Star Wars: Rogue One opens in theatres December 16, 2016, and, for good or bad, will usher in a whole new era of Star Wars stories. Director Gareth Edwards’ film will become the first theatrical anthology film to bear the Star Wars title, and will focus on a group of Rebels conspiring to steal the plans to the Death Star. As a “midquel”—a sequel taking place within the time frame of existing movies—it will help bridge the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and feature appearances from beloved Star Wars characters including Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Darth Vader!
If your pulse just quickened reading that last sentence, perhaps a bit of preparation is in order before seeing Rogue One. Said prep work will help refresh the mind on the Star Wars galaxy both and provide some useful context for the innovations Rogue One will make in Star Wars storytelling. Checking out a few Star Wars imitators will help illustrate just how Star Wars has evolved within the popular consciousness.
Here are our 15 Ways to Prepare for Star Wars: Rogue One!
15. Revisit Star Wars Episodes I-VII
Start with the obvious. Rogue One may be an anthology film with only incidental connections to the family saga of the Star Wars episodes, but because it is the first of its kind—and because it is still a Star Wars movie—revisit the basics. Watch the originals in 3-D or 2-D, Special Edition, theatrical archive, or De-Specialized form. Doubting you can make it through the Jar-Jarring of Phantom Menace or the pseudo-religious hokum of Empire? Try watching a fan edit! Fans with a lot of extra time on their hands have cobbled together their “versions” of the films, often omitting whole characters, restructuring plot points, or emphasizing the role of one character over another. Though fascinating to watch, fan edits often, however, reek of amateurish editing skills and reactionary storytelling, so prepare for some rough edges.
A Star Wars marathon should inform even the most casual viewer of the dynamics of the universe. A repeat viewing will also help recall the names of various places, alien races, etc. which could come into play in Rogue One as well.
14. The Ewok Movies
Ewok haters, begone! Yes, they look like teddy bears, speak in a weird language, and use slingshots instead of blasters, but the Ewoks are still cool! Not many younger Star Wars fans, however, remember the pair of Ewok TV movies from the mid-’80s. In a sense, they are the original anthology films of the Star Wars franchise.
For the uninitiated, George Lucas commissioned the Ewok telefilms as a way to keep the Star Wars franchise moving. Post-Return of the Jedi, the public seemed to lose interest. With the original trilogy all wrapped up, merchandise sales slumped, and it looked like darker sci-fi films like Aliens or The Fly would dominate cinemas well into the future. The Ewoks had proven popular with kids though, and so Lucas produced two big-budget movies about the Ewoks meeting human children, which further explored some of the more magical elements of the Star Wars universe. While not as epic or adult as the original trilogy, the Ewok movies do have their share of fun action and some great effects by ILM. Watching the Ewok movies will give viewers a sense of a non-Force centric Star Wars story, a broader sense of the galaxy, and some good nostalgia to boot.
13. The Droids TV series
Even more obscure than the Ewok movies, Droids ran for a single season in 1985 and followed the adventures of C3PO and R2-D2 before they came into the possession of Princess Leia. Anthony Daniels returned to voice the golden protocol droid, and noted animation studio Nelvana produced the show. Droids also became the pet project of Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, so naturally all the sound effects are first rate, and R2-D2 still has his full range of emotional beeps. Burtt would also pen several episodes, as would future DCAU scion Paul Dini.
Though often lumped in with the Ewoks animated series, Droids has a much more mature tone and Return of the Jedi-era feel. Characters like Boba Fett and IG-88 turn up, as do a number of locations and concepts that would later show up in the prequel trilogy, like the Boonta Eve racetrack and battle droids. One character has the conspicuous name of Kybo Ren, which also might have hinted at where the sequel trilogy would head. While not as great as Clone Wars or Rebels, Droids nonetheless should be essential for Star Wars fans. Though never officially released on DVD, fans can find the show tucked away in various corners of the internet.
