Thursday morning, Disney CEO Bob Iger walked up on stage during a press conference, and actually announced a few things. Unsurprisingly, he talked about The Force Unleashed just enough to say that he can’t talk about anything. Then he announced a rather minor but already frequented rumor that Rian Johnson, a director behind Looper and like, three Breaking Bad episodes, would get the distinct honor of writing and directing Star Wars Episode VIII. The only interesting part about this announcement is that they are planning on releasing the next iteration in May of 2017, and maybe the confirmation that J.J. won’t be getting his Bad Robotic butt back in the directing chair after Episode 7. But then he announced something no one really expected. The director, idea-maker, and the name of the first Star Wars stand-alone movie.
What’s In a Name
Normally, there’s quite a bit that goes into the titling of a movie, especially one with such a legacy as a Star Wars movie. People are still debating about the meaning behind The Force Awakens. Now imagine the amount of discussion that will be going into Star Wars: Rogue One, which is of course the name that Bob Iger announced on Thursday. He also announced that Gareth Edwards would be directing the film, Chris Weitz would be writing it, and Felicity Jones would be in it. There’s already been a lot of discussion. It has been 2 days after all.
This announcement took a lot of people, including me, by surprise. It seemed that most of the internet was convinced that the first standalone film would be based on the eponymous bounty hunter Boba Fett. Heck, there were even rumors about a Han Solo standalone, set before A New Hope. But nobody expected that the first non-main story Star Wars movie would involve a Rebel Starfighter squadron. And maybe it doesn’t.
A Little History Lesson
For those who aren’t into delving into the Star Wars movies for inane and mostly pointless details, the word Rogue conjures up the Rogue Squadron that Luke Skywalker lead in a snowspeeder in the Battle of Hoth and also the same Rogue Squadron who destroyed the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. It’s a very minor reference within the movies, but this squadron became legendary with Star Wars fans, especially after Michael A. Stackpole’s X-Wing series of books, which positioned Wedge Antilles as the talented dogfighter and commander of the New Republic’s elite Rogue Squadron. Wedge Antilles, in the films, had the distinct honor of seeing everyone in Red and Gold Squadrons die, took out a TIE fighter that was chasing down Luke, and then promptly ran away when his own wings got clipped before Luke blew up the first Death Star. He then shows up as a member of Rogue Squadron in the Battle of Hoth and manages to take out a massive AT-AT with the help of Wes Jansen and his toe cable. Finally, he shows up again at the end of Return of the Jedi, but this time as Red Leader, and is once again instrumental to the destruction of the second Death Star.
Unfortuntately for Wedge, all his gallivanting about the galaxy as Rogue leader has been shot out of the canon by Disney and Bob Iger, now that Michael A. Stackpole’s books are now part of Star Wars: Legends. That means that there is only one reference to Rogue Squadron in canon, and that’s a reference to a bunch of people flying Snowspeeders. Rogue Squadron does not actually exist as an X-Wing Squadron within the movies. Furthermore, Wedge Antilles never actually commandeered Rogue Squadron, only Luke did. While Luke’s departure to Dagobah would mean Wedge might be promoted, here’s another bit of rub.
Denis Lawson, the guy who played Wedge Antilles, was actually approached to reprise his role in The Force Awakens. And he flat out turned it down, saying that it the role would bore him. Which is about in line with his typical response to anyone who mentioned his Star Wars character. Unlike Anthony Daniels, Denis Lawson never managed to lower his nose. That means, no Wedge Antilles. Wedge is probably going to be creatively written out of the picture or just never referenced again, so don’t get your hopes up that Rogue One will be about him.
Speculation Time: What The Heck is this Movie About
Well, that’s really the problem, isn’t it? Now that the major driving force behind defining the unknowable within Star Wars, the Expanded Universe, has now been shot out of a canon, anything is possible. We don’t even know for sure that Rogue One is about a Starfighter squadron. Rogue One could be a reference to another Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, like Admiral Akbar’s Home One. I mean, we only one canon reference to Rogue Squadron, and that’s as a group of Snowspeeder pilots.
Now, let’s keep that in mind as we delve through the next series of rumors about this film. First of all, there was some concept art shown off at this conference, but unfortunately, this was all shown to investors who would have no idea what the heck they were looking at. Furthermore, there was a strict no-electronics policy at the show, meaning nothing ended up leaking out. As a result, we have no idea what was shown off.
However, thankfully Peter Scrietta of SlashFilm managed to harass a few of the investors into providing some vague descriptions of the concept art. However, they don’t describe space battles, or X-Wings. Instead, they describe operations taking place under the cover of night, with several heavily armored and masked soldiers coming off of a big transport ship on a planet, and there were no orange jumpsuits in sight. Basically, this is some sort of weird covert-ops stuff. While it’s entirely different from the Rogue Squadron we know from the Expanded Universe, it sort of makes sense if you consider that the only canon reference is a reference to Rogue Group, the Snowspeeder squadron.
