“They were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.”-Princess Leia (From the George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster Star Wars novelization).
Getting back into the review game a bit-this time with of course one of my favorite movie sagas, the Star Wars franchise. This initial article will deal with some facts about the film and some cool things I noticed, with later things going on to other elements of the film.
Rogue One is the first Star Wars film by Disney to be released as part of their “Star Wars anthology” series-movies set outside the core episodic ‘saga’ of the films, but tied to them all the same. Han Solo is up next, with a unknown subject for a third spinoff, and possibly more on their way. Technically, they’re not the first films to be outside of the main saga-there’s 2008’s The Clone Wars, which originated as a television pilot for the following animated series before being put into theaters-and also the two 1980’s Ewok TV films (Which had a theatrical release in some countries).
Rogue One in particular deals with the rebel’s “first victory against the galactic Empire”, something detailed in the very first part of Star Wars’s opening scroll..a battle during which the Death Star plans-the “macguffin” of the first film-were stolen and sent to Leia’s ship, later pursued by Vader and put into R2-D2 etc.. While some (contradictory) accounts of the battle/theft were covered in the “Expanded Universe” media-novels, comics, games etc….Disney largely re-worked the ‘canon’ of the series around 2014, in part because their plans for the sequel trilogy conflicted with the post-ROTJ stuff that had already been published. So Rogue One is a fresh take on this bit of Star Wars lore.
The film is also technically a prequel-while the ‘prequel trilogy’ had already come out around 1999-2005 (with spin-offs such as the Clone Wars also continuing the trend) and detailed the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, his transformation into Darth Vader, as well as the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire, Rogue One is set much closer to the start of the original trilogy, although it does share some elements with the prequel films-films that were much maligned for various reasons-too much CG, wooden acting (even by a talented cast) lackluster comic relief etc….thankfully, those elements aren’t retained, but some stuff that’s sort of more relevant to the first film.
Bail Organa’s (Jimmy Smits) is the main connection; he’s mentioned in the first film, but wasn’t seen on-screen until Attack of the Clones (A scene involving him in The Phantom Menace-played by a different actor than Jimmy Smits-was cut), and played a larger role in Revenge of the Sith, helping to rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from the Emperor’s Order 66, and also adopting the young Leia as his daughter, as well as starting to sow the seeds of the future rebellion (although a lot of that was cut from Revenge of the Sith). Here, we see him about to send his daughter on her fateful mission to not only help with the Death Star plans, but also to recruit his old Jedi friend to their cause. Although not given much time, Smits comes across as far less wooden than his role in the prequels.
We’ve also got another link with the rebel leader Mon Mothma, seen in “Return of the Jedi”. Although her scenes were cut from “Revenge of the Sith” with the character mostly just seen in the background, the same actress is used (Genevieve O’ Reilly)
Saw Gerrara’s another connection-the character originally appeared in a Clone Wars story arc, as part of a group fighting the seperatists on his home planet of Onderon (a planet that first debuted in the “Tales of the Jedi” comics-it’s place in “Clone Wars” still make that part of it Disney’s canon). Although he’s younger and more optimistic in Clone Wars, like Anakin Skywalker, who he fought alongside in that episode, he’s now become almost more machine than man, and has become embittered, now leading a more violent rebel cell on the planet Jedha. Like Vader, he’s even got a bit of a breathing issue.
Curiously, there’s not a lot of history on the Death Star itself, other than the project has been delayed and needs the main heroine’s father to complete it, and requires crystals-the same ones used in lightsabers-to function. No mention is really made of it’s origins, as a Geonosian design in “Attack of the Clones” originally intended to be used by the separatists:
Although that’s not really that relevant to things. The Death Star, in the film, is shown to be nearly complete, with it’s opening scene showing the superlaser finally being fitted into the design. Although under the direction of weapons developer Orson Krennic, Grand Moff Tarkin wants to assume command of the station, sort of pointing out that it was pretty much his at first, which kind of fits with him watching it’s early stages at the end of “Revenge of the Sith”. The film also makes up for the lack of screen time Tarkin had in the prequels, giving us a CG-recreated Peter Cushing (His ROTS self was played by “Farscape” actor Wayne Prygam).
The film also brings back the “Death Star” theme from A New Hope, as well as the early version of the Imperial theme used in that film (The Imperial march as well makes an appearance, but mostly associated with Vader-which makes sense, it’s pretty much intended as his theme; even Anakin’s theme in the prequels pretty much is a version of it too). There’s also a fourth Imperial theme in the movie that’s brand new, which is mostly associated with Krennic himself.
Perhaps one of the more interesting references to the prequels is Vader’s fortress-located on the planet Mustafar, where Vader was truely ‘born’ as it’s where he lost his limbs (save the arm he’d already lost on Geonosis), his ability to breathe on his own, and his wife (and also he presumes, their kid). We also learn that he kind of ‘rests’ in a bacta tank (a sort of healing balm that Luke also used in The Empire Strikes Back after escaping from the wampa and nearly freezing to death)-something that also sort of recalls the ‘pod’ he used (and was able to safely unmask in) in his Star Destroyer quarters in The Empire Strikes Back.
The film also has a bit of a technology link with the prequels, as we’ve got the Juggernaut (or “Turbo Tank” renamed perhaps to avoid confusion with the Marvel comics supervillain-not so much a problem now as both franchises are owned by Disney anyway). Curiously, the Imperial land vehicle originates as a concept for the Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, and then later cropped up in various illustrated Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff before being fully realized in Revenge of the Sith. It has a kind of short cameo as a prison transport for Jyn.
More is made of the Jedi’s backstory somewhat, with the world of Jedha, which has a lot of Jedi statues and temples, and also seems to be a heavy source of the crystals used to power lightsabers and the Death Star. Going by the name, it’s possible it’s some sort of Jedi ‘homeworld’ or something, and maybe used as their lightsaber source (although another crystal planet-Illum-is seen in the EU and in Clone Wars).
Likewise, we learn of the “Guardians of the Whills”-the Whills being a sort of a Star Wars term that’s one of the more unexplained elements of Star Wars lore. Some kind of order similar to the Jedi? Some kind of galactic record-keepers? Yoda’s species? In some drafts of Star Wars, the term is used for the saga being a chapter in “The Journal of the Whills”, and the Whills were also mentioned in a Revenge of the Sith deleted scene, as having guided Qui-Gon to have become a Jedi ghost.
Like Lor Son Tekka in “The Force Awakens”, the Guardians seem to have a reverence for the force, but do not appear to be particularly skilled in it’s function (although it’s possible Cherrit uses the force to ‘see’ as he’s blind), or have the power itself.
In his opening scene, he also makes reference to “The force of others”-a term that originates from way back in Lucas’s early drafts of Star Wars, before the more common “May the force be with you” showed up. It’s a nice little nod, showing that-along with concepts such as Vader’s castle, and the whills itself; that concepts that didn’t make it into the other films can still be used later on-something that’s happened with the other films- Empire’s Cloud City is an unused Imperial prison concept from Star Wars; for example, and Lucas tried to get those flying whales seen on Kamino in Attack of the Clones in the saga as early as “Empire”. Force Awakens also used concept art as well-the look of Jakku’s city (based on Jabba’s palace concepts) the X-wings (based on an earlier design by Ralph Mcquarrie with slightly different engines and ‘nose’) and the melee weapon wielding Stormtrooper from “Force Awakens” (The “Traitor!” guy-based on an early concept of a trooper wielding a lightsaber).