When the first teaser photo from Rogue One was released, it hinted at something that had never been seen before in a Star Wars film. This looked like a gritty war movie – a rag-tag group of soldiers on an impossible mission. It was a stark contrast to the swashbuckling heroics that normally define Star Wars. And it certainly set the tone for the subsequent marketing for the film.
With less than three weeks to go until Rogue One is released in cinemas, there are a lot of reasons for Star Wars fans to be excited. Not only does it look like it’s going to explore a side of the franchise we’ve never seen before, but it spearheads a new direction for Lucasfilm: the first of their standalone Star Wars projects.
So here’s 10 reasons why you should be excited for Rogue One…
1. First standalone film
Rogue One marks a new direction for the Star Wars franchise. It is the first standalone film in a series of planned spin-offs, expanding the cinematic universe beyond the core saga films. Although it’s not a make-or-break moment for the franchise – Rogue One is guaranteed to do well at the box office on the strength of the Star Wars name alone – it is still an ambitious move by Disney, testing to see if Star Wars can be broadened beyond the core films.
Other film franchises that have spawned spin-off series have met with varying degrees of success. The Wolverine films never managed the critical or box office success of the X-Men films (though next year’s Logan does look promising). But, more recently, Fantastic Beasts was a superb reinvention of the Harry Potter franchise. I admit that I was sceptical about Fantastic Beasts; it was the first film in the franchise that wasn’t adapted from a book, and the lack of a pre-existing expanded universe meant that it was a gamble. But I don’t have the same concerns for Rogue One. Star Wars has always enjoyed a rich history of tie-in novels, comics, and television shows. It has one of the largest Expanded Universes of any franchise, even after Disney rebooted the canon in preparation for The Force Awakens. It feels logical that the movies are going down the same route.
2. Expanding the Universe
One of the joys of a new Star Wars film is the number of new things that it adds to the universe – new planets, aliens, ships, technology, and characters. With each film, the galaxy becomes a richer place. Rogue One is unique among Star Wars films in that it will also expand upon the background to an existing movie – namely, the events that were mentioned in the opening crawl to A New Hope.
By telling the story of how the Rebel spies managed to steal the plans to the Death Star, Rogue One will be likely to make the events of A New Hope even more significant. We’ll know how many Rebels have already sacrificed their lives just to get the plans delivered to Princess Leia. Adding this context may change the way that future generations watch A New Hope. They might come into the film with a renewed appreciation of how high the stakes have become.
3. A return to the design of the Original Trilogy
So many designs from the original trilogy have become pop culture icons – X-Wing fighters, the Millennium Falcon, Stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, AT-AT walkers, TIE fighters, and many more. Although J.J. Abrams used these designs for inspiration for The Force Awakens, Rogue One returns to where it all started. It’s a chance to explore our nostalgia for the aesthetics of the Original Trilogy and revisit the designs that became a core part of Star Wars‘s appeal.
4. The soundtrack
This is the first Star Wars soundtrack not composed by John Williams. Although it signals the end of an era, there’s a sense that the torch is being passed to the next generation. Alexandre Desplat was originally announced as composer, but the film’s re-shoots altered the production schedule and meant that Desplat was no longer available. In September, it was announced that Michael Giacchino would replace him.
Giacchino feels like the right candidate to take the helm. He has a proven record of composing scores for science fiction projects, including The Incredibles, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, John Carter, Super 8, and Doctor Strange, as well as the tv shows Lost, Alias, and Fringe. But it is his work on the Pixar film Up that inspires the most confidence – not only did he win an Academy Award for Best Original Score, but the soundtrack’s blend of aching nostalgia and rousing adventure is tonally similar to what John Williams did with Star Wars. Up also drew on the same 1930s adventure serials that inspired George Lucas.
Giacchino also has extensive experience working within an existing franchise: he has composed the score for the last three Star Trek films, as well as Jurassic World. In these cases, he has demonstrated a commendable balance between respecting the original theme music and allowing it to evolve.
With Desplat’s departure leaving Lucasfilm scrambling for a new composer, Giacchino only had four and a half weeks to compose the score. But if this sounds worrying, a quote from Giacchino about his work on Rogue One from an interview with Entertainment Weekly does put the mind at ease:
It does borrow from traditions that both John [Williams] and George Lucas borrowed from when they made the original Star Wars, you know. George was looking at Flash Gordon, the old serials, and John was looking at [Gustav] Holst and different composers along the way to get a baseline for what he wanted to communicate. There is a wonderful musical language that John put together for the original films. I wanted to honor that vernacular but still do something new with it, something that was still me in a way.
