“What is this?” – Interrogating the “Casual” Reactions to Rogue One

When the first teaser trailer for Rogue One was released last April, a whole bunch of people who would identify themselves as Star Wars fans on some level found themselves seeing for the first time evidence of a movie that was unequivocally connected to the franchise, yet had little in the way of familiar characters—no Rey or Finn, no Luke or Leia, no Anakin or Padmé. The only recognizable face in the whole thing was Mon Mothma, but she looked a lot younger than she was in Return of the Jediwhat was this?

While I have no interest in teasing or belittling these people for not following the ins and outs of Lucasfilm operations the way a lot of us do, I have to admit I found this oddly fascinating—not just confusion about the story and how it related to the existing movies, but even about whether it was an authorized Lucasfilm production, or some kind of off-brand remake a la Never Say Never Again, the unofficial James Bond movie.

So last month I came up with a short questionnaire and passed it out to several people, with a lot of help from the trusty David Schwarz, that you might call casual fans. The first couple questions revolved around The Force Awakens, with the goal of establishing their current perspectives on the franchise and its “main” story. Once that was done, I then got into their thoughts on the Rogue One trailer and premise in more detail; those responses are reproduced below with my own thoughts and conclusions peppered throughout.

Have you seen The Force Awakens, and if so, how many times?

Subject A: Once.

Subject B: Yes, I’ve seen it twice! And I would have seen it weekly if I had been able to do it!

Subject C: Yes, once.

Subject D: Once.

Subject E: Yes, once, and I got all excited the second I heard the first notes of the soundtrack. (laughter)

Subject F: Yes, once.

Subject G: Yes, and once.

Subject H: Twice.

Here you might say “well, the vast majority of people only go to a given movie once!” Exactly—I would venture to guess that anyone who’d seen it four or five times would be drastically more likely to have heard of Rogue One already, so I knew already we were on the right track.

How interested are you in Episode VIII–the direct sequel to The Force Awakens?

A: What kind of question is that? (laughter) If you like Star Wars, no matter how fanatical you are about the movies, you are always going to be interested in new sequels. You are going to eat it up, no matter what. I mean, look at Episodes I, II and III: we knew the kind of shit we were getting and we still asked for another serving! But yeah, I’m quite interested, especially after having seen how well they managed to reproduce the aesthetics of the old movies. And of course I’m curious about the open plot lines!

B: I’m very intrigued because, after I watched VII, I got back in touch with my nerdiest side (laughter) and I started researching the story of the Dark Side. There are so many open plotlines about that! I’d love it if they made a saga that really was for sci-fi fans, not some family movie trying to please everyone!

C: Let’s say a 5, so to speak.

D: Not that interested, honestly.

E: I’m waiting for it! Very interested!

F: Hmm, maybe 6.5 [over 10].

G: On a scale of 1 to 10, an 8.

H: 8. I look forward, but it’s not affecting my daily experience.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested are you in Rogue One?

A: Honestly, when I heard that the next movie wasn’t going to follow the main storyline, I was disappointed. But once I knew what Rogue One was about…. let’s say 9.

B: Hmmm, I’m going to go with 9.

C: 6

D: It used to be a 4 but once I saw the trailer it got up to a 7.

E: A 9, but I’m intrigued by the trailer. It doesn’t seem to be related to Episode VII at all.

F: A 6

G: 10!

H: I’d put that just beneath [TFA] at 7. I get the sense that they’re establishing the fact that the stakes have always been high.

ro-mothmabrief

What is the premise of Rogue One as you understand it? If you’ve researched it or had it explained to you, please describe your immediate impression upon first seeing the trailer.

A: I know it’s about the theft of the plans to the first Death Star by a Rebel Alliance team. And my impression is that I’m going to be watching an action movie, and that I’m going to have a lot of fun for two hours.

B: (laughter) This is the first time I hear about this! I’m looking it up as we speak. No one told me about it and I hadn’t seen any announcements. I love it! I can’t find the trailer. Is there a trailer? [After having seen the trailer once the interview was over] Awesome! It looks really retro! I’m totally saving the date.

C: It looks like something different in what used to be a very linear saga. Considering I haven’t seen the trailer in my native tongue, I’d say it appears to be about a female spy, or some kind of sabotage action.

D: I think it’s going to be about the theft of the Death Star plans.

E: It feels like it’s opening a whole new story. I don’t see much relation with [TFA] but maybe that’s because they didn’t want to show everything in the trailer. I just want some spectacular space battles.

F: I believe that Rogue One is the story of the elite squadron that stole the Death Star plans before Episode IV. You told me about it and then I saw the trailer. My first impression was that it didn’t look much like Star Wars. Somehow more hardcore. Darker, less of a fantasy movie.

G: It’s the story of how they stole the Death Star plans and, judging by the topic and what I’ve seen in the trailer, it looks better than the sequels.

H: It’s a passing of the baton. The notion that there are generations of this intensity of resistance. That we didn’t just arrive in it. That A New Hope, the first one, that what came before was of real consequence, and everything has hinged on people’s choices every step of the way. It comes right down to the integrity of individual choices affecting the entire experience of the galaxy.

In your opinion, why does Rogue One exist given that it’s not a direct sequel to The Force Awakens?

