A year ago this week, The Force Awakens hit cinemas worldwide, heralding the cinematic return of a franchise that many thought had left movie screens forever. Excitement was naturally at fever pitch, with public interest at an all-time high for the franchise. And it was good, far better than many expected it to be.
Yet over the past few weeks, I’ve begun to realise that this year, I’m even more excited about Star Wars. Maybe it’s because I’m basking in the glory of a post-Force Awakens world, where new canon material is being released on a seemingly weekly basis, or maybe it’s just the reflected glory of Star Wars being back in the social consciousness, but there’s something very special about Rogue One that means that yet again, I am literally counting down the hours to Thursday.
But why does it feel even bigger than last year? Last year saw Star Wars return to cinemas for the first time in a decade, and it’s been less than a year since we got our last cinematic outing for the franchise. Yet this year feels different; this year feels like the true return of the galaxy far, far away.
Same world, same locations, new faces
Being set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens became something of a reboot for Star Wars, not least in the way it neatly swept those 30 years into the EU for the novels to clear up. Likewise, The Phantom Menace offered us a glimpse of a much more organised world pre-Empire, and led us through the rise of Palpatine and Vader’s rule. Both movies felt the strain of setting up a new universe, populated with new characters, and new stakes.
With Rogue One, the stage is already set – we know the outcome, we know what has come before, and we know why this is important, leaving the 2 hour runtime free to explore the story and delve into a new band of characters. Without being saddled with heavy exposition regarding the state of the galaxy, Rogue One should be free to delve into what it means to be under the thumb of the Empire, in the same way that Star Wars Rebels has introduced the fledgling Rebellion. We’re re-entering a world where the stakes, and the allegiances are set; it’s a chance to explore something we already know, and really build on the mythology.
The first return to the Original Trilogy
While Revenge of the Sith briefly touched on it, and The Force Awakens harkened back to earlier times, Rogue One is the first time that we have returned to the Original Trilogy setting since 1983. Growing up watching Star Wars, and being part of the generation that only had the Prequel Trilogy at cinemas, the prospect of seeing Stormtroopers, AT-STs, and Vader himself at full power on the big screen is incredibly exciting, and something I never thought I’d see.
While The Force Awakens got the feeling of Star Wars right, Rogue One takes place in a time that is quintessentially Star Wars – good versus evil, light versus dark, the Rebellion against the Empire. And at the centre of it all, one of the most iconic space stations ever committed to screen – the Death Star. Rogue One isn’t just telling a crucial part of the Star Wars saga, it’s a celebration of everything that made the original trilogy great, re-energised for a new generation of fans.
While it was great to see Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill return to their iconic roles, The Force Awakens, and to some extent The Phantom Menace often felt a little too cameo-heavy, with characters shoe-horned in for little to no reason. Rogue One however has the advantage of functional cameos; that is, cameos that serve a purpose to the overall narrative by virtue of their placement in the previous, and later films.
With confirmed appearances from Mon Mothma and Bail Organa adding to their history as part of the Rebellion, along with Vader and Tarkin aboard the Death Star, Rogue One can mine the entire Rebel era for cameos that fit the bill. With Forrest Whittaker taking on the role of The Clone Wars’ Saw Gerrera, and hints at a Star Wars Rebels crossover (at the very least after the cinematic release), Rogue One is the first real chance we’ve had to see how everything fits together – from the prequels, to the original trilogy, and even the television series. The potential is limitless.
A New Type of Star Wars
For all the good points of The Force Awakens, it’s hard to disagree that it hewed a little too closely to the tried and tested formula of A New Hope, but with Rogue One, it’s a complete step into the unknown. Gareth Edwards has the unenviable task of creating the first of potentially numerous Star Wars Stories; side stories to the main Skywalker narrative that flesh out the universe in the same way that the old EU did. It’s a bold move, but one that could potentially pay off massively.
Not only is there a very clear stylistic change brought in by Edwards, but there’s a more intimate story that is able to be told by pulling the focus into a different scale. While the grander Rebellion is at stake, we’re meeting a new group of heroes, ones which we need to learn to care for, and almost certainly discard by the end of the movie (regardless of the survival rate, there’s unlikely to be a Rogue Two). It’s a risky change to a formula that has previously introduced characters as part of trilogy-sweeping arcs, but one that could pay huge dividends down the line if successful.
It’s new Star Wars, but familiar Star Wars. There’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking here like a crossguard lightsaber or a portion selling fat man. It’s classic Star Wars – the grubby, beaten down world that is trying to defeat the oppression of the Empire. And I can’t wait to get back to it.