'Rogue One' and the Trouble With Stand-Alone Movies

Even more than 'The Force Awakens,' this movie will demonstrate whether the property has long-term value as a franchise with a new film every year.
Courtesy of Disney
'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'

Star Wars fans went into speculation mode after the news broke earlier this week that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will undergo reshoots this summer after execs felt that an early cut didn't match the tone of the franchise. But there's something about the stand-alone movie's current predicament that feels somewhat inevitable.

The first signs that things might be in flux for Rogue One came last month, when accidentally released pages from the official "visual story guide" to the movie were removed at the request of Disney, not only because they shouldn't have been released, but because "a lot of the information listed isn't even correct." A day later, with no comment beyond simple confirmation, Marvel canceled plans to release a Rogue One tie-in comic in October.

Separately, neither of these things are particularly noteworthy. When taken together, they suggest that certain elements of the pic have yet to be nailed down — perhaps a surprise, considering that a trailer for the movie has already been released. (Admittedly, the trailer is relatively light in terms of revelations both in terms of plot and character.)

Rogue One was always going to be a risky proposition. Last year, director Gareth Edwards made some comments about the film that suggested it would be far darker than the rest of the series. "It's called 'Star Wars,'" he told an audience at the fan convention Star Wars Celebration, going on to say that the movie was "about the fact that God's not coming to save us, and we're on our own."

Taken on its own, that's a surprisingly bleak statement that stands at odds with the rest of the franchise, which might not have a god to save the good guys, but does place its faith in The Force, a mystical power that eventually — at the end of a trilogy, say — ends up helping the good guys save the day.

More to the point, it's a statement that feels particularly at odds with what audiences truly responded to in last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As much as that movie offered threats and fights and star wars, judging by social media response, it was the humor and the soap opera that audiences found themselves falling for, both of which come from a brighter place than both Edwards' comments and the first trailer indicate.

A darker take on the franchise would likely appeal to hardcore Star Wars fans who are familiar with the regular variety, but it's not known whether or not the wider audience who embraced The Force Awakens so readily would follow suit.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that executives want to ensure that the pic is more in keeping with the (massively successful) The Force Awakens. Rogue One has to be a hit for Disney; even more so than The Force Awakens, it's the movie that will demonstrate whether the property has legs and can expand outside of the generational saga of the core series — and also tell stories that aren't directly rooted in nostalgia for the original trilogy — despite not being the film that the mass audience probably wants to see right now.

Failure isn't an option for Rogue One if the larger franchise is to remain free of excitable speculation that everything is merely minutes away from disaster and/or everything you liked about The Force Awakens was all J.J. Abrams all along. (See all rumors about Warner Bros.' DC superhero movies in the wake of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice's underperformance for examples of the former trend and online response to trailers for the upcoming Star Trek Beyond for the latter.)

The irony is, of course, that trying to ensure the most audience-friendly Rogue One possible could result in that same speculation and rumormongering becoming attached to Star Wars nonetheless.