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Friday, August 26, 2016

Rogue One 2nd Trailer Analysis

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It’s amazing how quickly the cultural landscape can be almost completely redefined.  Go back just 2 years and the idea of Star Wars, as a continual geek media presence, would’ve seemed far-fetched at best.  Oh to be sure, Star Wars has always been AROUND but for the most part that’s been in the form of a handful of cartoons and a rampant expanded universe brand mainly propped up by the paperback genre fiction machine and the brand’s universal appeal in the world of video and board games. 

Now, however, Star Wars is set to have a new film come out every year like clockwork till at least the end of the decade, basically making the question of “what’s going on with Star Wars?” a perpetual one.  There’s always going to be the next episode or the next spin-off or the next TV series at least till the end of the new trilogy and probably beyond.  In just a year it’s become the equal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a constant force of culture that must always be addressed at any time.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest Rogue One trailer.

The new trailer opens on what I’m going to call desert world, as I’m fairly certain we haven’t received any official names for the various planets featured here. This opening features hands down the best scene in the whole trailer, the imperial star destroyer looming over the planet.  

I’m guessing the Star Destroyer is actually in orbit as they established the things are like the size of a continent but it’s still a great and imposing image and it cuts straight to the heart of something I really like about Rogue One’s core premise: it’s about living under a dictatorship. 

I’ve always been at arm’s length from the Star Wars series because I’m a very detail oriented guy and most of the original trilogy is more about broad strokes fantasy and the question of what the Empire IS has always been an area of vagueness for the series.  

We know the empire is bad because it’s run by the most evil people imaginable but at the same time we don’t really know how that evil filters downward.  Life under the empire has always been a very nebulous idea, to the point that even Luke wanted to join them initially to get off of Tattooine. 

Rogue One looks to be finally addressing that and giving us a true vision of what life is like under the imperial boot heel, which is plays well with the sense of hopelessness and inevitability that the film looks to be just dripping in.  Frankly I welcome that kind of change as a major necessity to the franchise.  

It fits well with the idea of the Empire, in that everything about them is designed to exude the idea of undefeatable power and strength, so stressing how that psychological warfare trickles all the way down to the ground level through stuff as simple as parking a star destroyer above the planet is a sharp move. 

From there, the trailer is mostly dedicated to introducing us, to a limited extent, to the members of the Rogue One team.  We’ve already met Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the leader of the team, but now we get a closer look at her fellow rebels such as Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna.  Cassian seems like the closest thing Erso has to a second-in-command and is probably the guy who brought her into the operation as she seems to start the film outside the rebellion.  

Obviously, Andor has already gone about collecting several other misfits and mavericks to make-up their team, most notably Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe.  There hasn’t been any confirmation that Chirrut can manipulate the force though I do suspect he’s at least a force sensitive if not a full on Jedi. 

His presence and his relationship is key to those same themes of hopelessness and oppression I mentioned earlier and the way the film is framing the Force in relation to the Empire.  It’s easy to forget this now but in the original film the central conflict was all about the Rebellion and the Empire, they were the mighty forces drawn into conflict and the weird, eastern mysticism stuff with the force didn’t come in till Empire Strikes Back. 

Rogue One is looking to dive much more in the later end of that relationship, emphasizing the Force as the ultimate foe of the Empire while also framing the Force as, essentially, God or faith.  That’s the core conflict that’s emerging from a lot of these trailers, with their core cadence being the question “where is God in the Empire?” resonating very strongly

We also got another good look at Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrara, a Clone Wars veteran who has appeared both in Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars show and was mentioned in Disney’s Rebels.  I don’t expect Gerrera to be that big a part of the film, mainly because he’s conspicuously absent from a lot of the key battle scenes later in the trailer and so far we’ve only seen the one shot of him, but it’s still cool to have Whitaker on hand. 

The other big standouts of the trailer are Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, Jyn’s father and the one who sent the message about the Death Star test, and K-2S0 the giant freaky enforcer droid voiced by Alan Tudyk.  Other folks like Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus, a freelance assassin, and Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rock, a former Imperial pilot, were definitely present but didn’t get nearly as much focus as the rest of the crew. 

