“What does the Star Wars universe look like beyond the view of the Skywalkers? We’re about to get an answer.
While each trilogy installment has focused on the way the Force reshapes the galaxy through the chosen ones of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, a new crop of films is looking beyond that family tree to some of the other denizens of these far-off planetary systems.
We’re not talking about J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which focuses on a trio of new characters played by John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac but still promises to weave the Skywalker brood into their quest.
Lucasfilm is actually planning a series of stand-alone films, stories that take place outside the events of the new (and old) trilogies, and this morning at the Star Wars Celebration fan gathering in Anaheim, Calif., fans got a look at some of the secret plans.
Gareth Edwards, best known for last year’s Godzilla reboot, is directing Star Wars: Rogue One, a title that suggests a story about the Rogue Squadron of X-Wing pilots. But beyond its release date, Dec. 16, 2016, and the fact that it will star The Theory of Everything Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones in a key role, we don’t know much.
We know even less about the untitled spin-off to be directed by Josh Trank, who made the gritty, found-footage superpower drama Chronicle and this August’s Fantastic Four reboot. Trank was supposed to participate in this presentation, but at the last minute was left off the line-up. “Hey all. So, so, so sad to have missed today. Worst flu of my life. I hear it went beautifully with Gareth. Here’s to next year,” he tweeted.
That message was meant to reassure fans that he had not been removed from the movie, and sources withing Lucasfilm insisted that he was still involved. Also, the sources say the movie is not expected until 2018, arriving in theaters even after Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, so there wouldn’t have been much for him to discuss anyway.
A long time ago, highly placed sources at Lucasfilm told EW the studio was developing two primary ideas for its stand-alone projects: one would zero in on the adventures of a young Han Solo, and the other would be a bounty-hunter team-up with Boba Fett leading that rogues gallery of rival soldiers-of-fortune from The Empire Strikes Back.
Fans didn’t find out if that prophecy will come true. At least, not this time.
The panel started at 11 a.m. PT, and Entertainment Weekly was live-blogging the event.
Here’s what we learned:
11:08 – It begins. Pablo Hidalgo of StarWars.com walks out as moderator and promises the panel will be “the crystal ball and the Force vision” into the future of the franchise. But he kicks off with bad news – Trank is not joining the presentation! Audible groan from the crowd. Hidalgo says Trank is sick, but this is bound to raise questions about whether his role as a director is still assured. (It doesn’t help that a new trailer for his Fantastic Four movie conveniently “leaked” at the same time the Star Wars presentation was taking place.)
11:12 – Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Kiri Hart, vice president of development and head of the Lucasfilm story group, are the first guests onstage. They reveal that in the first 24 hours after the release of The Force Awakens trailer on Thursday it was watched 88 million times.
11:16 – Hidalgo asks if these are stand-alones, spin-offs, or orign stories. “There so much happening in the world of franchises and sequels. Relaly in the last 10 to 15 years that’s dominated a lot of what’s come out in the movie industry,” Kennedy said. “It was really George [Lucas’] idea, not only picking up the saga again, which he never envisioned he would do. But he also was ready to explore all the stories that exist inside the universe.”
Hart adds: “The idea behind these movies is that Star Wars, as much as it is a set of stories and characters we know, it’s also a place – a place we can explore in terms of character and time.” She says they will “ tell unique stories that stand on their own and vary int one and vary in genre.”
She says they will be called “anthology films.”
11:18 – Gareth Edwards takes the stage. “I’m really quite nervous right now. It’s a bit intimidating.” He says the most impressive thing about Celebration so far has been watching The Force Awakens. “When it started, I could feel the tears coming,” he says. “I was really good. I’m not crying. I’m not crying. And then as soon as Han turned up and said, ‘We’re home,’ a tear went down.”
Hidalgo says he can’t wait to see what kind of footage he has to show. The crowd goes wild but Kennedy says, “Don’t put too much pressure on him, because they haven’t started shooting yet.”
“We’re still in pre-production,” Edwards says.
“Is there really nothing we can look at?” Hidalgo probes – a little bit of stagecraft is happening.
“There might be a little something …” Edwards says as the lights dim.
11:23 – The footage rolls, and we hear Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: “For more than a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.”
The visual is a lush, rocky planet, with bird-like creatures flying over a valley, as the point of view lifts to see a TIE Fighter scream overhead. There’s the crescent of a dim moon in the blue sky above. Except …
That’s no moon.
As the camera rises above the treeline we see the laser disc of the original Death Star looming over the planet.
The footage cuts to black over the sound of panicking pilot voices, screaming at each other over their intercoms.
11:26 – Edwards says that footage was created as a teaser before they begin shooting the movie.
Hidalgo reveals the one-line film description: “A rogue band of resistance fighters united for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans and bring new hope to the galaxy.”
The story takes place after the event of Revenge of the Sith but before 1977’s original Star Wars: A New Hope. The Jedi are all but extinct, Edwards says and “it’s up to a group of new heroes who don’t have magical powers” to save the galaxy.
11:29 – Hart acknowledges that there may be crossover with other stories like the animated Rebels TV series, since some events in the “anthology movies” may be taking place at the same time.
Edwards says the saga movies are about villains who are deeply evil and heroes who are unabashedly good, but that Rogue One will be about the shades of gray in between.
He also shows an image of new starfighters landing in a rainy, wooded land at night, with soldiers storming forward in the mud. “Did you hack my laptop?” Edwards teases Hidalgo.
11:31 – Hidalgo reveals that Jones, the only cast member revealed so far, will play a soldier in the Rebellion. He says some of the inspirations were Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. “It’s called Star … Wars,” Edwards says.
11:35 – The story of Rogue One is credited to John Knoll, a visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic, who joined the panel and said he brought up the idea to Kennedy shortly after she took over from Lucas.
11:40 – Hart says she sent Edwards a piece of paper, with some plot details when they tried to recruit him to direct Knoll’s idea. “I got an email that had a password with a protected document,” Edwards said. “Honestly, I was hoping that I hated it. I was in the thick of filming [Godzilla.] I wanted a break, take six months off, and revaluate my life. I was like, ‘Please be rubbish, please hate it.’ I got down to the end of the paragraphs and was just like, ‘Aw, f–k…’”
“That is why we’re not live-streaming this panel,” Hidalgo says.
“It was like checkmate, you’ve got to do it. I couldn’t sit in a cinema and watch somebody else do this,” Edwards says. “If you beleive in the Force, it was like I was destined for this.”
11:49 – Edwards says it was hard to keep his involvement secret last year because he was even getting Christmas presents of Star Wars merchandise, which made him grit his teeth with yearning to tell his family about the secret projects. Finally, he showed a screenshot of the FaceTime conversation with his mother, who gasped happily after he broke the news he would be directing one of the new movies. He also has a collection of photos of his visit to Tunisia for his 30th birthday, drinking blue milk and posing for sunset photos in the location of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s moisture farm.
11:51 – Rogue One will shoot in the summer, and release in Dec. 2016. Edwards said “we’ll be shooting around the world, in locations I don’t want to say because I’m worried 3,000 people will turn up.”
11:53 – The panel ends with no talk of the Trank “anthology film” from the stage, but lots of chatter from the audience about what it could be.