It was all the way back in February 2013 that Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that the company was developing a secondary series of Star Wars films, to be released in the “off” years in between the sequel installments. Since then, information about the first of these spinoffs has only trickled out in precious few instances; apparently, J.J. Abrams, who directed Episode VII: The Force Awakens and (in)famously kept nearly the entire production under strict lock and key, has rubbed off on Lucasfilm and its approach to all these new Star Wars.
Today, however, that all started to change.
With the first trailer releasing just this morning, audiences can finally get their first official – but still fleeting – taste of what Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will have to offer on December 16. Just to put that into context for you, we’ve developed this handy-dandy guide to Everything We Know So Far about Rogue One.
(And don’t worry – there’s no spoilers in this article. Well, until the very last point, which gets into some unconfirmed rumors, so we went ahead and clearly marked it as spoilers. You can read on in peace and know that the Force will be with you – always.)
What is a “Star Wars Story”?
Originally introduced as “Star Wars Anthology” films, these side-story entries have absolutely nothing to do with the main movie series and its overriding concern with how the various generations of the Skywalker family dominate galactic wars and politics.
While that may seem rather limiting at first blush, it’s actually quite a freeing premise. For Rogue One specifically, director Gareth Edwards is using this “no Jedi” rule to delve more deeply into the military aspects of the Star Wars mythos; word from the cast and crew has repeatedly said that the movie is using such war flicks as Saving Private Ryan as its guiding light instead of the Buck Rogers serials from the 1930s and ‘40s that inspired the original Star Wars. Expect a darker, more somber take on the material, with rougher characters and a bigger emphasis on action – and, even, martial arts! – than ever before. (And, yes, you can expect a far different tone in the next two Star Wars anthology films – set to debut in 2018 and 2020, respectively – as well.)
Rogue One is, technically, a prequel, being set shortly before 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope. Officially, the film follows a group of people who have been hired by the fledgling Rebel Alliance to steal the Death Star plans from the evil Galactic Empire; as we already know, their mission proves successful, and it ultimately allows Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to destroy the massive space station at the end of Hope.
Unofficially, we’ve been hearing rumors and inside leaks for the past year or two that various characters from both the original trilogy and the prequels will be popping up, helping to integrate this side story into the overriding canon. This has already at least partially come true, as today’s trailer reveals that Mon Mothma plays at least a small-but-important role. (There is also speculation that the new television series, Star Wars: Rebels, will somehow tie into Rogue One’s story – eventually – but this is a far more tenuous possibility.)
The cast and crew
Under the watchful eye of director Gareth Edwards, who got his claim to fame with 2014’s Godzilla, Rogue One is striving very hard to provide a variation on the Star Wars theme that no one has seen before. This means having fresh blood in the form of writer Gary Whitta – and his replacement, Chris Weitz – and cinematographer Greig Fraser. The most eyebrow-raising crew member, however, has to be composer Alexandre Desplat – which means, yes, this will be the very first Star Wars film to not have its score written by the legendary John Williams. (There is a familiar presence in Kathleen Kennedy, the new head of Lucasfilm, who continues to be the shepherding producer, just as with the sequel trilogy and the new television outings).
The cast, meanwhile, is surprisingly diverse for a SW entry, with a huge emphasis on actors of color – a female protagonist carries the film, while Asian- and African-Americans round out the rest. While most roles and names are still being kept secret, we do know that Felicity Jones plays the lead, Jyn Erso; Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi Rook; and Alan Tudyk portrays a droid of some sort (probably in a motion-captured performance). Other actors include Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Jian Wen, and Ben Mendelsohn, who is the big bad guy of the picture, a white-cape-clad Imperial commander who oozes menace in a way that is impressive for a non-Sith Lord.
Thanks to a slip-of-the-finger Instagram post by actor Donnie Yen last summer, we’ve known for a while that brand-new stormtrooper designs will be coming in the spinoff film. This was confirmed in yesterday’s teaser-for-the-trailer, which showed a long-faced black stormtrooper turning to stare directly into the camera.
