NB: The following contains potential spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and speculation about Rogue One.
Even the return of cinema’s most charismatic fish can’t quite match the anticipation surrounding this year’s Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One. That’s according to a much-shared survey which suggests that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the movie cinemagoers are most looking forward to in 2016 – beating Pixar sequel Finding Dory to second place and superhero face-off epic Batman V Superman into third.
That level of fervour isn’t bad going, really, when you consider that: one, Rogue One isn’t a full sequel to The Force Awakens, which is still cutting a swathe through multiplexes, and two, we don’t really know a huge amount about it yet. At the time of writing, there are no posters, and outside the halls of Star Wars celebations (or at any rate some shaky unofficial footage), we haven’t seen a teaser trailer. So what do we know about Rogue One so far, and what might be in store that hasn’t been confirmed yet?
Let’s look at the facts first, before diving into the rumours and speculation.
As we learned from a brief official synopsis last year, Rogue One throws us back into prequel territory – albeit a period rather different from Lucas’ trilogy which began with The Phantom Menace in 1999. The spin-off will pitch us headlong into the Rebellion’s mission to steal the plans for the Death Star – the very plans that sparked Darth Vader’s murderous search across the planet Tatooine in 1977’s A New Hope.
“Rogue One takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and will be a departure from the saga films but have elements that are familiar to the Star Wars universe,” producer Kathleen Kennedy said as shooting on the spin-off commenced. “It goes into new territory, exploring the galactic struggle from a ground-war perspective while maintaining that essential Star Wars feel that fans have come to know.”
Felicity Jones will play a rebel soldier, one of a “band of resistance fighters” which also includes Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and Jian Wen. This much was confirmed by the first cast photo, which you can see above. Of all these actors, only one has had their character name confirmed thus far: Four Lions and Nightcrawler star Riz Ahmed will play a character named Bodhi Rook, as revealed on his agent’s website.
The rest of the major cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker and Jonathan Aris. Then there’s Alan Tudyk, who’s officially confirmed by Lucasfilm to be playing a “performance-capture character” in the movie.
To date, none of these characters have been officially named, though there’s more than a little speculation as to who some of them might be, as we’ll see shortly.
Director and writers
The “used future” aesthetic introduced in the original Star Wars seeps from every prop and costume in the official image we saw in the previous section, and the appointment of Gareth Edwards as director also fits Rogue One’s grubby, ground-level perspective of a battle between Rebels and the Empire.
Edwards’ first film, Monsters, was praised for its low-key approach to the kaiju genre, with luminous, intergalactic creatures forming the ominous backdrop for an atmospheric relationship drama. Edwards’ major coup was in transplanting that thinking to his 2014 Godzilla movie, which fused a distinctly Spielbergian sense of awe to pulse-quickening scenes of destruction. It’s not hard to see how that film’s stunning HALO jump scene might have led Lucasfilm to think that Edwards would be perfect for a fit for a gritty war film set in the Star Wars universe. As Edwards said of his appointment as director last year:
“The thing that interests me most about Star Wars is, in terms of what was going on, it was very black and white. The good guys were very good, and the bad guys were very bad. But our movie is basically the grey that leads to that polarised event that turns into A New Hope. It’s the realities of war – a complicated, layered, very rich scenario in which to set a movie.”
As written by screenwriter Gary Whitta (with a rewrite by Chris Weitz), Rogue One will be about ordinary soldiers rather than the Jedi – something Gareth Edwards revealed at last year’s Star Wars Celebration.
“It’s set in an era where there are no Jedi, or they’re all but extinct,” Edwards said. “It’s about the fact that God’s not coming to save us. We’re on our own – and we have to do this ourselves and turn around. The absence of the Jedi is omnipresent – it hangs over the whole movie – and it comes down to a group of individuals that don’t have magical powers but have to somehow bring hope to the galaxy.”
