"That's a nice eclipse. But wait, this planet has no moon, how can we have an eclipse?"
"That's no moon..."
That said, it's not that much of a risk. The film will be partially set on the Death Star and characters like Mon Mothma and even Darth Vader will appear (if only, in the latter case, for what sounds like an effective cameo). And whilst cinema audiences may not be used to Star Wars without the Skywalkers, it's something many millions of more dedicated fans have experienced for decades in mediums like the comic books, novels, video games and animated TV series like The Clone Wars and Rebels. Even if, somehow, Rogue One does badly, it'll only be another year before Episode VIII (still, curiously, not titled by Lucasfilm) hits cinema screens to continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, Finn, Rey and everyone else from The Force Awakens.
We know that Disney wants to release a Star Wars movie every year from now until the end of time (probably) and this will mean them telling completely original stories in the setting. It's actually a clever move, because after Rogue One the other planned spin-off movies are actually dove-tailing into the main saga by exploring the backstories of major characters, which gives them time to see if Rogue One is a success before committing to more original movies. So here's a look at what we know about the upcoming movies and throw some ideas about for films beyond that:
Star Wars: Rogue One
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Release Date: 16 December 2016
Status: Late post-production
You should have already seen the trailers for this. Rogue One is a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, taking place just weeks before the events of A New Hope. The film chronicles the completion of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance getting wind of the Empire's new superweapon and a crack team of morally dubious commandos being dispatched to steal vital technical data on the weapon. It's this data that eventually gets into the hands of Princess Leia and R2-D2, kicking off the entire saga.
This film is unusual in that it focuses on non-Force-using characters, with Edwards describing it as a war film more in the vein of The Dirty Dozen than the fantasy adventure fun of the previous movies. The film will apparently have a slightly "grittier" tone than the main films and will probably not even have a scene-setting opening crawl. It will also be the first Star Wars movie to not be scored by John Williams. The film is likely to be a big success but whether it will match the heights of The Force Awakens remains to be seen: the marketing for this film has been extremely restrained so far, compared to where we were a year ago for Episode VII.
Star Wars: Episode VIII
Directed by Rian Johnson
Release Date: December 2017
Status: Early post-production
This film picks up after the end of The Force Awakens, with Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Force, Finn recovering from the injuries he sustained in the battle with Kylo Ren and Ren, himself badly wounded, being taken to Supreme Leader Snoke to be healed and learn more of the Dark Side of the Force. The Resistance is reeling from the destruction of Hosnian Prime, but the First Order has also been dealt a serious blow with the destruction of Starkiller Base, likely leading to renewed fighting between the two sides.
The second of the new Star Wars episodes is directed by Rian Johnson, who is extremely well-respected for his original SF movies Brick and Looper, not to mention his excellent work on Breaking Bad. This movie will be huge - potentially bigger even than The Force Awakens - and hopefully a bit more original on the story side of things.
Star Wars: Han Solo
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Release Date: 15 May 2018 (likely, in my opinion, to change)
Status: Pre-production and casting
This film will explore the backstory of everyone's favourite smuggler, Han Solo. The movie is apparently set ten years before the events of A New Hope and will explain how Solo acquires the Millennium Falcon, with a young Lando Calrissian also expected to appear. You'd also expect Chewbacca to show up, but that has not yet been confirmed.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have a huge amount of both geek cred and studio support, having taken The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street (plus its sequel) to box office success and critical acclaim. They recently announced that Alden Ehrenreich will be starring as the young Han Solo, and the Internet approved mightily of the (unconfirmed) rumour that Community actor Donald Glover will be playing Lando. Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, is also co-writing this movie with his son. This seems like a pretty strong project, with Han Solo's roguish adventures being the perfect setting for a Star Wars movie. Interestingly, this may also be a relatively small-scale Star Wars movie without the planet-destroying superweapons and galaxy-spanning wars of the other movies. Some rumours have suggested it may also take cues from Ocean's Eleven, which would be interesting although possibly self-defeating (why make a Han Solo, er, solo movie if you then immediately add lots of other main characters?).
Even the suggestion that Disney might spin this out into a trilogy of films ending shortly before the events of Episode IV isn't necessarily a bad thing, providing the writers, directors and, most impotantly, the actor all deliver on the tremendous promise.
Star Wars: Episode IX
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Release Date: December 2019
Status: Pre-production and writing
Given that Episode VIII is still sixteen months away, it's probably premature to speculate too much about Episode IX. But this film will likely resolve the fates of Kylo Ren, Finn and Rey and the First Order and finally bring peace to the galaxy, at least until such time that Disney's finances require the inevitable Episode X-XII trilogy be made.
Colin Trevorrow was a bit of an eye-opening choice for this film, with only two previous movies on his resume and, unlike Rian Johnson, neither were critical successes. But when one of those movies was the franchise-rejeuvenating, money-making machine Jurassic World, that doesn't really matter. What is more hopeful is that Rian Johnson is hanging around to co-write the script.
These ideas have all been thrown around by Lucasfilm in interviews before, so we can assume that they have at least been discussed.
Star Wars: Boba Fett
A film revolving around everyone's favourite space mercenary Boba Fett has been mooted several times before. Fett was the break-out star of the original trilogy, a background character with a bare handful of words who was defeated by Han Solo by accident and eaten by a giant hole in the desert, but somehow retained his cool aura. The Clone Wars animated series actually did a reasonable job of filling in his character and backstory.
