Hype is running high for the December release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and for good reason. We’ve never gotten a Star Wars movie outside the three main trilogies. We’ve never seen any of our primary Rogue One heroes in any form. And more important than all that, we’ve never had a film in the franchise not aiming for a sequel. All that will culminate in a decisive next step for Lucasfilm, as they try and figure out a future for the saga past the trilogy format. Early trailers show great promise for what’s to come, but there’s still plenty that needs to happen in order for Rogue One to truly be considered a success.
[Update, 10/13/16: Added second full-length trailer, above.]
1. Use just the right amount of Darth Vader
There’s been a concerted effort on the part of Disney to show us that Darth Vader’s story is still very much a part of the next generation of stories. The fearsome Sith Lord was given a significant arc on Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels, leading up to a climactic duel with his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. Meanwhile, he’s been popping up just about everywhere else, from his standalone novel, Star Wars: Lords of the Sith, to a whole Marvel Comics series devoted to his time fighting the Rebellion between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
This all sets the stage for his upcoming appearance in Rogue One. Various reports seem uncertain of just how much he’ll play into the primary conflict, although it’s worth pointing out that one rumor mentions he’s “expected to have a larger role than originally thought.” It’ll be imperative that Rogue One doesn’t overplay their hand with the iconic villain. Feature him too prominently and you risk overshadowing the cadre of new characters being introduced. Use Vader too sparingly, and you have to deal with fans who will inevitably feel lied to.
2. Jyn Erso is the key to it all
Star Wars movies are only as good as their protagonists. The greatest strength of The Force Awakens was Rey, and everything else revolved around her relationships, the way she interacted with her world, and the decisions she made. In the prequels, the weaker moments can be attributed to some cringeworthy character choices for Anakin Skywalker. If Rogue One is going to succeed, it’s got to be built on the foundation of the newest protagonist to join the Star Wars universe, Jyn Erso. What we’ve seen so far seems to indicate that the folks at Lucasfilm have another great hero on their hands. Even so though, we won’t know for sure until we see the finished product for ourselves.
3. Expand on the existing Star Wars universe
Rogue One represents a handful of firsts for Star Wars. Content-wise, we’ll be getting a look inside the Rebellion versus Empire conflict in a way we’ve never seen before. New Stormtrooper variations will be present throughout. Rather than acting as background pieces like we saw in the original trilogy, Rebel soldiers will be taking centerstage. This will be a true war movie, and it’s been a long time coming. The larger non-Skywalker conflict of Star Wars has always been the one between the Imperial forces and the ragtag Rebellion, and we’ll finally get to see that play out as the primary focus.
4. Delivering a single Star Wars story with a beginning, middle, and end
To date, every Star Wars movie has had the benefit of knowing it has a whole trilogy to build out its story arc. Rogue One though has a decidedly different directive. With no promise that we’ll ever see any of these characters in another film, the story will have to function as a self-contained narrative, giving us a clear path to a conclusion by the time the credits role. And yes, other Star Wars films have had their own self-contained arcs in the past, but Rogue One doesn’t have the luxury of holding on to a few surprises for use at a later date. In some ways, that could even work to its advantage, producing a satisfying plot that ends with more answers than questions.
5. Forget the hype, just give us a good movie
Any movie existing within a popular tentpole franchise is going to be subject to an incredible amount of scrutiny, and that goes double for Star Wars. There’s a whole lot at stake each time Lucasfilm releases a new movie. Fans have a certain expectation going in, critics have another, and all the while, each installment pervades through generations of viewers in subsequent years.
Rogue One will need to drown out the white noise and move forward on its own merits. It’s been given a certain amount of creative freedom existing outside the trilogy format, and taking advantage of that freedom will figure into whether it can measure up in the end. This makes the film’s key focus giving us a compelling story with well fleshed-out characters, rather than trying to live up to the impossibly high expectations many of us have for every Star Wars movie.
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