12. The Last Starfighter
Plenty of movies tried to become the next Star Wars, even after the original trilogy had ended. One such movie: The Last Starfighter, which tried to tap into the Star Wars audience with a bit of science fiction pulp combined with the ever-popular arcade gaming culture. The movie follows the adventures of a teenager who gets recruited by a space-pilot corps to fight in a galactic war. Veteran actor Robert Preston plays the Obi-Wan/mentor role, with a twinkle in his eye and tongue-in-cheek charm. The film also features some very early computer effects to depict the titular vehicles.
While campy, especially in a modern context, The Last Starfighter nevertheless has a strong cult following. The effects don’t hold up well, but the ’80s-type look of the film and effects techniques do have a certain nostalgic fun to them. Preston gives his final performance—and a very entertaining one at that—in the film, all of which make it worth watching at least once. If nothing else, the movie will prep Star Wars die-hards for a big screen outing with more advanced craftsmanship!
11. Battle Beyond the Stars
Also known as another Star Wars impostor, Roger Corman produced this weird Star Wars wannabe in 1980 to play opposite The Empire Strikes Back. Though a B-movie in just about every sense, the film does feature some pretty bright up-and-comers that elevate it to fun entertainment: James Cameron did the special effects, James Horner wrote the score, and future Oscar nominee John Sayles penned the script. Sayles took some inspiration from George Lucas, in that he also based his script on an acclaimed Japanese film (more on that in a moment), Seven Samurai, transplanting the action to space.
A despotic warlord threatens the existence of a small planet, leading a teenage hero to take to the stars in search of help. Richard Thomas of The Waltons plays the lead, piloting a ship that looks like a pair of giant breasts (seriously) on a series of misadventures as he tries to gather together a planetary defense force.
Cheap and goofy, but somehow always watchable, Battle Beyond the Stars captures the glimmers of how Star Wars changed filmmaking and the pop culture zeitgeist. Much like The Last Starfighter, even Star Wars fans who hate it will at least find their appetites whet for the real thing!
10. The Hidden Fortress
Though the The Hidden Forest is well-known among cinephiles, general Star Wars fans may not realize that George Lucas borrowed the story for Star Wars from one of his own cinematic heroes: Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress features just about every beat of Star Wars: Rebels, retired generals, bumbling servants, episodic storytelling, and some impressive action sequences. It also happens to be a great film in its own right.
Two bickering servants find themselves embroiled in a power struggle between two clans: the ruthless Yamana, and the defeated Akizuki. The servants escape slavery by joining with a reclusive general and princess, as they try to smuggle treasure to a hidden base. There, the Akizuki clan hopes to rebuild, and free the land from the evil of the Yamana.
Sound roughly familiar? Thought so! The Hidden Fortress provides an intriguing take on the Star Wars framework, and features a wonderful performance from Toshiro Mifune as General Makabe, the Obi-Wan type character. Bold and timeless, The Hidden Fortress makes for a great movie viewing experience, especially for Star Wars fans.
9. The Black Hole
Oh, Disney! The company tried so many times to get a foothold in the sci-fi market, both in the latter-day (Tron: Legacy) and, of course, just after Star Wars became a runaway hit. Neither attempt succeeded, so the company just decided to buy Star Wars outright with the acquisition of LucasFilm.
That doesn’t make the company’s attempts to get in on the sci-fi biz uninteresting. In particular, one early attempt stands out from the others: The Black Hole. The story follows a group of astronauts who discover a long-lost spaceship hovering near a black hole. When they go aboard to explore it, they discover a half-mad scientist and android crew. But nothing is as it seems (cue diabolical music)…
The Black Hole is an odd movie. Though it teems with some interesting concepts (time travel, religion in space), it also suffers from lame attempts to copy Star Wars, like giving one character ESP that allows her to communicate with a robot. Though the movie features some incredible effects, others are downright ridiculous, like said robot obviously floating on piano wires or messy process shots. Still, lovers of the pulpy elements of Star Wars should find plenty to interest them here.
8. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
What Star Wars watch list would be complete without a Star Trek entry? Rather than the watered-down Star Wars-esque Star Trek reboot from 2009 to prep for Rogue One, why not visit one of Trek’s better entries: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Early press for Rogue One refers to it as a “heist” movie, since the stolen Death Star plans become the object of interest for all the characters. The Undiscovered Country is less a heist than a mystery, though it does have enough conspiracy and political intrigue to warrant its inclusion here. Not as emotionally draining as The Wrath of Khan, nor as goofy as The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country has a great mix of action, humor and philosophical musing. One of the best Trek movies, it provides a great lead-in for the Next Generation cast, in much the same way that Rogue One will bridge some of the gaps between the prequel trilogy and original trilogy.
7. Masters of the Universe
This would-be Star Wars also-ran still has a cult following thanks to its corresponding toy line, and a fine cast that manages to elevate it beyond B-movie hokum. Masters of the Universe, of course, debuts the popular character He-Man in live action and continues to follow his never-ending battle with the evil warlord, Skeletor. In this incarnation, Masters of the Universe borrows more from Star Wars than its own animated series, replacing Skeletor’s robot henchmen with stormtrooper-like armies and punctuating fight scenes with blaster fire.
Produced by low-budget schlock studio Cannon Films, Masters of the Universe featured Courtney Cox’s first film role, as well as sci-fi staples Dolph Lundgren, Meg Foster, and Robert Duncan McNeil. The real star turn, though, comes from Oscar nominee Frank Langella as Skeletor. Langella relishes the role’s wickedness enough to scare the bejesus out of Emperor Palpatine. Clumsy and obviously low-budget, Masters of the Universe nevertheless has enough going for it to make it an interesting watch… at least for Star Wars fans needing a good palate cleanser.
6. Ocean’s Eleven
Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the classic Rat Pack film became a mammoth success on its own, enough to spawn two sequels with an-ever expanding all-star cast. Said cast alone offers a good enough reason to watch the movie. How many other films boast the likes of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and Don Cheadle onscreen together?
The foremost reason for including Ocean’s Eleven as Rogue One prep is that it’s one of the best heist movies of all time. The plot of Ocean’s Eleven follows Clooney’s Danny Ocean and Pitt’s Rusty Ryan as they try to steal $150 million from a Las Vegas casino vault. Of course, there are a litany of obstacles to stealing from a Vegas casino, so Ocean & Ryan assemble a rag-tag band of thieves, technicians and con-men to get their hands on the cash.
It’s too early to know for sure, but we’re betting that Rogue One will have a similar, ensemble dynamic and more than a few close calls as the Rebel spies try to pilfer the Death Star plans. If every other entry here serves as a primer to the Star Wars universe, Ocean’s Eleven prepares viewers for the kind of story they’ll encounter in Rogue One.
5. Play Dark Forces
Star Wars has a long legacy of great video games dating all the way back to the Atari 2600 days. For better or worse, they’ve become part of the Star Wars phenomenon, offering their own adventures– some with favorite characters, others with new roles that invite players to inject a bit of themselves. Given that Rogue One is set just before the events of the original 1977 movie, perhaps a bit of nostalgia is in order.
For gaming pleasure, we recommend Dark Forces, the first first-person shooter game developed with the Star Wars branding. Much like other ’90s games—Doom, Duke Nukem—Dark Forces lets players select from a variety of iconic Star Wars weaponry, and a few new toys, to better blast stormtroopers. Dark Forces also makes for a logical choice since the main character, Kyle Katarn, actually steals the Death Star plans in the first mission of the game!
Dark Forces is probably the closest thing to a Rogue One game available at the moment and, given that the movie occurs just before the original trilogy, the nostalgia factor only adds to the experience. The Force Awakens suffered from an overindulgence of nostalgia in lieu of story, but because Rogue One takes place in the timeline of the original trilogy, a hearty helping of retro fits well!
4. Season 2 of Rebels
In case any Star Wars fans have been living in a cave on Hoth for the past couple years, just to recap, there is one TV show they need to watch: Rebels.
