After The Force Awakens' debut last year, fans of a galaxy far, far away figure they pretty much know what to expect from this new batch of Disneyfied Star Wars movies. Lots of action, some new characters to root for, and a ton of references to the franchise's past glory, i.e. the original trilogy. So with the release of Rogue One, people are expecting the new film to follow pretty much the same formula. But the first ever Star Wars anthology film does things a little differently, and the Star Wars references in Rogue One aren't really references.
Let me rephrase that. Obviously, the new movie knows what it's doing when it brings back characters, locations, and other details that were first introduced in the original trilogy. But while some accused The Force Awakens of including such things as fan service or a deliberate attempt to tug at viewers' nostalgic heartstrings, the same can't really be said for Rogue One. Unlike The Force Awakens, which takes place over three decades after the last film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, Rogue One takes place right in the thick of it. In fact, the movie leads directly into A New Hope — the film that kicked off the franchise back in 1977.
When Rogue One features a character like Mon Mothma, it's because she was present and influential during the time period in which the film takes place. Ditto Darth Vader. It's also why Stormtroopers and AT-ATs show up in the film; it's not because The First Order is trying to emulate the Empire like in The Force Awakens (mainly because, let's face it, that's what fans want), it's because this is the Empire. Rogue One doesn't feature a Starkiller Base that's really a souped up homage to the Death Star, it features the Death Star because the film takes place before it was destroyed.
But just because the film takes place within the larger Star Wars universe at the same time as the franchise's most iconic movies, that doesn't mean that everything from the original trilogy shows up in Rogue One. Director Gareth Edwards was quite deliberate in only including references to the originals that made sense for the film's story. In fact, many were actually necessary for the film's story. He told Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend:
"One of the things we didn't want to do was make the universe seem small. If you start to have too many of everything, it just seems like 'That's a fluke.' And you want it to feel like, for me, it's not Tatooine or Hoth. For me they shouldn't be New York, Paris, London. They should be some obscure places. Not everyone is at them. And so you have to let go! We have little things in there, and obviously being Star Wars you can... certain characters and things are justified to exist."
Rogue One's references and Easter Eggs to Star Wars' storied past may seem like they've been shoehorned in in a corporate attempt to exploit fans' emotions, but they actually exist to serve the story. And that's to be expected when you set a Star Wars film in the same glorious time period as the original trilogy.
Images: Walt Disney Pictures; Giphy