Rogue One stands out as a characteristically different movie than any other Star Wars film to date. Not only are we introduced to the ways in which the Imperial military developed their destructive weapons, the film visualizes the impact of war in a visceral manner that few science fiction movies ever do.
In one of the movie’s final scenes, the heroes hold hands on the beach while waiting for the laser weapon’s approaching fireball and shockwave to vaporize them, much like the mushroom clouds, fireballs, and shockwaves from a real-world nuclear weapon. This linkage is exploited to great effect by Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, who also helmed the 2014 reboot of the radiation imbued Godzilla. Edwards believes a good horror story is “best served when there is guilt.” He said, “Godzilla is here because of our sins and our misuse of the power of nature, specifically using nuclear weapons and power.”
Given how the Death Star’s weapon is portrayed on the big screen in Rogue One, it is no surprise that Edwards was a digital artist on the 2005 BBC docudrama Hiroshima, which featured historical reenactments and computer-generated imagery of the 1945 atomic bombings.
In our own history, the development, use, and symbolic threat of the atomic bomb shares a few of the Death Star’s historical characteristics. Atomic bombs are a really stupid idea; not because they’re so hard to build and easy to thwart, but because the destruction they wreak is so indiscriminate and final. Atomic bombs are fearsome, but decades under their shadow has tempered that fearsomeness in our day to day lives. As individuals there’s nothing we can do to survive or stop a nuclear exchange, so any worry that we carry eventually exhausts itself. Even when you take into account the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Watch the scene where the Death Star was used here: