Rogue One: A Star Wars Story could prove to be the first in a long line of Star Wars “Anthology” films that are not part of the franchise’s central storyline (which continues in 2017 with Star Wars: Episode VIII). A second Star Wars spinoff is already moving forward in the form of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Han Solo movie, featuring Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) and Donald Glover (Atlanta) as a young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, respectively. Rogue One shall test those waters first, so to speak, and help to determine just how much interest there is for these non-Episode Star Wars films in the grand scheme of things Star Wars-related.
Just because the “Anthology” Stars Wars movies focus on different protagonists than the Episodes do, that doesn’t mean iconic Star Wars characters won’t be appearing in them. Case in point: Rogue One tells the previously-untold story about how the Rebel Alliance stole the Galactic Empire’s plans to the first Death Star and features appearances from none other than the Empire’s second-in-command, Darth Vader.
Vader is being voiced in Rogue One by the living legend that is James Earl Jones – who also voices the character in animated form on Star Wars Rebels – and the long-held assumption has been that Vader will largely be operating in the shadows during Rogue One, with Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) being the villain who works in the light. Rogue One‘s director Gareth Edwards offered the following to USA Today, explaining how Krennic differs from the Imperial officers seen in Star Wars movies past:
“It feels like if the Empire ever have a job vacancy, they go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to headhunt people. I like the idea that Ben’s character [Krennic] was much more working-class [and rose in the ranks] through sheer force of personality and ideas. [In the film, Krennic] hits a brick wall in the hierarchy where they won’t let him in the club and it’s going to turn into a them-or-us situation: either Krennic or [Grand Moff] Tarkin and the others.”
James Luceno’s Star Wars book Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel serves as a prequel to the Rogue One movie, revealing the extent to which both Krennic and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – the father of Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) – were involved in refining and completing the first Death Star. Catalyst supports what Edwards has said about Krennic’s backstory, suggesting that his ambition and drive to give the Empire a super-weapon (to assert their willpower across the Star Wars galaxy) are indicative of what allowed him to climb up the ranks of the Empire to begin with.
Not even Krennic has enough “personality” to overshadow Darth Vader and it’s for related reasons that Vader is “used sparingly” (as USA Today puts it) in Rogue One – lest the iconic villain steal the spotlight in the film altogether. To illustrate that point, Edwards shared the following anecdote from when he was filming a scene that features Krennic and Vader, where Mendelsohn called him over in the middle of a take (for no obvious reason):
“He [Ben] went, ‘It’s Darth Vader. We filmed with Darth Vader. And I was like,‘I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it?’ It was like no one wanted to admit that they’re having a little fanboy freak-out but everyone did. It’s impossible not to. He’s so iconic.”
As he did in Star Wars Rebels season 2, Vader in Rogue One is expected to play a key supporting role, but very much a true supporting role all the same. That should allow room for the new characters in this movie (Krennic being among them) to have their chance to shine. If all goes well, the movie’s newcomer heroes and villains will endear themselves to the many Star Wars fans out there, similar to what original Star Wars trilogy characters like Vader did before them all those years ago.