The trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is pretty exciting. The images in that trailer promise something new, something unlike the previous seven Star Wars films. This is a movie that isn't beholden to the aesthetic choices made in 1977, although it does seem to be basically honoring them. It's something that is recognizably Star Wars but isn't just a rehash of what came before.
But the spectre of the seven films in the Star Wars saga does hang over the movie anyway, and that's part of the education campaign Disney and Lucasfilm have in front of them. You can see that spectre in the form of a question that popped up on social media immediately after the trailer hit:
"Is that Rey's mom?"
The new heroine in the Star Wars universe is named Jyn Erso, and she's almost certainly not connected to Rey in any fashion. But there are two things that make it reasonable that some folks might think otherwise. One is the fact that the two lead actresses don't look all that dissimilar and the other is that Star Wars, historically, has one small-ass universe.
As we are good, educated and tasteful nerds we know that Daisy Ridley plays Rey and that Felicity Jones plays Jyn, but we are in the minority. The reality is that neither of these actresses are particularly well known (in the United States at least) and so their similarities - British brunettes with scrappy demeanors and big eyes - in back-to-back Star Wars films could easily confuse a general audience. I'm not even sure that the general audience would walk away from that Rogue One trailer understanding that the movie is a prequel; they're certainly not prepared for the fact that there will be a new Star Wars film every single year, and that the alternating films will have nothing to do with each other.
So you can forgive them for not quite grasping that. There are those who do grasp it - who have followed the Star Wars Anthology as it morphed into A Star Wars Story (a change clearly made because someone behind the scenes, already facing the task of explaining to audiences that these films are anthology films, didn't want to have to also explain what the fuck the word anthology means) - and those are the people who are drawing a familial connection between Rey and Jyn, and they're drawing that connection because seven Star Wars movies have told them that's what they should do.
You can't really blame people for looking at the history of the franchise, which is littered with surprise family relations and 'shocking' character reveals (I guess if you watched the Prequels first the whole Palpatine thing could have been a stunner to you), and assuming that sort of thing will continue in the Star Wars Story films. And you can especially understand where they're coming from when you realize that the main talking point in the months since The Force Awakens came out has been "Who are Rey's parents?" Of course people are on the lookout for any answers to this question, and the normal human desire to find patterns in chaos - mixed with the fact that, again, these two women don't look entirely dissimilar - makes this a kind reasonable thought.
But again, it all comes down to the education that Disney and Lucasfilm need to pull off in the coming months. I don't know hard and fast what, if any, relationship Jyn Erso has to the main Star Wars films but if I were setting up an anthology series that was intended to go beyond and away from the core films I wouldn't launch the whole thing by answering a mysterious question from the main series. I would want my launch film to be tangentially related to the main series - to, as Rogue One does, tell an untold side tale - but not be truly consequentila to anything going on in the main series today.
And let's be honest, if I'm working at Lucasfilm I understand just how small the Star Wars universe is right now. I'd be doing my damndest to break out of that, and Rogue One makes for the perfect opportunity. If anyone in this movie is related to any new character in The Force Awakens somebody at Lucasfilm dropped the ball and decided being cutesy was more important than telling a good longform story.
There is one plus side to all the "Is Jyn Rey's mom?" talk happening online - it spreads the understanding that Rogue One happens before The Force Awakens. I'm deeply curious about how much of the genral audience will know the movie is a prequel by the time it's released. How many people will walk out of the film thinking Darth Vader is back? (Weirdly he's not really in the trailer - that would be one way to indicate the story takes place in the past, although I'm guessing there's a fear of what I just mentioned happening - people thinking he's back and that this is Episode VIII) You can lead an audience to a movie but you can't make them understand it.
I'm really excited about the Star Wars Story concept because it opens up so much more of the universe. It's just gonna take a minute for everybody to understand how much different this movie could be from everything else that came before.