The helmet on the right of Yen’s photo looks like a scout trooper from 1983’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, possibly with coloring designed for desert use (and why not? Six of the seven main episodes have already featured one desert planet or another), while the design on the left was featured in the trailer sneak peek. Rumors point to at least one of these brand-new stormtroopers being part of an elite Imperial group, which could potentially go a long way to explaining just why these never-before-seen designs have never popped up in the three decades of story time since Rogue One and A New Hope.
Although only roughly a minute-and-a-half long, the Rogue One trailer from this morning treats us to several locations that will be depicted in the film, mixing brand-new settings with, intriguingly enough, familiar locales.
First and foremost is the Rebel Alliance’s base on the jungle planet of Yavin IV, which was featured in the climax of A New Hope – but almost exclusively from the inside (and only barely then, as the hangar bay set, with its generic black backdrop, attests to), since director George Lucas didn’t have the budget to adequately portray the ancient ruins the Rebels had holed up in. Rogue One looks to correct this, showing much more of the secret hideout in lavish detail, although still remaining remarkably faithful to the location’s original depiction in ’77.
Another returning favorite is the first Death Star, whose sets are similarly more expansive but amazingly consistent, and a familiar-looking Dark Lord of the Sith-esque chamber which houses Emperor Palpatine’s Royal Guard and a mysterious dark-robbed figure (more on this in a moment).
A tropical planet, replete with sandy beaches and palm trees, stands in as the obligatory new environment that each and every Star Wars film is supposed to add to the mythos (and which The Force Awakens came up a bit dry in), and this looks to be a major component of Rogue One: it is the setting of a battle sequence (which includes several Imperial Walkers ripping the Rebellion’s forces to shreds) and will more than likely be where viewers will get to see at least a few of the new stormtrooper designs in action.
Finally, there is a possibility that Tatooine, the home planet of both Anakin and Luke Skywalker, will also make a return appearance (which would be for the sixth time!), but this is merely a guess at this point; while a number of shots include familiar design elements, they are just different enough to either be a new city on the desert planet or a new-but-somewhat-repetitive setting (much like what Episode VII did with Jakku).
Although we’ve already gone over how divergent Rogue One’s tone and tenor will be from the seven previous Star Wars movies, it’s worth doubling back on the subject, highlighting specific shots from the trailer.
Jyn, our new protagonist, is clearly meant to be something of an anti-hero, a troubled youth who apparently has problems with all authority, not just the Imperial persuasion. (And the fact that the teaser ends with a shot of her in full Imperial garb, with Forest Whitaker’s voiceover implying that she has betrayed the Rebels, certainly plays up this dubious quality of her character.) This is an intriguing choice for Kathleen Kennedy and her filmmaking partners to take, as the mandate of having a Skywalker be the main character of the main installments places severe restrictions on characterization.
And Jyn helps to fill the new action quotient of the film, as well – she is an effective fighter, capable of taking down an entire squad of stormtroopers singlehandedly. (That these scenes are also far more brutal than what’s been depicted in the otherwise largely sanitized Star Wars episodes also speaks volumes about Gareth Edwards’s intent.)
What is a bit of a surprise in this department is the inclusion of martial arts in the picture (though, perhaps, this shouldn’t be too surprising, given the inclusion of Ip Man’s Donnie Yen in the cast). The staff-added fight scene has just enough flavor to make it immediately stand out in the preview, but its less-polished, more-down-and-dirty style still keeps it largely consistent with Rogue One’s voice. It’ll be interesting to see just how far this gets pushed in the final product – can we possibly be looking at some slightly toned-down wire-fu (which wouldn’t be too far removed from the Jedi’s theatrics)?
A few fleeting narrative glimpses are included in the first Rogue One trailer, and while they don’t provide too much in the way of concrete information, they do serve to adequately whet fanboys’ appetites and to tease of greater mythological connections to the main series’s continuity.
