With the success of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the fans’ greatest fears (to that point) were put to rest: Darth Mouse knows how to take care of them. The movie was fun, if a bit too derivative of the first film, and had plenty of great and interesting characters despite a few all too obvious narrative missteps (which I’ve already talked about previously). For the most part, we’re in good hands, even if future installments don’t challenge convention as much as adhere to them moving forward. It’s a business. These things need to make money and Disney needs to recoup its four billion dollar investment. I don’t think that’s even in question both of these goals will be accomplished at this point.
One of the ways in which they intend to ensure continual profits is by giving us Star Wars movies until we can’t stand them. They're going to do this by emulating their successful Marvel template for scheduled releases. If we’re lucky, that ‘can’t stand’ date will, like Marvel, seem to be somewhere in the realm of ‘never’. They haven’t had a blunder yet, with the two Thor movies being the closest they’ve come to cinematic misfires. And hoo boy, I can’t wait to write about those flicks (and Iron Man 3). I want to be clear here; even the most underwhelming Marvel movies have been successful by and large. It’s only people like me, that can see through the haze of the studio's ongoing honeymoon with general audiences, who can say which ones are actually good.
But Marvel blogs are for another day. This is the day of Star Wars (again). The day of rebels and Death Star tapes (which, by the end of Rogue One will NOT be in the main computer) and Felicity Jones…rebelling. Of Forest Whitaker warning about the veritable abyss looking back into a person’s soul and blind Donnie Yen beating up Imperial Stormtroopers and space stations becoming fully armed and operational. Yes, this is the time to talk about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
And more specifically, why Rogue One may just be the Star Wars movie the long time fans have been waiting for.
But wait, you say/ Waiting more than for the continuing saga of the Skywalkers?
Well…yes. In a way. Allow me to explain.
For as long as there have been Star Wars movies, they’ve centered on the Skywalker saga (and you're fooling yourself if you think Rey isn't somehow connected to that bloodline). That is to say, despite the Star Wars galaxy being very large, complex and multifaceted, the central action and world shaping events in the films have revolved around that certain famkily with a higher….FORCE…than anybody else. For, um, reasons, Anakin Skywalker was ‘the chosen one’ that would restore balance to the Force, which he ultimately did by fathering Luke.
And Leia, as well. But let’s be honest. It’s really Anakin and Luke and their relationship with Palpatine that matters as far as that major plot thread goes. Oh, Vader threatens Leia in order to bring out Luke’s anger, but that’s really just a macguffin. No one can intelligently argue that the writers saw Leia's ultimate purpose as being one of contention between her father and brother. And really, do you truly want to diminish Leia to some sort of narratively bizarre 'victim' status in that way, given how strong of a character she is on her own already? Let’s just agree that she fulfills a different requirement of the storyline and is there to do things besides make Luke worry about her.
So. The Star Wars movies have been about the Skywalkers. And while we know that both Clone Wars and Rebels are canonical in the larger tapestry, they don’t really matter as it regards the resolutions of the films’ many plotlines. More simply put, if Clone Wars and Rebels didn’t exist, as much as some of us may love them, it wouldn’t really matter. Even if Disney proclaims Clone Wars as equally canonical as the movies, no one really holds them in the same regard.
Except for the super fans like me. And here’s why we take it so seriously. And more importantly, this is also why Rogue One has me as giddy as Salacious Crumb laughing at a hapless Threepio.
Star Wars is not something that a super fan takes lightly. For them, it’s about more than just the movies. Most super fans that are honest with themselves understand that the metric tons of spinoff material, such as the comic books, video games and novels, existed in some weird alternate pseudo canonical state pre-Disney. But they’re written in such a fashion that they almost invariably took place at a point in the timeline that didn’t interfere with or contradict the plot of the films. There was care and attention taken by these gifted creators not to supplant or overwrite the Star Wars canon that fans hold so dear to their hearts, but to add to it and enrich it by telling stories with new and side characters (and sometimes the film characters) that happen in parts of the galaxy which have only ever been referenced or mentioned previously. Places like Malastare and people like Darth Plagueis.
