Is it actually that bad living in the Empire?
Editor's note: This is a spoiler-laden discussion of one plot point of Rogue One. This is not a review. You've been warned.
Their aim improved, their armor shinier and their killing better: Gareth Edward gave us stormtroopers at their most fearsome yet. What he failed to do in “Rogue One” is give us the first version of the Empire that shows us why the Rebels exist to begin with.
Sure, the men clad in white plastic uniforms clomping around can’t be pleasant and I’m not a fan of anyone who blows planets apart, but Edwards blew an opportunity to show the might and terror of the Empire on a small scale. By choosing to show us much of the Empire we’ve seen in films past, Edwards failed to give us something new.
Yeah, these stormtroopers are magnificently better at their jobs than the ones that will take on Luke and Leia Skywalker in *looks at watch* about five minutes, but we could’ve gotten so much more from “Rogue.” This isn’t a discussion of the film itself, which I quite liked, but one of the movie it could have been.
Jyn Erso joins the Rebellion so they’ll let her go from imprisonment after they free her from imprisonment at the hands of the Empire. Even with George Lucas out of the picture, Star Wars doesn’t trust the government very much. Hell, Erso and company defect from the Rebels to get the damn Death Star plans.
So yeah, the Rebellion doesn’t exist because of bright-eyed idealists looking to take down the evil fascists, not really. If you believe that, you’re providing the creators of this universe with all the emotional labor they could ever want. The Empire does enough overwhelmingly, even cartoonishly, evil stuff that you never question if it’s evil, obviously, but does it actually stink to be a citizen of the Galactic Empire?
And what does that even mean? There’s still a Senate, after all. Star Wars makes it sound like joining the Rebellion is a political decision made in public and then you go to work the next day at the Senate like nothing ever happened. What’s the Emperor doing now? Why are there even Senators if this is a fascist regime? And why the hell is Darth Vader spending his days on his version of a bubbling trigger warning?
None of this makes “Rogue One” a bad movie, but Edwards doesn’t even give us a human moment with a family whose life is destroyed by the Empire unless it involves an Erso. Why can’t we get that? Show us how shopping for groceries or going to work is impacted by the Empire. Give us a sense of why someone would go to war with a seemingly unstoppable force.
Erso may have given the existing Rebels hope, but the Empire didn’t do much to inspire those standing on the sidelines to join the fight. If anything, the fearsome Stormtroopers and the vibrant appearances of Darth Vader make the Empire as scary as ever to those who oppose it — and less so to those who are willing to go along and ignore it.
Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, asks Jyn how she stands looking up to see the Empire’s flag flying overhead. Her answer says it all:
“You don’t see it if you don’t look up.”
If Erso, who has lost everything to the Empire, is happy to do that, why would anyone else join the Rebellion?