In December of 2016 — only a few months away — the eighth major installment of the Star Wars film franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will be released. Nearly 40 years after we were first introduced to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One will bring us back the early days of the Rebellion against the Empire, exploring the events that led up to the opening scenes of 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.
For those who have somehow managed to avoid the Rogue One trailer (or any other news about the upcoming film) this movie will chronicle the acquisition of the secret Death Star plans described in the opening crawl of A New Hope.
This movie will feature a few characters that have been in Star Wars movies before (such as Mon Mothma and Darth Vader,) but its primary protagonists are a brand new ensemble who have not appeared on the silver screen before. Even though it follows Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens in release order, it is set approximately 35 years earlier in fictional continuity. Due to its setting and its place in the chronology, Rogue One represents a return to George Lucas's original vision of how Star Wars sequels would be created.
Origins Of The Franchise
The original Star Wars film was a cultural phenomenon like nothing before. Lines stretched around the block for months when it was released, and the film won six Academy Awards. This success was something that no one expected, including George Lucas, who had spent almost five years churning out draft after reinvented draft of the story that would eventually make it to the screen.
In his landmark book, The Secret History of Star Wars, Star Wars über-fan Michael Kaminski details the development of the 1977 film and the creation of those that followed it:
[Lucas] took the basic charm of 'Flash Gordon' — good guys who fight a never-ending battle against the villains, always finding themselves in new adventures and unlikely danger, and who inhabit a setting with a strange mix of magic and technology — and began making it his own.
Laser swords, ray guns, capes and medieval garb, sorcerers, rocket ships and space battles would all stem from the 'Flash Gordon' and 'Buck Rogers' episodes Lucas grew up with. The film needed to be filled with impressive visuals and constant peril and excitement, a non-stop action film with lots of explosions and graphics. (43)
Expanding The Original Vision
In late 1977, George Lucas began to develop the idea that the first movie (then simply titled Star Wars) would be by followed by a dozen serialized films, in the tradition of the Buck Rogers and Tarzan serials of the 1930s. These subsequent stories would not necessarily be direct sequels, but could feature other actors in other time periods within the Star Wars mythos.
Lucas planned to oversee other writers and directors, but would not always be directly involved with each film. He would provide a unifying vision and continuity behind the scenes, similar to the role that Kevin Feige at Marvel plays for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or that of a showrunner for a television series.
Kaminski's research provides further insight into the sequel development process (emphasis mine):
With the film unexpectedly proving to be the most popular and successful motion picture in history... Lucas decided that he would make the series into a franchise in the vein of James Bond; interviews from 1977 reveal that the series is to be a loosely-connected serial, each chapter following different characters and time periods and containing different themes, as well as being made by different directors. The films apparently don't follow chronological sequence, as Lucas speculated that a possible sequel could be the early days of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and [Lucasfilm producer] Gary Kurtz has even indicated that a sequel was pondered which traced the formation of the ancient Jedi order. (489)
In many interviews in the 1970s, Lucas described the Star Wars series as “Flash Gordon meets James Bond.” Lucas and the creative team working on Star Wars sequels wanted to create a similar long-running franchise for Lucasfilm, with Luke Skywalker perhaps becoming a pulp hero based on those portrayed by Buster Crabbe & Errol Flynn.
The James Bond film series had begun in 1962, and by the time Star Wars was released there had been 10 James Bond films. Three different actors had appeared in the titular role: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore. A combination of four directors and eight writers had worked on these movies, all under the auspices of producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (the “showrunners” of the series.)
One Dozen Adventures
The Secret History of Star Wars cites interviews in 1978 with Time Magazine and some early issues of Bantha Tracks in which George Lucas confirmed that he had a 12-episode series in mind.
In the ['Time'] article Lucas says that because of the eleven sequels it will take twenty-three years of constant filming to produce it all, with 2001 as the projected date of completion. (155)
Kaminski notes that in the autumn of 1979, once production on The Empire Strikes Back (then simply titled Star Wars II) had begun, Bantha Tracks described Lucas's role as showrunner for the series:
Overseeing it all are Director Irvin Kershner... and Executive Producer George Lucas, making sure that every phase of production keeps to his vision for the entire twelve-part saga. (156)
A New Vision
Later in the development of The Empire Strikes Back, a new concept for the series was developed. Rather than a dozen somewhat-independent adventure films, the Star Wars Saga became a more contiguous story told over nine films. Lucas designed a series of three trilogies, of which Star Wars (now retitled A New Hope) and The Empire Strikes Back would become Episodes IV and V.
Lucas himself, of course, only made six of his planned films before selling the franchise and Lucasfilm itself to Disney in 2012. The future of Star Wars was handed over to Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and the Lucasfilm Story Group and the decision was made not to use the material that Lucas had developed for Episodes VII–IX.
The Future Of The Franchise
In the next few years, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens will be followed by Episodes VIII and IX, completing the third trilogy focusing on the Skywalker family. These "Saga" films will be joined by an as-yet-unspecified number of standalone films, starting with Rogue One. There are currently two more anthology films scheduled: the Han Solo “solo” film in 2018, and a third movie set for release in 2020, rumored to feature Boba Fett, or perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi.
These standalone films will bring the total number of major Star Wars feature films to 12 — a dozen films by different teams of writers and directors, presented out of chronological order, featuring disparate themes and casts of characters, bringing the series full circle to how George Lucas first envisioned in the 1970s.
Over the past four decades, the Star Wars galaxy has continued to expand exponentially, ensuring the existence of extra episodes of the Skywalker Saga and the possibility for even more adventures in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars fans eagerly awaiting Rogue One can nerd out in the video below that takes an in-depth look at the most recent trailer for the upcoming movie:
Which episode in the Star Wars saga is your favorite?