‘Rogue One’: Why the Cryptic Title Was Perfect for the First Standalone ‘Star Wars’ Movie

Rogue One almost had a much less intriguing title, fans just learned.

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, the announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy wasn’t what most surprised fans. After all, the “galaxy far, far away” is synonymous with three-film storytelling. In addition, Disney announced standalone adventures for the alternating years between trilogy installments. The first of these finally hit theaters in December 2016.

In the end, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story earned more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Strangely, the “Star Wars story” brand only sustained one more release: 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Fans might not know when or if other standalone adventures will come together. In fact, Rogue One itself almost wound up with a very different title.

The cast and crew of 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' at the premiere
The cast and crew of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ at the premiere | Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ took the saga in a dramatic new direction

Gareth Edwards’ film is no stranger to behind-the-scenes drama. Rogue One famously experienced significant reshoots during production. And Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy — who retains a screenwriting credit — came in to replace Edwards during post-production. Besides the behind-the-scenes drama, Rogue One already marked the first step into a brave new world.

Although the film does feature small but significant roles for Darth Vader and Princess Leia, it’s the first Star Wars movie not focused on the Skywalker family. More than a space opera, Edwards shoots for a down-and-dirty war film. Characters like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) are as morally complex as they come.

And for a franchise where fans can literally tell the heroes from villains based on the color of their lightsabers, this marked a bold creative decision on Disney’s part. Plus, there’s the film’s tragic climax, underscoring the sacrifice necessary for Luke Skywalker to eventually destroy the Death Star. In some respects, Rogue One remains the most distinct Star Wars film of all.

How the writers approached coming up with a name for ‘Rogue One’

Given the film took Star Wars down a new path, the writers of Rogue One hoped to give the film a title to reflect that. In a recent edition of IGN’s WFH Theater, writers Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta provided a commentary on Rogue One. And in the process, they offered fans a peek behind the scenes of the movie’s development, including its name.

According to Whitta, the creative team was consciously determined to give Rogue One a very different feel from the previous entries in the Star Wars saga.

At one point, John Swartz, who was one of the creative executives on the film had a list and we all kind of voted on the ones that we liked … One of the things that occurred to me, I went back and looked to all the previous films, and this continues to be true even with the sequel trilogy now being completed, the titles of Star Wars saga films are always either three words or four words long. They just all are. So it occurred to me that one of the ways we could differentiate this movie from the rest is we had a title that was only one word or two words long.

Much like the film itself, Rogue One is much more direct and blunter than the more fantastical titles of the other films. Fans too have noted how it still maintains the series’ trademark of titles with shifting interpretations. In the film, Rogue One is the rebels’ call sign, but it also pertains to Jyn Erso herself.

Other titles were considered, but this one best fits the ‘Star Wars’ film

Rogue One may have all the elements the writers were looking for. But they weren’t told about which title was selected until after the fact. Whitta told IGN he didn’t know the movie would be called Rogue One — a title he came up with — until Disney CEO Bob Iger announced it at a shareholder’s conference.

During their recent IGN live stream, Whitta and Weitz also revealed alternate titles for Rogue One. Whitta mentioned Star Wars: Rebellion and Shadow of the Death Star as possibilities. But the former is too broad and too similar to the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Meanwhile, the latter calls to mind the non-canon novel Shadows of the Empire.

And Weitz told fans another of the early titles was Dark Times. The intention there was clearly to dovetail off of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Alec Guinness) mention of how things were “before the dark times, before the Empire.” Yet, again, this title feels too non-specific and doesn’t entirely fit. Like A New Hope, Rogue One begins with the galaxy under Imperial control.

Ultimately, Lucasfilm and Disney made the perfect choice for Rogue One. The name calls to mind the military aspect of the film and instantly sets it apart from the rest of the saga. Despite the temptation to go more on-the-nose with its title, the success of Rogue One speaks for itself.