From a certain point of view — a loaded phrase in the the Star Wars universe, to be sure — audiences have not had to wait long for a new Star Wars film. After all, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be released almost exactly one year after The Force Awakens reached theaters. But audiences have never seen a Star Wars film quite like Rogue One, not since 1977, and anticipation is running high.
This movie is about the band of rebel spies who stole the plans to the Death Star. Remember the opening text crawl in the original Star Wars: A New Hope:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy ...
Rogue One is also not considered one of the “Saga” films in the franchise; those films — from Episode I through to Episode IX and, someday, perhaps additional films — in some way tell the story of the Skywalker family. Instead, Rogue One is the first of several planned “Anthology” films. As Kathleen Kennedy, head of LucasFilm, has said, “The Anthology films offer opportunities to explore fresh characters, new storylines, and a variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe.”
I have downplayed some of the spoilers (or potential spoilers) I have encountered for this piece, but anyone who is seriously worried about the potential to have their new favorite movie ruined should tread lightly.
The quick Q&A:
Will other “saga” characters appear in the movie besides Darth Vader?
He has been generally tight-lipped about many things related to the film, but director Gareth Edwards did assert that Luke Skywalker plays no part in this movie.
What about the droids? They’ve been in all the other movies.
When asked if R2-D2, Princess Leia, and other characters would be part of Rogue One, Edwards just kept saying, “I don’t want to ruin it for people,” so there’s hope, at least. Rebellions are built on hope. One rumor is that the film ends close to the beginning of A New Hope — perhaps only 10 minutes before Princess Leia uploads the plans into R2-D2 somewhere near Tatooine. If this is true, then audiences might catch a glimpse of Princess Leia, R2-D2, and C-3PO aboard the consular ship. Jimmy Smits plays Bail Organa, Leia’s adoptive father, and he confirmed in August that he has a cameo in the new film.
What about a lightsaber duel?
Unlikely. Edwards has stressed that there aren’t really any Jedi in this movie, though we’re likely to learn a few things about the Jedi. Darth Vader has a lightsaber, of course, and it’s possible he’ll use it in the film. But even if he doesn’t, audiences will certainly encounter cool new weaponry. Rebel Baze Malbus has quite an arsenal, for instance, and Chirrut Îmwe smacks Stormtroopers with a stick.
But the movie is going to have the opening text crawl, right? I mean, that’s a tradition.
Nope. This is one way to distinguish the Anthology films. Accordingly, then, there won’t be an opening text crawl in the forthcoming Han Solo movie, the rumored Boba Fett movie, and so on.
But it will at least have a John Williams score, right?
Sorry. Michael Giacchino waves the baton this time around. You’ve heard his work in movies like Star Trek Beyond, Jurassic World, and Inside Out. He’s good. Don’t sweat it.
No Luke. No text crawl. No John Williams score. Then why is every Star Wars fan I know so hyped about this movie?
For starters, it’s still a Star Wars film, albeit a darker one. We’ve never seen a war movie set in the Star Wars universe, or one presented with a new director’s singular vision in a standalone film — something audiences have not encountered since the first Star Wars film, before there were sequels and it became Star Wars: A New Hope.
And for what it’s worth, George Lucas liked the film.
What other things play a major role?
The Death Star
Well, it’s no moon. Like Obi-Wan, we at least know that much. In many of the scenes shown in various trailers, the Death Star appears to be orbiting the planet Scarif. But apparently the galaxy’s premiere “technological terror” was built before the laser weapon had been fully designed. Viewers first glimpsed the Death Star plans in Attack of the Clones, and by the end of Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader look out across the battle station’s skeletal framework. So we’re right to ask: Did it really take a generation to build? We don’t know if it’s fully up and running (sans laser weapon), or if it’s still being assembled during the movie’s timeline.
This beautiful beach planet is featured in the trailers and on the already-iconic movie poster. It’s based on western ideals of paradise, and one of the movie’s major battles takes place there. When the sandblasts have settled, expect the planet’s surface to exhibit much scarif-ication [Editor’s Note: Oh my god]. In that way, the planet might serve as a larger metaphor for the Empire’s reign.
The brown planet with the rocky terrain that resembles a Jedi with a lightsaber is “a place where people who believe in the Force would go on a pilgrimage,” according to Gareth Edwards. “It was essentially taken over by the Empire. It’s an occupied territory … for reasons we probably can’t reveal.” However, there’s a good chance its importance is at least somewhat related to the next item on this list. But the planet also attracts various kinds of believers from all over the galaxy — a kind of holy land.
These living crystals power the Jedi’s lightsabers, but they also generate the Death Star’s enormous energy. Gareth Edwards said, “There’s something very important in Jedha that serves both the Jedi and the Empire. It felt very much like something we could relate to in the real world.” Could that first something be the kyber crystals? If so, then that means kyber crystals can be found on more than one planet. After all, in an episode of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka and Yoda take a group of younglings to a planet called Ilum so they can discover which kyber crystals call out to them and assemble their first lightsabers.
AT-ATs and AT-CTs
Many old-school Star Wars fans are excited to see AT-ATs on screen again, seemingly laying waste to many rebels on Scarif’s beaches. One of them even shakes off a direct missile hit. But the other vehicular tease is the AT-CT (all-terrain construction transport). Small tractor beams — for moving and hauling construction materials — come standard on these two-legged terrors.
Death Troopers, clad in all black, are the personal protection service of Director Orson Krennic, the main villain in Rogue One — not unlike the Emperor’s Royal Guard in that way, visually signifying Krennic’s involvement to the audience, even when he’s not in scene. The Shore Troopers are the Marine-like soldiers we see on the beaches of Scarif. Unlike the average Stormtrooper, they appear to have personalities and a streak of individualism.
Bacta is a fluid that speeds the healing process. We first saw one in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is healing from the Wampa attack and Hoth-grade frostbite. While a bacta tank features prominently in the first trailer, we don’t yet know the identity of the hooded figure standing before it. Popular online rumors peg Supreme Leader Snoke as the likely individual, but that seems too convenient — first thought is rarely best thought, after all. It doesn’t seem to be Vader. Could it be an Inquisitor? A rival of Vader’s, perhaps? Maybe it’s a completely unexpected figure, such as Galen Erso. But who is in the tank? The Emperor? After all, two members of his Royal Guard appear on the periphery in that scene. Or is Vader in the tank, healing from injuries sustained while wiping out what he thinks are the last of the Jedi, all these years later?
Who are the characters?
Rebellions are built on hope.
She has a checkered past, to say the least, but Erso’s main value to the Rebellion — at least initially — is her relationship with her father, the energy scientist whose work has been appropriated by the Empire for the Death Star’s major weapon. Freed from prison for a special mission, she energizes the entire Rebellion with her fighting spirit.
Make ten men feel like a hundred.
Andor is a longtime recruiter for the Rebellion; as such, he’s part of the innermost circle alongside Mon Mothma and others. He accompanies Jyn Erso, in part, because he doesn’t yet know that she can be trusted — or if she’s capable of completing the mission.
Director Orson Krennic
The power that we are dealing with here is immeasurable.
Krennic curries favor with the Emperor at every turn — and seemingly at any cost. He is in charge of the Special Weapons Group and is often at odds with his main rival, Moff Tarkin.
Save the Rebellion! Save the dream!
Battle-tested and -scarred, Gerrera is a thinking man and revolutionary who has a long-running connection to the Erso family.
The captain says you are a friend. I will not kill you.
A former Imperial droid who is rescued and reprogrammed by Cassian Andor, K-2SO is one of the tallest and fiercest droids in the galaxy, with a dry wit to match. Early viewers say he steals most of the scenes in which he appears.
Jyn — whatever I do, I do it to protect you. Do you understand?
We all have that friend who, for every good deed, causes us at least two more problems. For Galen Erso, that friend is Director Krennic, his former classmate who just happened to once save Galen’s entire family.
We have a mission for you. A major weapons test is imminent.
One of the few obvious Saga characters to appear in the Rogue One trailers, Mothma is the red-haired leader of the Rebellion. You should remember her from Return of the Jedi, when she informed everyone about a bunch of dead Bothans.
While Vader needs no introduction, it’s worth remembering that in this narrative timeline, he is arguably at his most powerful and ruthless. He has not yet failed the Emperor by losing the Death Star, nor does he know that he has a son and daughter.
All is as the Force wills it.
The two phrases repeatedly used to describe this character are “spiritual warrior” and “warrior monk.” He is not a Jedi, but he believes in the power of the Force. He is also blind, a detail put forth by the actor who plays him.
They destroyed our home!
Together, Chirrut and Baze are an intergalactic Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a comparison that has been made several times. Baze doesn’t believe in the Force, but he is loyal to Chirrut and fights to protect his friend. That sounds a bit like a certain Wookiee we all love.
It’s Rogue … Rogue One.
Rook is a former Imperial pilot. Is his name a play on Moby’s “Bodyrock,” by chance? That wouldn’t be weird or anything, no sir. I guess stranger things have happened in the Star Wars universe.
What can we learn from Catalyst?
Using a book as a prequel to a forthcoming film is clearly part of the larger marketing strategy with these new films. Before The Force Awakens, several related books for younger readers were published, as well as Shattered Empire, the Marvel Comics series. None of them were especially heavy on spoilers, of course, and to some extent, the same can be said of James Luceno’s Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. But the book is rich with backstory and character details.
