A while back, we did a discussion article on the initial teaser trailer for Rogue One. Now with the full story trailers unveiled, it’s time for a sequel as we adjust to two trailers, combining to be about five minutes, packed full of awesome imagery.
Part 1: The Death of Imperial Cool?
Ben: One thing that occurred to me watching the trailers is that this could well be the first real depiction of what the original trilogy only hinted at – life under Imperial rule. It might be said Rebels got a bit closer to that in its first series when Tarkin turned up, but by its target audience, it could only go so far. This film can go much further. The sense I get from the story trailers is the Empire slowly crushing the life out of the galaxy. It is quite simply dominating it into submission and the ultimate tool of that is the Death Star.
One thing the new material appears to have aimed at from the start is rendering the Empire both as more seductive, but also more brutal and far more irredeemable than its Legends counterpart. At the same time, Star Wars has always had a tendency to give its villains the best toys. Sure, the Rebels have their X-wings and the Falcon, but the Empire gets the Star Destroyers, TIEs and walkers. Divorced from what it is actually about, the Imperial aesthetic is designed to be both cool and intimidating – it sends an attractive message: Join us and you get to wear this and use these things.
What I wonder is if Rogue One will blow a large hole in this aesthetic of Imperial Cool by showing in far greater detail what the Empire is really about. Nowhere is that more emphasized in the trailer than in the way it goes about depicting the Death Star: so massive that just its laser dish eclipses Star Destroyers, while the thing itself can blot out the sun. There’s no explanation or justification for the Death Star, it is a form of technological malice without restraint. So in the wake of that, is the Empire still cool? Or are all its tricks to sucker people in revealed as the work of an insatiable predator?
David: On one hand, I don’t think the big Imperial fans are going to feel their loyalty much shaken. This loyalty is, for the most part, a loyalty to the sleek aesthetic and the, as you say, super cool toys (and capes) the Imperials get to have, but I don’t think the Empire can do anything bad enough in this movie to make Imperial grey look in bad taste. I’m always disturbed by how popular the aesthetics of a fascistic regime have become, but I suspect that it’s not going to change in the far future. It’s just become too marketable. Look at the Death Troopers and tell me they are not insanely toyetic.
On the other hand, this movie might show a new side of the Empire: the Empire fighting against belief in the Force. Everyone is talking about that impressive and powerfully symbolic shot of the Jedi statue buried under the sand, but I find the idea of troops marching on the streets of what has been described as sacred ground for believers in the power of the Force to be considerably more disturbing. Here you have cold machinery and faceless soldiers explicitly going against the spiritual world, something we hadn’t seen before in any of the movies. It’s something I wasn’t expecting and that I find very intriguing.
Part 2: New-Found Respect for ANH?
Ben: I really like the notion you bring in of the Empire trying to suppress belief in the Force, that would be both new and yet right there in the conference scene in A New Hope. If no one knows of the Force then Vader and the Emperor can be unopposed, but they don’t want officers getting uppity because they really think the Force means nothing, cue Admiral Motti. Moving on…
Does ANH really get its due critical credit in the larger picture of Star Wars? I’m not convinced it does. Instead it simply gets slung into the box marked ‘Rebel win, everyone happy’ and then it gets entirely overshadowed by its younger brother Empire. (In large part Empire can really only go about telling its story in the way that it does because A New Hope went and did all the heavy lifting of establishing the world and the characters first.)
What it actually takes to get there, including a final battle that, for the Rebellion, is indeed final, that has over ninety percent Rebel losses, the death of a character’s parents, another’s entire world, gets glossed over due to the resolution. If ANH was remade now there might well be too much focus on the numerous traumas inflicted on just about everyone in the course of the plot. Would everyone really be celebrating the next day? Probably, the downer will come later.
