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Monday, April 11, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Trailer

Edited by Robert Beach

By now, you’ve probably heard the Disney/Star Wars experiment isn’t going to be limited to the new trilogy of films kicked off by The Force Awakens. In case you didn’t know, the plan is every other year (i.e. 2016, 2018, 2020, and so on) instead of an episodic movie. They’ll release a spin-off flick as part of a new series entitled A Star Wars Story because the original name of Star Wars Anthology wasn’t enough of a mouthful I suppose. 

A lot of folks, including yours truly, are cautious about this plan as it smacks of corporate milking and risk of overexposure for a brand that only just found its way back to credibility after nearly a decade of being a joke in the mainstream; however, all those anxieties were washed away in an instant with the release of the first trailer for the first of these films entitled: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

In case the movie’s plot blitzed past you a little too quickly, here’s the condensed version. Folks who’ve been closely following the saga of post-Disney Star Wars already knew this, but it’s nice to finally get it confirmed on screen. Despite that tricky bit of double meaning at the end, Rogue One isn’t actually about a single person so much as it’s about a mission, specifically, the mission to steal the Deathstar plans that Leia was smuggling in A New Hope. 

That officially makes Rogue One a prequel, but don’t let that put you off as this seems to have a much better understanding of how prequels should be handled as evidence by the darker tone of the trailer. Indeed, the tone is a big part of what I like about this trailer, albeit I’m a little hesitant to give it a complete pass. The tone is what I really loved in the first couple of trailers for director Gareth Edwards’ previous film Godzilla only for the film to disappoint.    

Speaking of Godzilla 2014, the Rogue One trailer really does come off as on harmony with its early trailers if not on melody. Both rely on an ethereal and recognizable main theme. The “slow piano version of the movie’s music” has become a staple of trailers lately since it showed up in Jurassic World. Both also emphasize iconography and trust the viewer’s familiarity with the world and content at hand to fill in a lot of the gaps and wow factor. 

This is a trailer that trusts you to recognize folks like Mon Mothma or recognize the Deathstar from a brief shot of it rather than coming out and saying any of that. Normally that inclination can be taxing, yet it makes a lot of sense for a prequel like Rogue One. What I mean is Rogue One by its very nature must exist as a tragedy. Even though the heroes succeed, they must also die; otherwise, we would’ve already met them during the actual rebellion in A New Hope. It’s dramatic irony at its finest in that you, the audience, already know these heroes are doomed and the tension comes from waiting for them to realize it as well and the hope that maybe you’ve been misinformed. 

It’s a clever trick and a difficult one to pull off. As far as tone and use of imagery, Rogue One seems to have it down flat from the imposing walkers to the somber reworking of the original John Williams score.  This goes hand-in-hand with statements Edwards already made about the film, stating this would be the first Star Wars movie without any Jedi and their absence is tied to that central tone of struggle, inevitability, and abandonment. The heart of all these themes and ideas is summed up perfectly in the film’s lead Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. 

Everything about Jyn speaks to a woman angry and bitter at a world where heroism is a distant memory and hope as a forgotten concept.  Her complete and finite embrace of her place as a rebel is the heart of this trailer and make an instantly engaging and charismatic lead to hang this on. In Edwards' interview, he mentioned that the absence of the Jedi was tantamount to the absence of God. If we extrapolate religious metaphor out, that would make this world hell which would fit with the idea of Jyn as a rebel in the truest form. Where else would true rebels go?

The other supporting cast all look great. Forrest Whitaker is great in pretty much everything he’s in, and though his identity isn’t totally clear yet, his design as a rebelling imperial or possibly an imperialized rebel looks pretty great. Hong Kong superstar Donnie Yen is in the trailer too; while he doesn’t get any lines, he does get to take out a bunch of storm troopers with a staff, which is all kinds of amazing. If you haven’t been following the Disney/Star Wars new canon stuff, the current ruling is that even though there weren’t any new Jedi being trained in the time after Revenge of the Sith and prior to A New Hope, there were still force sensitive individuals being born who had force abilities only without the precision of the Sith or the Jedi. 

A lot of folks have speculated Donnie Yen is playing a force sensitive of some kind, which would be an interesting way to bring the lore getting established in Star Wars: Rebels into the film series. Mads Mikklesen is also on hand, in a very brief appearance in the trailer.  No real idea who he is or what his connection to all of this is, but he’s a great veteran character actor, so it’s great to have him on hand.  

The rest of the trailer is a bit of a mystery, especially the two binary figures in white and black. The white costume is an Imperial Admiral's uniform taken straight from the EU as featured in the very popular Thrawne trilogy of books, so whoever that guy is he’s clearly an imperial higher up. The character in the black cloak is a little more questionable.  We see they’re flanked by the red guards that protected the emperor in Return of the Jedi, for they seem to be Sith central. Aside from that, there’s really no way to tell. 

Darth Vader has been confirmed to be in Rogue One, so it could be him. It could also be one of the Inquisitors, the force sensitive beings that were recruited by the Empire, also covered in Rebels (again). I’m not too wedded to that theory as it’d imply a level of connection between the TV stuff and the films that we’ve yet to see in any other multimedia franchise, even the Marvel stuff, but it’s certainly possible. 

Overall, I really loved this trailer. It feels like something new and exciting is happening within the Star Wars universe. I liked The Force Awakens well enough, though one of my big annoyances was how much it felt like we were just treading water with the Star Wars stuff that had already been established to work previously. It was still enjoyable and absolutely the shot in the arm the franchise needed after a decade of flailing. Star Wars has always been the most interesting to me when it’s evolving, specifically when it’s adding new roles to the lore. 

In most other nerd universes, there’s only one heroic role worth taking. Everyone wants to be a wizard in Harry Potter, and everyone wants to be a Captain in Star Trek. In Star Wars, you can be so many things, and they’re all valid. You can be a Jedi, a Sith, a Bounty Hunter, a Smuggler, anything. Even the actual successes the series had in the 2000s were tied to this. The way Clone Wars legitimized the role of the clone soldier.  So Rogue One pushing the idea of “rebel” beyond the fighter pilot/disposable trooper that it embodied in the original trilogy is a good sign for me; a sign that we’re in for something new and something bold. 

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