Star Wars: Rogue One – in praise of its final third

Star Wars: Rogue One’s third act is earning a lot of love. Here’s our take on why...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

We’ll be discussing major spoilers from Rogue One in this article. A lot.

Rogue One has an awful lot going for it, all the way through, starting with that unsettling opening shot before transitioning into a gritty, handheld war movie unlike anything we’ve seen in a big screen Star Wars film before. It’s a movie, it seems fair to say, that a lot of people love already. I’ve already seen it overtake Return Of The Jedi in some people’s rankings of the franchise on the whole.

But, as much as the entirety of Rogue One has plenty to enjoy, one particular section of Gareth Edwards’ Death Star-centric cinematic spinoff seems to be getting the most praise: the film’s final third. Here’s our take on why the last hour of Rogue One works so well…

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That Star Wars feeling

After the ‘getting the gang together’ fun of the first act and the ‘Jyn witnessing her father’s death and then attempting to rally the troops at Yavin IV’ drama of the middle segment, Rogue One’s final third kicks off when the action gets to Scarif, the tropical Outer Rim planet which would look like a lovely place for a holiday if it wasn’t for the great big stonking Imperial base, which houses all sorts of secret plans, including Project Stardust, the blueprint for the Empire’s moon-sized genocide machine given a cutesy nickname by Jyn’s father.

In many ways, this sequence has a classic Star Wars feel to it: some of the pilots in the space battle were literally spliced in using archive footage from A New Hope, and the quest to lower some shields on the ground while an aerial battle rages on above has a real Return Of The Jedi vibe. And as Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor and Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso sneak into the base to liberate the plans, it feels a lot like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mission to sneakily deactivate the Death Star’s tractor beam in A New Hope, not least when they have to interact with that big machine thingy where the plans were stored.

Interestingly, there’s been a fair bit of backlash because The Force Awakens’ ending involved the franchise’s third Death Star battle scene (albeit with a rebranded, bigger Death Star dubbed Starkiller Base). But, so far, I haven’t seen much criticism of the parallels between Rogue One’s third act and what we’ve seen before in the Star Wars universe. Perhaps that’s because the balance between nostalgia and newness is trodden carefully here. Yes, we get the thrill once more of the Rebel fleet attacking an Imperial base, shields being taken down by a cunning plan, and loveable heroes sneaking around inside a highly guarded facility, but we also get a whole lot more…

Everyone dies

Rogue One is a war movie, and you’d struggle make a good war movie without a few major death scenes. From the grizzly to the epic, Rogue One offered up plenty of permutations on characters biting the blaster fire. First to drop was Alan Tudyk’s loveable sarcastic droid K-2SO, who, despite looking like an Imperial, was brutally riddled with bullets by the Empire’s troops.

We were given a split second of hope when K-2SO attempted to explain the situation with a classic Star Wars lie, reminiscent of Han Solo’s “We’re all fine here now, thank you… how are you?” scene from A New Hope, and C-3PO’s escape from Stormtroopers in the same movie (where he lied, saying R2-D2 needed to go to maintenance, to get out of a tight spot). But K-2 had no such luck; Cassian came through on the communicator and blew his cover, leading to a brief punch up and K-2 being doomed. Soon, there were more troopers than he could handle coming through, and K-2 was shot to shreds, just after he locked the door between his killers and his friends in one final act of anti-Empire rebellion. 

This moment – when the light in K-2’s eyes literally went out – is where a fair few jaws dropped, I’d wager, and the realisation began to creep in that Rogue One’s ending might not be totally happy. We know the Death Star plans get out, but nobody in the core cast of characters has a preordained future in the franchise. Gulp.

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From there, they began dropping like flies. The death of Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe was particularly heart-wrenching, as he uttered his mantra “I am one with the Force; the Force is with me” and bravely walked through gunfire to the poorly-positioned master switch, allowing a vital message to reach the Rebel fleet. He was then shot rather a lot, as was his chum Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen) when he attempted the same manoeuvre moments later. Baze’s death moment seemed to go on forever, with the slo-mo spectacle only adding to the sadness in the cinema.

Meanwhile, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook is on standby to whisk Jyn and Cassian away. He’ll be safe, surely? NOPE. A Stormtrooper-lobbed grenade soon blew up Bodhi, and our heroes’ escape vehicle with him. Unlike Baze’s death, this one only took a second. It was shocking; an unexpected turn taken at breakneck pace. This section of the film is relentless, with one character after another – who we’d only just come to know and love – being mercilessly murdered by Imperial forces.

