Why Disney Should Let 'Rogue One' Rebel Against Star Wars Formula
by Dan Marcus
June 3, 2016
"This is a rebellion, isn't it? I rebel." Who would have thought that line, spoken by actress Felicity Jones' character Jyn Erso in the Rogue One teaser trailer, would have such great significance for the actual film itself? According to several unconfirmed sources, Rogue One might've rebelled a tad too much. That's the story that has been sweeping the internet this week with major rumors that the first film in the Star Wars Anthology series, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will undergo significant reshoots after initial internal test screenings at Disney apparently failed to impress senior executives. Let's examine why I think that might not bode well for the spin-off and why the film should rebel against the famous Star Wars formula.
When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (at first called Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One, a much clunkier title before this one) was originally announced, it was met with much enthusiasm by Star Wars fans. Even though we've seen seven installments or episodes in the Star Wars saga, they have all been in one form or another about the Skywalker family. Thanks to the Expanded Universe (which is now referred to as the "Legacy" series and deemed "not canon"), die-hard Star Wars know there's a wealth of stories to be told that don't feature someone named Skywalker or a Jedi Knight. There's been tens, if not hundreds, of published material (both in narrative book form and graphic novel/comic book form) that focus on bounty hunters, aliens, side characters and all others in between. The Star Wars films have only scratched the surface at the untapped potential the franchise possess in those galaxies far, far away.
As details further emerged during pre-production regarding Rogue One, the prospect of a live-action story existing in the Star Wars universe but focusing on new, different characters became much more enticing. Once the trailer dropped, fans got to see firsthand how different and unique Rogue One would truly be. As a refresher, check out the original teaser trailer that got fans so excited in the first place:
Why were fans so excited? Well, for one, Rogue One looked and felt radically different in tone and style than any Star Wars film that has come before. In my mind, it most resembles the tone and atmosphere of the original film, A New Hope. Which is why I for one am very puzzled as to how Disney thinks the tone isn't fit for a Star Wars movie. Did any Disney execs watch The Empire Strikes Back, one of the darkest entries in the series and also commonly regarded as one of the best? According to Hollywood Reporter and Deadline, Disney wants the film to have more "levity" and a "fun sense of adventure". While A New Hope had those elements, it was also a very gritty, sometimes spartan space adventure about a group of unlikely heroes being thrust together and forced to get along.
Which is why I was so excited when the Rogue One trailer promised something I had been wanting to see in the Star Wars franchise for a very long time and haven't quite seen since A New Hope: a story focusing on a group of ragtag, unknown characters struggling to survive amongst this big, sprawling epic war between the Empire and the Rebellion. Yes, the film's story focuses on Rebel fighters, but the main character doesn't even seem to be a member of the Rebellion at first. The prospect of a film seen through an average person's point-of-view in the Star Wars universe excited me very, very much. And judging by the trailer's reception, this excited a lot of other fans as well. So when reshoots were first rumored, I honestly dismissed it. Every major blockbuster either goes through reshoots at one point or another, or wishes they could have the time / money for them. It's commonplace in the film industry. However, when more reports surfaced, claiming Disney wanted to change the tone of Rogue One, that's when I became more concerned about their plans.
Disney has a very unique opportunity with Rogue One, which according to sources can be described at the moment (and has been described by director Gareth Edwards) as a "war movie". As the first in this series of spin-off films, it has the chance to be something truly different from anything else we've seen before in the cinematic Star Wars lexicon. Wasn't that the whole point of this exercise? To explore different parts of a franchise many, many people are quite familiar with? It sounds like Disney might be reacting to the astronomical success of The Force Awakens, a film that was largely embraced by fans and regular audiences alike. However, there are some – a vocal minority – that had issues with The Force Awakens that didn't just deal with the film's overly conversant narrative and reliance on traditional Star Wars tropes.
If I'm to be bold, I would argue Rogue One (at least from the initial teaser trailer) feels more like a true Star Wars movie right now than The Force Awakens did.
Now, that's not to say I don't love The Force Awakens – because I do. However, I feel like I'm in a weird place where I enjoyed the film but also want more diversity in my Star Wars. That diversity not only comes from exploring new characters and new galaxies, but also new ways to interpret a franchise that has been interpreted a very certain way since 1977. Audiences are smart to know Rogue One isn't a part of the main Star Wars saga and they also smart enough to accept different flavors of the same thing. Look at the Star Trek franchise, for example. The Original Series is very different from The Next Generation which is very different from Deep Space Nine. The producers behind Trek knew they needed to mix things up if they wanted to remain interesting and they did – at least until Enterprise when the formula became old & tired (although some would argue that started with Voyager, but alas…).
What happened after Enterprise was cancelled after only four seasons, when every spin-off lasted seven? It laid dormant until J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise many years later. The irony given Abrams rebooted Star Wars with The Force Awakens last year is not lost on me.
If Disney wants to create this expansive film universe for Star Wars that doesn't need to be rebooted in 5 to 10 years time- with the "main" films and spin-offs coming out every other year – they are going to need to diversify. That means making films that don't fit the Star Wars formula. That's what the “saga” films are for. If Rogue One is going to be exactly like what has come before, how is that going to be interesting? How is that going to be fresh? Disney needs to start thinking about ways to make sure Star Wars is going to be as exciting 10 years from now as it is currently. The Force Awakens proved there's still a huge amount of interest from fans and general audiences alike in the franchise. Don't squander that by creating a formula that's going to get repetitive quickly if it doesn't get mixed up every once in a while, say every other year with a new Star Wars Story.
Speaking of tired formulas, one could argue there's some repetition settling in with the Marvel movies and superhero films alike. Some are arguing fans and audiences are getting "tired" of the "same 'ole thing" with superhero films. Kevin Fiege and Marvel have come under heat as of late for not taking any risks and for being too safe with their properties (whether that's not killing off major characters or utilizing the same formula/script structure repeatedly with each film). I guess it is appropriate as Marvel is under the same roof as Star Wars now, but Disney has a chance to not let Star Wars fall into the same traps.
If Disney wants Star Wars to succeed, they need to take risks. It's okay if Rogue One is actually a war movie or perhaps not as loud or fun as The Force Awakens or even A New Hope. After all, you hired Gareth Edwards, so you must have watched his prior two films – Monsters and Godzilla – both films which defy convention a tad and are quieter by blockbuster standards. You knew what you were getting into. So let Edwards make his movie and let Rogue One be an entirely different beast than what has become before in the Star Wars franchise. Who knows. You might be surprised at the results. Do you think Disney should be tinkering with Rogue One or should they leave it alone? Sound Off in the comments below!