By now, many of you have read the myriad of rumors surrounding the upcoming potential “catastrophe” known as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first prequel, I mean “story” in a new Star Wars anthology project. If not, why are you on a movie site? But if you haven’t, here’s a couple articles to get you up to speed. Here’s the New York Post article that kicked it off. Here’s something from the Hollywood Reporter. And here’s something from this site. Needless to say, there’s plenty of information being thrown around the Internet and more coming out every day. So what does this all mean for one of this December’s most anticipated releases?
Let me start by saying, I’m not going to pretend that I understand anything definitive about this ‘controversy’. I don’t have exclusives, I don’t have insiders, I don’t have scoops. I am working with the same exact information that most of you have, and much of that information seems to have devolved into a horrendous game of telephone. I understand that several weeks of reshoots on tentpole films like these are common. Bringing on Oscar-favorite writers who were unaffiliated with the original film to oversee the changes is not quite as common. (Initially one-time winner Christopher McQuarrie and two-time nominee Tony Gilroy were linked, though now allegedly McQuarrie was never involved and only Gilroy is connected as a director as well as as a writer.) The latest reports estimate that nearly 40% of the movie will be reshot. This is a figure that’s impossible to verify, but almost certainly uncommon. However, even if it’s exaggerated, as it almost definitely is, it certainly evinces a mindset that should concern anyone looking forward to this film. The last time we heard of such extensive reshoots, we got Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four. (Though on the flipside, World War Z also got massive reshoots and that became a hit. Completely bastardized the source material, but was a hit nonetheless.)
Panning through the information, it seems as if the simplest explanation is the most likely. Disney probably initially had a plan to grow the Star Wars universe with fresh stories offering different takes on the galaxy. Making more adult Star Wars movies actually makes a lot of sense. The people who grew up with Star Wars are adults now – even the people who grew up with the Star Wars prequels, if you want to feel old. Adult audiences still have the primary Star Wars “Episodes” line to recapture their childhood, but they would certainly appreciate edgier, more adult-oriented Star Wars stories as well – why not try to appeal to both sides of our fandom?
This is what director Gareth Edwards apparently pitched and seemingly delivered – a Star Wars movie that put the Wars above the Star. It’s a concept that has genuine potential. I am interested in learning more about the Empire and its inner workings – one of the prequel trilogy’s greatest failings – and the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an Imperial leader is a great choice. (Rogue One has assembled an overall fantastic cast.) And obviously the movie is capitalizing on good amounts of nostalgic appeal to bring us into the theater, but that doesn’t mean it needs to remain childish. After all, it’s not children paying $1,500.00 for a Poe Dameron X-Wing Helmet.
Then The Force Awakens became a worldwide success, and Disney remembered just how much ridiculous amounts of money can be made on a child-friendly Star Wars movie. Ah, nothing quite conjures up feelings of movie magic more than the term “four-quadrant appeal.” After all, when it comes to profiting off of Star Wars, it’s not just the movie we’re talking about, but all the merchandising that comes with it. You want the kids screaming for the K-250 Droid toys … while doing your best to deflect the Internet crying sexism because of the lack of Jyn Erso action figures.
So all of this begs the question – what is Disney trying to accomplish with these new prequels, I mean “stories?” Well money, obviously. Every year without a new Star Wars movie is leaving truckloads of cash on the table. But beyond that? What is the point of these ventures?
Rogue One is Disney’s first chance to take Star Wars beyond what is conventionally considered Star Wars – not including the comic books, extended universe novels, new novels, the Rebels TV show, and all the other properties that attract diehard fans, but not so much mass audiences – and yet stretch its boundaries in perhaps the most audience-friendly way possible. After all, Rogue One is a story of the heroes of the rebellion, the people who stole the plans for the Death Star. It’s a story where the roles of good and evil are strictly delineated – rebels vs. empire. But it’s also a story that takes us “10 minutes before the start of A New Hope.” We know how it ends long before it begins, and its impact on the old and new movies will be negligible at best. The simplicity and inconsequential nature of the story makes it a prime opportunity to experiment and let us see what else Star Wars can do within its self-imposed parameters. But instead, Disney has at the last minute opted against this approach with a new desire to make Rogue One more like Star Wars … but without any of the impact or relevance of the main line of movies.
Now, if they can’t get this most Star Wars-y concept Star Wars-y enough, what does this mean for other installments in this anthology? Future films will have even more difficulty in accomplishing these new goals. Take the next planned spin-off movie, Han Solo: Origins, for instance.
Admittedly, I think a Han Solo prequel movie is a bad move from the word go. As much as I liked Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar!, anyone cast in the role of the scruffy looking nerf herder would deal with unfavorable comparisons to Harrison Ford’s performance. At least Ewan McGregor had decades of distance between himself and Alec Guinness’ turn at the Kenobi role, while we were just reminded why Ford was so great less than six months ago.
Secondly, Han Solo: Origins would probably fall into the trap most prequels fall in – banking on nostalgia more than originality, which in turns cheapens the source material. Even Rogue One needed Mon Mothma and AT-ATs in its teaser, and that was before Disney went into panic mode. Very few characters stand “alone.” Just as Indiana Jones “needs” his classic hat and whip to “be” Indiana Jones, Han Solo will similarly “need” his assortment of accessories, which means we’ll likely get all the greatest hits – meeting Chewbacca, getting the Millennium Falcon, running afoul of Greedo, completing the Kessel Run, etc. I bet we’ll even see how he got the damn vest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some riff on “I love you.” “I know.” Are all of these fears unsubstantiated? Certainly. But I’m on the Internet, so it’s my prerogative to complain. And it’s not unlikely considering how most prequels operate.
This tonal issue and the “Be More Star Wars” directive are just more fuel for these concerns. As an anti-hero, Han Solo is pretty light, but he is a character known for flaunting the law. He is a smuggler. He is a man comfortable freelancing out of a wretched hive of scum and villainy. If Disney cannot stretch the bounds of “darkness” for an actual hero story, one can only guess how toothless they’re going to make rogue ne’er-do-well Han Solo in Millennium Falcon Toy: The Movie. Now picture what the much-slobbered-after Boba Fett: The Movie would be like under this mindset.
Is the Anthology series doomed? Hard to say, though as an Internet commentator, I feel compelled to answer that with a definitive yes. The myriad of books and comics prove that there are plenty of stories to tell within the Star Wars universe, provided Disney wants to tell them. Unfortunately, rumors of potential Stories – which include movies centered around a post-Sith/pre-ANH Obi-Wan, Yoda, the aforementioned Boba Fett – indicate that Disney’s thinking is to keep this spin-off franchise strictly in the pre-Original Trilogy past, which is definitely problematic (more so now that we have decades of history to fill in between Jedi and Force). Didn’t we already learn our lesson about prequels? But even more troubling than focusing on movies designed to be irrelevant is the lofty expectations Disney apparently has for these films. Not everything can be Star Wars, not even Star Wars.