As a certain muppet once put it: everything!
So, last week following the entirely unneeded teaser-for-a-teaser 10-second trailer, which still set the internet alight, out came a full teaser trailer for Rogue One. What did we make of it? Read on….
Ben: After doing a very sharp, pull-up-that-thing-is-still-shielded about face on The Force Awakens I was very skeptical about this. I wasn’t certain what it would deliver or even how it could. Then the teaser trailer came out and … well, blew me away. Blew quite a few other people away too. For me, a large part of that success is seeing the original trilogy aesthetic recaptured and back on the big screen. Oh but there were lots of OT era stories! Yes, there were, before the reboot…. But no films. The original trilogy, outside of that material, has never had this level of care and attention given to it.
Not only that but it all looks so right. The teaser is full of some truly killer imagery: new stormtroopers, AT-ATs crashing a beach party, Rebel command room – and finally, the king one for me, a Star Destroyer cruising past a vast Death Star, being fitted with the superlaser dish! The aesthetic is perfect and great and…. It’s flawless.
While I remain very wary of TFA, I’ve been enjoying Rebels a lot and part of the reason is the look of it. It has an OT feel, albeit years before. It’s rendered through an animation filter but it’s still so good to see. But this trailer? This trailer gives us the real thing and damn, it really has been missed.
David: No doubt. This movie fits into the original trilogy timeline like a glove. You can see that there’s something different about it, a certain grittiness that perhaps we don’t automatically associate with Star Wars, but it’s almost retro in its approach to its design. From uniforms to sets, even the Death Star (?) diagram that appear behind Ben Mendelsohn’s character looks straight from the war room in 1977!
Something that I think helps cement this familiarity is the use of fringe characters. Not only does Jyn appear to be some kind of criminal (and I don’t think anyone expected that from our main lead) but the rest of the cast looks straight out of the seediest and most dangerous parts of the galaxy: you have Forest Whitaker’s raspy-voiced character dressed in asymmetrical battle armor, you have Jiang Wen’s badass with an aesthetic that evokes the bounty hunters of the saga, you have Donnie Yen playing some kind of blind wanderer beating the crap out of stormtroopers with a bo stick… Seriously, they are a scary bunch. Just look at that original cast picture. I wouldn’t want to meet any of these guys in a dark alley!
I’ve seen a lot of people mentioning how much the trailer felt like something out of a Star Wars RPG campaign, and I think that this focus on the military and fringe side of the universe is a big reason for that. Personally, I don’t think there’s any greater praise than saying this trailer looks like something that came from the vaults of West End Games, a film version of the game that made many of us fall in love with Star Wars. How can you not love that?
Ben: Well, if you’re an old-school RPG-er, you’re going to be hooked aren’t you? Plus, on those new characters – Donnie Yen! That is all.
One of the things I’ve really been enjoying in the new stuff is the thought that’s gone into the OT stories. After all, you have a story where Luke, Han and Leia can’t die, where you know they are to end up on Hoth, where Vader is hunting Luke – with all those future destinations known, how do you make it interesting? Well, use of fringe characters is one way. Of the two books, it’s the Darth Vader comic that’s done that with an entire new cast of an amoral archaeologist, a pair of psychopathic droids and a refined Imperial investigator, along with a load of experimental fighters that you just know Vader will kill, if only to piss off his boss.
But in a book like Star Wars? There the expectation is for Luke, Han and Leia, so as a memorable movie once put it: what do you do, hot shot? What do you do? How about having the Rebel fleet take the offensive against the Empire, with attacks on a dozen fronts, while Luke, Han and Leia nuke the Empire’s biggest weapons manufacturing facility? Not enough? OK, Han tries to squash Vader with an AT-AT…. And it doesn’t take! Is that enough now?
What makes this so neat is it’s known the Empire has walkers, so why not put one to use? Similarly Return of the Jedi has the Rebel fleet, but what if that wasn’t new but had been around for years? In that case, what was it doing? Taking aspects from newer films and working them back into a previous chronological point isn’t new – the Battle of Jabiim story done over a decade ago had the Republic using AT-ATs, but it’s being done really well.
Rogue One looks to do exactly the same and does so in a big way – Mon Mothma is on Yavin, briefing the characters. Her inclusion has been picked up far more widely than anyone would have expected. Meanwhile, for those of us on the details, there’s a certain cloaked, white uniformed Imperial operative that’s gotten a lot of attention too. Still, we know what’s going to happen to all of them, right?
David: That’s a very good point. Being able to look at the whole OT and create a cohesive look at the whole universe is priceless. As you mention, Mon Mothma on Yavin is something I never thought I’d see, and you don’t know how happy I am about it: finally the Rebellion looks like a real organization and not a bunch of “officers of the week” giving quests to our heroes. You also raise another really good point about knowing what’s going to happen to them, echoing some of the complaints that I read about Rogue One, saying that we know how the story ends: the Rebels gets the Death Star plans and these get into the hands of Princess Leia. So, if we know how it ends, where is the tension? Why should we care?
