As the first Star Wars anthology movie separate from the main saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had to set itself apart somehow. By following new characters yet placing the story line within familiar plot points, Rogue One takes a different approach to events that we may already be familiar with, and keeping a connection to existing events when introducing new characters is key to holding an audience's interest. But what makes the movie different from the regular saga is its willing to go much darker than the others in the series did. Rogue One is the first Star Wars film to truly feel like a war movie, and the fact that it doesn't shy away from the fact that the "good guys" do horrible things, too, brings a whole new atmosphere to the franchise.
By now, plenty of you have probably seen Rogue One, but if you're not familiar with the story, it's technically a prequel to 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Based on a small detail in the opening scroll of that film, Rogue One follows the band of Rebel Alliance who are tasked with stealing the plans to the Death Star; the very plans that Princess Leia places inside R2-D2 at the beginning of the original film. But while the Star Wars saga has always been built on hope and good triumphing over evil, Rogue One embraces the idea that even the good guys can be bad, and the ending fully seals it as a war movie. Major spoilers ahead!
The premise itself doesn't necessarily make Rogue One much different from the saga films. There are still incredibly strong, Empirical powers dominating over a small rebellion made up of scattered planets and species. The rebels are still the underdogs. But the way the film is shot definitely gives Rogue One a more war-like feel. Director Gareth Edwards' goal "was to add a visceral, soldier's-eye view of galactic battle, which meant using more hand-held camera shots-including points of view from inside a dogfighting X-wing," according to Entertainment Weekly. The result creates an atmosphere more similar to The Hurt Locker than any Star Wars film. On the ground in Jedha City with Jyn and Cassian, while rockets fly and walls explode, it's evident that Rogue One is going for a much more realistic depiction of war than the previous films.
Rogue One's characters also aren't the noble innocents that inhabit the other films. The first time we meet Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), he shoots an informant in cold blood. That might be a little reminiscent of Han Solo's killing of Greedo in A New Hope (and the subsequent attempt by George Lucas to make it seems like Greedo shot first in the remastered releases) but Greedo was a criminal who was going to hand Han over to Jabba, whereas Cassian's informant gave no indication that he'd done anything to deserve his slaughter.
Then there's Galen Erso, Jyn's father who is kidnapped by the Empire to build the Death Star. He makes the choice to work on the project, knowing that it will get built without him. And he has a noble intention in that he inputs the weapon's Achilles heal. But does that negate the thousands of deaths he is ultimately responsible for? Rogue One isn't afraid to make its heroes do bad things or even share traits of the so-called "bad guys."
But perhaps the darkest thing about Rogue One that definitely makes it a less jovial piece of cinema than any other Star Wars film is the fact that all of the leads die at the end. Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut Imwe, K2-SO, all of the soldiers who raid the communications bunker — everyone is killed. It was shocking to realize that none of the heroes of Rogue One were going to make it out of their task alive. Of course, it could have been suspected, given that the filmmakers can't exactly retro-fit these characters into the original three movies, or the current sequel trilogy. But it was still rather alarming, and, in my eyes, brave, for Rogue One to go there.
The Star Wars films have always had an element of being kid-friendly. Between the cute aliens, funny sidekicks, and the magical elements of the Force, Star Wars movies were something that you could always show your 6-year-old. That might be changing. Rogue One's darkness and realistic war scenes have given the franchise perhaps its first real adult movie, and I think that's fine. Those of us who saw Star Wars as kids when the original movie first came out are well into adulthood now, and our tastes have changed. It's quite all right that the franchise changes with us.