I'm a bit torn on this one. On the one hand, Boba Fett worked in the original trilogy because he was hardly in it. He showed up, showed some sass to Darth Vader and then apparently died. Both the Expanded Universe and the new canon have ruled that he survived his fall into the Sarlaac, but the Expanded Universe novels did arguably then over-use him, particularly in trying to make him a morally-justified Mandalorian warlord. Part of me thinks Fett should remain firmly off-screen.
But the approach suggested by Lawrence Kasdan is also interesting. Kasdan, who is known not to be a fan of the prequel trilogy, apparently penned a treatment in which the Boba Fett from Attack of the Clones is attacked and killed by a Clint Eastwood-esque "man with no name" who then steals Fett's identity before the events of the original trilogy. It's a nice idea, but I get the impression that Lucasfilm vetoed it, possibly feeling it was a bit of an insult to George Lucas (who clearly intended them to the be the same character, even redubbing all of Fett's lines in the original trilogy with the Attack of the Clones actor's voice). Kasdan later announced that Han Solo will be his last movie, so the Boba Fett project - which appears now to have been moved to the backburner - will have to find another writer.
Star Wars: Yoda
A Yoda-centric Star Wars story has actually been on the cards since George Lucas made Return of the Jedi. When the Expanded Universe took off a few years after that movie came out, Lucas forbade any of the novel authors, RPG designers or TV scriptwriters from giving any information at all on Yoda or his species. The closest anyone got was when Knights of the Old Republic II featured an alien of the same race. So clearly Lucas wanted to carefully protect Yoda's backstory for another time.
That said, a Yoda-centric movie might be a hard sell. The prequel trilogy didn't really endear audiences more to the character (who was rather more humourless and less relatable than his appearances in the original trilogy) and, like Fett, Yoda works more in small doses. Maybe a film that explores his 900-year backstory without necessarily featuring him in every scene might work. I suspect this film is also now on the backburner as Lucasfilm debate how to handle it.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan
This project doesn't appear to have been on Lucasfilm's radar, but came up as a possibility after Ewan McGregor enthusiastically endorsed the idea in interviews. McGregor had been lukewarm on his experiences filming the prequel trilogy (noting his numerous emotional scenes where he had only a tennis ball to react to), but apparently is keen to revisit the character with a better writer and more meaty material to handle. This film would presumably be set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and see Obi-Wan called away from Tatooine to undertake a new adventure. It is also possible that this film could dovetail into either (or both) the proposed Boba Fett and Yoda projects. There's also the fact that in A New Hope Luke notes he has met Obi-Wan before, so this movie could also explore that first meeting.
Mostly, I think a lot of people feel bad that an actor of McGregor's calibre was let down by poor material in the prequel trilogy and want to give him another shot with the character.
These are ideas that fans and writers have thrown around, with variable amounts of plausibility.
Star Wars: Rogue Two
Probably not revolving the character from The Empire Strikes Back (although at this rate, in another fifty movies' time that may actually be a viable idea). More plausibly, this could be another adventure with the Rogue One crew, or whoever survives that movie, perhaps going after the Death Star II plans (presumably helped by many Bothans) or getting involved in more between-movie shenanigans.
More likely would be a film that tries to do the same kind of thing as Rogue One: a completely new adventure with a whole new cast, just set in the wider Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: Mace Windu
Like Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson has expressed interest in reprising his prequel trilogy character of Mace Windu, famed for his purple lightsabre. Unlike the proposed Obi-Wan movie, this would be rather more difficult since Mace Windu dies in Revenge of the Sith when his arm is chopped off by Anakin Skywalker and he is then blasted out of the window of the Chancellor's office with Force lightning.
OR DOES HE?
No, he does, but Jackson has heroically argued that Windu could have survived his multi-mile plummet onto the streets of Coruscant and gone into hiding, emerging many years later to wreak havoc on the Empire, presumably before dying for real (to explain why he's not in the original trilogy). It's a nice idea, but given the already-ridiculous return of Boba Fett from the dead I think this is probably an idea best avoided.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
BioWare's classic 2003 computer RPG is widely-cited as the finest piece of Star Wars material ever created outside the movies, with its 2004 sequel from Obsidian Entertainment (which explores a much more morally murky idea of the Star Wars universe) not far behind it. These two games have spawned enormous numbers of popular spin-offs, including the current online multiplayer game The Old Republic. A film version of the story, or exploring the same time period (4,000 years before the original trilogy) when the Jedi and Sith are both numerous and engaged in galaxy-spanning conflicts, could be quite interesting.
Star Wars: Thrawn
Grand Admiral Thrawn is the most popular Star Wars character not to appear in the films, instead having been the star villain of Timothy Zahn's early 1990s novels which launched the Expanded Universe. The EU is gone but Thrawn has been carried forwards into the new continuity, with him set to appear as a villain in Season 3 of the Rebels animated series and Zahn writing a new novel about him.
A movie featuring Thrawn as a villain would be very popular. Hugo Weaving was previously a fan favourite to play him, but Benedict Cumberbatch now seems to be the actor of choice to take on the role. Such a film would also, if set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, explore a time period which is still a bit murky and may allow other EU characters like Mara Jade to appear in the new canon.
This assumes that Thrawn won't just be killed off in Rebels, but that would appear to be a waste of an excellent villain.
Star Wars: The Huttfather
Jabba the Hutt stars in a Godfather-riffing trilogy exploring his backstory, rising from a poor young Hutt in the swamps of Nal Hutta to an immigrant to the Vertical City of Nar Shaddaa to his rise to a powerful crimelord of the Outer Rim, based on Tatooine. Robert De Niro will play the young Hutt in lengthy flashbacks.
Okay, I made that up. But at this rate this will be a viable project in about ten years or so.