It still starts “long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but the newest “Star Wars” film — and the first in a planned series of standalone spinoff features — has done away with at least one classic element from the beloved franchise: The opening crawl.
As has long been rumored, the opening of Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” won’t kick off with a scrolling summary of the backdrop, instead opting to drop the audience into its brand new story, albeit one that pulls from the pivotal event (the secretive theft of the Death Star’s building plans) that set the course of “A New Hope” into action so many years ago.
Earlier this week, Disney and Lucasfilm unveiled 28 minutes of footage from the new film to various groups of journalists on both coasts in preparation for the film’s upcoming junket and mid-December release date. It’s a practice that Lucasfilm frequently engages in — last year, their “The Force Awakens” was only partially shown to junket journalists — with an eye to keeping the biggest secrets of each film under wraps for as long as possible.
But there is some stuff we can tell you. Here’s the best of it.
The bulk of the footage shown featured the first 12 or so minutes of the film — again, sans crawl — which opens on a previously unseen planet, a lush but mostly uninhabited locale that has apparently been a long-time refuge for the scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) and their young daughter Jyn. That idyll is soon interrupted by the appearance of the nefarious Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a pack of Death Troopers.
The initial opening sequence jumps ahead a few years to find an older Jyn, now played by star Felicity Jones, eking out an existence as, well, a roguish career criminal. We briefly see her going to work at an Imperial labor camp, before she is introduced to the resistance in the form of rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and some of his cohorts, who have a very important mission that only Jyn can complete.
Later, Jyn and Cassian make their way through a marketplace on Jedha, where they are introduced to new characters and simmering tensions (the occupied city seems very fed up with Imperial soldiers), all of which culminate in a (literally) explosive battle scene.
And that’s not all. While Jyn is becoming acquainted with the rebels, another new character is slowly making his way to the resistance: Pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who has fled from the Empire and is eager to share his knowledge with the rebellion.
The footage screened also included appearances by well-known franchise characters, including Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), among others (wink wink).
What might be most striking about the footage screened is how much it reflects the oft-repeated sentiment that “Rogue One” is a war movie above all else. At Star Wars Celebration, held back in July in London, that same comparison was roundly touted, and one that we saw first-hand in a new trailer shown to the convention crowd (that trailer has not been released, though pieces of it have popped up in other teasers).
Even in July, it was clear that the occupied planet of Jedha was going to play a major role in the story. It’s certainly no coincidence that the screened footage included a battle scene (featuring both big explosions and some exciting hand-to-hand combat) set on that same planet, a sequence that introduced not only new characters (including Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe and Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus), but also made it clear that the political climate on Jedha is a combustible one, thanks to tensions between its inhabitants and overreaching Imperial forces.
If nothing else, that sort of tone and feeling will be what sets “Rogue One” apart from the rest of the franchise. As difficult as it may be to glean the feel of an entire feature from a few carefully selected scenes, when what we saw of “Rogue One” leaned into its war film comparisons, it was undoubtedly at its most compelling.
“Rogue One” will be released nationwide on December 16 from Lucasfilm and Walt Disney. Check out the latest trailer for the film below.