Might Rogue One change this? I think it might. If it does, it will be by emphasizing the way the galaxy lives under the Empire, which in turn shows why there is a Rebellion at all. Add into that the quite stunning depiction of the Death Star so far in the trailers – every shot of it oozes a sense of arrogant, Imperial menace. It is the very definition of overkill, rendering Star Destroyers tiny when seen against it. It is likely the final piece in Darth Sidious’ decades-long plan to dominate the galaxy – and we know he wouldn’t be content to really have just the one of them either.
Yes, I think it likely the victory of Yavin might actually get seen as the massive win that it was. If they had lost? No Rebellion probably, though it’s likely the Catalyst book will give a better sense of how strong the Rebellion was and where their assets were located. It might be possible that there was a contingency base or two, but much of the leadership would have been lost.
David: Something that this movie might do is give ANH a new layer of meaning. The initial shot of the Star Destroyer going after the blockade runner is iconic as few are, and managed to convey the power of the Empire in an extremely economical way. Same with the idea of a planet-destroying artificial moon itself: the Empire is both evil and able to exert its evil. I’m thinking that Rogue One will give some depth and nuance to the evil of the Empire. It will make it explicit, and it might alter our perception of the original movie.
Part 3: Redemption of the prequel concept?
Ben: Prequels, everyone knows prequels are crap, right? While they have their fans, there is the view that the prequel films loom over Star Wars like a toxic rain cloud. Kind of like an amped up version of Fallout 4’s radiation storms even. It arguably affected how The Force Awakens was planned, for that film, by all accounts, plays down the prequel element by selling itself as a sequel to Return of the Jedi.
Yet, what is Rogue One if not a prequel? You know where it ends, you know the plans are successfully stolen, you know there was a battle, what’s missing? Everything else! Who was involved in that? On which sides? How did it all go down? This is what intrigues about Rogue One. Its success may have far more impact than its makers expect due to it being a prequel because it may be a very accepted, even loved, prequel.
Why does this matter? One of the things that came to cripple Legends terribly was a sense that only going forward counted. There was no point to doing stories set at an earlier point in time because it was deemed there could be no plausible threat to the characters or galaxy. Really? That kills an awful lot of possibilities, is the galaxy suddenly so small? The New Republic so powerful? I think not. Nonetheless, that was the perception so that was what stuck. Oh there were a handful of post-Revenge of the Sith books that managed to be done – the so-dubbed Luceno- and Reaves-verses, but the larger output and focus was on the decades after Return of the Jedi.
At the same time, the new material has been manifestly not limiting itself to the latest chronological point. How could it not? That would put it on collision course with Episode 8. That means they have had to be more creative and that has come out in different era stories, with subtle connections between them. Rogue One might be the most definitive statement of intent yet from them: Yes, we’re not afraid to do prequels, nor should you fear them either – look at Rogue One!
David: I think one of the reasons this movie’s status as a prequel is not being used by its vocal detractors is that it features completely new characters. The known quantities -Mon Mothma, Bail Organa- are wisely kept to the sidelines, and we are left with a core group of characters whose fates are completely up in the air. They might die, change sides, fall in love — we know nothing about it. It doesn’t feel like a prequel: it feels like a movie built around a historical event. It’s more Titanic than Phantom Menace. Yes, we know that the Titanic sinks and that the Death Star is destroyed, but before watching the movie we don’t know if Jack and Rose, and Jyn and Cassian, survive or how they affect the central event.
Similarly, another of the central pitfalls of prequels -that tendency to give extra gravitas to every single element from the original work- is deftly avoided here. There’s no danger of an existing character beat suddenly being turned into a big deal, or of every single past event being turned into a piece of a larger fate –no Darth Vader as Space Jesus– because we are seeing all these characters from the first time. Their stories are theirs to be told.
This is, in my opinion, the smartest way to make a prequel: linked to the original but completely independent.
The End… For Now
Maybe we’ll do a final one of these on Rogue One towards the end of the year, when it’s out – if it can live up to its billing, but so far? The omens are good, the cinematopgraphy the trailers hint at looks to be stunning and it has characters and plot to match its visuals. How might this be responded to? Oh yes: Impressive. Most Impressive.