Why Rogue One is 2016’s most important blockbuster

Where The Force Awakens was a safe bet, Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars story has an even greater task on its hands.


Chris Haydon

“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope,” declares Jyn Erso in the rapturous final trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. An apt and observational quote not just for the gaggle of ragtag anti-heroes preparing to overthrow a galactic dictatorship, but for the twinned studios tasked with bringing their voyage to theatres. Since The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012, the Star Wars franchise has gone from strength to strength. Now, however, they face their first true test.

A little under 12 months ago, JJ Abrams’ much-lauded Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in cinemas everywhere, becoming the third highest grossing film of all time within the space of a month. Already among the larger and most lucrative movie brands, Star Wars has become even more so under the soft, plush hands of the House of Mouse. But The Force Awakens was a safe bet. It continued the episodic format developed by Lucasfilm and paid close homage to George Lucas’ original characters and environments. Rogue One on the other hand is an entirely different animal. The standalone narrative will introduce a new cast of characters (Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is transferred from The Clone Wars animated series), and is stationed somewhere between Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels and Lucas’ Episode IV: A New Hope.

It will also be the first Jedi-free Star Wars story and promises to offer something darker – a far cry from primary-coloured nostalgia and the whirring charm of BB-8. For the first time in four years of ownership, Disney are rolling the dice with their intergalactic behemoth, building their own campaign entirely upon hope.

The production process has been widely publicised and scrutinised. Many outlets reported on expensive and extensive reshoots throughout the summer, apparently owing to a lack of faith in director Gareth Edwards’ first cut from the studio’s top brass. Then it was confirmed that screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy had joined the production, overseeing some five weeks of additional footage and assisting co-writer Chris Weitz with the screenplay. Rumour has it that Disney’s executives were not confident that Edwards could deliver a definitive version of the film without aid from a mentor, and as Gilroy lent his hand to 2014’s Godzilla, he was the obvious man for the job.

There’s also the small matter of inflated expectation. Rogue One is no doubt a proving ground for Disney, a thematic litmus test to see whether stories outside of the traditional Saga framework have validity and mass market appeal. Two further ‘anthology’ features have been confirmed in the wake of Edwards’ epic; the as-yet untitled Han Solo spin-off, for which both Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover have been cast, and a Boba Fett origins tale. Yet the future of such projects could be swiftly vaporised should Rogue One stumble at the final hurdle.

It seems that the pressure is now really on, but press your nose up to the glass a little more and a different picture emerges. Edits become enhancements; high expectations become opportunities. In a year laden with generic, lazy blockbusters, Rogue One has the feeling of something not only fresh and exciting but also purposeful. Something important. Edwards and his band of multilingual, multinational recruits have the chance to be genuinely original within an established, familiar framework.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has previously stated that the studio does not expect Edwards’ entry to match Abrams’, but anyone prepared to take that as criticism is misguided. It is clear that despite production hiccups and negative press, they see potential in this product and increased longevity for the franchise. Should their calculated gamble pay off, audiences can expect future trips to a galaxy far, far away to be considerably more expansive and progressive.

Published 28 Oct 2016

Tags: Felicity Jones Gareth Edwards George Lucas Jyn Erso Star Wars

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