Warning: This article contains spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Proceed at your own risk.
Even though he fits the mold of Imperial characters, Director Orson Krennic sets himself apart from other Star Wars villains. As the main antagonist of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Krennic is a true Machiavellian character. He has an overdose of ambition, which both helps and hinders his career. Actor Ben Mendelsohn, who won an Emmy for his starring role in Netflix’s Bloodline, brings a terrific amount of vigor to the character.
Officers don’t survive in the Galactic Empire without some measure of egocentricity. That’s the only way Imperial officers rise through the ranks. But Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Krennic offers insight into the tenuous nature of the Empire’s power structure. Here’s why Krennic is the first real Machiavellian villain of Star Wars.
Krennic isn't anyone special. He doesn't have the scientific acumen to build the Death Star's superlaser on his own. Nor does he have job security, for he's far from the top of the Imperial chain of command. However, he knows how to get what he wants, and he has the ambition to back it up. The prequel novel Catalyst provides an excellent window into Krennic's mind, as he exploits Galen Erso's family over a period of three years. Krennic is a master manipulator, which is the character's leading trait.
Yet, from the get-go in Rogue One, Krennic's career is at stake. After the Death Star successfully levels Jedha City, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin seizes overall command of the Death Star. When Krennic disputes Tarkin's self-promotion, Tarkin cites the security breach surrounding Galen Erso (specifically, the defection of Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook) as evidence of Krennic's ineptitude. Consequently, Krennic spends the rest of Rogue One trying to stop his plans from unraveling.
One of Krennic's best moments is, unfortunately, also one of the film's blunders. When Krennic reports on his lack of progress to Darth Vader, Vader gives him a Force choke as a parting gift. As Krennic gasps for breath, Vader intones, "Don't choke on your own ambition." The line gets the point across, but Vader isn't the kind of character who should be making such heavy-handed puns. In all honesty, that line might go down as one of Vader's worst lines of dialogue. Nevertheless, Vader's parting words haunt Krennic, for paradoxically, his ambition is the biggest threat to his success.
The end of Rogue One is what brings Krennic's Machiavellian nature full circle. When the climactic Battle of Scarif breaks out, Krennic is desperately trying to prevent the Death Star plans from falling into the Rebel Alliance's hands. He fails spectacularly, with Jyn Erso transmitting the data packet to the Rebel Fleet. And as Krennic lays atop Scarif's Citadel, suffering from a blaster wound from Captain Cassian Andor, Krennic sees the Death Star take aim at him. Tarkin has deemed the Battle of Scarif as a lost cause, and he has the Death Star vaporize Krennic and the entire Imperial compound.
Admittedly, Vader's pun is right, for Krennic chokes on his ambition. Krennic focused too much on furthering his career, not realizing that he had become expendable to the Empire. Whereas Galen Erso exploits his unique importance as the Death Star's designer by including that fatal exhaust port, Krennic fails to preserve his future. Instead, he dies from the very weapon that should have propelled his career forward. It's a poetic moment, for it highlights the ephemeral nature of ambition.
Krennic's downfall makes it clear that ambition is useless without proper action. Krennic's value to the Empire mostly stems from his closeness to Galen Erso, not from any of Krennic's own achievements. This mistake is what makes Krennic a Machiavellian character: He advances his career by preying upon the accomplishments of others. Hopefully, future Star Wars stories will take note of Krennic's unique appeal as a Machiavellian villain.