A few thoughts on Star Wars, Rogue Squadron, and recapturing what works about the franchise on the big screen.

Spoilers for Return Of The Jedi lie ahead.

News emerged at the end of last week that the next cinematic outing for Star Wars will be coming at Christmastime in 2023. Furthermore, the film will be titled Rogue Squadron.

Before I dive into the maze of opportunities that this title presents, let me give you a quick background on my long and sometimes troubled relationship with the Star Wars universe – I don’t do this to sound like one of those bitter divorcees who claim to loathe their partners but can’t seem to stop talking about them; I’m offering this disclosure because after the hugely disappointing capstone to the Skywalker saga in the form of 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker.

I’m someone who thought I was done with big screen Star Wars, after being a fan since I was old enough to pretend a torch was actually a lightsaber. I found the last movie, The Rise Of Skywalker, a crushing disappointment, and figured it was time to let things be.

Considering that back in 1999 I was such a die-hard, forward-looking fan that I flew to the US solely to watch Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the pendulum had duly swung completely the opposite way by the time I exited the cinema after The Rise of Skywalker.

It was great, because it was Star Wars in a cinema, like Star Wars should be. But mostly, it was pretty terrible.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is that if a simple title announcement like Rogue Squadron can get an old, embittered Star Wars fan like me so excited that my inner geek becomes giddy with joy, then maybe the spark may still be there.

But why so excited about the idea of a Rogue Squadron movie? Well, glad you asked.

In Star Wars lore, the Rogue Squadron are the premier starfighter squadron in the Rebel Alliance, and later, the New Republic. After the Death Star’s destruction at the end of A New Hope, only the X-wings of Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles survived the assault on the deadly space station.

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In the aftermath of their victory, and with a mandate to rebuild and maintain space superiority for the Rebel Alliance, the two young pilots formed Rogue Group: at this point the fledgling faction was commanded by Luke Skywalker, who led them most notably at the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back as a loose affiliation of several different squadrons.

In one of the original trilogy’s standout scenes the Rogues famously flew T-47 snowspeeders against Imperial Walkers in a classic David versus Goliath battle with no less than the fate of the entire Rebel Alliance at stake.

Now I’m not knocking Luke Skywalker here. He’s clearly one talented pilot. Not every rocket jockey gets to paint a Death Star kill on their fuselage. Plus he’s been known to bullseye the odd womp rat or two from time to time and they’re not much bigger than two metres.

Where I would beef with Skywalker is his tactical nous; as the leader of Rogue Group his instructions to the group – ‘Attack Pattern Delta’ seemed to consist of flying their lightly armoured snowspeeders head on into the path of the approaching Walkers. I’m no military strategist but as far as I can tell, the AT-AT Walkers seem to only be able to fire in one direction: forwards.

As such Luke, in his wisdom chooses to attack from the one direction that puts his squadron in mortal danger, clearly employing the classic military tactic of throwing lives away in the hope that the enemy run out of ammo or simply feels sorry for them.

But this is the Galactic Empire and they feel pity for no-one, not even a wookie on Life-Day (if you get that joke, you’re broken inside too) and although the first pass kills Dack, his plucky young gunner and countless other Rogues, Luke isn’t satisfied and attempts another head-on pass at the Walkers. That said, this time he refines his tactic by starting the Rogues’ run from even further away, presumably because he thought that presenting the enemy with a sustained target for their main guns once wasn’t enough of a challenge.

Naturally, acting like Billy Big Balls gets Luke shot down almost immediately along with most of his squad. But somehow Echo Base is evacuated and the Rebels live to fight another day.

Cut to Return Of The Jedi and the Rogues (now renamed Rogue Squadronare an established fighting unit, no longer cobbled together at a moment’s notice to face galactic threats or simply because Commander Skywalker wanted to do a ceremonial flyby to try and impress Princess Leia in some weird Lannister dynamic.

Although the Expanded Universe stuff, well, expands the Rogue’s role at this point to include engagements in the Shadows Of The Empire campaign and some other cool missions, we see them next in the movies when Wedge Antilles – survivor of the first Death Star mission and also from Hoth (I guess he basically did the opposite of whatever Luke told him to) – is leading the Rogues alongside the Millennium Falcon in an against-the-odds attack on the Second Death Star.

Remember? The one that turned out to be a trap?

So, Rogue Squadron, now in X-wings (and temporarily renamed Red Squadron in honour of the original Red group who gave their lives destroying the first Death Star) takes on the Empire’s might with Antilles as Rogue Leader.