The crew set-up is very reminiscent of the film’s original pitch, which was as something closer to a heist movie about the plot to steal the Death Star plans.  Obviously, this is looking less like a full on heist and a lot more like war movie, and that heavy emphasis on life during occupation and fascism has definitely kept the focus on the harsh realities of life before A New Hope, both in terms of the film and in the sense that this really feels like a time before the Rebellion had any hope of turning the tide against the Empire. 

The Empire really are key to this trailer in a lot of ways, making it a nice inverse to the premiere trailer.  Where that one emphasized the A New Hope theme and focused heavily on Erso’s personality as a criminal brought into the Rebellion, again stressing the idea that under dictatorship those who oppose any authority are the only true heroes left, the meat of this trailer seems about the crushing boot of the Empire. 

Switching the music to the Imperial theme, the shot of the star destroyer, the opening lines being about the way the Empire has slowly taken over more and more of the galaxy, the beautifully chilling shot of the Death Star blotting out the sun; all speak to the Empire’s power and inevitability.  We also get another look at Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, the inventor of the Death Star, which is a really clever idea to bring up. 

The Death Star, much like the Empire’s reign overall, has always been an obtuse element of the franchise in that it’s something we were essentially meant to just take for granted existed without ever question where it came from, who built it, why and so forth.  Even when the prequel trilogy established the Death Star’s construction goes back to well before the Empire even existed it didn’t really provide much insight into the battle station.  

Bringing in Orson as the face of the murder machine could be a great way to develop more about why the Death Star was made and how he came up with it, I mean where does the Empire dig up someone whose greatest achievement is a machine for planetary genocide?

The other major themes of finding hope in the inevitable and destructive come from a lot of the action shots.  Aside from the team’s formation it’s clear the Empire hopelessly outclasses the Rogue One unit, especially when the Walkers start in on them, which is an absolutely killer sequence. 

I also really love the shot of Jyn moving along the catwalk and the TIE Fighter rising in front of her, which really stresses the inescapable nature of the empire and fits well with Forest Whitaker’s narration from the first trailer.  Mostly though, I like the sense from the battle footage that the Rogue One unit probably isn’t going to survive this mission. 

That’s something I’m not sure everyone is totally aware of but given the set-up of this film as a prequel and the fact that none of these characters are from the Original Trilogy it’s kind of implied they aren’t going to survive this mission.  That’s part of why Rogue One has to deal with hopelessness and oppression as much as it does, because as a prequel we, the audience, know that the heroes can’t destroy the Death Star, that they don’t see this mission through to the end.  Confronting that inevitability and how you can have hope for the future in the face of so much crushing certainty is a really sharp way to use the nature of a prequel to tell a better story. 

And then, of course, there’s that ending shot, which is a testament to the power of a single image given that it’s just the back of Darth Vader’s head.  In all honest this is a pretty great reveal of Vader’s presence in the film, even if it was already announced previously and the idea of showing off a character’s role in a film by focusing on their back is the same trick Edwards’ used in the 1st Godzilla trailer. 

Speaking of which, given how much I dislike Edwards’ two previous films I really should be tempering my expectations for Rogue One but I can’t front: I am absolutely ecstatic about this film, mainly because it seems like a Star Wars film that’s about itself in a manner beyond praising its own mythos. 

See, while I enjoyed Force Awakens well enough it had a hard time getting out from under the thumb of its own mythos, with the crushing wheel of Star Wars’ own mythic significance the defining aesthetic contemplation of the film.  Rogue One is still very much a Star Wars movie that’s ABOUT Star Wars, the symbolism created by the franchise’s prevalence as a cultural institution. 

It’s about using those symbols, significances, and identities to say something new and interesting, especially for a blockbuster.  It uses reference points like the Force, the Death Star, and even Lord Vader the way one might craft allusions to the bible or Renaissance art; it’s a Star Wars movie that speaks Star Wars and uses that lexicon to discuss the nature of Rebellion, life under occupation and dictatorships, and finding hope in the face of the unquestionably inevitable. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story premieres December 16, 2016

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