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The Star Wars franchise continues to artfully recycle its greatest tricks. In 1977, George Lucas dove straight into his epic space opera in medias res with Episode IV, A New Hope. After three sequential films, he went back in time and told the beginning of the story. Then, of course, there was last year’s Episode VII, The Force Awakens, which went “back to the future” and picked up where Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, left off.

…Which leads us to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due in theaters December 16. It seems, from the thrilling trailer, that Rogue again moves us back in time. But where, exactly, does this story pick up? The casual fan may be a little mystified. Just when, in that galaxy far, far away, is Rogue One supposed to take place? Is it a sequel, or a prequel?

In short: are we going to be dealing with Hayden Christensen, or James Earl Jones?

Relax, worried fans. The answer is the latter. Director Gareth Edwards (best known for his 2014 Godzilla reboot) has already reported having a “nerdgasm” while recording Vader’s lines with Jones. Rogue One is set just before A New Hope. It’s the story of an unlikely team of rebels and their mission to steal plans for the newly-minted Death Star. Remember that bit from the opening crawl for 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…

That is, in a nutshell, the story Rogue One promises to tell. Disney has cleverly squeaked Rogue One right into the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. That’s right—Rogue One is a squeakquel.


So Rogue comes after Revenge and before Hope—surely this is the darkest period in Star Wars lore. That would explain the heavy, war-movie sort of tone we have gotten from trailers so far. Indeed, with writer Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) working on the screenplay and Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) on the story, we might expect Rogue One to deliver a much grittier take on the typical Star Wars fare. Most of the film’s action seems to take place on the moon Jedha, a Mecca-like Jedi holy city under imperial occupation. Perhaps the franchise is finally moving past its tired, safe World War II allegories and taking on a more contemporary political parallel? We’ll see come December.

So we’ll have an exciting bridge between Lucas’ two installments—we’ll get the 1977 Darth Vader, but we will also see characters from Revenge of the Sith, like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who we last knew as a Galactic Senator, and who now appears to be a rebel general (she’s that red-headed lady in the trailer who says “we have a mission for you”).

Of course, there will also be plenty of new characters, creatures, inventions, and places to populate this film. Some of these new additions—like Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a rebel guerilla extremist (more contemporary parallels?)—are creations plucked straight out of the innumerable spin off Star Wars books, comics, video games, and animated shows.

Other new additions include some cool-looking characters played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, two Chinese movie stars hired in what seems to be an attempt (an unsuccessful one, so far) by Disney to broaden the international market for Star Wars. And there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), coming in with this movie’s robotic comic relief (another classic Star Wars trope). In keeping with the somewhat darker tone of this movie, however, K-2SO is not a rolling trash can or a cute soccer ball-thing, but an imposing imperial enforcer droid that has been stolen and reprogrammed by another new character, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).

Most importantly, there is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), our new hero, who just looks badass, right? Disney must have heard the message when The Force Awakens was praised for its progressive casting.

And let’s not forget the space ships. The Rogue One trailers promise a new letter-shaped ship—the U-Wing. Those rebels really do love their alphabet-ships. When does the S-wing come out?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stars Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, and Mads Mikkelsen. You can see it in theaters December 16.

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