2016 Awards Profile: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ from Gareth Edwards

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Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Written By: Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz

Cast: Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Jonathan Aris and Eunice Olumide

Synopsis (From IMDB): Rebels set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Why it Could Succeed:

Let’s face the facts, shall we? Star Wars and “unsuccessful” will forever be mutually exclusive. Adjusted for inflation, the saga’s film franchise has grossed approximately $6.5 billion to date, with the latest film The Force Awakens topping the profits at nearly $2 billion. While Rogue One represents the first live-action offshoot from the primary Skywalker narrative, I can’t imagine it would end its run under $1 billion – if anything, even the most skeptic fan would devour this film just to satiate their appetite until Star Wars: Episode VIII releases the following year.

Besides its brand association, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story appeals to a number of fans both casual and hardcore. In the first ten minutes of A New Hope, we learn that the Death Star plans have been stolen from a prior Rebel Alliance mission that the audience wasn’t privy to…until now. Easily the turning point for the rebellion, that successful operation cost countless lives and set in motion fateful events that caused chinks in the Empire’s once impenetrable armor. Without the valiant heroism and sacrifices made by members of this espionage team, there would be no Star Wars as we know it. Princess Leia would never have sought out former General Obi-Wan Kenobi’s help, Luke Skywalker never would have left Tatooine to become a Jedi, and Han Solo probably would still be jumping from system to system to escape Jabba the Hutt’s fat bounty on the smuggler. What a completely different universe that would look like!

Fans will also rejoice knowing this is the first time a strong female lead role is written totally absent of a connection to the Skywalker-Solo clan. As far as we know, Felicity Jones’s protagonist is not just the lead of the ragtag group spearheading this mission – she’s also a non-Force user, which means her mortal capabilities will be what defines her and not some mystical superpower only a select few can harness. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think it’s even more exciting to see a female Star Wars character sans the Force than one with access to the omnipresent energy field. There are millions of non-Force sensitive beings in the galaxy whose contributions have largely gone unnoticed, and now for the first time a Star Wars story shines a light on such equally courageous individuals. What’s not to love about that?

Can Gareth Edwards make the 'Mad Max: Fury Road' of the 'Star Wars' film universe?
Can Gareth Edwards make the ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ of the ‘Star Wars’ film universe?

Why it Could Fail:

As I’ve already mentioned above, financial failure is a “Mission: Impossible – No, It’s Actually Impossible” impossibility. So all I really need to mention here are some of the qualms I see fans having, and one major bit of hiring I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at. The most common point of contention fans have with The Force Awakens is how closely it mirrors the plot and character arcs of A New Hope. This grievance has occasionally led to accusations of the film being a flagrant, blatant, cash-grabbing remake of the 1977 classic. I don’t share this opinion since in my mind Star Wars has always been narratively cyclical, but for argument’s sake I’m willing to play Sith’s advocate. If the overriding criticism is how uncomfortably close The Force Awakens seems to A New Hope, why would anyone be excited to see a spinoff that’s closer to A New Hope in the Star Wars timeline than any other film or major story event? You guys are smart and know where I’m going with this. Cue the Imperial theme because, let’s face it, Rogue One is technically the prequel to Episode IV, and we all know how much fans adore the “p” word! If Rogue One’s only purpose is to provide laborious bridge-building, you can bet most fans would be more than thrilled to tear that bridge down in excoriation once the movie comes out. Let’s pray to the Force gods that Rogue One offers much more than a baton pass.

On a more personal note, I’m a huge detractor of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, a bumbling, CGI-imposing mess of a film with a roster of characters so devoid of dimension they might as well have been running, screaming stick figures. At least then, I might have had an actual reason to laugh. Also of concern is the fallout screenwriter Gary Whitta had with the project, the result of which led to writing duties handed off to The Twilight Saga: New Moon director and Cinderella scribe Chris Weitz. Although it was reported it was an amicable split between Disney and Whitta on this film, one does have to wonder whether Whitta’s creativity was being stymied in the interest of checking off “fan service” boxes. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Edwards can direct a motion picture featuring a screenplay as quantifiable in storytelling worth as his extravagant visuals tend to be.

Will Felicity Jones claim Oscar Nomination #2 or is 'Rogue One' simply a launching point to a mainstream career?
Will Felicity Jones claim Oscar Nomination #2 or is ‘Rogue One’ simply a launching point to a mainstream career?

Awards Speculation:

I am firmly of the belief that The Force Awakens would have made the “Best Picture” lineup in a year of ten guaranteed slots sans a preferential ballot system. Almost every Academy member interviewed admitted to thoroughly enjoying the film, not to mention it received five Oscar nominations including the all-important editing nod – much more than PGA-approved films Ex Machina, Sicario and Straight Outta Compton, all of which failed to make the final tally. Not since A New Hope (drinking game time!) has a Star Wars film racked up as many nominations from the Academy, a sign as persuasively as any that it was on the cusp of substantial recognition.

This is why of any mainstream/commercial fare to release in 2016, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has by far the best chance of breaking through to the big leagues. There is too much leftover goodwill from The Force Awakens to not at least view Rogue One as a potential contender. Awards screenings will also be earlier since the film won’t have to conceal as much as The Force Awakens, thereby giving Rogue One a much longer window to campaign compared to the minuscule time frame TFA was allowed to convince awards groups of its merits. Because the story lacks unpredictability, I’m actually of the mind that the film will be more action-oriented in the vein of Mad Max: Fury Road or Raid: Redemption than plot-driven. If the sequences are out-of-this-galaxy incredible, mark my words that the movie will be slurping up those tech Oscar nods like an overzealous smoothie drinker. Bottom line: I’m being cautiously optimistic about Rogue One’s Oscar chances because this year’s slate proved just how inclusive the Academy could be towards the once ignored genre.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress — Felicity Jones
Best Supporting Actor — Ben Mendelsohn or Riz Ahmed (both have an awards recognition past)
Best Film Editing
Best Visual Effects
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
Best Original Score
Best Cinematography

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ranks!