Writing Field Notes — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”
― Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
A suddenly distressed Obi-Wan Kenobi utters these words as he feels the destruction of the planet, Alderaan, through the Force. In the previous shot, the Death Star’s megalaser blasted the planet, turning it to dust. Obi-Wan’s words, as well as the brief visual of Alderaan’s explosion, carry the weight of the importance of destroying the Death Star before it can end the Rebel Alliance and cement Emperor Palpatine’s rule, throughout the rest of the movie.
“We need a statement, not a manifesto.”
- Grand Moff (Governor) Tarkin, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
As the newly completed Death Star orbits the moon Jedha, Imperial military leaders Grand Moff (Governor) Tarkin and Director Orson Krennic, as well as other assembled personnel, watch the aftermath of blast from the station — a shockwave spreading across the surface of the moon, ejecting fire and crust into space, not unlike a strike from a comet or asteroid.
On the moon’s surface, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andoor, and their team struggle to flee from Saw Gerrera’s secret base to a waiting spaceship before the ground, moving like a wave, crushes, then envelops the cave-based hideout, killing the long-time rebel, Gerrera. The city of Jedha, whose residents we had just seen, are pulverized and erased from the moon’s surface.
Later in the movie, we again see the Death Star target a single area, the Empire’s Citadel Tower on Scarif. The same kind of destruction kills Erso and Andoor, as well as any Imperial soldiers and surviving rebels.
In addition to answering the long-standing question of how could a single blast destroy the entire Death Star and showing life under and war with the Empire in more detail, Rogue One also helps the overall Star Wars story in a great way: it amplifies the overall stakes by detailing the power of the Death Star.
Still, in showing the planet quickly exploding and otherwise using Obi-Wan’s account of the horrors faced by those on Alderaan, the depth of the Empire threat is made more intellectual than visceral. The viewer knows the rebels are in danger of annihilation in general. But without seeing in the full extent of the danger faced by the rebels, the viewer may or may not get a deeper connection to the gravity of the situation.
In Rogue One, we come to fully understand that danger. One small blast from the Death Star could annihilate not just a city, but the very ground under it, pulverizing and killing those above. We see our heroes having to flee as rock crashes against them like a tsunami. The city of Jedha and its inhabitants that we had just seen, have been thoroughly destroyed. Perhaps some having been ejected into space, many incinerated.
The filmmakers made a great choice, electing to show only single shots from the Death Star, making more localized, albeit, catastrophic damage. By showing the destruction wrought by the use of a small fraction of the station’s potential in such spectacular ways, the full use of the Death Star’s power in A New Hope is made much worse. There was no close-up or detail of Alderann’s end, but given the cataclysms on Jedha and Scarif, one can better imagine the destruction of Alderaan in the moment that Tarkin brings the full strength of the station to bear.
The terror faced by the heroes and their struggle to flee bring increase the stakes by bringing fuller perspective to the words uttered by Obi-Wan. Our heroes had the opportunity to save their lives, however, those on Alderaan had no such chance as their planet vaporized under their feet. There was nowhere to go. No waiting ships to whisk them to safety.
Later, when we see the Death Star appear in orbit over Scarif, Krennic sees the station and its megalaser; the viewer sees the expression of death on his face. He had not met his end at Cassius’ blaster, but he knows the doom to come as the Death Star takes aim and charges its weapon.
If future viewers watch the movies in the order in which they take place, the destruction of Alderaan will have an even greater weight. And at the climax, as the Death Star orbits Yavin, the urgency in not only keeping the rebellion alive, but in people escaping such a gruesome end, will be more clear.
Originally published at christopher a. kess.