A: Because the Star Wars universe is too large to miss on important chapters as epic as the theft of these plans. I’m sure it’s going to enhance the main storyline. Plus the sentence “many Bothans died to bring us this information” will gain a new meaning! (laughter)

B: Well, I didn’t know about this movie before so… I’m assuming they made it to explain the origins of the dark side of the Force? Or the Force itself? For all the whiny people that are always complaining about “not getting it”, you know. (note that this comment came before this subject had actually seen the trailer, but it’s a pretty interesting direction for one’s mind to go when it comes to a spinoff Star Wars film – Mike)

C: For the hardcore fans it’s probably going to be filling up the blanks between the other movies. For me? It looks like just a cash grab.

D: Because they want to tell the “coolest” stories in the Star Wars universe, even if they don’t follow the saga.

E: I think they want to expand the Star Wars universe. They broke with [the OT] when they killed Han Solo, so they might be looking for a new, strong main character. A new character that makes the universe feel fresh again.

F: I think Disney simply wants to exploit the franchise as much as possible, and to get money from any kind of story they can do related with the Star Wars world. Just like X-Men or Avengers.

G: Disney has bought the goose that laid the golden eggs, so they are going to exploit it. And I think that we fans will be more than happy as long as the stories don’t get too crazy. So yeah, if the movies are coherent and they don’t start shooting movies as fast as Stephen King writes books, perfect by me.

H: It seems to offer another perspective on what resistance is. We’ve seen it from the point of view of their relationship to the Empire; here we’re looking at an individual’s relationship to [the Rebellion]. To the independent individual, even [the Rebels] are an incorporate entity of a regimen, a philosophy, so they are not the only alternative to dealing with the Empire. Everyone’s come up with their own response to existing—[Jyn] can just go on and continue to be whoever she is without joining them.

ro-jynhood

Do you think Lucasfilm releasing “spinoff” Star Wars films like Rogue One is a good idea or a bad idea?

A: It’s a good idea to make the universe deeper. It makes it more believable and complex. They could have gone with Clone Wars movies instead of animating them! Actually, after you’ve seen the Clone Wars series, Episode III gets so much better.

B: I watch everything, including the cartoons! I’m hungry for space fantasy. And if no one else is making anything new as deep and awesome as Star Wars, [the spinoffs] are very welcome!

C: A bad idea. They should have gone with a TV series instead.

D: It’s a great idea.

E: Anything that expands Star Wars is great by me.

F: It can work out for them, getting a lot of money by releasing a lot of material, and getting the attention of non fans. But they could also “smear” the universe and dilute the concept. I’m assuming they’ll make both great and terrible [spinoff] movies. But yeah, if they stay cool-headed, it could work out for them.

G: If the plan is to keep the spirit of Star Wars alive, it’s a good idea; Lucas was the original creator, after all. If the reason they are shooting these movies is because of some rights conflict or whatever, eh, don’t give a fuck. (this response threw us at first, but the subject appears to be suggesting that Rogue One is something similar to the Hobbit films or the upcoming Harry Potter prequels, where the studio needs to make new films every so often or they lose the rights – Mike)

H: I think it’s an excellent idea. It has the potential of creating more devotees…more reason to pay attention to people who otherwise don’t have a relationship or an association with these stories. And naturally, I have an association with all of them. I’m interested in learning more—I want to know the Han backstory, and Lando, and Boba Fett, I think all of them would be intriguing. I’m looking forward to even just the idea of [the Han movie and further spinoffs] just as much as to these that are already in production. I don’t need them to be absolutely cohesive either, they’re different directors’ input.

*     *     *     *     *

Huge thanks go out to all our willing guinea pigs for contributing to this piece. At this point, I have to concede that I came to no grand conclusion after reading and comparing all their responses. I wondered at first whether people’s confusion would present a challenge for Lucasfilm in successfully marketing the movie in a way that built off of TFA’s success without letting down those who were expecting this to be Episode VIII—but if one message is clear in the above, it’s that fans of TFA are generally fans of stuff that’s got “Star Wars” on it, and aren’t particularly fretting over the details. And even some who aren’t hugely invested in the sequel trilogy seem to view Rogue One as potentially more up their alley; this aligns with the opinions of a few superfans I know as well.

So what am I taking away from this project? Simply that those of us who do follow every breaking detail where the upcoming films are concerned maybe don’t need to worry so much about what everyone else thinks. They’ll be there on opening night with the rest of us.

4 comments

  1. Bria says:

    I’m interested to know how you defined (and found) these casual fans.
    Also idk why you signed things as Mike. Who is this Mike? You’re Coop. :p

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      Serious answer: that’s what the first question was for. If someone had seen TFA ten times (or conversely, not at all) they’d be out of the range I was looking for.

      Pithy answer: they’re mostly David’s friends, ask him. 😛

    • I tried to get a number of people of different gender, age, background and education level that I knew liked Star Wars but that had never shown an interest in following Star Wars news or in joining any kind of fan activities. So here you have some players from my old RPG group, old college friends, personal acquaintances, etcetera. I actually interviewed at least twice as many people, but they either turned out to be waaaay more into Star Wars than I thought… or to actually not give a crap about it. So yeah, there’s no statistical significance here, but as an interview of eight random casual fans I think it’s still interesting.

    • I personally loved B’s answer, when she said she had started researching the “history of the Dark Side”. I talked to her about it, guess what she was talking about? Yep, the EU. When people get their interest piqued and start researching, they find both Canon and Legends sources, and I doubt they understand the difference. That’s probably a topic for another day.

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