This weekend Lucasfilm released the first image from Star Wars: Rogue One, a group shot of the main cast in costume that really captures a specific flavor. The image is recognizably Star Wars but it has a tone and a feel that is unique - this is a Star Wars we've never quite seen onscreen before. I have heard buzz and rumors that the image itself represents the film well, that this is a far grittier, almost Viet Nam-like entry in the canon.
But this picture tells us something far more important than the tone or the look or who in the cast is a lead. It tells us that the Mystery Box, thankfully, is dead.
I thought for sure that the Mystery Box, JJ Abrams' preferred method of keeping everything, no matter how trivial (see: covering up the Starfleet uniforms on the set of the Star Trek reboot), secret, would fall before the marketing might of Lucasfilm and Disney. JJ plays an extreme secrecy game that most studios don't, but for whatever reason they went his way on The Force Awakens. We're a couple of months out from release and it's safe to say that we know very little (officially) about this film. Ironically that will all change in a couple of weeks as Force Friday hits and toys end up on shelves, revealing a lot of character names and backstories. JJ had the power to block that stuff on Star Trek - he wouldn't allow toys to be made of the USS Vengeance before release, which disappointed licensing partners. Weirdly Admiral Evil had a model of it on his shelf, even though it was top secret in the movie. Anyway...
The Mystery Box reigns supreme on The Force Awakens, and that's just how it's gonna be. But by releasing that cast photo, Lucasfilm is telling us things are changing. Remember, the only picture released from The Force Awakens was a table read photo, with the cast in civilian clothes. We all picked away at that one for weeks and weeks, but this new picture - released just a couple of weeks into filming - is way more satisfying in every way. And it doesn't ruin the film! If anything it gets me even more psyched for it. It gets my mind racing. It also sates my curiousity in a way that makes me less interesting in picking at the film's bigger plot secrets; like all consumers I am dumb and easily distracted.
With Star Wars hitting every year for the rest of our lives there's simply no room for the Mystery Box. These films will no longer be the special events, they're going to be competing in a crowded marketplace with every other franchise and expanded universe. I've heard rumors that there may even be set visits for some of these films, an unthinkable thing when it comes to JJ Abrams movies.
In all fairness the Mystery Box hasn't hurt my excitement for The Force Awakens, but it also hasn't helped. My enthusiasm grows with everything I see from the film, not with staying in the dark. And at this point, so close to a deluge of reveals in tie-in books and toys, Abrams standing on stage at D23 and not showing anything new makes me roll my eyes. Withholding only gets you so far. Nobody is demanding total reveals, but a couple of shots of action shown to the crowd wouldn't have killed the movie. It's weird that we get the confirmation that John Boyega's Finn wields a lightsaber in a poster, not in a cool clip that would have made 7,500 fans - most of whom slept on the floor overnight to get in - go absolutely fucking mad.
Abrams gonna Abrams. I'm just glad that the Rogue One photo tells us that Lucasfilm hasn't found the Mystery Box to be their new preferred method.