Footage and concept art
The 2015 Star Wars Celebration event was also the venue for Rogue One’s first teaser. Thus far, that trailer hasn’t appeared anywhere else in official form, but, with the internet being the internet, it soon leaked onto places like YouTube.
Created before a frame of the actual movie was shot, the 50-second trailer provides a flavour of Rogue One’s setting and tone. TIE Fighters soar across the surface of a leafy planet – which looks a lot like Yavin 4 – before the camera moves to reveal the hazy outline of the Death Star looming large on the horizon. The late Alec Guinness’s voice murmurs about the days of the Jedi Knights and the Old Republic. As that lone, arresting image of the Death Star crushes to black, the anguished screams of soldiers rise to a crescendo.
That trailer was followed by a glimpse of some concept art, which showed Rebel soldiers trooping across the surface of a muddy planet, flanked by ships. The profile of those ships looks somewhat like a T-47 airspeeder, though their greater size and a hatch on the sides suggests they’re some kind of troop-carrying variant.
The significance of the title
What might come as a surprise is that Rogue One is largely about ground action, and not the starfighter conflict suggested by the title. Before the synopsis was unveiled last year, it was widely assumed that Rogue One would be about Rogue Squadron, the hotshot pilots who served as a background detail in the movies but formed a vital part of the wider Star Wars universe thanks to numerous books and videogames.
Thus far, we haven’t seen or heard anything about Rogue Squadron itself in the little official material we’ve seen or read about the movie. But with a name like Rogue One, it’s surely a given that X-wings and their pilots will play some kind of role. In fact, we may already have a small confirmation of this, as we’ll see later…
Like the original trilogy and The Force Awakens, a considerable amount of Rogue One’s filming has taken place in the UK. Shooting began at Elstree Studios last August, with Pinewood and the huge airship sheds at Cardington, Bedfordshire also used to build larger sets.
Location shoots reportedly include the Laamu Atoll in the Maldives, which suggests we might see a hot, somewhat tropical planet at some point in Rogue One. Pictures sneaked out of the production (and seemingly taken by a drone) lend weight to this, since one of the sets at Elstree also features long stretches of sand and fringes of palm trees. The same set of photos showed dead Stormtroopers lying lifelessly around the husk of an unidentifiable burned out ship – perhaps the casualty of a strike from Felicity Jones’ band of Rebels.
Rogue One has also used Iceland as a location, which might suggest that the film will have at least a few scenes taking place on Hoth. It’s worth pointing out, however, that The Force Awakens was also shot in Iceland, but this time as a stand-in for the chilly Starkiller Base. For now, we can only guess at what planets these locations will ultimately represent.
Mads Mikkelsen is one of the creators of the Death Star
Here’s a juicy rumour to kick things off with. According to a story published at Making Star Wars, Mads Mikkelsen could be set to play a character named Galen, a scientist who helps design and refine the Death Star. But realising the destructive, horrifying power of what he’s helped create, he switches allegiance and promptly helps smuggle the Death Star’s plans to the Rebels.
Thus far, all that Mikkelsen has confirmed is that he’s “actually not a bad guy,” but that it’s an “important role.” That’s pretty vague, but if he is indeed playing an Oppenheimer-like scientist strong-armed into creating a deadly weapon for the Empire, it’s certainly true that he isn’t a typical villain.
Felicity Jones’ identity
Here’s a further twist: Felicity Jones’ character is, in fact, Galen’s daughter. A further rumour initially suggested that Jones’ heroine might be named Lyra Erso, based on a piece of information dropped by a casting site. The site revealed that a stunt actress, Gabrielle Fritz, was doubling as a character with that name, and it was initially suspected that the actress she’d be doubling was Felicity Jones. The height discrepancy between the two does, however, throw that theory into doubt.
The return of some classic villains
Rogue One’s setting shortly before the events of A New Hope might suggest that someone would bump into Darth Vader or the fusty Grand Moff Tarkin at some point, and rumours suggest that this is indeed the case.
