If overheard conversations at movie theater bathrooms, Facebook threads from the last six months, and my own Thanksgiving dinner table are to be believed, there's confusion surrounding the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Mainly, what the hell is it?
It is the future of blockbustering, in a nutshell. When Walt Disney Pictures and LucasFilm announced Star Wars: Episode VII many moons ago, they teased the potential for "spinoff" films that would carve out new areas of the galaxy far, far away. These would include adventures with characters we know and love (see: Untitled Han Solo Movie, slated for 2018) and one-offs that dug deeper into history established by George Lucas's original movies. Which brings us to Rogue One, which, despite arriving a year after J.J. Abrams introduced us to Rey, Finn, Poe, and a new cast of lovable characters, has absolutely nothing to do with Rey, Finn, Poe, and a new cast of lovable characters.
I repeat: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not a direct sequel to Star Wars: Episode VII. The main character, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), is not tied into the new conflict between "The First Order" and "The Resistance," is not part of Luke Skywalker's lineage, likely has nothing to do with Rey's search for her parents, and definitely is not a part of Snoke's secret Sith revival. Rogue One is a prequel to Lucas's original Star Wars movie, following Jyn as she assembles a team to steal the plans to the first Death Star. Darth Vader links the two movies together. In Rogue One, he's alive and kicking Rebellion ass. In Episode VII, he's a melted helmet inspiring the next generation of brooding bros to stamp out goodness across planetary systems.
This was much easier to follow in 1977.
For those who weren't alive: 40 years ago, Star Wars was simply a phenomenon. There were no plans to produce a sequel in May '77, despite mastermind George Lucas outlining a trilogy-worthy saga. Only after the movie broke box office records did Lucas and 20th Century Fox move forward with The Empire Strikes Back, which would retroactively turn the original into "A New Hope," the fourth episode of a sprawling series. Lucas's dreams still kept Star Wars on a linear path: Return of the Jedi concluded the story of Luke Skywalker, and the "prequel trilogy," kicked off with 1999's The Phantom Menace, rewound to chronicle Anakin Skywalker's pre-Darth Vader days. Abrams revived the story with "Episode VII," adding new characters to the Skywalker legacy. This week the universe expands even further.
Blowing out the Star Wars with tangential stories makes sense to us dorks who spent afternoons devouring spinoff books and comics. If you wanted, you could find Lucas's world-building material catalogued in hardbound tomes like Egyptian artifacts. The hardcore spent their hard-earned allowance on trading cards and tie-in video games. Star Wars' "Expanded Universe" was rich, and the years after Lucas's prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) offered even more to youngsters, with everything from The Clone Wars cartoon to Star Wars Angry Birds adding to the mythology. The story only ended with Ewoks singing "yub nub" if you wanted to end with Ewoks singing "yub nub."
After the Walt Disney Corporation acquired LucasFilm and promised an endless string of Star Wars movies, there was a decision by creatives within the company to flush most of the "Expanded Universe" in order to tidy up what was and wasn't "canon," the official in-universe history of the franchise. The prequel films (Midi-chlorians and all) would stay -- they were juggernaut movies, after all. Details from random books and comics were chucked (sorry, Luke Skywalker's daughter Mara Jade). While it's not 100% clear what elements LucasFilm held over -- mentions in the Star Wars: Battlefront video game and Star Wars: Aftermath in-canon novel have dedicated fans debating whether Boba Fett is alive after falling into the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi, a switcheroo detailed in 1996's out-of-canon short story collection Tales from Jabba's Palace -- enough disappeared to leave room for future movies set in the past and present to toy with the story.
Which brings us to Rogue One. The first in-canon, live-action Star Wars spinoff exists between the third and final prequel installment, Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars 1977. After one viewing, I'm confident there aren't any links to The Force Awakens, beyond the obvious. There are prequel nods, including an appearance by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), and loads of connections for fans of the original movies. The canon inclusivity doesn't end there; Forest Whitaker's character, the instigating rebel Saw Gerrera, is a holdover from The Clone Wars cartoon. It may take a repeated viewings to spot the Easter eggs, but I'm willing to bet there's a visual reference in Rogue One to Disney's current cartoon offshoot Star Wars: Rebels, which takes place in the same shattered political space.
Why can't we see Rey and Jyn in the same place? Rogue One takes place within a few weeks, if not days, of the first Star Wars. The Force Awakens is set approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Barring time travel, don't expect a crossover anytime soon. These two movies have nothing to do with one another -- for now. As Star Wars learned over 40 years, canon is like the Force, binding the galaxy together and susceptible to anyone who can wield it.
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