Rogue One is charting a new destiny for Star Wars.
The stakes are greater than just one film, because the reaction to Lucasfilm’s first standalone will be a key decision-making factor as the company gathers its creative team together in early 2017 to decide on other titles to greenlight for the years ahead.
After relaunching Star Wars last year with The Force Awakens, which was the first offering in a new trilogy, Lucasfilm decided to experiment with how far they could expand their cinematic universe by rewinding the chronology and telling a story that doesn’t focus on any of the original characters – except the looming presence of Darth Vader in the background.
Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz, and Tony Gilroy, goes back 34 years in galactic time to tell the origin story of how Rebel commandos, led by Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, came into possession of the original Death Star plans, which Princess Leia later hid in R2-D2 and Luke Skywalker used to blow the moon-sized weapon to smithereens.
Next year, Rian Johnson’s still-untitled Episode VIII will spin the clock forward again to pick up the story of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren. In 2018, we’ll rewind again for The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose young Han Solo standalone will star Aldren Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar!) in the Harrison Ford role, Donald Glover filling Billy Dee Williams’ cape as Lando Calrissian, and Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke in an unspecified part. In 2019, director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) will deliver Episode IX. But after that…? Nobody knows.
The biggest question of all: After the new trilogy ends with Episode IX in 2019, will a new trilogy begin? Or does the annual release of a Star Wars film become a litany of standalones, only occasionally threading back together (the way the Marvel movies do)?
“That’s a conversation going on right now, too,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy says. “I have to honestly tell you, could we [do nothing but standalones]? Sure. But I don’t know. We are looking at all of that.”
Gauging audience reaction to Rogue One will be critical as Lucasfilm evaluates how different it can get with these standalone films from the traditions of the trilogy, or “saga,” films.
“More than likely we will not have a crawl,” Kennedy says of the iconic floating text that has opened every previous Star Wars movie. “We feel that that is proprietary with the saga films. But how this evolves…? We haven’t fully decided, and [traditional Star Wars elements] may be pretty spare for this first one.”
Composer Michael Giacchino’s music, for instance, will include slight homages to the iconic original score by John Williams, but most of what we hear will be original. (More on the music of Rogue One Wednesday on EW.com)
After the release of the new film, the Star Wars braintrust will map out the further reaches of the galaxy. Among the titles that have been considered is a Boba Fett/bounty hunter movie that director Josh Trank was hired to make before he dropped out following the troubled production of his Fantastic Four reboot. It came so close to being officially announced, Lucasfilm even prepped a teaser reel to show at Star Wars Celebration in spring of 2015, sources tell EW. At the last minute, the split with Trank backburnered the project.
Another storyline fans have expressed interest in seeing include an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, possibly with Ewan McGregor reprising the role of the Jedi knight from the prequels. The actor himself has been enthusiastic about such an idea, if it were to happen.
Lucasfilm isn’t tipping its hand about new titles yet. They’re waiting until after Rogue One‘s debut to begin figuring that out.
“There are [possible movies] that we have been talking a lot about,” Kennedy says. “But we are planning to sit down in January, since we will have had The Force Awakens released, now Rogue One, and we’ve finished shooting Episode VIII. We have enough information where we can step back a little bit and say, What are we doing? What do we feel is exciting? And what are some of the things we want to explore?”
Who will be making those calls? “The story team and the trust, and the visual effects team that we have been working with,” Kennedy says. “We always pull in the directors and the writers that have been a part of these other three movies. We create pretty much a very collegiate group of people to share ideas.”
The idea of the standalone movies came from George Lucas himself, before handing off the company to Kennedy and selling Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Co.
“George talked to me about doing this when I first came aboard,” Kennedy says. “He had often thought about doing it and he had actually written down three or four thoughts and ideas, directions you could go. Obviously inside the mythology there were lots of opportunities. So that was the first conversation I had.”
She wouldn’t specify the ideas he had in mind, but said a young Han Solo movie wasn’t among them. The concept for Rogue One came from John Knoll, a legendary visual effects supervisor from Industrial Light and Magic.
“No, we certainly talked about origin type stories, but we didn’t get into the specifics of that,” Kennedy said. “We talked a lot about the Jedi and the foundational ideas that George had thought about when he created the mythology. It was sort of spit-balling ideas.”
The key question Rogue One will answer: Can a movie full of new characters engage fans as much as the classic ones?
In addition to Jyn, a street hoodlum turned revolutionary, the team in this sci-fi variation on The Seven Samurai or The Dirty Dozen includes Forest Whitaker as her mentor, the Rebel insurgent Saw Gerrera, Diego Luna as Rebel Captain Cassian Andor, a veteran espionage agent, and Alan Tudyk as his blunt-speaking, rehabilitated Imperial security droid, K-2SO (or Kaytoo for short.) They join forces with the machine-gunner Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), as well as the redemption-seeking former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), all three from the Force-sacred world of Jedha.
In addition to Darth Vader hovering on the periphery, the villain of the story is Imperial Special Weapons Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a man who once protected and sponsored the research of Jyn’s scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who is an expert in the manipulation of kyber crystals. Those are the core element that fuels a lightsaber blade, and Krennic has kidnapped Galen to harness his knowledge for the creation of the Death Star’s superlaser.
If that mythology starts to sound too deep, Kiri Hart, Lucasfilm’s head of story development, says this story was chosen because it has broad connections that even casual fans can follow.
“Rogue One felt like a great beginning for because they know about the Death Star plans. They know the things that happened in A New Hope,” she says. “So it had those familiar elements, those anchor points, but it also was about a completely new set of characters. So it felt like a really good template for the kinds of things that we feel these movies can do.”
If all goes according to Rogue One’s plan, future standalones won’t have to lean against events from previous films. “I think that that’s exciting for fans,” Kennedy adds. “It’s certainly exciting as a filmmaker, the notion that we can explore these stories that genuinely have a beginning, middle and an end, and don’t necessarily have to tie into something specific.”
In other words, the Star Wars films could be venturing very far from home.
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