When George Lucas created Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, he was mostly drawing upon ideas he had in his head. Everything with Star Wars was still new. There wasn’t a wealth of locations, characters, species, and planets to call upon for telling a Star Wars story. Therein lies the challenge for today’s storytellers. When do you create something new, incorporate something old, or draw upon something that was in a novel, comic or TV show?
Garreth Edwards summed up the challenge best in the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story behind the scenes trailer when he said this of telling a story so connected to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,
“…if you’re too respectful of it that you didn’t do anything new or different [or] take a risk, then what are you bringing to the table?”
Making a Star Wars movie today is a delicate balancing act. If you borrow too heavily from what exists you’re just rehashing what fans know and creating a pure nostalgia experience that is nothing more than the same old story with updated visuals. If you skew too far in the direction of creating something new, then the film risks losing its identity as Star Wars.
One of the criticisms of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens was that it was too much of a nostalgia trip. It was certainly that, but I felt that it brought plenty new ideas and characters to the table, such that Episode VIII will be anything but a retelling of The Empire Strikes Back. The old and new were wonderfully blended, and the film did a marvelous job of making sure Han, Chewie, and Leia did not overshadow Rey, Finn, and Poe. In fact, that’s part of the reason Luke Skywalker played such a small role. There was fear that the moment he stepped onto the screen he would just take over.
That’s not to say that The Force Awakens got everything right. I thought the Starkiller Base, i.e. the third Death Star was old and tired. It looked amazing, but was totally unoriginal and an instance where borrowing from the past should have been avoided.
Where I do think the film hit a home run was in its additions to the galaxy’s seedy underworld. Han Solo is confronted by the Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub. The Expanded Universe is full of ready-made underworld organizations. They could have easily used The Black Sun and The Exchange in this instance, and I’m sure fans would have loved those Easter Eggs. And to be fair, no one cares about the Guavian Death Gang, but everyone wants to join Kanjiklub. That’s the payoff of going with the new. It’s how you create those classic moments and build upon the legend that is Star Wars.
Rogue One was all the buzz at Star Wars Celebration Europe, and from what has been seen so far, it’s doing an incredible job of meshing new and old, as well as connecting to the greater universe of characters and stories.
Saw Gerrera, a character introduced in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series is now coming to the big screen in Rogue One. It’s a bold move that has fans excited. Along those same lines, Grand Admiral Thrawn is finding a home in the new canon. Not on the big screen, but next to the movies, there’s nothing bigger than Star Wars Rebels right now. Here’s a case where borrowing from sources not associated with films is a brilliant way to interconnect the new stories that are being told.
When I first saw the Rocket Racoon-like character in the Rogue One behind the scenes trailer, I thought is that a Drall? My guess is it’s not a Drall, but a new species and my guess is he’ll steal the show. There are plenty of species in the Star Wars universe and many have not made it to the big the screen. The Drall are a great example of something that Garreth Edwards could have used here. He’s chose something new, and I think in the end this character will become a fan favorite.
In the trailers and in the behind the scenes videos we’ve seen familiar places like the Rebel base on Yavin IV, and what appears to be Tatooine. I have to say, I’m most intrigued that Rogue One might visit Tatooine, but I digress. In addition to these old places, the film is also introducing a new tropical planet called Scarif. Filmed on location in the Maldives, fans now have a new Star Wars pilgrimage site to add to their bucket lists. It’s certainly going on mine along with Skellig Michael.
The new is always exciting, but it can also cause problems. Albeit minor ones. Star Wars fans have an unwavering attention to detail and nothing goes unnoticed and nothing goes unquestioned. In Rogue One there are classic Stormtroopers, and there are also the new Death Troopers, and the new Shore Troopers. This has led many fans to ask, why haven’t we seen these before, and why didn’t the Empire use them in the original trilogy? The answer really isn’t that important, and fans may have to rely on their imaginations to find an explanation. It’s just one of those instances where the new becomes a bit of distraction and the excitement is dampened a little.
Telling a Star Wars story today is much more complicated than it was in the early years of the franchise, and in the end, the formula for making a great Star Wars movie is a lot like planning the perfect wedding. You just need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!