7 reasons 'Rogue One' stands out in the Star Wars saga

Commentary: The upcoming Star Wars movie appears to have it all, including a female lead, a diverse cast, Darth Vader, the Death Star origin story and a mysterious new robot.

It's up to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to lead a ragtag group of rebels to find the Death Star plans before it's too late.

Photo by Bonnie Burton/CNET (video screenshot)

Thousands of Star Wars fans (including me) have already preordered tickets to see "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" when it opens in mid-December. From what we know so far, the film offers all the typical Star Wars action, but it's not a typical Star Wars movie.

"Rogue One" features a diverse cast with a female lead. It's the first Star Wars movie to be a standalone story, without the promise of a sequel. It's even ditching the traditional opening crawl.

Here's why I think "Rogue One" is destined to be the Star Wars movie that sets itself apart from the rest of the saga.

Bye-bye opening crawl

One of the most noticeable changes in this Star Wars film is the lack of the opening crawl. Every single Star Wars film has included it: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."

Even "The Clone Wars" animated series episodes had it. But according to Variety, Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy has said "Rogue One" won't go with the flow.

"We probably will begin the film...with just the title," Kennedy said in an interview published last week.

That's a huge change for fans who have not only memorized the opening text to all previous Star Wars films but consider it tradition. The exclusion of the opening crawl sends a strong message to fans right from the start that "Rogue One" isn't a usual Star Wars film. That's downright thrilling.

Female-led story

There's nothing more exciting for me as a Star Wars fan -- and a lifelong geek girl -- than seeing a new story based on a female character. Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher) was my childhood role model. She shot a blaster better than the guys who tried to rescue her. She was in charge of troops at the rebel bases. She sassed both Tarkin and Darth Vader and won Han Solo's heart in a flurry of sarcastic verbal foreplay. Princess Leia has always been, and will always be, the ultimate female role model in the Star Wars universe.

We've had a few other strong female characters, of course, but with mixed results. The Star Wars prequels gave us Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), who started strong but then gave up at the end due to a "broken heart." Then we saw a rebellious female Jedi named Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) grow up and take charge in "The Clone Wars" animated series and later in "Star Wars Rebels."

With Rey (Daisy Ridley), we got a fiercely independent and brave woman who doesn't back away from a challenge, no matter how dangerous. In "The Force Awakens," Rey is on the kind of quest that turns this Jakku scavenger into a hero.

"Rogue One" has one of the most diverse casts of any Star Wars film to date.

Photo by Lucasfilm

In "Rogue One," we get the defiant Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who has a troubled past and a tricky family history. It's hard to be upbeat when your dad, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is to blame for creating the original blueprints for the Death Star.

But if there's anything to glean from the movie trailers, it's that Jyn is no pushover with daddy issues. She's ready to fight for what's right and doesn't mind if the odds are against her. In fact, this is the kind of suicide squad worthy of a riot grrl anthem. I can't wait to hear Jyn tell Mon Mothma, the leader of the resistance, "I rebel."

Diverse cast

At a time when most studios lean heavily on white males, Lucasfilm and Disney understand a great story deserves a diverse cast. After all, we're dealing with an entire universe of humanoids, alien races and robots.

"Rogue One" includes not only a female lead, played by Felicity Jones, but also an all-star cast that includes Forest Whitaker as Saw Guerrera, Diego Luna as Capt. Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, and even Jimmy Smits reprising his role as Bail Organa -- just to name a few.

Diversity is nothing new in Star Wars. After all, Star Wars characters Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie), Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), young Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) were played by nonwhite actors. There's also been an impressive array of Jedi Masters, villains, assassins, politicians and rebels played by women.

But "Rogue One" may be the first Star Wars film to make sure the majority of the story isn't just a bunch of white dudes barking orders at one another, teaching the ways of the Force, or whining about picking up power converters.

You can't have a Death Star without Darth Vader.

Photo by Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Original trilogy cameos

Darth Vader sure knows how to make a dramatic entrance. And in the "Rogue One" trailer, we get our first glimpse of Vader as he enters a room from a cloud of smoke to probably yell at or kill Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Vader's even lurking in the official "Rogue One" movie poster, just in case fans forgot how intimidating he is.

But the cameo that's got fans abuzz this week isn't a Sith Lord. The newest trailer may (or may not) have let it slip that Darth Vader's boss, Grand Moff Tarkin (originally played in 1977 by Peter Cushing), will make an appearance as the first Death Star is assembled.

That pesky Death Star

As the first Star Wars spinoff movie, "Rogue One" takes place between Episode III ("Revenge of the Sith") and Episode IV ("A New Hope"), where resistance fighters work against all odds to intercept Death Star plans. After all, it wouldn't be a Star Wars movie unless someone mentioned the Death Star, right?

Just like with all great heroes and villains, the Death Star deserves its own story of humble beginnings in the mind of a genius that eventually lead to horrifying results. No one can forget Princess Leia witnessing the obliteration of her home planet. In "Rogue One," we'll get to see how the Death Star came to be and why its creation is a tragic tale in more ways than one.

Move over R2-D2 and BB-8. K-2SO is the new droid that might earn our loyalty in "Rogue One."

Photo by Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

A mysterious new robot

As much as I love R2-D2, and the Scrappy Doo that is BB-8, I'm excited to see another new droid get some screen time in the Star Wars saga. When the very tall droid K-2SO (voiced by "Firefly" star Alan Tudyk) tells Jyn in one of the many trailers, "The captain says you are a friend. I will not kill you," I got a chill down my spine.

Finally, we get a robot with a violent past who's working for the good guys. No more cutesy beeping robots. No more whiny, rambling protocol droids. No more idiotic battle droids.

K-2SO has a past and is the kind of robot you want to keep an eye on just in case it decides you're not a friend.

No sequels

"Rogue One" will be the first Star Wars film without sequels. That's a big deal considering we've had two trilogies (originals and prequels) -- and even "The Clone Wars" movie was a prequel for the animated TV series.

Of course, this also means many of us sitting in the theater will be holding our breath to see how many of the main characters in "Rogue One" die off. If there's no promise of a sequel, there's no guarantee anyone will survive, which drives up the dramatic tension. This was one of the problems with the prequels (fans already knew Leia and Luke's mom died, but Vader survived). Now all bets are off.

If that doesn't convince you that "Rogue One" will be the best Star Wars movie yet, I'm OK with that. It just means I'll be taking your empty theater seat when I see this movie for the fifth time in a row.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" is scheduled to hit theaters on December 15 in Australia, and December 16 in the US and UK. See you there.

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