How the 'Rogue One' ending went wrong
Spoiler alert! The following includes spoilers from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
It was never going to be a “happily ever after" ending.
Rogue One was set up to be an uncategorizable movie. Part prequel, part spinoff, Rogue One had to create a story and a cast of characters that were both engaging enough to sustain a movie but not so important or independent that they confused the existing Star Wars films.
Rogue One chose to focus on the group of rebels responsible for stealing the plans to the Death Star. And it gave a rather good reason for these rebels never being involved in another mission for the Alliance: They all died.
Every main character in Rogue One, from Jyn (Felicity Jones) to the comic relief droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), dies. Most of our heroes (and the main villain) are killed in a harrowing, visually spectacular final battle sequence that comprises much of the film’s third act. Each member of the team is given an individual moment to say goodbye, including Chirrut becoming “one with the Force” and Bodhi facing his fear before a grenade takes out his ship. Jyn and Cassian die in each others’ arms on the beach of Scarif after transmitting the plans to the Rebel fleet above the planet, as the blast from the Death Star overwhelms them.
Review: 'Rogue One' struggles with ties to 'Star Wars' past
Star Wars has gone to dark places before, but Rogue One’s coda is an unexpected and emotional tragedy. In many ways the film highlights the cost, both in lives and morals, it would take to rebel against an all-powerful, fascist regime. It’s a story the original trilogy never had the time to tell. The ending of Rogue One helps justify its existence and importance in the Star Wars canon.
It was a truly beautiful sequence. It’s just too bad it’s almost ruined minutes later.
After every main character has perished, the movie cuts to the transmitted plans being moved through the Rebel fleet as they are pursued by Darth Vader. The plans eventually land on a familiar-looking ship, which escapes Vader’s clutches, and are given to a woman in a certain white dress. The movie could have ended there, but instead the shot cuts up to the distinctly fake face of a young Princess Leia.
It’s unclear exactly how this uncanny valley of a young Leia was created (in the credits, Carrie Fisher is listed under “special thanks”), but it’s clear that CGI was involved. She’s not the only CGI-created character in the film: A New Hope character Grand Moff Tarkin appears sporting the face of actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994. But while Tarkin is merely unnerving, the Leia cameo is so jarring as to take the audience completely out of the film at its most emotional moment. Leia’s appearance was meant to help the film end on a hopeful note (quite literally, as “hope” is her line), but instead it ends on a weird and unsettling one.
The definitive ranking of all 8 'Star Wars' movies
Rogue One was a Star Wars movie unlike any other. It was at its strongest when it leaned into this fact, striking its own story beats and tone, creating new characters that explore new themes. Each reference to the existing films became more jarring and troublesome than the last. Jimmy Smits’ unnecessary cameo as Bail Organa, a character introduced in Attack of the Clones, isn't necessary with Mon Mothma (herself a character from Return of the Jedi) leading up the rebellion. A cut to R2-D2 and C-3PO near the film's climax stops the entire scene in its tracks, as the droids make a joke dissonant with Rogue One's serious tone. Even including the Red and Gold squadron leaders from A New Hope in the final battle is awkward, considering the young actors' faces were recreated artificially somehow, perhaps through CGI or archival footage. The biggest sin of them all is Leia, a computer-generated spoiler that jerks a viewer harshly back to reality after the fantasy of that final tragic battle. A fan less familiar with the saga might enjoy Rogue One more when all these in-jokes and references fly over their heads, while a super-fan cringes with each successive one.
Inevitably, Rogue One was not ruined by the appearance of Leia, but its legacy (and its Rotten Tomatoes score) is certainly marred. The forthcoming stand-alone Star Wars films could do with learning from Rogue’s mistakes. Let a young Han Solo stand on his own.