The Unspoken Burden of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

By  · Published on August 16th, 2016

Superstition is strong with fans when it comes to the new Prequel.

In Star Wars fandom, “prequel” is a bad word, but more than that it’s a defining label of anything wrong about that Galaxy Far, Far Away. So there seems to be a superstitious lack of acknowledgment that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is another Star Wars Prequel with a capital P.

If we do call it a Prequel and it turns out to be bad, will it be because of the label? And if it’s bad without the front end association do we then afterward explain that it’s because it’s another Prequel? If we call it a Prequel and it turns out to be great, does the term lose its meaning within the franchise?

Not that it needs to be titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Prequel, but trying to make it sound like it’s just “a Star Wars story” is rather delusional. Lucasfilm still isn’t ready to do a full spinoff or detached story set in the same universe (not theatrically anyway, though they have done it with TV movies and series). This is directly attached to the events of the main narrative.

Rogue One is maybe even more Prequel than the Prequels. It’s surely more redundant in terms of how we already know what basically happens in the story and are just watching it play out for some insular amusement. The same will be true for much of the Han Solo-focused “spinoffs.”

Han Solo And The Star Wars Prequel For Us All

I don’t mean to sound like a hater. I think Rogue One looks as awesome as anyone else does. But based on trailers, the very similar Suicide Squad looked great, too. This is another antihero team-up (and it could seem even more a trend follower after The Magnificent Seven) with a suicide mission. They’re led by a prisoner. There’s even a droid who is like an asshole C-3PO.

We just might need to slow down our excitement for what could be another disappointment. Hopefully not, but it’s possible. Sure, we didn’t get burned by Star Wars: The Force Awakens after all that hype, but that doesn’t give us reason to think every annual installment in this series will be a triumph.

And there could be a matter of relativity all around. See the first explanation in the new trailer for the upcoming documentary The Prequels Strike Back:A Fan’s Journey for why the Prequels seemed to suck so bad:

Rogue One doesn’t have that burden that The Phantom Menace had – The Force Awakens sort of did, albeit combined with an opposing benefit of some worry, given the previous experience – but it does have the weight of the Prequels on its shoulders, in that it could be trusted to turn things around.

And unlike The Force Awakens, Rogue One doesn’t have the advantage of being so temporally away from the stench of the Prequels. It’s actually well-tied to them, through the confirmed appearance of Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. It also seems intent on resurrecting Darth Vader not just for nostalgia and popularity sake. He’s there to course-correct from his dilution in the Prequels, where he was shown to be precocious, whiny, brooding.

Vader also gets to function as the one positive reason to believe this won’t be another Suicide Squad. He’s already established as a great villain. Along with the menacing-looking Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), we seem safe in the bad guy department, especially in relation to the antihero protagonist issues. The two just need to kill a lot of people and they’re good. Er bad.

Star Wars: Rogue One and The Lucasfilm Release Model

This really could be the year that “Star Wars Prequel” ceases to have the negative connotation it’s had for 17 years. And that history includes the animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is also a Prequel and actually has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of the bunch by a lot.

It’s a history and reputation that has withstood some of the defenses made all last year in the lead-up to The Force Awakens and the fact that the Prequel trilogy’s reviews are not nearly as bad you’d think they are. And it may withstand everything discussed in The Prequels Strike Back.

Never mind the mission to steal the plans for the Death Star at the center of Rogue One’s plot. The real difficult task of the movie’s ensemble is stealing away that deadly word and save the idea of Prequels for all the Galaxy. Then all we’ll need is for Lucasfilm to try to do an actual unique side story for real.

For those of you interested in seeing The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey, the doc is premiering at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas on October 6, and tickets are now on sale.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.