This is of course because Luke is on the giant space station working out his daddy issues in a sort of twisted counselling session with Vader. Emperor Palpatine is also present, acting as some kind of backwards relationship advisor, doling out electroshock therapy when he feels no progress is being made.

Anyway, the Rogues save the day, Wedge and Lando blow up the second Death Star and everyone lives happily ever after.

This  brings us to the afterparty on Endor where we see Luke, Han and the gang partying with the Rogues who spend their time in the film’s final scene mainly dancing with the ewoks.

Despite paying an integral part in three major cinematic battles, Wedge doesn’t merit a place in Jedi’s iconic closing ensemble shot; presumably he’s too busy drinking some ewok chieftain under the table. From here on in, the adventures of Rogue Squadron continued in the various novels, comic books and video games that continued to broaden the horizons of the Star Wars Expanded UniverseLuke pretty much left the group to get his Jedi on and try to re-establish the ancient order, leaving Wedge in charge.

In the hands of the talented writer Michael A Stackpole, Wedge rebuilds the squadron twice, once in the Dark Horse comic book series and once in the Bantam series of novels. Both were pretty great, (although I really loved the novels) but it really comes down to whether you’d rather read about X-wings shooting TIE-fighters or look at pictures with words of X-wings shooting TIE-fighters. If you preferred to shoot them yourself there was also a great trilogy of games for the Nintendo N64 and Gamecube where you got to fly around as the Rogues and recreate some of their landmark missions.

But where does all this leave us with regards to the recently announced Rogue Squadron movie?

Well, in Star Wars lore the main character was Wedge Antilles, but Denis Lawson – the actor who played the Corellian pilot in the original trilogy only reappeared to make a brief, brief cameo in The Rise Of Skywalker.

That’s likely because in the absence of other legacy characters, Disney probably backed the money truck up to his house. After all, he memorably turned down a role in 2015’s The Force Awakens because it was too small.

It’s probably safe to say that Wedge won’t be appearing, as Lawson’s age might prevent this, unless of course the series is set in the Rise Of Skywalker era meaning he could appear.

If the film is set earlier, the character of Wedge could be recast. With John Boyega’s stinging criticism of Lucasfilm most likely still ringing in their ears, the studio will most likely look for more representative casting. In the books, the main character was a pilot named Corran Horn. Like Wedge, he too was a bit of an everyman pilot, although suspiciously good at everything and therefore not that interesting. He even became a Jedi as the books progressed.

We do however know that Patty Jenkins of Wonder Woman fame is directing, which poses some interesting questions. Will we see a female protagonist for example? I for one would love to see a woman behind the controls of an X-wing fighter kicking ass and taking names.

Star Wars is certainly being asked questions in the diversity stakes and we haven’t seen many female fighter pilots in the movies yet. During the Battle of Yavin Princess Leia spent the whole time pretty much looking at a monitor…  and during the Battle of Hoth, she… well, let’s just say that there was a monitor involved. I’d argue that it’s past time for a hotshot female ace.

Also worthy of consideration is Oscar Isaac: Poe Dameron is the ultimate X-wing pilot in the latest trilogy, meaning there could be a link to the recent films there. Perhaps he’ll turn up if this is  spinoff film, although this is purely speculative and again would depend on the era in which the film is set.

I for one am hoping for a fresh story, because although I’m enjoying what The Mandalorian is doing with legacy characters, I think Rian Johnson’s flawed The Last Jedi showed us that Star Wars has the potential to be so much more if it tells new stories. Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who played the Mandalorian bounty hunter once told me that he believes Fett, following his demise in Return Of The Jedi, had opened up a KFC at the bottom of the sarlaac pit and frankly, I hope he’s right. The Star Wars universe is ripe for fresh characters and new stories; I can’t imagine a better place to start than the further adventures of Rogue Squadron.

They may not be part of the galaxy-spanning Skywalker saga but who cares? They’re better than that; they’re the everyman of the Star Wars universe… They’re you. They’re me.

They may not have uncanny force powers or dynastic lineages. You may think they’re just hot hands on the throttle; rocket jockeys who can pull death-defying bootlegger turns and barrel rolls that defy physics. But there’s more to them than that: they’re the fighting rank and file, ordinary people, men, women and alien alike that want to save the universe from a great and tyrannical evil and are willing to die to make it so.

And that’s a story I can believe in.

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