It would be easy to dismiss the upcoming spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as an experiment in the ongoing cinematic rejuvenation of the franchise. Although it will feature a handful of already established characters in the universe and the plot should lead straight into A New Hope, there’s still a feeling around this new adventure that it will be a bonus if it works out but no great loss if it falls flat. Its distributors, Disney, will be feeling quite differently about it, though.
By May 2019, the third trilogy in the Star Wars saga will be complete and it’s highly likely that it will be the last. Episode IX will almost certainly see the final conclusion of the Skywalker dynasty and us bidding goodbye to any of the characters established nearly 40 years ago. Sure, it would be tempting to go for the dozen, especially if Episodes VIII and IX repeat the $2.2 billion take of The Force Awakens, but committing to another three films without the safety net of legacy characters or scenarios would surely be a gamble that, if misjudged, could return the series to the divisive doldrums and diminishing returns the prequel trilogy led it to.
And given how much The Force Awakens reveled in and succeeded on its nostalgic tone and plot, it’s very unlikely Disney will move the franchise too far away from Episodes IV-VI. We already have evidence of this by how close Rogue One will be flying to the hallowed first three films and the Han Solo movie scheduled for 2018. Rogue One will mark the series first step into a larger world for the Star Wars cinematic universe under Disney’s watch and a vital one if it is to match a certain other universe that Disney has had simmering away for some time now.
IF WE CANNOT SAVE ALDERAAN, WE WILL AVENGE IT
Although Star Wars itself played a significant part in the serialization of cinema, it was a process that wasn’t fully operational until the start of this century. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises ushered in a new age for episodic movies that audiences would return to year after year, and in greater numbers. But it has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has taken this addictive box office formula and refined it even further, turning it into the most enviously regarded model in the industry today.
We all know the recipe by now: mix together several origin stories; marinade them in a few further adventures for flavor; bake for about 3-4 years; and out comes an Avengers movie fit to break box office records. And it is this “Marvelization” that Disney will be looking to apply Star Wars over the next few years, but they will have to inverse it.
If we are to compare the Star Wars films to the MCU then it’s already apparent that Star Wars already has its Avengers equivalents in the existing films that bring all the characters together for crucial developments. What the SWU is lacking in, though, are origin stories and those further adventures that we only get a mere whiff of in the canonical films. Only Luke and Anakin Skywalker could be considered to have had their origins fully explored and there’s an argument to be made that Emporer Palpatine has had likewise but is there a fan out there that wouldn’t want to see his earlier life as (allegedly) Darth Plagueis’ apprentice?
There’s unquestionably plenty for Lucasfilm to work with from such a relatively small source compared to Marvel’s extensive roster of characters and timelines, but so long as they treat the populace of Star Wars with the same parity that Marvel has given to its characters then it is within their grasp as audience awareness is so much more innate for George Lucas’ creations. Likewise, Lucasfilm has unfettered access to its universe so they don’t have to dance around the absence of key characters and even words that are owned by other studios.
So, surely it’s just a case of Lucasfilm and Disney repeating Marvel’s formula and improving the results thanks to the lack of constraints and better audience recognition for their property? If only it were that simple…
THE FRANCHISE OF A THOUSAND FACES
Of course, there have been cinematic spin-offs for the franchise before in the guise of the two Ewok movies from the 80’s (Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor) and the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars set between Episodes II and III, which was mainly a pilot for the surprisingly decent TV series of the same name. Add to that all the other TV shows, books, comics, and video games that have all sought to expand on the universe to varying degrees of success and failure, and it becomes clear the Star Wars universe is already quite cluttered.
But all the aforementioned spin-offs have often felt disingenuous, almost like they were operating without a license (not legally speaking, of course). To audiences at large, to be a true part of the Star Wars story then it needs to be writ large across the big screen, preferably with a queue stretching round the block outside it. Rogue One will signify the first time this has happened for a spin-off and the future of franchise depends on it not getting cocky.
Not to denigrate the undoubtedly entertaining The Force Awakens but -to older Star Wars fans at least- it probably came as a relief more than anything. The prequels were a rough ride, to say the least, and thanks to the series’ saturation over the last few decades, there has been much dilution in the franchise’s quality and focus. With that in mind, Rogue One is at risk of causing a disturbance in the Force once again by adding a slew of new characters and events into an existing timeline. But it’s clearly a risk Disney is taking very seriously as they look to maximize their $4 billion investment in buying out Lucasfilm.
WE SHALL DOUBLE OUR EFFORTS
It has already been confirmed that the upcoming film will not feature an opening crawl and Academy Award winner Alexandre Desplat has taken over baton-waving duties for the film’s score instead of John Williams, so it seems Disney are prepared to fight with the blast-shield down but that’s not to say they aren’t reaching out with their feelings and trusting their instincts.
You will have likely heard that Rogue One has already undergone extensive re-shoots during the summer. Its director, Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla), is somewhat of a wildcard choice after the safe hands of J.J. Abrams and it seems Disney were most displeased with his initial results. This is actually nothing new for the franchise since Lucas’ A New Hope had to undergo a huge re-edit to satisfy Fox executives back in 1977 but, nonetheless, it shows how much importance Disney are weighing on Rogue One.
Disney needs Rogue One to be a direct hit and not just impact on the surface. They are hoping for at least a decade’s worth of yearly Star Wars installments to sustain their formidable current domination of the box office and if Rogue One does indeed go rogue, then it could spell disillusion for any future spin-offs with audiences.
So, if we want to see Lando Calrissian in his Casanova years or Princess Leia’s journey to take up arms against the Empire, then Rogue One could be our only hope.