8:30am PT by Graeme McMillan
Can 'Star Wars' Move Past the Death Star After 'Rogue One'?
That's no moon. It's an increasingly overused plot device.
As many have pointed out, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story exacerbates an existing problem in the greater Star Wars saga by becoming the fourth movie (out of eight so far) to feature the Death Star (or an analog; The Force Awakens' "Starkiller Base" is a Death Star in all but name, hidden only by a paint job of an ecosystem placed on top of it). When half of the entire series has the same oversized Macguffin, that's not a good look.
Sure, the lure of the Death Star is obvious. Not only does it provide the comfortable nostalgia of reminding the audience of those earlier movies that they liked — even if, let's be honest, few things will ever have the design cool of the unfinished Death Star from 1983's Return of the Jedi — but it also provides a ticking clock for the movie's heroes: They have to complete their mission before the thing that can blow up planets ends up, well, blowing up a planet.
However, even a definitely-not-a-moon threat can become boring from overuse. Even as early as 1983 there was a portion of the audience that was decrying the repetition of the threat from the first movie — even though, second time around, there were Ewoks to distract from the rerun happening in space. By the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens rolled around, it almost seemed required for a Death Star to be used; how else would we know that the First Order was suitably evil?
(The original Death Star is, after all, shorthand proof that the Empire isn't just misguided in earlier movies. Even in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, it's not enough for the Empire to slaughter the Jedi; the movie ends with a nod toward the construction of the Death Star as final proof that, oh yeah, these are the bad guys. Technically, that means there's a Death Star in five of the eight movies to date, although Episode III only shows it in virtual form.)
More important, the overuse of the Death Star undersells the villains. Three different Death Stars indicate at best a lack of flexible thinking and an ability to react to a change in circumstances. (No, trying to close up an exhaust port or adding a few trees doesn't really count.) By repeatedly going back to the same basic idea, no matter how many times it's failed before, the Empire/First Order become less of an active threat, more of an unimaginative nuisance destined to fail because they can never change — and as they seem less dangerous, the heroes seem less capable and heroic in opposition.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is, there isn't really a lot to the Death Star, beyond the visual and the name. It's just a really, really big gun disguised as a planetary body. Viewed from that direction, it's hard to imagine that those responsible for upcoming Star Wars movies couldn't come up with a new weapon that is equally destructive — preferably in a way that isn't just "shoots planets" — but looks entirely different and has a name that's as catchy as "Death Star."
It might not be the easiest task nor bring a frisson of warm memories of movies gone by, but if Star Wars is to step beyond its own history and continue to establish itself as an ongoing concern, it's time to ditch the Death Star for new ways in which to express evil on a grand scale.