In the lead-up to this week’s release of the newest Star Wars movie, “Rogue One,” non-diehard fans may have noticed a few things that are different about it versus all the other Star Wars movies that came before — like, for instance, the title. Instead of the usual “Star Wars: Episode Number — A Dramatic Subtitle,” the official name of this movie is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Also, where are all the Jedis and lightsabers? And no C-3PO or R2D2? What gives?
“Rogue One” marks a significant new step for the Star Wars universe. It’s the first of its kind — a movie outside of the main episodic saga everyone is familiar with.
Essentially, this is the movie that — barring box-office disaster, anyway — will serve to crack open the rest of the Star Wars universe beyond just stories about Skywalkers and Sith Lords.
And if that last sentence didn’t send a shiver down your spine, this primer is for you. So without further ado, here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know to get the most out of “Rogue One” and why you shouldn’t go into it expecting the usual Star Wars experience.
What is the Star Wars Anthology Series?
In a nutshell, Lucasfilm, under the direction of Kathleen Kennedy (who took over for George Lucas shortly before he decided to sell the company to Disney in 2012), is dividing all current and future Star Wars movies into two categories: the saga films, which constitute the numbered episodes we’ve seen so far, including last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and what are being collectively referred to as the Star Wars Anthology Series. These, of which “Rogue One” is the first, are intended as standalone movies set within the Star Wars universe but not necessarily connected to the main storyline that has been playing out since 1977’s “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” (aka the original "Star Wars").
In other words, these could be anything from a Yoda origin story to a romantic comedy involving Wookiees. (At least one of those two movies is actually rumored to be in development. Guess which one.)
According to Cinema Blend, the plan is to have one Star Wars movie in theaters every year, alternating between saga films and anthology films, potentially forever.
So it’s not "Episode VIII"?
Nope. “Episode VIII: Han Solo Is Really, Actually Dead” (or whatever the title ends up being) is still almost a full year away. So, for those who are only interested in seeing more of Poe Dameron’s perfectly coiffed hair or getting a few more clues to the question of Rey’s parentage, they’ll have to wait until Dec. 15, 2017.
How “Rogue One” connects to the main saga
Last year, J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” successfully jumpstarted the Star Wars franchise with a straight-up sequel to the six-movie saga Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz began nearly 40 years ago. “The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in the series, took place approximately 30 years after “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.”
“Rogue One,” on the other hand, is a standalone spinoff set somewhere in the 19-year gap between the events of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” and “Episode IV — A New Hope.” It hasn’t yet been specified just how long before or after these two movies that "Rogue One" is set.
Although future anthology films won’t necessarily overlap with the main saga at all, this one does. In fact, as director Gareth Edwards recently said in an interview with My TFI, the story for “Rogue One” was born from the opening text crawl at the beginning of “A New Hope,” fleshing out the story for how a group of rebel spies was able to acquire the plans for the Empire’s planet-sized super-weapon, the Death Star.
Some old faces
Not surprisingly, there are a few returning characters that audiences may recognize from previous Star Wars movies (and TV shows, in the case of one of them).
• Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, et al) — Quite probably the most iconic movie villain of all time, he makes a welcome return, once again voiced by James Earl Jones. (So no, this movie is not completely without Skywalkers or lightsabers.)
• Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) — The leader of the Rebel Alliance, she appeared briefly at the end of “Return of the Jedi” (originally played by Caroline Blakiston) as well as in “The Clone Wars” animated TV series. Interestingly, Genevieve O’Reilly, who takes on the role in “Rogue One,” was originally cast as Mothma for “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” but her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, according to express.co.uk.
• Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) — Bail Organa is Princess Leia’s adoptive father, a senator from Alderaan and one of the founding members of the Rebel Alliance. He first appeared (played by Smits) in “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” He also pops up in both “The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” animated TV series.
• Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) — Saw Gerrera is the first Star Wars character to make the jump from the animated series to live-action movies. He is a freedom fighter whose methods have occasionally been at odds with the other heroes, and he first appeared (voiced by Andrew Kishino) in the “Clone Wars” series.
And new faces, too
You won't need to be an expert in Star Wars canon to appreciate this movie, though. Most of the characters are brand new to the Star Wars universe.
• Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) — Jyn Erso is a young, streetwise rebel who has been on her own since she was 15. Her knowledge of the underworld, as well as her connection to a key member in the Galactic Empire, make her a valuable resource for the Rebellion.
• Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) — Cassian Andor is a Rebel intelligence officer who is partnered with Jyn Erso.
• Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) — Chirrut Îmwe is a blind warrior monk devoted to the ways of the Jedi (although not himself a Jedi).
• Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) — This nonspiritual, blaster-lover is the yin to his friend Chirrut’s yang.
• Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) — Bodhi Rook is a former Imperial cargo pilot who defected to join the Rebellion.
• K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) — Described by Edwards as “the antithesis of C-3PO,” K-2SO — aka “Kaytoo” — is a reprogrammed Imperial security droid.
• Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) — Jyn Erso’s estranged father, described by Entertainment Weekly as a character along the lines of nuclear pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer.
• Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) — The main bad guy of the movie whose official title, according to StarWars.com, is director of advanced weapons research for the Imperial Military. Which "advanced weapon" in particular? Oh, just a little thing called the Death Star.
As the first of its kind in the new Anthology Series, “Rogue One” is making some changes to the classic Star Wars formula and, in the process, setting a precedent for future anthology films.
For one thing, it will be the first Star Wars movie to ditch the opening text crawl. While that might seem like a minor detail at first, it's one of the most recognizable elements of the entire franchise — just watch any Star Wars parody for proof — so not having one is actually a potentially bold stylistic choice.
The biggest change, though, is that “Rogue One” will be the first Star Wars movie to not be scored by John Williams. At 84 years old, it was only a matter of time before the legendary composer would have to let someone else join the party. Taking over for Williams is frequent Pixar and J.J. Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino, who previously scored movies such as “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Up.”
That doesn't mean Williams is done with Star Wars just yet, though. According to Variety, he’s set to begin recording the score for “Episode VIII" sometime this month.
Jeff Peterson studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.