Five things to know about ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’
By now you probably know there's a new Star Wars movie coming out this week. If not, please emerge from under your pop-culture-shunning rock before I chop it with a lightsaber.
Rogue One, in theaters Thursday, stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, leading a bunch of Rebels that includes Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed and the voice of Alan Tudyk.
For several reasons, the buildup to this movie is not nearly as great as last year's to the long-awaited Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and perhaps because of that, confusion seems to reign as much as the Emperor does. (Yes, the Emperor is in power in this movie. More on that in a minute.)
Herewith, five things to know about the movie.
1. It's a standalone story, not an episode in the greater arc.
You won't see Princess Leia or Rey or get answers to what the hell Luke Skywalker is doing out there on that hermit planet this year. That'll happen when Disney releases Episode VIII in December 2017, a whole live-long year from now. That's why this movie's full title is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story instead of containing an episode number. A handful of minor characters from the primary arc of the Star Wars universe will reappear, notably Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma and Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa (Leia's adoptive father), and thanks to the trailers we also know Darth Vader is around. (Who's in the suit? Apparently several different people.) But the main baddie is Director Orson Krennic, above, and this isn't a story about the Skywalkers and their place in the galaxy far, far away. It's about some other heroes of the Rebellion.
2. That said, it's set between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope.
There's a 19-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Even if you're not well-versed in Star Wars chronology BBY and ABY, you should already know this because Luke and Leia are born in III and are young adults in IV. Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso is born between Episodes II and III and thus two years older than Luke and Leia , and her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is one of the minds behind the Death Star. That's pretty much what this story is about, by the way: the Rebels learning about/stealing the plans for the first Death Star. Before you mourn the many Bothans who died to bring us this information, that's the second Death Star, not the first. The first one was fully built in secret and commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin (will he make an appearance too? One hopes) when it blew up Alderaan right in front of Princess Leia, who was carrying the station's plans in the opening of A New Hope. Presumably, then, Rogue One directly precedes A New Hope. My bet for its final shot is of Leia's ship, Tantive IV, launching with the plans in hand, off to be captured by the Star Destroyer Devastator.
3. Neither of those things is uncharted territory for Star Wars.
Gather 'round, casual fans, and let this super nerd tell you about the Expanded Universe. Back in the days before these new movies, an entire Star Wars universe outside the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy existed; hundreds of books, hundreds more comic books and several video games chronicled the times before (even thousands of years before), between and after the six movies. These books — of which I counted, pre-Force Awakens, that I have read something like 125 — followed everything from new and minor characters (you can read about teenage Boba Fett and post-Sarlacc pit Boba Fett because HE SURVIVED) to the Skywalkers and the fate of the New Republic. Among the threadlines from the Expanded Universe: One of Han and Leia's kids becomes a new Sith Lord. Sound familiar? When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise in 2014, these Expanded Universe books were rebranded as Star Wars Legends and, in essence, de-canonized so that the new Force Awakens timeline could be written. But the fact remains that the Star Wars machine has a long, rich history of building these kinds of stories around new characters and of fleshing out the story you know with more stories. In fact, Forest Whitaker's character, Saw Gerrera, previously appeared in the cartoon TV show The Clone Wars. Which brings us to...
4. There is a companion book that might help you understand.
No, I'm not talking about the novelization of the movie, although that is being released next week, if you're interested. What I'm talking about is Catalyst by James Luceno, one of the better authors in the EU both pre and post Disney. (Highly recommend Darth Plagueis by Luceno, a prequel of sorts to the prequel movies, about the Lord of the Sith before Palpatine and how Palpatine became a Sith.) A bit of a slow build, Catalyst starts between Episodes II and III to follow the Erso family and how Galen got sucked into the Death Star project despite not wanting to work for the military at all. Hint: That involves Orson Krennic, the Imperial in the white tunic that you see in Rogue One trailers played by Ben Mendelsohn. I'm still working through the book and not sure where exactly it ends chronologically, but it very clearly sets the stage for the events and players of Rogue One.
5. The movie went through reshoots that are a point of interest and speculation.
The Rogue One you see in theaters this week may not be the Rogue One originally planned. Over the summer, the movie went through reshoots that were at first reported to be extensive and totally reworking the vibe to make it feel more Star Wars, giving the impression that the original product was highly flawed. Subsequently sources at Lucasfilm and involved with the movie, including director Gareth Edwards, rebutted those claims, saying that the film was always scheduled for reshoots and that they were drawn out not by the amount of scenes but rather the busyness of the ensemble cast. To confuse matters, Episode VIII's release date was also pushed back so the script could be rewritten. The Rogue One reshoots were, however, so prolonged that they forced out the original composer, Alexandre Desplat (Oscar winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel), and brought in Michael Giacchino, who composed for the Star Trek reboots was fresh off of Marvel's Doctor Strange. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Edwards wasn't even in charge of the reshoots — instead, writer Tony Gilroy stepped in — further fueling speculation that the original product wasn't up to snuff. On the bright side, feedback so far has been pretty darn positive, so whatever did happen, it must've worked.
Look for movie critic Steve Persall's review coming later today, and hit me up with any more Rogue One questions and speculations.