5. Moving beyond the Skywalkers
The Star Wars movies have always been about the Skywalker family. The first six films followed the fall and redemption of Anakin, while the sequel trilogy has so far seen Anakin’s grandson turn against his family and murder his father. It can’t be denied that the Skywalkers are among the galaxy’s most influential families. But who else inhabits the Star Wars universe? What does the war against the Empire look like to the common soldier?
Rogue One gives us the chance to see the Rebellion through the eyes of someone new, someone who isn’t a member of the Skywalker family. This expansion beyond the Skywalkers is critical for Lucasfilm’s plans for the future of the franchise. A standalone Han Solo film has already been announced; others will inevitably follow. If Rogue One is successful, demonstrating that Star Wars doesn’t need to be about a Skywalker to remain popular, then it opens the door to a broader franchise in the future, one that doesn’t need to keep returning to a single family.
6. The Death Star
“That’s no moon. It’s a space station.” With those ominous words, the true size and horror of the Death Star was cemented in Star Wars lore. Rogue One will tell the story of how the Rebels stole the plans to the battle station, and the trailers have already guaranteed that the Death Star will feature prominently in the film.
With the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi and Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens, audiences may have become accustomed to the idea of superweapons in Star Wars. They’ve certainly become pretty easy to destroy – just send in a few X-Wings and they’ll get the job done. Hopefully, Rogue One will serve as a reminder of the true power of the first Death Star and the threat it posed to the galaxy. Its construction represented the peak of the Empire’s military-industrial complex; its destruction heralded a turning point in the Galactic Civil War. It will be great to see this battle station on the big screen again.
7. The Origins of Rogue Squadron?
Since the title of Rogue One was revealed, fans have been debating its significance and how it will tie into the existing continuity. “Rogue” is a word that is certainly familiar in Star Wars, the name of the snowspeeder squadron that defended Echo Base in the Battle of Hoth. Fans are hoping that Rogue One will somehow explain the origins of this group.
Before Disney rebooted the Star Wars canon, Rogue Squadron was an elite starfighter unit that played a prominent part in the Expanded Universe timeline. Formed by Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles shortly after the Battle of Yavin, they participated in most of the major engagements of the Galactic Civil War. After the death of the Emperor, they played a key role in the liberation of Coruscant, the Bacta War, and the war against the Yuuzhan Vong.
The rebooted canon has yet to explore Rogue Squadron’s origins in great detail, which may mean that they are waiting to reveal the squadron’s origins in the film. In the trailers, “Rogue One” appears to be a military call-sign used by the protagonists, but it is so far unclear how this will tie in (if at all) to Rogue Squadron.
8. What does the Force mean to common people?
The protagonists of every previous Star Wars film have been strong in the Force, able to wield its power on their journey to becoming Jedi. But what does Star Wars look like when a Jedi isn’t a protagonist? What does the Force mean to the common people?
Han Solo’s description of the Force as a “hokey religion” in A New Hope provides some insight into this question, but we never quite know widespread belief in the Force is now that the Jedi have been wiped out. Have the Empire outlawed the faith?
The trailers to Rogue One make it seem as though the Force is still very much a core belief for Rebel soldiers. Does it inspire them? Motivate them? Is belief in the Force a symbol of resistance against the Empire?
We may not see Jedi in this film, but we’re likely to learn what the Force means to the wider galaxy.
9. The cast
Director Gareth Edwards has assembled a respectable cast. Unlike The Force Awakens, which could rely on franchise heavyweights like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill to draw in crowds, Rogue One will be featuring a predominantly new roster of characters (with one obvious exception… see the next point).
Felicity Jones will be leading the charge as Jyn Erso. Accompanying her on the mission to steal the Empire’s plans are Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. Forest Whitaker is lending his gravitas to the film in his role as Saw Gerrera, marking the first time that a character from The Clone Wars animated tv series has made the transition to the big screen.
On the side of the Imperials, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn looks particularly villainous in his role as Director Orson Krennic.
Reprising their roles from Revenge of the Sith are Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma and Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa.
10. Darth Vader
The saga’s most iconic villain will finally be returning to the big screen. This alone should be enough to make Rogue One worth the price of admission. Fans are hoping we’ll get to see Vader in action, taking the fight to the Rebels.
Vader’s last appearance, in the end of Revenge of the Sith, was one of the saga’s most cringe-worthy moments. Let’s hope that director Gareth Edwards restores Vader to his rightful place as the most feared badass in the galaxy.