The new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out this morning to, if not unanimous praise (is anything unanimous when it comes to Star Wars?), almost across-the-board approval.
This is a curious place for this movie to find itself. In the past year, Rogue One has become something of an underdog due to extensive reshoots indicating the kind of late-term course correction that almost never ends well. Furthermore, Rogue One shoulders the pressure of introducing the world to the idea of large-scale cinematic Star Wars spinoffs, the first to explore this universe without the rather rigid aesthetics that define the Skywalker films. It has the chance to either expand the palette or dilute the brand.
Simply on visuals alone, this trailer goes a long way toward alleviating the nervousness surrounding Rogue One. It’s hard to deny the power and menace of that brief Darth Vader shot, but that’s an obvious one. Rogue One differentiates itself in a number of other ways as well, from all the swaying grass seen near the beginning, to the giant fallen Jedi statue (a shot that just screams Gareth Edwards) so many have selected as the trailer’s defining image. This new perspective makes a universe we already know suddenly feel fresh and exciting.
Something else stands out, however. The broadness of Star Wars has always put it on the cheesy side, but Rogue One pushes that right into the inspirational. This trailer not only sells a new Star Wars movie but attempts to do so in surprisingly emotional way.
Even more surprising, these elements work. Beyond visuals, beyond Darth Vader, they are the trailer’s greatest asset. I don’t have to tell you what a rough year it’s been. Heck, I don’t have to tell you what a rough week it’s been. I did not expect a Star Wars trailer to offer minor relief from the daily shit show of my Twitter feed. And yet I got choked up hearing Donnie Yen put his faith in the Force. And I’m not even much of a Star Wars guy.
The Force Awakens’ trailers (and a lot of the film itself) pulled our heartstrings through nostalgia. The emotional beats presented here are more organic, based on a camaraderie and struggle that already ring true even among characters we do not yet know. That feeling begins with our heroes accepting their mission (that Donnie Yen smile!) and continues with a series of lines that should be ridiculous - Forest Whitaker’s “Save the Rebellion. Save the Dream!”, Felicity Jones’ “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” and “We’ll take the next chance. And the next. You are rebels, aren’t you?” - yet manage to hit.
Many have emotional connections to Star Wars, but those ties often form outside of the movies themselves. There are undoubtably heartfelt moments in the original trilogy (Luke staring out at the binary sunset, Han and Leia’s love declaration), but the series’ pulpy DNA defies pathos almost by construction. Rogue One appears to take a different approach, one that not only sets it apart but also may indicate why Disney got cold feet and ordered those reshoots in the first place.
I admit, it’s silly to extrapolate so much from a trailer, but the hope displayed by these Rogue One characters rekindled hope within myself that this “men on a mission” Star Wars film could bring something substantially new to a series that needs it. However the finished film ends up, the bold steps seen here go a long way toward erasing my skepticism about what these Star Wars spinoffs can do.