'Rogue One' isn't your father's, or even grandfather's, 'Star Wars'

Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee (TNS)

SAN FRANCISCO — "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is different. Very different
It will never have a sequel, nor prequel. The point was to make the latest space epic as unique as possible, with one limitation: The film couldn't be taken completely out of the galaxy far, far away that fans have come to love.
It does start in a familiar place. "Rogue One" takes place just before events of "A New Hope," where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo help destroy the Death Star. They can pull off their plans because in "Rogue One," a ragtag group goes on a mission to steal the electronic blueprints of the planet-killing weapon.
They are lead by the spunky, Empire-hating Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the military-minded Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).
Because it's a stand-alone episode, director Gareth Edwards had more freedom to work with a different tone in telling his story. Instead of being a slave to the thread of the storyline that has gone through seven movies, Edwards made "Rogue One" more like a war movie.

Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus in  "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." The movie opens Thursday at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13, Frank Theatres Queensgate Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

"From the beginning, we kept asking how were we going to make this different," Edwards says. "One thing we did was look at real war photos from Vietnam and World War II. We used those as a reference."
Even if fans embrace this more militaristic "Star Wars" tale, there's no hope for the future. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is clear about the idea of a sequel to "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."
There won't be one.
Franchise: The film is part of the two-prong attack for the franchise. The story that has run from "Phantom Menace" through "The Force Awakens" will continue with episodes being produced every couple of years. "Rogue One" is the first of what is to be a series of stand-alone stories. Boba Fett and Han Solo are just two characters who will be featured in future stand-alone movies.
Kennedy calls being able to do single films based on characters and events from the "Star Wars" universe liberating. That's because there are so many characters, places and things in the series that are familiar. The solo shots can be used to expand the story without getting in the way of the main plot line.

A scene from the film "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Edwards had to decide how much of the familiar should be in "Rogue One." He says there aren't one or two things you have to do when making a movie that brings it into the "Star Wars" universe, but "a thousand different things." He narrowed it down to some familiar ships and characters.
Luna takes on one of the new characters as a key member of the Rebel Alliance. He went back to "New Hope" to get an idea of where the story would be unfolding and used some of those elements to put together his character.
Military hero: What he saw in Andor that he had not seen in the other movies was a hero whose is military minded. The Empire has always had a military structure, but the Rebels seem far less organized. To prepare for that part of the role, Luna spent two weeks with members of the military preparing for the role.
The soldier side was what he focused on at the beginning, but then he layered on elements from other films.
"You have to establish a parallel from a galaxy far, far away and the real world we live in," Luna says. "I love 'Star Wars' and the films. 'A New Hope' is really the first film I connected with. I went back to that film, but it was more like seeing war films. My character needed that military structure."
About the closest "Rogue One" comes to continuing a trend from the other films is that this is the second consecutive "Star Wars" production that features a strong female character at the heart of the battle.
But taking on a role of an action hero is very different for Jones. She had a few physical moments in "Inferno," but most of her roles — from "Cheri" to "The Theory of Everything" — have been far more cerebral.

Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The movie opens Thursday at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13, Frank Theatres Queensgate Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

"It was really fun to be running around with a blaster. I had never done anything like that before," Jones says. "It was an extraordinary process."
Repeating the strong female character is OK with the production team. Kennedy would like to see a day when having a woman as the hero doesn't standout as a special event. Until then, she is happy to see strong, empowered female role models.
Kennedy's also happy that the film represents one of the most diverse casts in the franchise with actors from around the globe taking on major characters.
"It lent itself very well to the story as this is a group of people who come together in a way that is inexplicable but they share a very common belief," Kennedy says.
And it had to get the approval of George Lucas, the man who gave the franchise life.
Edwards won't say what Lucas said to him after the father of the franchise saw "Rogue One," except that he could now "die happy."