When Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion back in 2012, it didn’t exactly shock the world when the company expressed interest in expanding the Star Wars saga with Episode VII and beyond. After all, the “galaxy far, far away” is easily among the most financially successful and widely beloved film series of all time, and in an age when Disney is doing so well with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more Star Wars seemed like a no-brainer. But there was still a twist to the Disney/Lucasfilm announcement.
While Episode VII (ultimately titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens, of course) was a part of Disney’s plans, the studio also declared its plan to alternate between official “episodes” of this sequel trilogy with standalone anthology-style films that would explore different aspects of the Star Wars universe. This broke from tradition, as until then the only non-“episode” theatrical Star Wars film had been the feature-length pilot for the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series. Still, it made sense. The Star Wars mythos is so expansive, and Disney’s decision to disregard the continuity laid out by the established expanded universe left plenty of room to create new stories.
Enter Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first standalone live-action entry in the franchise’s history. In a curious move, this maiden voyage into more experimental territory isn’t a spinoff centered around a famous central character — a Han Solo film is set for a 2018 release, however — but one that sheds light on the never-before-seen event that actually kicked off the whole franchise to begin with.
As fans well know, Star Wars: A New Hope starts with Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) smuggling the Death Star plans into R2-D2, and the entire subsequent adventure hinges on the delivery of said plans. Rogue One tells the tale that directly precedes those events, chronicling the Rebel mission to infiltrate the Empire and retrieve those plans. Without them, how is Luke Skywalker ever to meet his destiny and destroy the Death Star in the original film’s iconic climax?
Armed with that intriguing premise, Rogue One seems like a logical place for the Star Wars franchise to look at the characters and events not directly tied to the Skywalker bloodline. To some extent, the series has always been so hyper-focused on Anakin and Luke that its storytelling potential has been somewhat dampened by the fact that a single family continually steers the fate of the galaxy. It’s why many fans are hoping that Rey turns out not to be a Skywalker when her parentage is revealed in Episode VIII. Moreover, Rogue One presents the opportunity to not only flesh out events that have so far only been referenced, but the chance to tie in pre-existing elements of the franchise in surprising ways.
Since Rogue One is technically set nearly 20 years after the events of the 2005 release, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, actors like Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly are able to reprise their roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, respectively. Meanwhile, figures who loomed large during the era of the original trilogy can roam free due to the film’s setting on the timeline. So brace yourself to see Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones, of course) in action, all suited up, and kicking ass on the big-screen for the first time since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. This is just the beginning of the potential for these spinoff films to really dive deep into the canon of the existing Star Wars universe.
With seven live-action films, animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels, and a growing number of comic books and novels that are officially part of the Star Wars canon, fans are finally getting their taste of a unified Star Wars shared universe like they have never seen before.
From a business perspective, it’s smart for Disney to apply the approach that worked so well for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Star Wars, and for fans, the promise of getting a wider variety of interconnected stories set in that universe is certainly an exciting prospect.
Rogue One may be a surprising start to these standalone films, but it presents exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking that the franchise needs to stay competitive and keep itself fresh for generations to come. Here’s hoping that Disney continues to take some creative risks in that department and establishes a long-term vision for the brand. Star Wars means too much to too many people.
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