This post will contain spoilers for Rogue One, Allegiant, and The Hunger Games
Books that have tragic events leave me the most shell-shocked. Is this a good thing?
Many people read to experience emotion, be it fear, humility, or joy. Sadness, the gut-wrenching feeling of loss, is one of the most intense emotions we can feel. Disappointment, disgust, and happiness all second sadness in intensity, memorability, and longevity.
I first learned this when I was eight. I don’t remember the title or even the content of the book, but I remember sitting on my bed, crying, while the book lay on the opposite end of the room – where it had landed after I chucked it at the wall. It was not the storyline or the characters I can remember, but the feeling of a stone in my stomach, plummeting as though off the cliff along with the character. Then the death of Rue had me holding my tears as I fought through the final chapters of The Hunger Games. It was Allegiant, however, that shocked me the most. The suddenness of Tris’s death, a character I had come to care for so strongly, destroyed me. Enough that there was an Allegiant support group book club meeting arranged at my school. Needless to say, we were devoted.
I saw Rogue One this weekend. There was an interesting plot, great characters, and possibly the best droid of the franchise, but the ending left me shook. I’m pretty sure I just sat there, saying “what the fuck” over and over for about 20 minutes. Here’s the thing with prequels: I spend so much time theorizing about the various characters and how they could be connected to or possibly the same as those in the originals. And Rogue One, due to the fame of the franchises’ plot twists, was no different. So, to end it with such sudden annihilation of all the characters you had come to love, left me, along with many others, shocked. We sat, blinking in the lights of the theatre and remembering that the world we just invested ourselves into was not the one we live in.
I am a wholehearted believer in major character death as a writing tool, though I know many aren’t. And yes, when used for shock value, it adds nothing to the story. It comes down to the character and situation. Rue died simply because she was too good, too kind, too gentle to exist in the games. Her death motivated Katniss through the end of the trilogy, it was the spark of the rebellion. Just as Rue marked the beginning, Prim marked the end of the war; she was everything good the new world had the potential for, Katniss’ motivation to continue. After her death, Katniss, like the rebellion, was finished. Her death was the loss of the innocence of a generation, the lives lost and futures destroyed. It was a reminder that the “greater good” wasn’t all that great. Tris died being herself in a world that forced her to fit into a box. Her death showed her at her bravest, just as Four knew from the beginning – when she was being selfless. It, in itself, was an act of rebellion against every form of control she lived under, whether that be her parents, the abnegation, the dauntless, the factionless, or those outside the city. In Rogue One, the characters died together but separated. This was fitting with the reality of the story. Each was an individual, banded together through necessity. Of course, some bonds formed, as were represented in the final moments of their lives. However, nobody truly attached to the people that surrounded by, but they were united by a single belief. The end, with the death of them all, was neat: no loose ends, fitting to episode IV. It left the characters already entrenched in the stories we know alive and gave them the beginning of their chapter of the story. It was well executed, mind the pun.