WARNING: This post contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Rogue One
The Death Star is one of the most recognizable elements of the Star Wars franchise, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it is the primary focus of the first standalone anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As many people know by now, the spinoff details the daring Rebel Alliance mission to steal the battle station’s technical readouts, which of course reveal how it can be destroyed. Fans have long mocked the Death Star’s one weakness: the infamous exhaust port that’s right below the main port. A small one-man fighter can fly through the trench, fire proton torpedoes at the target, and set off a chain reaction.
In the decades since A New Hope‘s release, the design flaw has become one of the film’s more puzzling plot holes. Why would the Empire, with all their planning and resources, approve of a set-up with something that potentially could be so catastrophic? When George Lucas wrote the Star Wars screenplay, years before Rogue One was even a passing thought in anyone’s mind, he passed it off to the Empire’s hubris. They didn’t think a single fighter could pose a serious threat to their symbol of power, so they never tried to amend the problem. However, Rogue One seized the opportunity to expand upon this aspect of A New Hope and provide a much more satisfying and emotionally resonate solution to the plot hole.
Galen Erso & Orson Krennic
Those who read the Star Wars canon novel Catalyst prior to the film’s release know that Galen Erso is a brilliant scientist who specializes in kyber crystal research. Galen is an old friend of Orson Krennic, who is tasked with completing the Death Star. Knowing that Erso’s knowledge could hold the key to finalizing the turbo laser, Krennic wryly recruits him to the cause by lying and telling Galen he is to develop renewable energy for the galaxy. Behind Erso’s back, Krennic has other teams examine Galen’s findings to find a way to weaponize it.
When Galen uncovers the horrifying truth, he flees with his wife Lyra and young daughter Jyn to the remote planet Lah’mu, where they are out of the reach of the Empire. This essentially leads directly into the cold open prologue of Rogue One. Krennic arrives on the world to bring Galen back in so work on the Death Star can be finished. As Jyn runs off to be rescued by Saw Gerrera (and Lyra is killed attempting to fight the Death Troopers), Galen goes to the Imperial facility on Eadu, where he will lead a team of engineers, but he has another idea in mind.
Fast-forward 15 years to the main events of Rogue One, the Death Star is basically fully operational. On the surface, the space station seems to have been constructed as planned, complete with the capability to fire on (and, by extension, destroy) whole planets. In Rogue One, the Death Star concentrates its laser on individual cities, but it’s clear it could do far worse. With the Empire so close to realizing their dream, Galen dispatches Bodhi Rook, an Imperial pilot who defected, to Jedha with a message he recorded for Saw Gerrera.
Captain Cassian Andor of Rebellion intelligence learns of Bodhi through a contact and leads a rescue team to break the delinquent Jyn out of captivity. Brought to Yavin IV, Jyn is brought up to speed by Mon Mothma and accompanies Cassian and K-2SO to Jedha so they can meet with Saw and see Galen’s message. It’s here that a new layer to A New Hope is added, and fans who have been bothered by the exhaust port will enjoy what Rogue One reveals.
Galen Erso’s Sabotage
Though the audience (through both Catalyst and Rogue One) know that Galen is a kind-hearted man with the best intentions, he does not have the best reputation within the Rebellion. Many see him simply as an Imperial scientist who was key in building an instrument of death that will be used to terrorize the galaxy and silence any who dare oppose the Emperor. However, there was a reason for Galen’s actions and it’s one of Rogue One’s most surprising and satisfying twists.
As Galen says in his holographic message, he understood that even if he did not agree to go back and work under Krennic, the Empire would still finish their Death Star. So instead of resisting, the elder Erso made himself an invaluable and indispensable member of the team, giving his superiors no reason to take him off the project. In secret, Galen made some special modifications to the Death Star’s design and intentionally implemented the exhaust port flaw so that the space station could be destroyed by the Alliance. They just need to acquire the plans on Scarif so they can analyze the plans and move forward with an attack.
What was once written off as a plot hole has now been retconned into a broken man’s sole attempt at redemption and saving his legacy. Galen’s clever bit of sabotage is in actuality the main driving force behind the premise of Rogue One. His act of defiance gives the Rebellion the sliver of hope they need, and Jyn, who dearly misses her father, is inspired to see the mission through so they can make a difference in the universe. It’s a new spin on a running theme that’s present in previous Star Wars films, only this time, the father is aware of his sins and makes an effort to account for them, influencing the course of his beloved daughter’s life.
At first glance, this seems like a fun nod to viewers, but it adds a substantial amount of weight to Rogue One and injects the final act of A New Hope with even more urgency. The Rebels only had one shot at destroying the Death Star, and how Galen is ultimately remembered is dependent on the Battle of Yavin’s outcome. Since Luke Skywalker blew up the weapon and helped the Alliance score a major victory, the Erso family goes down in galactic history as the unsung heroes who made the eventual downfall of the Empire possible. If the Imperials destroyed the Rebel base, Galen would have been a prominent reason why.
One of the best things about the new era of Star Wars films is that they can flesh out and build upon the pre-existing canon in exciting ways. It’s true that addressing “issues” with the earlier movies runs the risk of mucking things up, but the Lucasfilm story group has so far demonstrated a keen ability to keep everything in line so that the modern content complements what fans already know. Because of Rogue One, there’s now a noble, in-universe explanation for something that was a decades-long joke. This kind of revisionist history is appreciated.
It will be interesting to see how future anthology films alter fans’ perceptions of the original trilogy (or even the prequels). Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s young Han Solo spinoff is said to show how the smuggler won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian, which will certainly impact their scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. Again, this is a fine line for the studio to walk, and one wrong decision and derail everything, but for now they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt and continue to improve the Star Wars series.