Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn’t setting social media records — for now, at least — but interest in it is intense enough that last night’s premiere of the stand-alone Star Wars film’s official trailer during NBC’s Olympics coverage contributed to a measurable improvement in the Peacock network’s ratings. (And plenty of complaints on Twitter from Star Wars fans annoyed about having to watch sports while they waited to see it.) No shocker there: Star Wars is up there with the Bible in terms of required cultural canon.
The trailer, as it turns out, is excellent, ably continuing a Lucasfilm tradition of hyping even cynics like me into a frenzy in advance of a new Star Wars film. Darkness, humor and staggering visuals set to that iconic music provoke a Pavlovian response in people raised from birth by the franchise, but the atypical franchise elements (especially the in-the-trenches combat scenes) are thrilling enough by themselves. Obviously, I’m in. And yet, while pretty much everyone pored over the trailer for clues on what to expect when Rogue One lands in theaters December 16, the least interesting thing is what it reveals. What it doesn’t spill, on the other hand?
Point: We’ve got more questions than answers after seeing it.
How much of what we saw will make it into the finished film?
Take the stirring dialogue delivered by Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera. Gerrera’s an import from the Clone Wars animated series set between the prequel films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, some 21 years in-universe before the events of Rogue One. That he’s a hardened and bitter revolutionary is evident even in his name, a punning reference to Che Guevara. And what he says is pretty damned dark too, one of the most overtly political things ever to come out of the franchise. It’s also just the sort of thing that might get cut for time or if the studio worries it’s a little too much for the intended audience or just because the footage didn’t end up fitting what eventually became of the story.
Remember The Force Awakens? Like Rogue One, that film’s trailers were outright social media events and also widely praised by, well, everyone. The final film, though? Something that particularly stood out is the considerable number of scenes, some of them apparently quite important, included in the various trailers that never ended up in the final cut. It’s difficult not to remember that fact while watching the Rogue One material drip out, particularly in light of…
How much was changed by reshoots and post-production drama?
There were conflicting stories and rumors when news broke back in May that extensive Rogue One reshoots were under way, but word was that the ending wasn’t quite coming together and that the story also wasn’t jelling like it should. According to Deadline sources at the time, Disney/Lucasfilm also worried the film lacked the “edge” that The Force Awakens had. Interpret that however you like, though it’s interesting that language was used considering the dark tone of Rogue One marketing and the fact that Han Solo was killed off by his own son in TFA. Whatever the case, the reshoots happened.
How much was changed? It’s impossible to tell from a trailer, but what is clear is that the marketing is reflecting a subtle tonal shift — away from the mournful tone of the previous teasers and to something closer to, well, the original Star Wars trilogy. Maybe that’s a good thing, but cut to this month, when reports fleshed out the reshoot drama a bit. Supposedly, screenwriter (and sometimes director) Tony Gilroy was brought in to oversee the reshoots and, further, to share the editing room with Rogue One director Gareth Edwards as the film completes post-production. Similar stories about after-the-fact studio “guidance” also have been reported about Suicide Squad –– a film that reportedly is vastly different from its intended final version.
Lucasfilm is taking no chances with Rogue One, since it’s the first non-saga film in franchise history, something potentially confusing to audience who might mistake it for a sequel to TFA instead of a prequel to the original Star Wars. Which makes the committee approach understandable. But I tend to agree with the consensus view of The Force Awakens and, with respect to our esteemed Pete Hammond, to Suicide Squad as well. Both films – my opinion here only – suffered, artistically (though most definitely not financially) from the committee approach. Will Rogue One follow suit?
Just how “stand-alone” is it going to be?
Rogue One has been billed as a side-story from the very start, a tale about the sort of people not normally featured in the main Star Wars saga. Functioning somewhat like the now-defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe of books and comics, while minor characters from the original trilogy get expanded, the main cast are largely new roles. With one major exception: Darth Vader will make some kind of appearance.
Vader was introduced in Star Wars in hot pursuit of Princess Leia, who, he rightly suspected, had the plans to the Death Star in her possession, so his involvement in the events during which they were stolen is logical. But confirmation of his role in this story prompts the question of just how much the film will rely on callbacks to the original trilogy. The biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was, by the way, that it relied too heavily on retreading the original trilogy and didn’t stand enough as its own story. Whether you agree with that or not, here’s hoping the final cut of Rogue One doesn’t sacrifice new character development in favor of overt connections to what’s come before.