A long time ago in a neighborhood a country away, the magic of movie making was struck by a revolution.
With the 1960s dawned a new era of Hollywood, simply labeled New Hollywood. This period gave prominence to a new wave of filmmakers different from the rigid institution of the previous studio system. New Hollywood gave rise to directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, all of whom challenged the status quo of cinema to recapture the dwindling youth market.
In 1977, New Hollywood produced its grand achievement in “Star Wars.” Directed by George Lucas, the arrival of “Star Wars” onto the cultural landscape defined the blockbuster structure that is still seen in the Hollywood of today.
As filmmaking evolved in the decades since “Star Wars,” so has the franchise, now boasting eight live action theatrical films along with a multi-media empire spanning from animated films to comic books. With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” having arrived this past December, it is vital to analyze the cultural legacy that the film is so intent on inheriting.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” tells the tale of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she searches for the plans for the infamous Death Star, setting the stage for the first film of the franchise (Episode IV). This spin-off film is the eighth live action theatrical release of the “Star Wars” franchise and sets a precedence for future spin-offs. Works that exist to clean up continuity hiccups, explain world-building details or bridge arcs of stories are commonly found in other wide reaching multimedia franchises, such as comic books. “Rogue One” exists to accomplish all three goals by telling its world-building story in between the prequel and original trilogy, explaining how the Death Star had an easily exploitable weakness and how the plans were obtained in the original film. As Hollywood blockbusters evolve into continuity driven affairs, individual films become smaller parts of greater wholes.
"I'm still one of those few people that prefers to dwell on the information and lore gained from the franchise than to actually sit through the film, I very much enjoyed it," said Adrianna Mancini, a 3D Animation alumna. These feelings allow for long term investments from audiences and greater market sustainability from Hollywood. The recent death of Carrie Fisher raises the question of how a long term live-action franchise can survive considering the loss of older actors.
"Rogue One" uses CGI to digitally recreate actors who have passed away or aged significantly (like Grand Moff Tarkin), similar to “Captain America: Civil War.” While the effects can be extraordinarily distracting, their importance for the franchise and blockbusters can’t be overstated. Technology is at the point where digitally rendered actors can open up fascinating avenues for how Hollywood moves forward in their future. If "Star Wars" can immortalize actors through CGI, they may be able to continue the franchise indefinitely. The question of legal implications for this will certainly come to play in the future. Digital recreation also allows for dangerous new stunts.
“Digital recreation is a safer way to go about creating realistic events that would put an actor’s life at risk. For example, getting blown off a building. While you could layer the shot with green screens and effects, adding in a final layer of a CG character rendered to fit the actor originally on screen would put them in a place of zero risk of injury,” said Mancini. “Plus, it gives the actors themselves more time to focus on preparing for other scenes rather than needing to be blown around to make it look like they’re falling off a building.”
Though the current works are digital masterpieces, "Star Wars" was popular before realistic digital renderings, and was made famous through different means.
The original trilogy spanned from 1977 to 1983, covering “A New Hope,” “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Each film was a critical and commercial success. Each film in the original trilogy features iconic moments that are interwoven in cultural conscience, including the destruction of the Death Star, the paternal reveal of Darth Vader and his redemption and self-sacrifice. To this day people incorrectly quote “Luke, I am your father” at one another because of how ingrained the franchise is in pop culture.
The prequel trilogy spanned from 1999 to 2005, covering “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” with significantly less acclaim and cultural impact. Even though “The Phantom Menace” was the second highest grossing film at the time of its release, modern criticisms are not kind. The film is commonly blasted for its poorly framed narrative and increased emphasis on special effects. While the original trilogy stands out as a product of its revolutionary and counterculture time, the prequel trilogy is also a product of its time experimenting and exploring what can be done with special effects to mixed results.
“Even though [the] prequels are still bad, they still happened so it’s cool that they’re tying together more. Continuity is important in the Star Wars universe,” said Alex Claypool, Game Design and Development major and first year member of the Public Relations subcommittee for Space Time Adventures at RIT (STAR). This sentiment is becoming more common among Star Wars fans, as the franchise angles toward a long term plan over individual entries.
The releases of “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” also reflect the era of modern cinema, with their emphasis on cinematic universes and decade long film planning. What stands out about how “Rogue One” handles the franchise is that the film acts as the first real attempt at building an extensive universe, especially after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm branded all previous extended universe works as not canonical to the franchise. The formerly known canon, now dubbed “Star Wars Legends,” already covered the story of the acquisition of the Death Star in the video game “Star Wars: Dark Forces.” Now that “Dark Forces” is no longer canon, the story can be told differently on the big screen.
The intent is to have “Rogue One” flagship a new canon that is accessible to modern audiences and that appeals to the continuity driven nature of modern day Hollywood. Considering the box office success of “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” they seem to have succeeded.