I’ve never believed that knowing the conclusion of the story somehow devalues the story itself (that would basically mean that a lot of world-quality literature, from Lolita to Dune to the appropriately called Chronicle of a Death Foretold, is automatically inferior and, as they say around here, dem’s fightin’ words). But, even if I believed that to be the case, I’d actually say that this movie is less predictable than any of the prequels. We know that the good guys win in the end? Yeah, well, I don’t know about you, but when I first watched Return of the Jedi I was pretty sure the good guys were going to win at the end, but I still feared for Han, Leia and Luke. This is pulp fantasy: the good guys winning at the end is a foregone conclusion.
It’s the same here: we know that the final objective will be achieved, but don’t know if Jyn and company are going to survive and go their separate ways, or if they are going to end up betraying each other, or if they are going to become ranking members of the Rebel Alliance, or if the movie is going to end with Diego Luna’s character looking at their unmarked graves while his voice-over says that the galaxy will never know that the heroes that helped destroy the Death Star were a bunch of criminals whose heroic deeds no one but him will remember (sniffle). For all we know they whole cast survives and it turns out that they were in the background during the battles of Hoth, Endor or Jakku. They might start appearing in the Marvel comics, or in new Del Rey or Disney Books novels, or even in future films. Who knows? I’d say that the stakes for this movie are as high as they were in the OT.
Ben: And talking of stakes, the perception of those is something that tends to get undercut by A New Hope’s ending. After all, the bad guys lose, the Death Star is toast, Vader? He’ll be dead too in his short range TIE… However, to me, this misses much of what the film is. ANH is not a happy-clappy film – Luke loses his parents and friend in the space of hours, never mind nearly being killed by a Tusken, Leia sees her entire homeworld be obliterated and of those who make the attack on the Death Star? There has to be at least 90% casualties, at least thirty ships attack, three fly out!
And then there’s the plot catalyst of the movie – the Death Star. To invoke an Eddie Izzard: “What does it do? It’s a Death Star, buddy, it does death!” And it does it in such a way that you can’t stop it. In response to that, everyone jumps to the end: “It got blown up! So I can relax,” Yes, yes, you can but if it hadn’t, what then? What kind of galaxy is one ruled by the Death Star? ANH really does invoke a spectre of absolute evil, one willing to blow up planets to make a point. After all, Leia did give Tarkin a base location – would anyone not give him an answer under such duress?
So, I think Rogue One might actually be able to give ANH some serious support and credibility. It will also, I suspect, feature an Empire that resorts to overwhelming force first. Why use AT-ATs on a small band of rebels lacking the means to take them out? Because they can and it encourages the others – to give up. Therefore, is it credible this Empire would create a planet-killer? Absolutely.
Of course, there is the question of what happens if it ends up being too successful a piece of work for its successors to live up to, but that shouldn’t ever be a factor in the minds of those working on it. That’s a problem for the next films!
David: And that’s the big question for the future! How are the rest of the standalones going to be? If this movie is a big hit and they decide to start producing more beyond the three they’ve announced already, what are we going to end up getting? When the trailer was released, the Red Letter Media guys sarcastically tweeted “That’s a great Mon Monthma! (sic) and Classic Storm Troopers! (sic) But why are they in a horror movie!?“. And that’s something that, no matter what you think of Plinkett’s antics, is completely fair. Tell me that when you heard the klaxon you didn’t think of the classic Alien trailer! How far can you bend Star Wars before you end up with something that is not Star Wars, something that the audience is going to reject? Judging exclusively by the trailer, Rogue One appears to take that darkness in ANH that you rightfully point to, and then proceeds to dial it up. Some people are calling it a heist film. Some people are calling it a war film. I’m personally expecting something similar in tone to a GFFA version of The Guns of Navarone, an epic war film with morally grey characters, some surprisingly dark moments, but still a lot of heart and a sense of adventure. I could be completely wrong, no doubt, but that’s what the trailer makes me feel.
But what about the future? The Han Solo movie has a Larry Kasdan script, so I’d like to think we are going to get something close in tone to the Brian Daley novels. But what if we don’t? What if we get a Temple of Doom? What if we get something even more far-fetched? If anything, this trailer shows that the people at Lucasfilm are willing to take some risks and try to defy expectations, changing genres and giving us an approach to Star Wars very different from anything that George Lucas would have done. And yes, that’s something the Expanded Universe did for years, with genre works ranging from the Death Troopers zombie horror to the Agent of the Empire suave espionage, but the EU never had an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to risk if the audience didn’t approve of it!
No matter how you look at it, making a movie outside the classic mold is a risk, and that’s something that as a fan I find equally scary and exciting.