Let's be honest: 2016 has been an awful year. We lost of a plethora of talented artists, climate change is still a thing and Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. But before we bid adieu to 2016, there could be a nice reprieve from its awfulness with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first of three anthology series from the Star Wars franchise.
As a start, we consider this a positive: Rogue One's going to have a distinctly different feel from other Star Wars films. It's the first spin-off movie, yes, but Rogue One ostensibly doesn't include any Jedi, and will be without the franchise's signature opening crawl. It's probably the closest thing Star Wars can have to a gamble, then, by essentially becoming a war film devoid of its biggest characters (aside from Darth Vader).
Heading into the film's release on Dec. 16, here's five key questions fans want answered most on Rogue One's plot, and how it affects the Star Wars universe as a whole.
How big of a role will Darth Vader have?
Admittedly, it was a bit surprising when Lucasfilm made the news official that Darth Vader was going to appear in Rogue One. It was expected, to be sure, but considering the tight-lipped nature of The Force Awakens, this was a pretty big reveal ahead of the release. And frankly, we'd have been alright if they left Vader an on-screen revelation.
Still, what we don't know is just how big of a presence the villain will have in Rogue One. He could be resorted to a cameo, making a few odd — though undoubtedly intimidating — appearances ahead of the construction of the Death Star. Alternatively, Vader could be a fully formed antagonist that, in theory, could end up killing some members of the Rebel Alliance. Regardless of the extent of his role in the film, it's obviously very, very exciting to have one of cinema's greatest villains making a return.
Will other popular characters in the Star Wars universe make a cameo?
So we do know about Vader, but with Rogue One's place in Star Wars' timeline, it could include cameos from other popular characters. The biggest one — and what we're willing to bet will be seen in some capacity — is Princess Leia. She's an important leader for the Rebels, and if Rogue One ultimately ties into the opening scene of A New Hope, in which Princess Leia attempts to escape the clutches of the Empire with the Death Star plans in hand, we expect to see her on-screen. Perhaps Carrie Fisher's daughter for the sake of continuity?
Other rumors have included a Han Solo cameo, what with the character having his own spin-off film in 2018 and fans eagerly waiting Alden Ehrenreich's take on the bounty hunter. That's possible too, but if we're banking on anyone else to show up, it's Leia.
Is the "Rogue One" team on a suicide mission?
While the opening crawl of A New Hope does mention that Rebels had stolen the plans to the Death Star, it's a pretty vague description that's never expounded in other films. Is that a bit trivial? Maybe not, considering the Bothans that died getting information for the Rebels in Return of the Jedi became a loving internet meme (and for some, they were confused with the "Rogue One" team led by Jyn Erso).
The odds are stacked against Jyn and her Rebel team — as the Rebels are against the Empire, period — but a self-contained Star Wars film about a near-impossible mission that will feature Darth freaking Vader is sure to include a few heartbreaking deaths. We're certainly appreciative that they stole the plans, but we don't have high hopes for their survival.
But no — they are not Bothans, OK?
Could the Death Star's glaring weakness be intentional?
Not to nitpick one of the best sci-fi film's ever made, but the Death Star's big weakness in A New Hope is a pretty big one: A small exhaust port that, if fired upon accurately (like Luke Skywalker did), detonates the entire battle station. While it's easy to label it a lazy plot device from George Lucas, Rogue One could provide a clever excuse, decades later — what if it was an intentional design flaw?
What we do know about Rogue One is that Jyn Erso's father, Galen, is a scientist whose work is sought by the Empire and Rebellion alike; the implication being he is instrumental in the Death Star's construction. Details are still murky, but it's clear from a few trailers that Galen's being forced to work with the Empire, so one of the ways he could fight back is by leaving the Death Star with a glaring weakness. As Jyn says in Rogue One's international trailer, "We need to capture the plans." Perhaps her father relayed a message to her that, ultimately, helps the Rebels in A New Hope.
Will Rogue One's final scene be the opening to A New Hope?
Seriously, that would be so cool.