Disney has expanded the Star Wars franchise with three sequels to the Skywalker Saga, two spinoff movies, a handful of animated series and a live-action show. The reception for these additions to George Lucas' universe have been met with mixed responses; however, there is one film that stands out from the rest for taking Star Wars above and beyond all expectations. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best franchise film of this generation, and it’s not only because it's the first to show Darth Vader in berserker mode.

This film does what the other new movies have not: capture the feeling of war in the Star Wars universe. The original trilogy is a fantasy epic set in space; the prequels are one part romance, one part political drama and one part science fiction; and the sequel trilogy returns to the same genre as the originals. While all these movies feature battles, death and imagery associated with war, none of them are truly war genre films like Rogue One is. This is partially due to the movie's elevated stakes.

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The threat of death is present in all of the other films, as seen in the passings of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Han Solo; however, the core casts always make it out alive. Even when the stars of these films are trying to kill themselves, like Finn in The Last Jedi, they still survive. This leads to audiences being lulled into a sense of security, knowing no matter how dire the threat, their heroes will succeed.

Rogue One, on the other hand, kills off every core character, and each of their deaths stands out from those of the aforementioned films. Characters in the original, prequel and sequel trilogies tend to die in a manner that is more personal, often in some form of one-on-one combat. Instead of this, the characters of Rogue One are casualties of nameless soldiers in battle. There is nothing personal about the kills, because to the Empire, this is just another handful of rebels that needs to be put down. Taking away the personal connection between the murderers and their victims creates a more horrific and war-like feel to the movie.

Even in films like Solo: A Star Wars Story where Beckett’s entire crew dies in a heist gone wrong, the impact of those deaths is not the same for several reasons: First, it was a personal situation between two rival crews; Second, the deaths were not in the name of the greater good; And third, Beckett's crew was made up of supporting cast members. While people may have loved the performances of these actors, they were never part of the core group of protagonists (Han, Qi'ra, Chewbacca and Lando), and since this was a prequel, there is no concern the heroes are in any real danger.

Rogue One manages to navigate the challenges of being a prequel better than Solo. All prequels face the same issue: the audience knows the ending. This risks undercutting the stakes of the film. In Solo, audiences aren’t as engaged with the Kessel Run because they know from A New Hope that Han, Lando and Chewie not only survive it, they also make it in record time. 

Rogue One takes a different approach. While audiences know the Rebels get the necessary information about the Death Star, they do not know how the plans were acquired or who risked their lives for this win. Audiences had never heard of Cassian Andor, K-2SO, Jyn Erso, Baze Malbus, Bodhi Rook or Chirrut Imwe, so they couldn't know if any of them would survive. Each death is unanticipated. That not only shows how unfair war is, but it is also more engaging for fans, keeping the suspense high.

It also helps that each protagonist is relatively unique from the other characters in the newer Star Wars films. Jyn is passive in a war that not only ruined her family but hundreds of other lives. Cassian murders his comrade and does countless other questionable things in the name of the Rebellion. Bodhi is a former Empire pilot and has helped destroy many lives. In short, they are not the best people.

Despite the attempts of the sequel trilogy to show how the Force is not just light and dark, it’s obvious which characters are morally good and which ones aren’t; however, Rogue One is made up of characters who live in the gray. They are terrible people, ordinary people and broken people, and it’s these characters that audiences latch onto.

There’s a reason why Han Solo has remained popular over the decades, and why fans are still upset that A New Hope was edited to make it appear that he shot Greedo in self defense: Han is a morally gray character who gets his hands dirty for selfish reasons. Han also learned to be one of the most selfless and caring characters in the franchise, seen best in The Empire Strikes Back. His background and evolution is similar to that of many of the characters in Rogue One.

Rogue One is also the first film to not feature a Jedi. Chirrut may be one with the Force, but the rest of our heroes are just people doing what is right, even at the cost of their own lives. Characters like this truly make Star Wars magical because they prove anyone can be a hero. It's similar to how, in the original trilogy, it was believed that anyone could be a Jedi as long as they did the work and stayed on the path of light.

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Rogue One is also similar to the popular streaming show set in the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian. What people love about the show is that it takes Star Wars in a new direction, it shows the grittier side of the galaxy and it is led by an unfamiliar, morally gray character. Aside from the lack of baby Yoda, Rogue One does the same things. Both the movie and the show are peak Star Wars in the Disney era.

Of course, Rogue One is by no means a perfect movie. There are characters that could’ve been explored more, story variables -- like Jyn's kyber crystal -- that don’t go anywhere, a confusing scene with the tentacle monster Bor Gullet and Bodhi, and a cringe-worthy dad joke from Vader.

However, these things do not detract from the greatness of the movie. While Solo and the sequel trilogy rely heavily on nostalgia, as seen in The Rise of Skywalker trailers, Rogue One shows fans what they really want: high stakes, a badass Darth Vader, a cast of compelling characters and a reminder that anyone can be the hero if they have hope.

NEXT: Star Wars Fan Theory: Vader Allowed the Death Star Plans to Be Stolen

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