The inclusion of Mon Mothma is a major development; although first established, chronologically, in 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the character doesn’t pop back up again – despite her legendary stature as one of the Rebel Alliance’s top leaders – until Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. (By the time we get to Episode VII: The Force Awakens, she’s the first supreme chancellor of the New Republic.) Rogue One will go a long way to filling in that particular narrative blank.
Moving over to the Dark Side of the equation, the quick shot of the finishing touches being put on the Death Star is a nice move, although it does mean that the space station really did take all 19 years between the prequel and original trilogies in order to construct (one might assume that the Empire took several months to a few years to test the Death Star’s various capabilities before deploying it against Alderaan in A New Hope, given its revolutionary design and all).
No Jedi, but maybe Sith?
One of the more striking beats is the inclusion of what is unmistakably a Sith presence in the film: dramatic, industrial lighting; Royal Guards; and a mysterious, dark-robed figure. Rumors have been swirling about a cameo in this regard, and the presence of a Bacta tank (which is used to heal severe wounds, as what happened with Luke in 1980’s Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back) just may seal this.
But who is the figure in the foreground? His silhouette is all wrong to be Darth Vader paying Darth Sidious a visit, but perhaps this could be a major piece of retconning going on here: maybe the mysterious visitor is a member of the Knights of Ren, the organization that Kylo Ren is the leader of in Force Awakens but whose backstory has yet to be divulged, even in the Expanded Universe’s assortment of books, comics, and short stories. There was one point, after all, in which the Lucasfilm and Disney brass were claiming that they were taking a shared cinematic universe approach to these “anthology” films – and this would certainly fit the bill.
The Journey to Rogue One
Late last year, Lucasfilm counted down the final days to Episode VII’s premiere by unfurling the “Journey to The Force Awakens” publishing program, which saw the release of five novels, one comic book series, five short stories, and two video games, all designed to fill in the 30-year gap in between the original and sequel trilogies (which, it transpired, was a good thing, given just how precious little backstory was included in Force Awakens). The company has already announced that a similar tack will be taken in the final weeks before Rogue One’s debut, but the scope of these pre-release materials seems to be drastically smaller.
What’s been unveiled thus far? Not much, unfortunately – a three-issue comic book series, a one-shot graphic novel, and a prequel-to-the-prequel novel, cleverly called Star Wars: Catalyst – A Rogue One Story. These will start to drop in October, some two months before the film.
And in case this weren’t enough, Disney has also announced that a second Force Friday, in which a whole slew of brand-new Star Wars merchandise is put out on store shelves for the first time, is also in the works. (Rumors point to mostly toys being made available here, seeing as how the “Journey to Rogue One” story materials will ship a month later.) Expect to wait in line at midnight all over again on September 30.
Other rumored cameos
Okay, this is where we get into unconfirmed rumors, an area which some may consider spoilers. Caveat lector!
The biggest piece of information that has been floating around the rumor mill for at least the past year or two is the presence of everybody’s favorite Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. What role, exactly, he will play in the movie is unknown, but it would seem to be a relatively minor – though certainly dramatic – one. If handled properly, it could easily be one of the highlights of Rogue One.
(And lest you roll your eyes at unsubstantiated rumors, the sources who have been consistently reporting this information just had the vast majority of their other scoops confirmed by this morning’s trailer, giving them an extremely strong batting average thus far.)
The other oft-mentioned cameo – though one that doesn’t have anywhere near as many sources corroborating its legitimacy – is one young Han Solo, who would be portrayed by the same actor who will be playing the character in the second “anthology” installment, Han Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s far less obvious how the brash smuggler would fit into the story, but it would certainly make for one of the biggest pieces of cross-marketing that Disney could ever hope to achieve. Consider it a strong possibility.
Did we miss a salient plot point? Do you have any theories as to how all these disparate elements will fuse together in the finished film? Be sure to sound off in the comments section.