When folks think of Star Wars, their minds tend to the lightsabers or the blaster pistols: big laser sword fights or shootouts with Stormtroopers. But what is overlooked, at least by some, is just how thrilling the old school dog fights were between ace fighter pilots and daring bombers in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s safe to Patty Jenkins is not one of those people, and she’s going to prove it with Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, the first movie all about the aerial combat in that galaxy far, far away.
Revealed late during Disney’s Investor Day Thursday evening, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is the next Star Wars movie to take to the skies, and the theaters, with a Christmas 2023 release date already penciled in. And it’s a movie that’s clearly close to Jenkins’ heart, as she revealed in the below sizzle video.
Seen on a tarmac drenched in the same sunset glow we associate with Top Gun movies, Jenkins spoke candidly about memories of her late father Capt. William T. Jenkins, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, and who was her hero growing up. She also explained why those memories brought her to Star Wars and the fabled Rogue Squadrion.
“I love to move fast at speed of any kind,” Jenkins said after a brisk rush by the camera on rollerblades. “I think that’s because I grew up the daughter of a great fighter pilot, and every day I would wake up and go outside and look up, and I would see my father and his squadron take off in their F4s, roaring across the sky. It was the most thrilling thing that still I’ve experienced in my entire life.”
She continued, “So when he lost his life in service to this country, it ignited a desire in me to turn all of that tragedy and thrill into one day making the greatest fighter pilot movie of all time. But try as I might, and look as I did, I couldn’t find the right story ever. I kept looking and looking, but I just couldn’t find the right one until now. Now I found a movie about two things I love.”
Those two things are of course the excitement of a life in the sky, and the still all-ages thrill of a Star Wars event on the big screen.
It’s a revealing personal testimony from Jenkins, who recently became an A-list director by helming Wonder Woman, a superhero movie unafraid to bask in the earnestness and sense of adventurism of the past, even while telling a refreshingly modern story that stepped away from Hollywood expectation. When I met her in London in 2017, she namechecked films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Casablanca as being just as inspirational to her as any superhero movie.
And in their way, the George Lucas Star Wars movies of the past also looked back at the same type of WWII melodramas, with dog fighter adventure movies like The Dam Busters being where the fighter pilot iconography of the Death Star run came from.
Of course Star Wars: Rogue Squadron seems like it could be something more poignant still for Jenkins. While the music in the promotional video blatantly echoes the recent trailers for Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, Jenkins is putting her personal, hard-won history as an Air Force brat front and center in a tribute that combines X-Wings with an unapologetic sense of duty.
The logline of the film reads, “The story will follow a new generation of starfighter pilots as they earn their wings and risk their lives in a boundary-pushing, high-speed thrill-ride, and move the saga into the future era of the galaxy.” Apparently we’re leaving empires and first orders behind.
It will of course also thrill fans since in addition to Rogue Squadron being the name of Luke Skywalker’s fighter pilot group from Empire Strikes Back onward, the company of ace pilots has had a long history of expanded universe (or “legends”) stories written before Disney purchased Lucasfilm. Most memorably for millennials of a certain age, this includes the Nintendo 64 game Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998) and its fantastic Nintendo GameCube sequel, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (2001). In those games, players controlled both Luke Skywalker and supporting character Wedge Antilles as they battled the forces of the Empire during, between, and after major events in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Clearly their battle, as well as Jenkins’, will continue when Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is released in theaters in December 2023.