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Starting Friday, Rogue One returns audiences to that far, far away galaxy populated by Hutts, Wookiees, and whatever the heck Yoda is supposed to be. But in many ways, the Gareth Edwards directed film — which takes place just prior to the events of the original Star Wars adventure, A New Hope — isn’t the typical Star Wars movie you’re looking for. The first in a series of standalone tales that the franchise’s new minders at Disney plan to release in between chapters of the ongoing main saga of the Skywalker family, Rogue One knowingly diverges from several key aspects of Star Wars tradition. Here’s our quick guide to what you won’t see when you ride shotgun alongside the Rogue One squad as it embarks on its high-stakes mission to swipe those all-important Death Star plans.
‘Rogue One’ director Gareth Edwards explains why there’s no opening crawl:
No Opening Crawl
While Rogue One does open with the standard assurance that the story you are about to see happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” that’s the last bit of written exposition provided ahead of the action. Gone is the familiar yellow text that crawls across the yawning void of space, providing such helpful information as “It is a period of civil war,” “Luke Skywalker has vanished,” and, “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.” It’s a story-so-far device that Star Wars mastermind George Lucas borrowed from the classic sci-fi serials that directly inspired his series. (Interestingly, A New Hope’s saga-defining credits crawl has changed over the years: The original text was rewritten with the help of Brian De Palma and ran without a chapter title. After The Empire Strikes Back was released, Chapter IV: A New Hope was affixed to the top of the crawl.)
Since Rogue One tells a standalone story — one that’s actually derived from a line that appears in A New Hope’s credits crawl — there’s not as much need for a catchup. “We felt that’s so indicative of what those saga films are,” producer Kathleen Kennedy told Variety in November. “Initially, we probably will begin the film in a way that is traditional, with just the title.”
No John Williams Fanfare
The legendary composer’s beautifully bombastic score is one of the elements that give Star Wars its oomph, starting with the world-famous main title theme. Eagle-eared viewers will notice other Williams-written musical motifs that make cameos in Rogue One, often accompanying physical cameos by other familiar franchise faces. But for the bulk of the film, celebrated composer Michael Giacchino carries the baton, a last-minute replacement for Alexandre Desplat, who dropped out in September after an extensive, and widely publicized, round of reshoots. As Giacchino explained to Entertainment Weekly, his background scoring war-themed video games like Call of Duty came in handy for writing music for Star Wars’ version of a war movie. “Hopefully you get a sense of the adventure without losing sight of what’s really important in the film and story. Sometimes everything can just be blown over by bravado, and I was trying really hard not to do that.”
No Lightsaber Battles in This War Movie
From Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul to Luke vs. Darth Vader, each Star Wars episode includes at least one epic lightsaber brawl, modeled after the sword fights in classic swashbucklers like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood. But the action in Rogue One is the kind of gritty, documentary-like wartime combat that’s not suited to the Jedis’ weapon of choice, which Obi-Wan described as “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” After several early skirmishes, the movie builds to a lengthy battle pitting the Rebel army against the Imperial forces that more closely resembles Saving Private Ryan than Robin Hood. In fact, Ryan and Rogue share an F/X supervisor, Neil Corbould, and Rogue also staffed up with other crew members well versed in the language of cinematic warfare, including Zero Dark Thirty cinematographer Greig Fraser.
“Stylistically we knew to some extent it was going to be a war movie, so we looked at footage from Vietnam, the Gulf War, and World War II,” Gareth Edwards told the Los Angeles Times. “In the [editing room], we did a rough version of the movie using pieces of war footage and photography just to see what the rhythm and feel of that would be like.” That’s a page right out of George Lucas’s playbook: During production of the original Star Wars, Lucas complied a reel of war footage to help his effects team translate those earthbound firefights to outer space.
Because the Jedi Order is still devastated by the Siths’ revenge at this point in the timeline, this is the first Star Wars feature not to feature one of those robe-wearing, lightsaber-wielding peaceful warriors. But the Force they talk so much about is still very much present, embraced by one of the most memorable members of the Rogue One team: blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen.
Chirrut is introduced as a Guardian of the Whills, a name that looms large in Star Wars mythology. A Force-connected group of shamans who existed long before the events of the feature film saga, the Whills wrote their knowledge down in a journal that was referenced in the earliest drafts of Lucas’s screenplay of A New Hope, as well as Alan Dean Foster’s 1977 novelization. Deprived of sight, Chirrut places his faith in the Force to guide him. But he carries a lightbow rather than a lightsaber and doesn’t travel in the company of a Padawan — just his cannon-blaster-firing pal Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).
Less Mythology, More ‘Dirty Dozen’
Entire books have been written about the debt that Star Wars owes to mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose defining work, The Power of Myth, shaped Luke Skywalker’s hero’s journey. But Rogue One appears to take its inspiration from a less studied source: Robert Aldrich’s 1967 World War II favorite The Dirty Dozen. By assembling a task force of less-than-heroic heroes (including Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, and Telly Savalas) and sending them off to complete an impossible mission, that movie established a template that’s been borrowed by such modern-day blockbusters as Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad, and now Rogue One. And as a war movie, Rogue One has an even more direct connection to The Dirty Dozen.
Watch Ben Mendelsohn talk about his epic cape in ‘Rogue One’: