Why Rogue One Is Actually A World War II Movie
In spirit and in tactics, Rogue One has as much in common with The Dirty Dozen as with the other films of the Star Wars canon.
BY Joe Pappalardo | Dec 25, 2016 | Film & TV
Star Wars was not born in a vacuum. Samurai flicks, sci-fi classics like Dune, adventure serials, and war movies inspired George Lucas's conception of a galaxy far, far away. The new standalone movie Rogue One owes a lot to one of those sources in particular. In its spirit and in its depiction of combat, this is a classic World War II raid movie.
*Spoilers ahead, of course.
Born to Lose
All World War II raid movies have similar structures. The team meets, bonds, faces the long-odds mission, performs feats of valor that demonstrate some sort of character development, and most die gloriously to achieve the mission's end. Rogue One has this narrative arc down to a T as its ragtag crew mounts a suicide mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. (These movies fail to realise that highly trained, highly motivated soldiers— not untrained, born-to-lose irregulars—are best able to perform high-risk missions. But let's not digress too far.)
Several critics have compared Gareth Edwards' movie to Guns of Navarone, in which a small team infiltrates the enemy and destroys Nazi guns that could sink a vital convoy. Given the unsavoury makeup of the troops of Rogue One—not soldiers but assassins, spies, smugglers, and saboteurs—a more accurate comparison could be The Dirty Dozen, in which a team of expendable reprobates performs a high risk mission to assassinate Nazi leaders and their families as they party in a castle.
But it's not just the plot line that screams World War II. Star Wars lives in a universe that has blasters, lasers, and other futuristic weapons, yet uses archaic war technology for its planes and tanks and other weapons. Rogue One has the same science fiction decorations, yet the weapons and tactics that dominate the climactic Battle of Scarif come straight from WWII—or even earlier.
Rifles and Artillery
Let's start with the infantry weapons. They are point-and-shoot, line-of-sight laser blasters. This looks pretty cool on film, but it's hard to imagine any future military would limit itself to only directed energy weapons.
The problem with line-of-sight weapons is that the enemy can get safe by hiding behind something. During World War II, troops found they could advance even under intense machine gun fire as long as they could leapfrog from one safe spot to the next. (The word "defilade" is an important one, when it comes to surviving. It means a place you can't get shot.) However, artillery and mortars proved to be deadly because they could fall on soldiers hiding behind cover.
Such indirect fire is a real infantry killer. Too bad the Empire didn't invest in any howitzers, mortars, or artillery pieces. Instead, they mount massive cannons on mechanized walkers and set them loose to shoot at soldiers from close ranges, putting that hardware and those troops at risk.
What would a truly sci-fi version of indirect fire look like? The U.S. military is not shy about researching ways to provide infantry with indirect fire options, so let's mine those for ideas. The XM-25 is a grenade launcher that can fire an explosive round programmed to detonate in the air. Just use the laser range finder to calculate the distance, input it into the weapon, and pull the trigger. The grenade explodes right above a rebel soldier hiding in a hole in the sand.
The real world also has the Non-Line of Sight Launch System, a missile inside a porta-potty-sized box that could move with troops and give them a mini-cruise missile to attack at a distance. There was even one version that would loiter above a battle and then descend like a raptor to strike when the infantry wanted it to. The program was cancelled in 2011, but the Galactic Empire presumably has deeper pockets than the Pentagon. How many Stormtroopers would have been save if Imperial commanders had sent some droids or drones to spot the enemy and then hammered them with missiles?
In fact, the entire Star Wars universe seems allergic to missiles. In Rogue One, there are no anti-aircraft missiles protecting the centralized data center (which seemingly runs on physical disks, which is either a screenwriter anachronism or a subtle statement about air-gapped, hacker-proof security.) Ground troops on both sides lack shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that could have turned the tide of the final battle.
Yes, one rebel has a single shoulder-fired anti-armor missile launcher, one of which he fires directly at at AT-AT walkers. It looked cool, but this is hardly a sci-fi weapon. When tanks became alpha predators of battlefields in World War II, militaries responded by distributing Bazookas and Pazerfausts to infantry. This proved that it doesn't take a tank to kill a tank—just a nervy infantryman with a shoulder-fired missile. FGM-148 Javelinantitank missiles and recoil-less rifles still play a prominent role on modern battlefields, with US troops using them to destroy enemy-infested buildings and bunkers more often than enemy vehicles.
There's no excuse for the Empire to equip Stormtroopers with so few indirect fire weapons. But what's even worse is that their air defenses are so poor.
Let's go along with Rogue One's logic for a second and assume that you can't track or detect ships that have jumped in and out of hyperspace, and that a fleet can materialise wherever it wants. (If so, then why not build a nice big bomb with a hyperspace drive, zoom it right next to or inside a Star Destroyer, and pop it off? Ah, Star Wars.) That would account for the reliance on energy shields to protect ground assets.
Even with that caveat, the Imperial air defenses are pathetic. Not only are the ground troops lacking shoulder-fired missiles, but there are no vehicles that can fire missiles or even laser blasters at the enemy aircraft above. Back in the real world, by World War II there were radar-directed guns protecting the skies over prime targets. These calculated the azimuth, range, and speed on oncoming planes and helped crews direct their fire. The Empire has a few massive towers mounted with a single laser cannon that seems to be built for air defense. Come on, guys. Mount a few more smaller cannons on that thing and have it fire in sweeping patterns. It'll work better, I promise.
When you have a vital asset on the ground, you can really amp up the defensive advantage—you know the enemy is coming your way. Not so, the Empire. They seem to rely on TIE fighters to engage the enemy. This makes for cool visuals that evoke the dogfighting planes of old-time war movies, but fighter-on-fighter is the least efficient way to defeat an enemy in the air. Here again, the lack of missiles and reliance on line-of-sight gunfire is more like World War II—really, World War I—than a science-fiction movie.
Rogue One shows us a rousing fight involving foolishly designed defenses and antiquated weapons. The film is getting a good reception and being recognized as a war movie that it is. However, when it comes to depicting futuristic combat, it does about as well as The Battle of the Bulge.
From: Popular Mechanics