What Happens When 'Star Wars' Is Just a War Film?

No Jedi. No clear-cut heroes and villains. What does that mean for 'Rogue One'?
StarWars.com
'Rogue One' concept art

Judging by details announced during Star Wars Celebration convention this weekend, Star Wars: Rogue One appears to be tailor-made for the Star Wars faithful, but it also deviates from the previous six films in a few significant ways. 

The appeal of Rogue One to longtime fans is unmistakable. The official logline for the movie — "A rogue band of resistance fighters unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans" — is an irresistible piece of fan service on its own (how could anyone resist a filling-in of such an important piece of backstory for the first movie?), not to mention the fact that the film will reportedly focus on X-Wing pilots, a beloved part of Star Wars mythology that has yet to receive its time in the spotlight outside of comic books and video games.

The hardcore fan base, then, is likely to be satisfied by the movie when it's released in 2016. But what about everyone else? Will Rogue One manage to be Star Wars-esque enough for them? Perhaps not.

Comments from director Gareth Edwards suggest that it will differ from the traditional Star Wars audiences are familiar with in ways that might prove troublesome in the long term.

Firstly, there'll be no Jedi in the movie. That's something that might seem unusual for audiences who aren't too steeped in the mythology of the franchise, given that lightsabers have been one of the key visual identifiers for Star Wars until now, but unlikely to be a deal-breaker. After all, there's an in-story reason for the Jedis' absence — they're either dead or in hiding after the events of Revenge of the Sith — and that absence still allows for X-Wing Starfighters, Stormtroopers and other familiar iconography to appear. There'll even be a Death Star to fill the gap.

More problematic, however, is the other difference Edwards teased: that Rogue One will be more morally ambiguous than the other movies. He told the convention crowd that there won't be clear-cut villains and heroes, instead playing up the fog of war. "It's called 'Star Wars,'" he told the Celebration audience, adding that Rogue One is "about the fact that god's not coming to save us, and we're on our own."

Edwards explained to the audience that Rogue One is, more than anything else, a war movie — something that can't really be said about the other movies to date, which gloss over the realities of war in favor of operatic adventure and derring-do. (It's not as if you ever see Luke Skywalker or Han Solo reconsidering their life choices after murdering thousands in the destruction of the Death Star, for example.) Despite the title that Edwards made a point of emphasizing, Star Wars traditionally has been as much a series of war movies as Warner Bros.' Batman movies have been about bats.

While I'm not going to argue that there's no room for moral complexity in Star Wars, I wonder whether a series that's become known for having such a simple morality (It is, more or less, "Good guys versus Space Nazis," after all) can continue to have the same appeal to mass audiences if things get darker and more difficult to parse. Blurring the lines between good guys and bad guys in the prequel trilogy didn't seem to work out too well, but could it have worked out better separated from the other flaws of those three movies? Rogue One might answer that question one way or another.

Personally, I'm looking forward to it for a number of reasons, but I'm one of the faithful who got verklempt at the sight of Harrison Ford in the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What Disney and Lucasfilm have to work out is whether or not the audience watching Star Wars: Rebels every week on Disney XD is ready for something that, in theory, is part of the same story (after all, it takes place in the same time frame and deals with much the same issues) but might be drastically different in terms of tone and outlook.

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