Too often Hollywood gets itself into a rut. The moment one studio finds a winning formula, genre, or theme, the others are soon to follow and they all copy each other so much it becomes cliche and boring. It’s only natural. If you see success in front of you, why not do the same thing and recreate it? The other issue is listening to focus groups or conventional wisdom as a compass for all your stories. It’s easy to pay strict adherence to story conventions and practices as if breaking them is forbidden and a one way trip to failure-town. One of these rules is: Don’t kill off your main characters.
Killing off your main characters is equivalent to shooting your story in the foot. If you want to write a good story, always let your characters get what they want, have a happy ending, and let your viewers feel satisfied with a well-tied bow.
Overall, sure, this is a good rule of thumb, but I think it doesn’t always apply and sometimes you need to take a step outside the box and make bold decisions for the sake of your characters and narrative.
The writers and creators of Rogue One made such a bold decision. They took a wildly beloved franchise movie and did the unthinkable – they killed off all their main and supporting characters. All of them.
Honestly, I give them full credit and applause for making such a move. It’s a dark move, but I think it pays off and makes the most sense. The way they did it, especially for Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, is both beautiful, emotional, and powerful.
Now, they didn’t have to do this. They could have easily applied the same rule and said, “Under no circumstances are we killing all our characters off. Are you crazy?” Maybe they could kill off a Red Shirt or something, but at least keep Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor alive, escaping just in the nick of time.
But, no. They took a road less traveled in Rogue One. And it is so refreshing.
It should also be noted they left on a high note full of optimism and hope for the future. A future we already know well is Luke Skywalker and A New Hope. This plays well with the somber tone of a good portion of the movie. Despite the hopelessness within a story, ending on a meaningful high note could improve the narrative.
I hope that studios in Hollywood will notice this bold narrative choice and realize you don’t always have to take the safe route. You can be creative while breaking rules and still have your cake and eat it, too.
Photo Courtesy of: Walt Disney Studios.