When Disney shocked the world by purchasing LucasFilm back in October 2012, that announcement came with news that the studio is developing a new Star Wars movie, but we soon came to learn it would be much more than just one movie. Star Wars 7 became a full trilogy, with three spin-offs hitting theaters in the years between each trilogy installment, not to mention an abundant wealth of canonized stories told through new novels, comic books and much more. The anticipation for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was simply off the charts, and while the movie still won over legions of fans and set box office records left and right, there were some fans who made it clear that the movie just didn't sit right with them. Hell, the movie's oft-discussed similarities with the 1977 classic that started this whole franchise, A New Hope, was even at the center of the entire 20th Season of Comedy Central's South Park.
While there was certainly no shortage of buzz and hype for Rogue One, it wasn't nearly on the same level as The Force Awakens, which ultimately isn't terribly surprising. Fans had been waiting for 32 years to see what their favorite characters like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) had been up to in this galaxy far, far away, but there isn't nearly the same familiarity with the Rogue One characters. However, after the world premiere in Hollywood last weekend, the early reactions were quite incredible, with Wil Wheaton even going so far as to say the last time he loved a movie so much was in 1977, the year A New Hope was released. Other famous fans such as Rainn Wilson and Chris Hardwick were simply gushing over the movie as well, leading many to wonder if Rogue One is in fact better than The Force Awakens? According to many fans, including yours truly, it is.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens went on to set new box office records for domestic opening weekend ($247.9 million), worldwide opening weekend ($528.9 million), all-time domestic gross ($936.6 million), biggest single day ($119.1 million), biggest Thursday night preview gross ($57 million) and becoming the fastest movie to eclipse box office milestones between $100 million and $500 million. No one was expecting Rogue One to put up these kinds of numbers, but just because it's set within the Star Wars universe, it wasn't expected to tank either. Early box office projections pegged Rogue One to bring in $130 million domestic in its opening weekend, while a more recent projection claimed it should hit $350 million worldwide. The spin-off fared well in Thursday preview screenings, taking in $30 million, nearly half of The Force Awakens' $57 million record, but as the buzz kept growing and growing, many believed that Rogue One was actually the movie fans had been waiting more than 30 years for, not The Force Awakens.
As you likely know by now, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set in the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, following an group of unlikely heroes who band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves. This beloved spin-off brings back the iconic villain Darth Vader and Mon Mothma, along with one surprising character that I will not spoil... not yet, anyway. This should go without saying, but if you haven't seen Rogue One yet, there will be SPOILERS contained below, so read on at your own risk.
With all of that in mind, we decided to break down the specific moments, themes and ideas present in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that are just simply better than what Star Wars: The Force Awakens had to offer. These could be anything from the story lines to the music or the characters we get to meet. We'll also delve into the future of this franchise itself, and how this one story, which has nothing to do with the Luke Skywalker saga that has been told over the past seven films, could set the tone for every other Star Wars movie after Star Wars: Episode IX. We kick things off with what some thought was the biggest flaw of The Force Awakens.
A Brand New Story That Sparks a Sense of Discovery
Yeah, The Force Awakens is, for all intents and purposes, a "new story," but is it really? J.J. Abrams attempted to give fans the best of both worlds, introducing new heroes like Daisy Ridley's Rey (a.k.a. the female Luke Skywalker) and Oscar Isaac's hot-shot pilot Poe Dameron (a.k.a. a Wookie-less Han Solo), while bringing back Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and (briefly) Luke (Mark Hamill). Many die-hard fans noticed all of these similarities right away, and while it certainly didn't have an adverse affect on the box office, it raised doubts about the direction of this franchise, and whether or not this new trilogy would just be a straight-up retread of the original trilogy we have come to know and love.
You'll likely hear no such complaints about this first Star Wars spin-off because, despite a few familiar characters, this story is brand spanking new. We're meeting (almost) all of these characters for the very first time, and director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, Gary Whitta and John Knoll found a way to tap into that sense of wonder that flowed through A New Hope, like The Force flows through a Jedi warrior. If Star Wars 8 and Star Wars 9 are going to be retreads of the original trilogy, which has been rumored and suspected, the filmmakers would be well served to take as many notes as they can while watching Rogue One, to see if they can find a way to bring back a sense of discovery to the franchise, instead of re-hashing the stories we all love.
