'Rogue One' brings viewers farther into the galaxy far, far away

The newest 'Star Wars' movie centers on mostly new characters and could influence plans for the 'Star Wars' franchise. How will audiences respond?

Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd./AP
'Rogue One' stars Donnie Yen.

“Rogue One,” the latest tale set in the “Star Wars” fictional universe, is now in theaters – and how much it succeeds could help shape Disney's plans to expand the range of “Star Wars” stories.

The new movie “Rogue” takes place before the story seen in the 1977 film “Star Wars” and centers on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her companions, who have been given the task of obtaining the plans for the Death Star.

It’s set during a time that “Star Wars” fans know well – viewers remember the fight between the rebels, which included Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, and the evil Empire. But it’s a story that’s mainly Skywalker-free, except for reportedly brief appearances by Darth Vader and any cameos we don’t know about yet. This time, Darth Vader’s son isn’t learning the force, and Han Solo isn’t serving as wisecracking mentor.

How audiences may respond could give Disney an idea of what to expect for future installments. Actor Alden Ehrenreich is set to star in a movie about a younger Han, but that’s based on a globally famous character. And, of course, more movies about “Force Awakens” characters like Rey and Finn, which got a hefty launch from Han Solo and include (sorry if this is a spoiler, but you’re a year late) Han and Leia’s son, Kylo Ren, are on their way. But can more movies about new characters, ones with little if any connection to past ones, come after “Rogue”?

“There are [possible movies] that we have been talking a lot about,” Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, told Entertainment Weekly. “But we are planning to sit down in January, since we will have had ‘The Force Awakens’ released, now ‘Rogue One,’ and we’ve finished shooting ‘Episode VIII.’ We have enough information where we can step back a little bit and say, What are we doing? What do we feel is exciting? And what are some of the things we want to explore?” 

Nick Statt of The Verge writes that it will be a tricky balance going forward with the series. “The biggest challenge is figuring out what ingredients in ‘Star Wars’ comprise its true identity, while the biggest fear is finding out that the magic can wear off if the recipe is wrong,” Mr. Statt writes. “‘Rogue One’ is the testing ground for that experiment.”

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