Super fans want to study all the lore of the Star Wars universe, and the spinoff material has always been a chance to do just that. In some cases, these offshoots may result in the introduction of characters and settings that, to some fans, are even more exciting than the movies. For example, it’s no secret that smuggler Dash Rendar and his legendary YT-2400 light freighter the Outrider are far and away my favorite character and ship in all of Star Wars. Or rather I should say, the idea of them somewhere in the galaxy, getting into adventures that Skywalker and co. just aren’t suitable for. In my mind, Dash is canon even though the post Disney timeline overlords have yet to acknowledge it. They’ve confirmed the Outrider is canon because it’s in the special edition of Episode IV: A New Hope seen soaring over Mos Eisley as Luke and Obi-Wan arrive, but they haven’t said who the pilots or owners are just yet (although I'm still banking that it's Dash). There was even a book in the ‘young Han Solo’ trilogy (now part of the Legends imprint with every other side story and spinoff pre-Disney) that shows a scene of Dash and Han talking right before the latter agrees to take the job transporting a crazy old wizard, a farm boy and two droids to Alderaan. And while I have special loathing in my heart for the Special Editions, I can't help but be pleased that the Outrider is established canon.
Super fans appreciate these little things. Even if they are barely more than footnotes to the story, these events are exactly what we like seeing: a cinematic universe that is living and breathing not only because of the films themselves but because of how all the side stuff gives it so much more breadth. Whether it be a fan service conversation between smugglers or a collection of short stories about the bounty hunters that appeared on the bridge of the Executor in The Empire Strikes Back, super fans love all the extra padding. It gives them more to learn about, more to contemplate and discuss/argue and, most importantly, more to enjoy.
Rogue One is the cinematic realization of the ‘spinoff’ story. In case you didn’t know, it’s about how the rebels got their hands on the Death Star tapes that exposed the station’s weakness and ultimately led to its destruction (with a helping hand from a moisture farmer very much in tune with the Force). There have been previous versions of this story, most notably the game Dark Forces, the first mission of which was stealing the Death Star tapes from an Imperial facility. The game goes off in a completely different direction after that, but it was a neat level that filled in some of the overall plot’s minutiae. The X-Wing games also showed a scene of a rebel outpost in an asteroid fields receiving transmissions of the Death Star tapes and sending them to the Tantive IV Corellian corvette, the iconic ship that was scooped up by a Star Destroyer over Tatooine in the opening scene of Episode IV. Fans saw how these two separate events might have worked in conjunction with one another to set up the chase in the first movie, and for many years some argued that Kyle Katarn and the rebels in the asteroids were working in tandem and ‘that was how it happened.’
Only it wasn’t, and secretly they just WANTED it to be that way. Just like I really know that Dash Rendar isn’t established as a canonical character in the Disney version of Star Wars’ events (although I believe he will eventually be confirmed.) And we knew, deep down inside, because those stories didn’t have Skywalkers in them. They weren’t central. While Dash’s source material, Shadows of the Empire, is a damn fine multimedia bridge between Empire and Jedi (video game, comic series, novel, even a TRADING CARD SET) and the movie cast is front and center for the story’s many events, you could just as easily remove it from the timeline and nothing much would change. Well, except for the loss of the coolest character and ship in anything with the Star Wars logo in it.
But Rogue One is a movie. Made by Disney. That takes place before Episode IV and details how the rebels ended up with the oh so valuable Death Star tapes.
It’s a movie.
With live actors and everything.
And it has nothing to do with Skywalkers. Or rather, probably doesn’t have anything to do with Skywalkers unless Leia is involved. And even if she appears, it’ll be little more than a cameo at best and not at all important to the flow of events.
