As J.J. Abrams continues post-production work on this December's Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm is already in the midst of principal photography on the next film of their massive franchise. In December 2016, Disney will release the first "Star Wars Story" standalone film - Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The studio is aiming to blend multiple genres with these spinoff films (in contrast to the general space adventure vibe of the main episodic saga), and Rogue One will be striving to achieve the tone of a war drama. That is readily apparent in a new batch of leaked set photos, which hint at some kind of major battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire.
TMZ posted a gallery of images, which seem to be taken from the same location the previous wave of Rogue One set photos depicted. Once again, we're seeing the effects of a beach-front conflict on a planet that is not immediately familiar to viewers of the existing Star Wars live action films.
What is apparent, however, is that there's a great deal of widespread destruction wherever this fight takes place. A majority of the pictures feature what appears to be a troop transport (or a different vehicle) that hardly had a happy landing to its destination. That there seem to be the corpses of Imperial stormtroopers in the general vicinity of the hypothetical explosion would indicate that it is the Rebels who are on the offensive and attack their enemies, but that's purely speculation on our part.
There's also a rather haunting image of stormtroopers floating (lifelessly?) in the water. There are only five bodies in the picture, so unless the plan is to add more digitally in post, it doesn't appear to be some kind of "storm the beach" initiative, as those would require a far larger number of troops. Quite possibly, they were part of the squadron who were on the vehicle that was blown up, and the momentum of the explosion carried them to the water.
Another item of note is that members of the main Rogue One cast are also on the set (Felicity Jones and Donnie Yen are the most obvious), suggesting that the scenes in question are not merely for a battle between the Rebels and the Empire, but something instrumental to the plot. Since Rogue One deals with a team of heroes banding together to steal the original Death Star plans, perhaps the film's climactic moment takes place on this beach planet and our protagonists are the ones going to an Imperial base of operations so they can achieve their mission. Again, that's just us hypothesizing, but it's a distinct possibility.
Hypothesizing is all we're going to be doing about Rogue One for the foreseeable future. It's been rumored that there will be a post-credits tease in The Force Awakens for it, but even then, Disney isn't likely to truly start the marketing push until all the buzz and hype surrounding Episode VII has cooled off. In the meantime, fans already looking ahead to the franchise's future will have to make do with these set photos - which are plenty intriguing on their own.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.