Otherwise known as the animated Star Wars-Disney series, Rebels follows a group of bandits as they help start the Rebel Alliance after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Popular characters from both the prequel and original trilogies pop up now and then, as do fan-favorites from the Clone Wars animated series. Given that Rebels was also the first production by Disney after acquisition of the Star Wars license, it also portends the direction the studio will take the franchise, as well as the new, official canon for the series. As if those didn’t offer reason enough to watch, here’s another: James Earl Jones.
Yes, Disney, to its credit, has thrown some good money at Rebels, and just as major actors from the movies will pop up in subsequent outings, the same holds true for Rebels. Season 2 should interest fans, since Darth Vader becomes a recurring character on the show, voiced once again by the legendary James Earl Jones. Season 2 also ties together some loose ends from the Clone Wars TV series as well, with some major plot developments. On that note…
3. Season 6 of Clone Wars
Clone Wars took a couple seasons to hit its stride, and while some fans protest the inclusion of any Star Wars media post-Empire Strikes Back, Clone Wars offers some great prequel-era adventures. As Count Dooku fans the flames of the Clone Wars, the Jedi Order joins forces with the Republic Armies to combat Separatist incursions across the galaxy. In the midst of it all, Anakin Skywalker begins to come unraveled, edging ever closer to evil…
Season 6 of Clone Wars represents the last of the old-school LucasFilm stories, though Disney has made a point to say the final season remains in canon. Said season focuses on Anakin, as well as supporting characters like Mace Windu and Padme as they fight to keep the Republic intact. In Season 6, Yoda becomes the standout character, as he travels the galaxy to discover the origins of the Force and communicate with a long-dead Qui-Gon Jinn. That Yoda himself feels the temptation of the Dark Side should make even a casual Star Wars fan curious!
It bears mentioning that Clone Wars season 5 also introduces viewers to Saw Gerrera, an Onderan rebel who is portrayed by Forest Whittaker in Rogue One. This makes Gerrera the first animated character in the Star Wars universe to transition to a live-action film, so season 5 might be worth a look too!
2. Read Tarkin
Star Wars books had long been a cottage industry of their own before the Disney-LucasFilm buyout nullified the events of dozens of novels. The company has since tried to resuscitate the medium, publishing new canonical novels to help explain the direction of their films. The first, Tarkin, focuses on the eponymous character, Grand Moff Tarkin, and his rise to prominence as an Imperial weapons expert. For those keeping track, Tarkin also introduces the first confirmed gay character to Star Wars lore.
Tarkin also further explores the intriguing relationship between the Grand Moff and Darth Vader. Tarkin, for one, becomes one of the few people to suspect that Darth Vader is actually the reborn Anakin Skywalker, and the book reveals Tarkin’s reasons for not making the knowledge public. Tarkin also further illustrates the conversion from democracy to the autocratic Empire.
1. Godzilla 2014
The announcement that Gareth Edwards would direct Rogue One excited cinephiles as to the possibilities of what Edwards could bring to the Star Wars universe. The acclaimed filmmaker behind the indie hit Monsters, Edwards most recently had a hit with the 2014 Godzilla reboot. Edwards’ approach to the material deserves note: rather than cast movie heartthrobs, megastars, or action heroes, Edwards decided to focus on integrating as many great character actors as he could into the story. Granted, Godzilla does feature Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson in the predictable roles of soldier and his tough wife, but their roles pale in comparison to the characters inhabited by great actors like Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins.
Godzilla could have easily collapsed into overproduced dreck masquerading as a blockbuster. For proof, check out decidedly Hollywood filmmaker Roland Emmerich’s 1998 travesty… or better yet, don’t. Instead, check out the 2014 Hollywood version, and admire Edwards’ use of his cast, the thoughtful, environmentalist underpinnings he gives the story, or the incredible suspense that builds up to the first time the audience sees the titular lizard. Watching Godzilla will only give Star Wars fans that same joyous anticipation for Rogue One.
Did we miss your favorite way to prepare? Tell us in the comments!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.