Rogue One is sure to make waves when it hits theaters next week, and director Gareth Edwards knows that he has a tremendous amount riding on his shoulders, as the success or failure of this first Star Wars Story is likely to have lasting repercussions on how Disney moves forward with the iconic series.
Disney purchased Star Wars to great fanfare in 2012, at a cost of some $4 billion. As the Verge notes, that price guarantees that the studio wasn’t simply interested in producing another trilogy of Star Wars films and calling it a day. Instead, the plan has always been to expand the cinematic universe of Star Wars in much the same way that Marvel has been treated, delving into stories outside of the core saga of the Skywalker clan.
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In order to do this, Disney has undertaken a series of spin-off films, collectively dubbed Star Wars Stories. Rogue One is the first, but a young Han Solo standalone is already in the works, and fans have widely speculated about other possible directions the studio might take over the next decade.
Expanding upon Star Wars is quite a different undertaking than building the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, as the iconic space opera originated from a core storyline. As a brand, Star Wars is cherished by legions of fans, many of whom would rather see no new films created than watch inferior productions repeated ad nauseam. For this reason, among others, Rogue One is something of a balancing act.
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Journalists who have already seen just under a half-hour of Rogue One have reported that the film boldly breaks with Star Wars tradition, striking out in its own direction while still remaining solidly within the universe cherished by fandom, as Polygon notes. Gone is the iconic opening crawl of previous films, highlighting that this isn’t an “episode”; those films are reserved for the main thrust of the sequel trilogy itself. Instead, this is an ancillary production, filled with characters who are at first unfamiliar, many of whom are unlikely to pop up in the franchise again, according to Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy.
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From the beginning, Rogue One has always been conceived of as something different than the previous Star Wars films. Gareth Edwards has long described it as a war movie, focused on ground-level action as the Rebellion builds strength against the Empire. The film is set in dark days, with the construction of the Death Star complete, and the Jedi all but extinct. The characters of Rogue One are all well aware that the guardians of the Old Republic aren’t going to save them.
So complete was Edwards’ intention to make Rogue One a war film that early on, the production actually photoshopped elements of the Star Wars universe into real life images of World War II and Vietnam. According to Edwards, this type of visualization was important when it came to setting Rogue One apart.
“We need to differentiate ourselves from the saga.”
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Kennedy has noted that the studio is approaching each of the Star Wars Stories “without a rulebook,” intending to operate in the spirit of the franchise’s creator, George Lucas. Though it is expected to be a success, no one truly knows if the film’s different angle on the universe will resonate with fans or be spurned by them.
While Rogue One won’t completely tank the franchise should it prove ultimately unsuccessful, the film is nonetheless being closely watched as a barometer, a signpost showing which way the winds of the Star Wars universe are blowing, and in which direction the franchise might tack its course in the near future.
[Featured Image by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios]