Sequels are easy. Just continue the story you told before, make the same characters a bit more dynamic, exaggerate the situation to make it more dire, and broaden the action to include a world that could potentially set up an even bigger next chapter. But what about spin-offs? A lot of the easily reductive logic that goes into sequels goes into spin-offs too, with a helping of new details to go with enough of the familiar elements to remind viewers of the original. But such typical constructions do not apply to a film in a franchise as massive — and scrutinized — as Star Wars. It’s in a whole different spectrum.
Which begs the question: how much of a Star Wars movie will Rogue One actually be?
When the film was first announced, it was officially described as “the first film in a unique series of big-screen adventures that explores the characters and events beyond the core Star Wars saga.” The statement is just vague enough to explain how the movie will generally fit within the new Disney-fied structure that Lucasfilm is building. With the Expanded Universe now deemed mere non-canonical “Legends,” only officially sanctioned stories like the regular episodes or shows like Star Wars Rebels will count.
But Rogue One presents a very different challenge than just merely using the rich and textured mythology of the Star Wars saga for its own official story. As Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in a follow up announcement that lauded the new film’s cast and crew, “Rogue One takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and will be a departure from the saga films, though it will still have elements that are familiar to the Star Wars universe.”
It’s different, but the same. Easy enough. Rogue One will be the first big-screen Star Wars movie with a plot that doesn’t focus on the Skywalker clan. Thankfully, the heist movie plot they’ve established, which sees outlaw Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) joining up with the Rebel Alliance and leading a group of similar reprobates to steal the plans for the original Death Star is recognizable enough to get Star Wars fans salivating.
There are references that instantly tie it to the originals. There’s the A New Hope-era stormtroopers, but it’ll also have its own different kinds thrown in there too. There’s also the Nazi-like uniformed Empire bad guys we know — Ben Mendelsohn included. There are even rumors that Darth Vader will show up at some point to inevitably Force choke a hapless member of Jones’ group. Hell, the biggest thing about Rogue One is the Death Star for crying out loud. So it’ll look like a Star Wars movie at least.
But beyond the plot, absolutely kickass cast, and superficial details there are plenty of questions left to answer.
Will this Star Wars movie have the opening crawl that was so vital to the Saturday morning serial vibe that the main series established? There hasn’t been official word on this yet, and we’ll most likely have to gladly fork over cash on opening night to find out. On one hand, it’s an easy and cohesive way to link Rogue One with the main saga, and it’d only be appropriate because Rogue Ones plot came from a few select lines from the opening crawl of A New Hope. But on the other hand, Kennedy and co. want this to be distinct from its source material, so it would make perfect sense to do something different, like maybe even trying its own different kind of textual opening.
Will the rousing and iconic music be the same? John Williams, the only Star Wars composer so far, isn’t returning, and French composer Alexandre Desplat is stepping in to fill his considerable shoes. He’s more than capable, penning the music of everything from Argo, to Moonrise Kingdom, to Rogue One director Gareth Edwards’ previous film, Godzilla. If the trailer is any indication, the traditional musical cues will be there, so if Vader shows up you better believe the “Imperial March” will be blaring in the cinema speakers.
The biggest hope is that the rousing adventure of the Star Wars saga is the same. The iconic space opera film grammar, with its splashy visuals and exaggerated characterization that caught people off guarding in 1977 and has kept audiences coming back since then needs to be there, even if it’s a completely different story. The hope is that Rogue One doesn’t go too rogue.