This is the ultimate realization of what those novels, video games and comic books represented for super fans. It’s a side story that fills in the details and gives us more to invest ourselves in. It’s a way for someone, somewhere to add to the lush and ever growing tapestry of the lore of Star Wars and, unlike all the prior side material, there is an air of legitimacy to it. This is not to decry all the wonderful (and in some cases, not so wonderful) work that has come before Rogue One as a non Skywalker story. I’ve enjoyed many of them over the years. But this time it truly matters. This time, it’s ‘for real’. And the idea that now, in addition to the books and comics and all that other stuff, there are going to be spinoff MOVIES gives us one more medium by which we can take in something we all love so much.
The classic trilogy era is, hands down, the coolest thing about Star Wars. The wildly imaginative setting, the expertly crafted mechanical and practical designs, the lived in world and the seedy, in some cases run down, imagery on display. But it’s not just the dangerous environs of Mos Eisley Spaceport or Jabba’s Palace that entice us to come back for more. Think about both Death Stars. The bridge of the Executor.
. This is a galaxy with real variety that runs
the gamut between the edge of civilization, where technology looks like it
might break down at any given moment, and the lofty heights of scientific advances such as an Imperial hangar or the halls of a floating mining
facility. Just knowing that there are‘scum and villainy’ of all sorts just waiting to be thrown
into trappings where they clearly don’t fit in or by having a cadre of Imperial
Stormtroopers impose their master’s expansionist will on even the most vacant
of deserts is enough to spark the imagination and make fans ask ‘what
if…’. Cloud City
Rogue One seems poised to do all of that with the suggestion of consequences because these characters aren’t the Skywalkers or their friends in their prime. These are people that will affect the galaxy in a significant way, and while we already know how that will play out, their story will carry with it a certain ominous direction. We don’t know who these people are. All we know is that they did something remarkable and faded into the pages of history lost. Did they die? Did they go into hiding? Did they join the Empire or become rebel agents somewhere in the galaxy where they are needed but where, like so many soldiers both real and fictional, glory is not a perk? Do some of them end up working with these Bothans who died to bring the alliance information about the second Death Star in Jedi? We don’t know, and that uncertainty is a great feeling.
Something I’m hoping for are that some of these characters are able to spin off into their own side stories, provided they survive. They can be great ciphers for showing off more of the Star Wars galaxy that we either haven’t seen on a screen or have only been hinted at, like these Bothan sacrifices I mentioned above. What if one of the characters becomes part of a sleeper cell that works with the Bothans in other corners of the galaxy, and we come to know this species, or at least some of them, well enough that the story establishes cinematic sympathy for them on the next viewing of Return of the Jedi? This is the sort of thing super fans get excited about. Our attention hinges on every single line, every single utterance the characters issue, and we always want to know more. What if Forrest Whitaker or Felicity Jones survive this movie and go on to do other things for the rebellion? Think of the possibilities.
On the other hand, this could also be a great opportunity for Darth Vader (who is confirmed to have a role in the film) to really come to the forefront, in his armor plated prime, and do some serious damage to this group of ragtag heroes. Rogue One looks like a heist film, complete with a misfit band of dispensable fighters that I’m sure the script will work hard to generate some empathy for. But we all know how heist movies with outcasts usually end, and at least a few of them are bound to get killed. In Seven Samurai, for example, more than half of the heroes defending the village from bandits end up dead in spectacular fashion as they make their last stand. I really think that Lucasfilm and Disney are missing out on an opportunity to give us Darth Vader better than we’ve ever seen him before if they don't have him directly responsible for ending some of their lives. We all know that Darth Vader is feared throughout the galaxy as the Emperor’s right hand man, and he is definitely a threatening presence. But let’s take a look at who he actually kills in the movies, and I’m only looking at the classic era portrayal:
MAYBE a rebel officer-there’s no way to know, really. I mean, probably? But honestly, who cares? Vader killing redshirts just doesn’t matter except to establish him as an evil presence, which we already know just by looking at him.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, who really sacrificed himself so that he could continue to guide Luke from beyond the grave.
