Recently, during Star Wars Celebration, director Gareth Edwards revealed the first plot details for Rogue One, the first Star Wars film to be released under the Anthology banner that will feature tales set outside the main Star Wars story. We now know that Rogue One -- which was already highly anticipated as the first Star Wars spinoff film -- will be set between Episode III and Episode IV, and will tell the story of a group of Rebels stealing the plans to the Empire's Death Star.
So, Rogue One is a "sidequel" or an "interquel," a story that takes place between the major beats of the first two trilogies in which characters will retrieve the MacGuffin that ignites the plot of Star Wars. Without these fighters and their mission, Princess Leia never gets the plans and never hides them in R2-D2, Luke Skywalker never gets pulled into the whole mess, and everything turns out very differently. It's a lynchpin of Star Wars history famous enough that, when we walk into Rogue One, we will already know that the end result of the film is that the plans are indeed stolen by the Rebels.
I'll be honest and tell you it never really occured to me that this could be a problem for anyone. When I first heard the Rogue One details, I thought "Cool, a Jedi-less Star Wars film about people fighting for their freedom! A film set in the time before the Rebellion was actually winning! I can't wait to see that!" Then, as my own enthusiasm for the idea settled in, I started seeing things like this:
This line of reasoning comes from not understanding storytelling. pic.twitter.com/Py7brXQeh5— Devin Faraci (@devincf) April 19, 2015
Now, this way of thinking when it comes to movies is nothing new (How many stand-up comics were doing "The boat sinks!" bits about Titanic in the late '90s?) and, of course, you're free to feel however you want about whatever movie you want, but this stopped my budding Rogue One buzz right in its tracks. It didn't stop me because I agreed or because I hadn't thought about already knowing the ending before, but because I was kind of amazed someone was thinking this way about this particular kind of story.
Certainly there are plenty of films in which the secret of the ending should be preserved for maximum enjoyment. Alfred Hitchcock famously encouraged theaters to forbid late entry to Psycho, and encouraged moviegoers not to reveal the film's twists to their friends. M. Night Shyamalan made his (now diminished) reputation on films for which a shocking, hopefully unpredictable ending was key. And yes, even Star Wars has built at least one film around a shocking ending: The Empire Strikes Back. Endings are important and, for some films, maintaining the suspense that builds to them is downright essential, but at the risk of sounding like a cornball philosopher, I have to make what I thought was a self-evident point: An ending is not a story.
And I'm far from alone in thinking that. If you don't believe me, click to 0:46 in this clip and ask these guys (some NSFW language if you watch the entire video):
Those are Star Wars fans, more than 15 years ago, who'd just seen a trailer for Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first film in an entire trilogy of films to which we already knew the ending. We'd known the ending for well over a decade. Those people are reacting with sheer joy and unrelenting excitement in anticipation of a film about Anakin Skywalker, who we already knew turned to the Dark Side, became Darth Vader, and eventually died after a moment of redemption. Now, we can talk about the flaws in the execution of the prequels all day, but you can't deny the wave of excitment that swept the entire world before this movie came out, and it was all directed toward a story that already had an ending.
What's more, the eventual ending of the original Star Wars trilogy isn't exactly a twist-filled mystery that you never see coming. George Lucas structured his story around his study of the comparative mythology writings of Joseph Campbell, around universal story themes and patterns that have literally been with humankind for millenia. A few twists and turns aside, those movies practically come with a road map. Can you really look at Star Wars, a space opera with very well-defined good and evil sides, and ever seriously think "Boy, the Empire might really win this"? Can you look at The Lord of the Rings and think Sauron has a shot? Can you look at Harry Potter and think Voldemort's really gonna win? If you can, it's not because the story's themes and overall trajectory are steeped in ambiguity and mystery, but because you care about the characters and the world. You're invested not just because of what happens, but because of how it happens. If it's done well, Rogue One will be a film with situations we can happily get lost in, and with characters we care about beyond the end result of their mission.
So, while it's entirely possible that I and many other people won't enjoy the finished product that is Rogue One, I know that my enjoyment doesn't -- and shouldn't -- hinge on what ends up in R2-D2's memory banks.