So, here’s where things get a bit weird. The most persistent rumors on the internet regarding this standalone film have been painting it as a heist movie, involving several bounty hunters that were hired to steal the plans for the original Death Star, a la Seven Samurai. Given the description from SlashFilm, this rumor seems to have a bit more credence. I’m not so sure that this film would be about bounty hunters, as bounty hunters would typically be more interested in delivering rebels to a well-funded empire, but the “bounty hunter” designation tends to get thrown around a lot these days. I have a feeling that we can call these people “mercenaries” rather than bounty hunters.
But that begs the question about the nature of this group. At this point, the Rebels are a loosely collected rag-tag group of people with no sense and a dream. With Star Wars: Rebels, we’re starting to see that the loose “Rebel Cells” are starting to get organized under the banner of Bail Organa, but the Rebellion is still very much a loose alliance, even up to the Battle of Yavin at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope. While it’s possible that a group of bounty hunters or mercenaries could have been hired to help out the Rebellion, I’d imagine that they’d want to stick to loyalists for a mission as dire as getting the plans for the Death Star. In other words, I’m not so sure that this group is anything other than those loyal to the Rebellion, even if they are former bounty hunters.
Known and Unknown Quantities
Unfortunately, none of the known quantities about this movie really tell us anything about it. Gareth Edwards is well known only for writing and directing 2014’s Godzilla and 2010’s Monsters which also follows a couple of normal people as they try to survive a monster apocalypse. Both movies show a preference for understating the big bad threat and focusing on the human element. But that still doesn’t tell us much.
The writer, Chris Weitz, has me scratching my head. While Gareth Edwards is all about fantastic realism, Chris Weitz’s writing credits are on Antz, Nutty Professor II, About a Boy, Golden Compass, and 2015’s revision of Disney’s Cinderella. I’m not really sure what any of these writing credits say other that he can create weird super flashy children stories and awkward attempts at comedy. My thinking is that by combining a director who seems to take himself too seriously with a writer known for fantasy and ridiculous comedies, that Disney will end up getting a serious plot with some witty commentary and odd fantastic elements. Which would totally make sense as a Star Wars heist movie.
The casting announcement of Felicity Jones has also sparked a whole lot of speculation on what character she will be playing. Most sites are speculating that she is representing the title character. However, most sites are misreporting that the film will be “starring” Felicity Jones, which seems to imply that she is the indeed the star of the movie. Except that if you go to the official announcement on StarWars.com, it merely mentions that Felicity Jones “is the first actress cast,” which is a carefully worded way of saying absolutely nothing. That said, they did seem to make a big deal out of casting someone who’s still mostly unknown, so it would be strange to see her to be anything less than a major character. I would imagine she will be part of this heist crew, which might be filled with several stars.
I’ve seen some speculation for Felicity Jones being cast as a younger Princess Leia, and while it’s possible, I sincerely doubt it. Despite Leia’s badassness in the films, she doesn’t strike me as the covert-ops type of person. I mean, she’s the daughter of leader of the Rebellion, but she’s also the princess of a planet and a well-known ambassador to boot. She has no time to run covert-ops missions. If Leia shows up in the film, she’s going to be a bit part at the end of the movie, when the plans go into her hands. And if they’re making a big deal out of Felicity Jones, she’s not going to be a bit character.
Of course there’s one thing that the press announcement forgot to mention. The first draft was written by none other than Gary Whitta. I think it was a calculated move to keep that out of the press, but his departure was not due to his controversial nature with fans. That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention that he is well known for writing The Book of Eli, The Walking Dead video games, and After Earth, which are all serious contemplative narratives. I would point to this as further evidence, that this will be a more serious Seven Samurai style action movie, and not an Oceans Eleven style heist movie.
Finally, I’ve heard rumors that suggest this movie could feature both Han Solo and Boba Fett, and I honestly believe that’s just wishful thinking. Disney is trying to build a universe of their characters, and is seemingly trying to separate themselves from the legacy characters, for reasons of old original actors. That said, I wouldn’t doubt that there might be cameos, and I could even imagine Boba Fett being a potential villain, but unless this movie is about stealing plans for the second Death Star, and therefore would feature a bunch of people in Bothan suits, Han Solo’s not going to be doing anything with the Rebellion at this point. He’s too busy being neutral to take sides in the Rebellion. Hell, they can’t even convince Han to stay even after he helps Luke blow up the first Death Star.
So, basically, the new standalone film is called Rogue One, but I’m doubting it will deal with X-Wing Squadron we know and love from the EU.
Descriptions of the concept sketches shown at Bob Iger’s announcement describe a covert-ops/Navy SEALS style ground ops mission.
I do believe the rumors that this will be a heist plot to steal the plans for the first Death Star.
If Leia is in this movie, it’ll be a very small part, and I doubt Felicity Jones will be playing her.
I also highly doubt that Han Solo will be in this movie, especially if it’s going to be set before the events of Episode IV.
The rumor that Boba Fett will be in this movie is plausible, but he will not be running missions for the Rebellion. As a result, if he’s in the movie, which I’m still not sure on, he’ll be a villain.
Anyway, it’s certainly promising. I’ll keep an eye on the latest info and let you know when I know more.