So what happens? It’s really about Jyn Erso’s parents, Galen and Lyra. Galen, a brilliant scientist and classmate of Orson Krennic, wants to study kyber crystals so he can unlock their clean energy potential for planets in need. Krennic’s path veers in a different direction, though, and he eventually becomes leader of the Special Weapons Group for the Republic. When designing the Death Star’s weaponry becomes his duty, he turns to Galen — and Galen can’t refuse because years earlier, Krennic saved Erso’s family (including young Jyn) from the Separatist forces of Count Dooku. Krennic — a ladder-climbing careerist who is driven, in part, by his rivalry with Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (yes, that’s really his first name) — funnels equipment and resources to Galen’s team, and Galen unknowingly contributes to the Empire’s wicked agenda of developing the galaxy’s most devastating weapon.
Lyra Orso is a free spirit and a professional explorer/wilderness guide, a kind of Force-loving hippie who takes long walks in the public gardens at the Jedi temple on Coruscant. Yet she is the one who convinces Galen that his actions will have devastating consequences. An early form of the Rebellion begins to take shape in these pages, as well. Krennic sends a smuggler, Has Obitt, to save the Ersos. Obitt eventually takes part in a anti-Imperial uprising, which brings him into contact with Saw Gerrera and brings Gerrera in contact with the Ersos. Saw gives Lyra a card with which she can contact him in the future if his help is ever needed — something that might play a role in Rogue One.
We know Krennic, Jyn, and Galen Erso are all still alive during the Rogue One timeline. Catalyst enlarges the scope of Jyn Erso’s story, as well as the story of some of the earliest rebels who resisted the Empire.
What have the cast & crew said?
Gareth Edwards, director: “Rogue One is a military call sign to some extent,” he told the Independent (UK), “but this is the first film that's gone off-piste and is not part of the saga — or the Anakin story — so it’s the ‘rogue’ one, you know?”
Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso): “I would say there’s a huge amount of respect for women in the Rebellion,” Jones told Entertainment Weekly. “Mon Mothma is ultimately, for Jyn, someone she looks up to. Even as the film opens she has a very strong female role model in front of her, and someone she respects.”
Diego Luna (Cassian Andor): “By celebrating our differences and understanding that those differences make us richer and stronger and more powerful,” Diego Luna told Variety at the world premiere, “we can do whatever we want. There are no limits. It’s a beautiful film about unity and celebration.”
Gareth Edwards, director: “The Force is basically in Star Wars like a religion, and they’re losing their faith in the period that we start the movie,” Edwards told Entertainment Weekly. “We were trying to find a physical location we could go to that would speak to the themes of losing your faith and the choice between letting the Empire win, or evil win, and good prevailing. It got embodied in this place we called Jedha.”
Ben Mendelsohn (Director Orson Krennic): “The first thing that you have to do is get over the fact that you’re doing a scene with Darth Vader,” said Mendelsohn. “That took me a little while, because I’m a first-generation fanboy.
John Knoll, executive producer: “The bad guy is a lot more terrifying when he’s really smart, and really effective,” executive producer John Knoll shared with Entertainment Weekly. “There is a lot of palace intrigue going on in the Empire, with people conspiring to move up the ranks and sabotaging each other. There’s not a lot of loyalty there.”
Ben Mendelsohn (Director Orson Krennic): “That costume takes you a good half of the way there,” the actor told the Wall Street Journal. “You put that costume on, and you feel very upright and you feel a great sense of power in an outfit like that.”
Ben Mendelsohn (Director Orson Krennic): “It's fair to say Lord Vader and he aren't friendly. Darth is very much about the Force. Krennic is force. Not really down with the whole mystical thing,” Mendelsohn told Empire. “Krennic does not come from the aristocracy of the Empire, if you like. He is truly a man that has made his own way up the chain through his own abilities. His weapon, for instance, is a very old type of blaster, because he's an old warrior dude. He’s been put in charge of making this thing happen. And it's gonna get done!”
Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe): At the world premiere, Donnie Yen said the major difference between this character and others he’s played onscreen is that “he gets to say the coolest line in any movie: ‘May the Force be with you.’”
Jiang Wen (Baze Malbus): At Star Wars Celebration Europe, the actor appeared to share a major spoiler before saying, “Anyway, I have a gun.”
Gareth Edwards, director: “Two days ago, we got to show George [Lucas] the movie,” Edwards said in a press-interview blitz, as reported by iO9 and other outlets. “We all had a phone call and I got to speak with him yesterday. And I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I can honestly say that I can die happy now. He really liked the movie, so it meant a lot. To be honest, and no offense to anyone here, it was the most important review to me. And I will take that conversation to the grave. It was a real privilege and his opinion means the world to me.”
All’s well that ends well
A lot is riding on the success of Rogue One. While the young Han Solo film is already in the works, the plans for future Anthology releases could be delayed — or canceled — if Rogue One doesn’t meet Disney’s high expectations. We know the opening weekend box office, driven by early ticket sales, is going to be impressive. If the film is even half as good as many people are saying, then Rogue One will be an unquestionable success and audiences will be able to enjoy “fresh characters, new storylines, and a variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe” for many years to come.