Biggs Darklighter, who I believe is a vastly important character to Luke’s growth as a hero but not as he’s presented in any official cut of the film, so his death is truly diminished from the impact that it could have had on audiences. But the mistake of cutting the Biggs scene from Tatooine and why it’s a horrible missed opportunity is a blog for another day.
Empire Strikes Back
Admiral Ozzel-Choking him from another room on the Executor is pretty cool but Ozzel doesn’t really matter at all. It’s not a major accomplishment for Vader.
Captain Needa-Again, by this point we know that Vader is offing redshirts and ancillary characters left and right, but these are not people of significance to the story. They are just foils to establish Vader’s murderous methods of administering penalties to Imperial officers.
Return of the Jedi
Vader doesn’t kill anyone else in Jedi, and the reason for this is likely because by this point, Lucas was more concerned with showing how Vader could come back from the Dark Side in time to save Luke from lightning death at Palpatine’s hands. Having Vader murder people and then help Luke at the end might have been too big of a stretch in a single film. Vader revealing his relation to Luke in Empire and then the subsequent time between ESB and Jedi might have been a period of reflection for the Dark Lord of the Sith. Luke even acknowledges that he senses the conflict in Vader and never gives up on him, even after he says ‘then my father is truly dead’ at the AT-AT dock on the forest moon of Endor after their conversation.
Rogue One is an opportunity to show us, truly SHOW us, just why the galaxy fears Darth Vader. His presence is always a
high point of any scene
he’s in, and it’s a testament to the character’s presence that he doesn’t need to kill anyone to be
threatening. All of that said, tell me
how awesome it would be to see Darth Vader showing off why he’s such a badass
as he relentlessly hunts down the heroes of Rogue
One during the climax of the third act, perhaps killing a number of them
with his lightsaber and the Dark Side
and then giving chase to the ones fleeing in some ship in his TIE Advanced and
gunning down more of them as they desperately try to make off with the
tapes. And then imagine the Emperor’s
ire at hearing that they eluded his best agent, which would explain why Vader
seems so angry and impatient in the opening scenes of Episode IV. He’s fresh off a
verbal lashing from his master and wants to make amends. A scene where the Emperor doubts Vader’s
prowess in a harsh and malignant fashion is a nice table setter and also helps
to show us another side of the relationship dynamic these characters, which is
the sort of thing super fans salivate over.
My mind is running wild with the possibilities of Rogue One, as it would with any super fan, even those that are being as patient as they possibly can and waiting to see the film before they think about anything related to it. I know one thing, though. I lived in an era where Star Wars spinoffs mostly existed only in printed form or as electronic entertainment. This rarity is why we had to subject ourselves to The Star Wars Holiday Special. As absurd as the whole thing is, it’s another chance to see LIVE Star Wars on the screen. It’s also why we loved the various, and awful, Droids and Ewoks cartoons from the eighties, although in fairness, some of the Droids episodes weren’t too terrible. It’s why we even took the time to watch the uneventful and mostly disappointing Ewoks live action films. Because they had fucking EWOKS in them, and while I get the hate many super fans have for the little guys, they will admit that even they gave those films one watch. At least, if they were alive when they first aired. After all, Ewoks are part of the Star Wars mythology, like it or not. And when these televised spinoffs got good, like with the animated Clone Wars cartoon and later the 3D CGI version, as well as the currently running (and absolutely fantastic) Rebels, we felt rewarded and vindicated for sticking it out. These things had to get good eventually, right?
The overall quality of Star Wars produced for any screen, big or small, has been on an upward trend for some time now, and The Force Awakens is the ultimate proof that this rise will continue. With this being the case, and given Disney’s track record with other well known and beloved pop culture icons, we shouldn’t doubt the potential of Rogue One. We should celebrate it and be excited about it for all the reasons I’ve said and many I haven’t.
This is gonna be good.