(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Rogue One. Proceed with whatever level of caution the Force suggests to you is wise)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out, and first reactions are tremendously positive. I freely confess that I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the script, the acting, and the special effects. Walking away from #RogueOne, there's one thing that excites me most of all: This film has just launched the beloved Star Wars franchise in a whole new direction.
The First Spin-Off
Until Rogue One, #StarWars movies have essentially been about a single, extended family tree — the Skywalkers and the Solos. It's no coincidence that The Force Awakens introduces us to Kylo Ren, a villain who's actually the son of Han and Leia, nor is it a coincidence that fans are fascinated with the question of Rey's parentage. The main saga is an intergenerational tale focused on a single family who shape the galaxy to an incredible degree.
Last year's The Force Awakens relaunched the main saga in fine form, and did so by essentially playing homage to A New Hope in almost every beat. However, Rogue One is something very different; it's a spin-off movie that, while setting up A New Hope, works perfectly well on its own. It tells a complete story, the tale of the Death Star plans, and in doing so, subtly reworks some of the (few) narrative weaknesses of A New Hope. Nevertheless, it achieves all this while telling a complete story.
Not only is Rogue One a spin-off, but the film goes to great lengths to ensure that its tale is complete by the end of the film. The only possible sequel is, in fact, A New Hope itself. For even though the film is infused with wonderful original characters, every one of them is dead by the end of the movie. There's no going forward from this; the story of Rogue One is over. And that makes Rogue One stand apart from almost everything else Hollywood is producing right now.
Taking A Tip From The Expanded Universe
Back before Disney bought Star Wars, fans reveled in what was known as the "Expanded Universe." The EU gave writers and artists a chance to play in George Lucas's sandpit, to craft creative stories that expand the core cast and give readers a glimpse of a wider range of planets. At its best, the EU gave us side stories that added a whole new layer of depth to the galaxy far, far away; it gave us origin stories for characters we know and love, and it left us fascinated with new, creative additions to the narrative of the galaxy. Rogue One takes the idea of the EU, and plays it out on the big screen.
The idea of spin-off movies is one that George Lucas himself toyed with, as Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy observed:
“George talked to me about doing this when I first came aboard. He had often thought about doing it and he had actually written down three or four thoughts and ideas, directions you could go. Obviously inside the mythology there were lots of opportunities. So that was the first conversation I had.”
Amusingly enough, in yet another nod to the EU, #Lucasfilm is also working on a #HanSolo origin film. Remember what I said about the best of the EU giving us origin stories for our beloved characters? Yes, it seems that Lucasfilm is tapping into that as well.
A Change In Direction
In fact, incredibly, this may well mark a complete change in direction for the Star Wars franchise as a whole. Kathleen Kennedy has admitted that Lucasfilm still hasn't decided what direction of travel to take with Star Wars. Do they continue the main Star Wars saga? Or, instead, do they finish it once the latest trilogy is complete and focus on the standalone movies?
Rogue One gives us a glimpse of a possible future where the classic characters are in the background, casting their shadows across the galaxy, but where the main stars are original characters. It gives us a movie that deliberately sweeps across the galaxy, from Jedha to Scarif, avoiding the familiar Coruscant, Hoth, and Tatooine. It even subtly changes the Star Wars mythology, introducing us to the Guardians of the Whills.
I have to be honest: As much as I love the classic Star Wars trilogy, if this is the future of Star Wars, then I'll be happy. The advantage of this kind of spin-off film is that it truly leaves us with the sense that we're experiencing the trials and tribulations of a galaxy far, far away. While familial themes are still strong, it stops the whole galaxy revolving around a single dynasty, and in so doing, opens up the potential for unlimited stories. Even better, because Rogue One shows us that Lucasfilm is more interested in setting up standalone films than launching sub-franchises, it opens us up to the possibility that the galaxy will forever be expanding.
- How 'Rogue One' Just Resolved The Greatest Problem With 'A New Hope'
- 'Rogue One' Will Combine Old & New Elements Of The Franchise To Create The Most Unique Star Wars Movie Yet
- The Cream Of The Crop: Why 'A New Hope' Is Still The Best Star Wars Movie!
Rogue One is essentially a trial-run, a bold attempt by Lucasfilm to see whether or not they can take the Star Wars franchise in a whole new direction. Given the way fans are responding to the movie, I think this experiment can already be described as a success.
Do you want to see Star Wars focus on one-and-done spin-offs?
(Poll Image Credit: Lucasfilm)