Smuggling Disney's plans out of the 'Star Wars' announcement

Smuggling Disney's plans out of the 'Star Wars' announcement

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As Darth Vader once said, “This will be a day long remembered.”

Thursday’s planet-shattering Star Wars announcement confirmed some long-circling rumors while providing new exciting hints about the future of the franchise.

It’s easy to be filled with trepidation at every new announcement as anticipation grows for upcoming Star Wars movies. Today’s news confirms that audiences will see three new Star Wars movies in the next three years, a feast for fans who’ve been starved for new films since 2005 (and, arguably, since the last good film in 1983). The outpouring of excitement and creativity after the release of the 88-second trailer for Episode VII in December shows a fanbase clamoring for more material.

But like a Jedi still learning to use his lightsaber, Star Wars fans have been burned before. It’s hard to get too excited about a franchise whose previous three installments are universally panned. This is a property tied up in a lot of nostalgia and future films are burdened with unrealistically high expectations.

Now we’re told we’re not only getting a new movie every year until at least 2017, but that Episode VIII will hit theaters a mere 17 months after J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens opens this December. That’s pretty crazy when you consider the original three Star Wars films were each released a full three years apart. Same with the prequels.

So it’s an intense schedule to keep. That said, Disney is making interesting calls with the franchise so far. What little we’ve seen (which is, again, really only 88 seconds) holds promise.

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Let’s look at the names announced today, those of the directors and star that were confirmed.

First, the most surprising name: Rogue One. Two little words hint a lot about the first standalone Star Wars spinoff movie. Fans will recognize “Rogue One” as the callsign of the Rebel Alliance’s squadron commander, a title previously held by Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles and others. (Though some of those names are part of the extended, non-film Star Wars universe and therefore non-canonical.) The title also recalls the popular 1998 video game Rogue Squadron, which put players in the seat of an X-wing, among other starfighters.

USA - "Star Wars Celebration IV" in Los Angeles

Fans pose by a life-size model of an X-wing starfighter during “Star Wars Celebration IV” in Los Angeles in 2007.

Image: Mario Anzuoni/Corbis

Just a quick word about X-wings: Those things are super cool. To anyone who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy, X-wing fighters rank alongside lightsabers and the Millennium Falcon as catalysts of sheer giddiness. A movie called Rogue One promises full-on outer space dogfights – a good sign considering the brief trailer for Episode VII contained no views of space.

Let’s talk about Felicity Jones, who’s coming off a leading role in The Theory of Everything, which earned her a bevy of nominations this past awards season. She brings heft and star power to the franchise, but she also brings something more important. Put plainly, Star Wars has a problem with female representation. The franchise doesn’t have a deep bench of women characters. Sure, Leia was a badass in the original films, but she tended to need a lot of rescuing and was usually the only woman on screen. Ahsoka Tano was a major part of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but the non-canonical ‘toon mostly featured her as a sidekick to Anakin Skywalker.

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By casting a woman in the starring role of a film we can assume is about fighter pilots in space, Star Wars is taking steps into the future, even if it took place a long time ago.

Rian Johnson;

Rian Johnson at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Image: The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Associated Press

Rian Johnson’s confirmation as director of Episode VIII comes months after he was first announced for the position. Johnson’s 2012 film Looper was well-received, so he joins the franchise with a good (if short) track record and at least one heady sci-fi adventure under his belt, though he can clearly deliver on grit, as shown by his work on Breaking Bad and his debut feature film, Brick.

Gareth Edwards is another director with a relatively short CV — last year’s Godzilla (similarly, a new take on an aged franchise) was his first big studio film. That film was defined by a restrained use of digital effects; in a movie about giant monsters stomping on cities, some viewers complained about a lack of monster screen time. But Edwards’ penchant for subtle CGI use in Godzilla and his first film, 2010’s Monsters (also about giant monsters) reflected a desire to focus on story and characters over spectacle, which is admirable as he steps into the director’s chair for the next Star Wars.

Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards at the UK premiere of Godzilla.

Image: Jon Furniss/Invision/AP/Associated Press

Now, if we could only get word on whether Star Wars and Frozen 2 will cross over.

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