This isn’t your usual Star Wars movie, where only barely-introduced pilots like Porkins and mentors-who-must-die-to-push-the-story-forward like Obi-Wan pay the price for fighting the Empire, or your standard modern blockbuster where nobody important dies because they all have twelve cinematic universe films left on their contracts; this is a third act that means business. Brutal, heart-breaking business.

But still, Jyn and Cassian are alive at this point. Surely they’ll survive. Wouldn’t their future lives make a lovely spin-off or two? Ooh, and are there hints of a romance here? That could be nice…

Oh wait. Crud. Tarkin’s going nuclear and blowing up the entire base and everyone near it. Including these two. Yikes.

Stunning visuals

That moment on the beach, where Jyn and Cassian sit and die via Death Star blast, was emotionally charged, as was this whole third act, with its ruthless reminders that main characters don’t always survive in movies (despite what we might’ve been lulled into thinking recently). But the heartache wasn’t all I was thinking of at the time. I was also thinking, “Gee, that’s a gorgeous explosion.”

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And it really was. The Death Star’s blast created a bright white light on the planet’s surface, which caused a tidal wave of destruction that gradually engulfed everything around it. As the camera pulled away, taking us up to the spacefaring point of view and some characters that are still alive, Scarif was a ball of white light with a circular swell of energy in a middle – a bright reflection of the Death Star, and a lovely visual metaphor to sum up this movie about good people on the ground attempting to defeat their evil oppressors up in space.

Of course, Industrial Light and Magic served up a great ground level conflict and a lovely space battle (that sequence where one Rebel ship physically barged the Star Destroyers to their doom was particularly brilliant, and another visual representation of the ‘little people taking down evil establishment’ themes of this saga), but it was that final shot of Scarif that really caught my eye during the third act. It was one of many impressive visual effects shots in the movie, such as the various viewpoints of Jedha’s destruction and that opening shot displaying the rings around Lah’mu.

The plans have been transmitted to the Rebel fleet, all the loose ends have been tied up (as in, all the characters that weren’t seen in A New Hope have met grim ends – even the villainous Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn, who was blown up in a fitting face-off with his frightful creation), and we also got some stunning visuals to round off the third act. I probably would’ve been very happy, and still keen to bang on about the movie, if the credits had rolled there and then. But Gareth Edwards still had something spectacular up his sleeve…

The last minute or so

Crikey, that Darth Vader scene really was something else. As we transitioned into a recognisable white interior, I thought we might see a complete reconstruction of Vader’s arrival on the Tantive IV from A New Hope. But what we actually got was a brutal prequel to it, where Vader unflinchingly tears through a different team of Rebels, using his lightsaber, the Force and some impressive agility (for a guy with no original limbs remaining) to dish out pitiless pain and suffering. These Rebels, none of them named, have to transfer the Death Star plants onto a floppy disc and get them down the corridor, which is a tougher task in execution than it sounds written down.

I imagine this is one of those scenes we’ll keep watching and talking about for years to come, and when the next lists of ‘best Star Wars moments’ start being compiled, I’m sure it’ll be right up there. Vader was terrifying in the original trilogy, but was stripped back into a sand-hating whiner in the prequels. This final glimpse of him in Rogue One restored balance to the Force, turning Vader back into that murderous man/machine hybrid that first struck fear into us all those years ago. Part of this was down to the stunning choreography of the scene – none of Anakin’s kills in the prequels felt this real, hateful or unstoppable. The way he moves, and the speed at which he kills, is shocking to witness. 

It’s unclear if we’ll ever get to see Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous back in the Darth Vader suit (this was their first time in it: David Prowse was the original Vader body and Gene Bryant stood in for Revenge Of The Sith), and I’m not sure if we need to: this sequence was something really special, allowing us to see Vader at the height of his powers in a way we never have before on the big screen. If that’s the last we ever see of Vader in a Star Wars movie, it’s one hell of a way to go out.

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After that came the digitally de-aged Carrie Fisher, cameo-ing as Princess Leia to receive the Death Star’s plans and declare them as a symbol of hope, tying back to Cassian’s “rebellions are built on hope” line and Jyn’s echoing of it to Mon Mothma, which provided the thematic through-line of the film as well as tying Rogue One to the title of Episode IV.

That really was a masterful third act, then. One that felt anchored in Star Wars history while adding its own brutal twists to it. Visually, narratively and thematically, it was excellent, and the frightful Vader scene at the end was the delicious icing on the cake. This final chunk of Rogue One was one of the best hours of blockbuster cinema in recent memory. We really needn’t have worried about those reshoots – our lack of faith was clearly misplaced.


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