  The leads in all five of these YA novels are either young women (Leia, Ahsoka, Jyn) or young pairs (Thane and Ciena, Han and Qi'ra), which I think helps drive diversity among readership and must generate some good sales numbers.  I hope Disney continues to make YA books in its New Canon line.

Cover of Rebel Rising.  Image from Wookieepedia.
Rebel Rising by Beth Revis was a fantastic story about the teen Jyn Erso in the years before she shows up in Rogue One, at first fighting alongside her adoptive father and rebel leader Saw Gerrera and then becoming disillusioned.  As I complimented Claudia Gray for working unexpected dualities into her books (pro-Rebel and pro-Empire in Lost Stars, for example), Beth Revis does something similar by giving us a compelling reason why Jyn begins Rogue One not caring about the rebel cause.  The Empire took her father (whom she believed abandoned her in favour of the Empire), but others whom she came to know and love kept getting taken from her because of rebel activity and Imperial crackdowns in response.  If the Rebellion had left well enough alone, the nice woman and her cute son with whom Jyn fell in love would not have been killed by the Empire.  This is a different take on the argument Gray makes in Leia, Princess of Alderaan -- obligation to fight for your people's freedom vs. obligation to keep your head down, to avoid repercussions that would hurt your people.  In this case, it's told from the point of view of those facing the repercussions.  The stories of the Legends timeline always focussed on the heroes of Star Wars as universally doing good, but I absolutely love that New Canon books are telling more complicated and nuanced stories, where actions have consequences and the heroic decision isn't always the best one for everyone.

Two weaker stories I read were the Guardians of the Whills story and the Cassian and K-2SO comic.  The comic was simply too short and too meaningless.  This story might have been better served by a miniseries, where I could be made to care about the mission Cassian's team was on and get attached to the side characters who died ensuring he and K-2SO survived.  Guardians of the Whills didn't have much of an over-arching plot, and instead seemed like a chronology of the lives of Baze and Chirrut in the year or so before Jyn and Cassian show up.  It's a fun book to read, but I kept asking myself "What is the actual story here?  What is the central plot?"  It is fun to see these characters and learn what motivates them, but I'd rather do so with purpose.  I am also deeply annoyed that blind monk Chirrut is described in this book as having an "echo box" on his waist that helps him see.  This isn't mentioned anywhere else, and takes away from his character, as I previously assumed he was such a good fighter because of the Force.

Cover of the Cassian and K-2SO one-shot comic.  Not worth reading.  Image from Wookieepedia.
Overall, Rogue One was a great movie, its adaptations were well made, and its main prequel stories Catalyst and Rebel Rising perfectly set up the world in which our characters find themselves when Rogue One's curtain opens.

Next:

The next New Canon material I cover will be the novels and comics tying into the Battlefront games.  Before that, my Legends Read-Through will continue with my long-awaited coverage of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

When reading this set of stories, I had a thought about reading order.  I think it might be better to read the prologue books after watching the movie instead of before.  There are a couple of reasons for this: the characters appearing in movies are often not described very well, so it's best to begin with a visual medium; the intent appears to be that we first experience the movie and then learn how characters got to their movie-opening status quo.  In my Legends read-through I will remain chronological as much as possible, but for New Canon, I have reordered the reading lists for content related to Episode VII, Episode VIII, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, placing the movies and their adaptations first, and then prologue stories afterward.


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