K-2SO Crushes BB-8 In Every Possible Way
I'll admit that I was just as blown away as everyone else when we found out that BB-8 was an actual practical thing, brought to life by the company Sphero, when J.J. Abrams brought him out onto the stage during Star Wars Celebration. I loved BB-8 in The Force Awakens too, as he was clearly the lovable R2-D2 type of droid for this new generation of heroes. I really enjoyed everything BB-8 had to offer in The Force Awakens, but it wasn't until I saw Rogue One that I realized a talking droid like K-2SO, played brilliantly by Alan Tudyk, is yet another thing that The Force Awakens was missing. In the original trilogy, there were numerous scenes where either R2-D2 and C-3PO were apart, and/or interacting with other human characters on their own, but it was their scenes together that are the most memorable. While BB-8 could do well to have a robotic companion, Rogue One's K-2SO doesn't need one. I also enjoyed how they made him a much bigger droid that can definitely hold his own in any situation, and not the frail and, frankly, whiny, type of droid that C-3PO was. The writers found a way to combine the wit of C-3PO with a bigger, more practical droid that can do some of the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively, if need be.
Welcome Back Grand Moff Tarkin, Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Darth Vader
Out of all four of these characters, they maybe have a combined screen time presence of five minutes or so, maybe... but it was good to have them back. The Grand Moff Tarkin scene may prove to be somewhat controversial, since he is a completely digital character. Peter Cushing, who played Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope, passed away in 1994, so the filmmakers brought in Guy Henry to stand in as Tarkin on the set, with Stephen Stanton providing the voice. Genevieve O'Reilly reprised her role from Revenge of the Sith as Mon Mothma, with Jimmy Smits also returning from the prequel trilogy as Bail Organa, while James Earl Jones returned to provide the voice for Darth Vader, while Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous portrayed the villain on the set, in that amazing fight sequence that is among the highlights of the film. What was great about all of these characters coming back is that their returns were all in service of the story, not shoehorn beloved characters in, like C-3PO and R2-D2's small but contrived roles in The Force Awakens.
Opening Prologue > Opening Crawl
One of the few things Rogue One did have in common was that LucasFilm released as few story details as possible in the lead-up to the December 16 release. Earlier this year, LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy made quite the surprising admission, when she revealed that Rogue One may not have an opening crawl, with LucasFilm's Pablo Hidalgo revealing earlier this week that there was never an opening crawl in the script. Instead, director Gareth Edwards opted for a prologue, that is set 15 years before the events of this story, featuring a young Jyn Erso and her father Galen, that sheds so much more light on the story than an opening crawl ever could. Yes, I love the crawl just as much as the next guy or gal, but I like that they wanted to make a conscious effort to set this apart from the Star Wars saga films, and the most obvious way to do so is to omit the crawl. They are only words, after all, albeit words scrolling in a fashion that has become iconic, and I'm glad that the director chose to go with a prologue instead.
Michael Giacchino Is a Worthy Successor to John Williams
Aside from the lack of an opening crawl, another historical aspect of Rogue One is it's the first ever Star Wars movie that doesn't feature a John Williams score. Taking the iconic composer's place is Michael Giacchino, who is certainly no slouch himself, having won an Oscar for his Up score, along with an Emmy for his work on ABC's Lost. There were no elements of his score that felt pilfered from John Williams' work, but at the same time, it very much had a distinct Star Wars feel to the music. The gorgeous score felt like something we may have heard 30 years ago, because it most certainly had Star Wars DNA stamped all over it with a new yet familiar feel that hit all the right notes, literally and figuratively. John Williams has been confirmed to provide the score for Star Wars: Episode VIII, slated to hit theaters on December 15, 2017, but, if for nothing else, Michael Giacchino's amazing work on Rogue One makes it clear that Michael Giacchino may just well be the heir apparent, so to speak, to the iconic John Williams.
No Lightsaber Duel, No Problems
Even though it was probably one of the most bad-ass scenes in the whole movie, Darth Vader's display of his unparalleled lightsaber skills doesn't qualify as a lightsaber duel, since he's the only one with a lightsaber. Still, Rogue One separates itself from the Star Wars pack by being the only Star Wars movie that doesn't feature a lightsaber duel, which naturally makes sense since it takes place years after Executive Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith essentially wiped out the Jedi order. Much like the discarding of the opening crawl, the filmmakers rolled the dice by excluding these duels, one of the franchise's beloved staples, and it still works because the story is so engrossing. It's most certainly a gutsy move, considering some of the franchise's most cherished moments are tied to these duels, but the fact that the movie works so well without this battles is a testament to how strong the storytelling truly is here.
Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus: The Human R2-D2 and C-3PO
One Star Wars trope that wasn't ignored or avoided in Rogue One was the use of a memorable droid, with the debut of Alan Tudyk's K-2SO, a droid that actually towered over his human companions, although he could still come through and provide a laugh or two in the right situations. Since this droid wasn't paired with another to work off of, it seems that the same sense of back-and-forth witty repartee of R2-D2 and C-3PO was imbued into the human characters Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). While there are obvious differences between Chirrut and Baze and Threepio and Artoo, the fact that they are both complete opposites of one another is nearly identical. Chirrut himself is a fascinating character we haven't seen before, someone who does not actually possess any powers with The Force, but believes wholeheartedly in its existence. It's certainly an interesting approach to take with a character who, perhaps under a different writer or director, could have easily faded into obscurity, but has instantly become a fan favorite.
Gareth Edwards' Team Outdoes J.J. Abrams' Team
Full disclosure: I hated Monsters, the 2010 indie thriller that served as Gareth Edwards' feature directorial debut, and I was definitely in the minority in that one. Ever those who raved about Monsters were surprised that he was tapped to direct Warner Bros.' Godzilla, transitioning from micro-budget filmmaker to tentpole director overnight. With this just his third feature film, I almost don't want to know how much Gareth Edwards can improve off of what he accomplished, because his work on this movie is simply awe-inspiring. Instead of re-hashing a familiar story, Gareth Edwards and writers Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy and John Knoll find a way to re-create the awe-inspiring splendor of the original Star Wars saga with new characters in an uncharted area of the Star Wars timeline. We heard several times that Rogue One would be a war film, and it definitely didn't disappoint on this front either, with several battle scenes that were directed in impeccable fashion by Gareth Edwards, and after this film, I truly can't wait to see what he does next.
Han Solo Rumor Was Thankfully Proven False
This may not exactly "fit" within the scope of this list, since the exclusion of Han Solo in Rogue One isn't something that makes it "better" than The Force Awakens. Still, I felt the need to address this, since there were rumors that the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in April, more than two years before the Han Solo spin-off hits theaters, was finalized so early because he was making some sort of appearance in Rogue One, but that didn't happen, and I'm truly glad it didn't. For one, I don't know how they could have organically found a place for Han Solo within this story, at least not with what we know about Solo thus far. The spin-off, directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller is said to be set 10 years before he walked into the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope, giving this beloved smuggler a proper origin story. It would make no sense to simply bring him in for a cameo, unless he had some sort of connection to a character in Rogue One, which, at this point in the timeline, he doesn't. Yes, it would have made a great little Easter Egg, if done right, and it was never confirmed that this was something LucasFilm was actually planning on doing. Either way, I'm glad we didn't get a sneak peek at a young Han Solo until his own spin-off.
Rogue One Sets The Stage For a Franchise Dominated By Spin-Offs
At some point after Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012, it was confirmed that the main Star Wars saga will continue with a new trilogy, while three additional spin-off movies will debut in the years between the saga sequels. After another report teased that Disney plans on releasing one new Star Wars movie a year, indefinitely, most assumed that the studio would stick to this current formula, with a saga film one year, and a new spin-off the next, but it seems that may not be the case. LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy teased in an interview that they could do "nothing but stand-alones," from here on out, but that approach hasn't been set in stone at this time. If you ask me, I think this approach may be for the best, because it would be a shame for the Luke Skywalker saga to keep dragging out every other year for the unforseeable future. An argument can be made that the Star Wars saga is the most beloved and popular story of all time, but even as popular as that story is, it still needs an ending. George Lucas had talked about a final trilogy years before the LucasFilm sale happened, and I for one had wondered if I would ever live to see the day when Star Wars: Episode IX was released. In just three years, I'll get to see it on the big screen, which I hope will be the end of this particular story that has spanned nine films and inspired multiple generations, but not the end of the multitude of other stories still left to be told in this galaxy far, far away.