One of the more curious stories to emerge from the production is that recreating Peter Cushing’s likeness using computer imagery has grown into “one of the most complex and costly CGI re-creations ever,” according to a Daily Mail source. The problem, apparently, is in getting the CG Tarkin to move with Cushing’s distinctive gait.
“They are going through hours and hours of old footage from the horror movies to recreate his legs and feet to produce realistic movements,” the source continued. “It is eerie to see someone who has been dead for so long come to life on a screen.”
While this all sounds very far-fetched to us, it certainly makes sense that the commander of the first Death Star would make at least a brief appearance in Rogue One. There were suggestions that Ben Mendelsohn might be playing Moff Tarkin at one point, but employing such a great actor to essentially do a Peter Cushing impression seems like a disappointing waste of talent.
Rumours do persist, however, that Mendelsohn is playing a Moff (or Imperial govenor) of some sort – according to Bloody Disgusting, he’s the main villain who hires a group of bounty hunters to retrieve the stolen plans to the Death Star.
Those bounty hunters are likely to have fans cheering as they read each name: Boba Fett, Bossk, Dengar, Zuckus & 4LOM, IG-88 and Cad Bane. Could Alan Tudyk be playing one of the more exotic of these characters in his performance-capture role? The skinny assassindroid IG-88, perhaps?
(On the topic of villains, we recently heard reports that Harry Potter and Holby City actor Guy Henry is to appear as an “Imperial officer”.)
As for Darth Vader, a source told Birth Movies Death last July that Darth Vader would be in Rogue One. He won’t be the villain of the piece, but the story goes that he’ll be “pulling strings and will appear onscreen.”
A crashed X-wing?
One of the most recent behind-the-scenes reports appears to confirm that we’ll see another kind of X-wing fighter in Rogue One – a black-and-white variant painted differently from the ones we saw in A New Hope. The story comes from Making Star Wars, where a Pinewood backdrop set is described in detail.
“An X-wing crashed inside what appears to be an urban-like environment,” editor Jason Ward’s description reads. “The buildings are dirty and tan. At first one might think its architecture from Mos Espa or a settlement on Tatooine, but it is doubtful that’s what it is supposed to be. It should be noted that a few of the archways are still rounded in the same way they are on Tatooine. The foreground of the set is fitted with a large blue screen. You can see the blue screen in between the ruins of a wall or former building. The entire thing has been taken out by the X-wing that has just crashed through it.”
Could this set, and the one mentioned earlier with the sand and palm trees, be Geonosis, the planet where the Death Star was constructed? We know from Star Wars lore that it’s a sandy, arid planet; it seems almost certain that it’ll figure in Rogue One‘s plot at some point.
Grubby Rebel fighters. An absence of Jedi. A story told in shades of grey. Specifics may be scant right now, but it seems certain that the typical “Hero’s Journey” arc we saw in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens will be conspicuously absent from Rogue One. With its premise of a band of Rebels stealing plans, it sounds as though we could be in for a galactic war movie along the lines of The Dirty Dozen, where it isn’t sure who will live or die during a treacherous mission behind enemy lines.
It’s just possible we’ll see a battle on multiple fronts: Jones’ character leading the charge of Rebels to the whereabouts of the Death Star plans (perhaps on Geonosis), while X-wing fighter pilots provide support from above. If the movie lives up to the murky potential of its setting, we could be in for a wild ride.
The first trailer
The Force Awakens is still dominating cinemas, so it’s understandable that Lucasfilm is reluctant to cloud the landscape with news of the next film just yet. But we probably won’t have too long to wait before we get our first proper look at the first Star Wars spin-off; rumours suggest that the Rogue One trailer will be screened ahead of Captain America: Civil War, which comes out on the 29th April in the UK and the 6th May in the US.
Rogue One may still be many months away, but we should be learning a lot more about it very soon.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in UK cinemas on the 16th December 2016.