Trailer Talk – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I don’t know about you, but the Star Wars film I’ve been most looking forward to isn’t the one being directed by JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, Josh Trank, or Colin Trevorrow. I’ve been excited about the Gareth Edwards-helmed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Edwards’ Godzilla was my second-favorite film of 2014 in large part because of how deftly he communicated scope using both image and sound, skills which should serve him well with a Star Wars film. This sense of scope in Godzilla is essential to the theme of the film – that there is something out there, a god perhaps, that’s more mighty than we can imagine, and when we encounter him/her/it the best we can do is stand mouth-agape in wonder. I appreciated how Edwards presented Godzilla as a being beyond right and wrong or in the grey area between them, and I thought he did a great job showing how humanity is naturally unsettled by such a being. Godzilla is a complicated film both anthropologically and theologically, and it’s a terrifically entertaining blockbuster to boot.

Edwards didn’t reference Godzilla at the time, but in a Star Wars Celebration panel last April, Edwards said that Rogue One is (paraphrased by “a war film that examines the grey area between the heroes and the villains – good guys can be bad guys and bad guys can be good.” Edwards went on to say that Rogue One “comes down to a group of people without magical powers. God isn’t coming to save us” (emphasis mine). Ostensibly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story explores the similar thematic territory to what Edwards explored in Godzilla.

So I’ve been anticipating the trailer for the film, and it does not disappoint. The trailer gives us what we already knew – that this is a film about the rebel spies who steal the plans for the Death Star that the rebels use in the first Star Wars film to find the space station’s weakness and destroy it. It also gives us what we should expect after seeing The Force Awakens – a female protagonist, a multi-cultural cast, and a few touchstone images (a star destroyer, storm troopers, AT-ATs, the Yavin 4 Base, a trash can droid, the costumes) to make us go, “Yeah! This is Star Wars again!” Indeed it is.

Also of note, notice what they’ve done visually to set this film in the time immediately before Star Wars: A New Hope. The clips have a grainy texture as if they were shot on film in the 1970s. Rogue One was actually shot with an Arri Alexa 65, a digital camera, so that grain is a choice meant to put the audience in a time before digital photography. Notice the hairstyles as well. They are vintage 1970s, all swooping bangs and clear parts. This doesn’t just look like Star Wars as we’ve come to know it. It looks like the Star Wars that we used to know.

Finally, does the trailer insinuate that Edwards was actually able to explore the complicated anthropological and theological themes he explored in Godzilla? It’s hard to tell. Trailers never do more than insinuate, and as we learned with the Suicide Squad trailers, they can be reshaped to communicate something very different than what the films might actually be.

I do have hope though, because Jyn Erso’ character arc in the trailer begins with her as a selfish, Han Solo-like scoundrel, moves her into helping the Rebellion, shows her fighting against the Empire, and then leaves her having to decide what kind of person she’s going to become in light of all she’s seen and done. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story seems to be about how situations in our lives shape us morally. It appears to be about the grey area between right and wrong and how we navigate it. Most tellingly, the music as the trailer ends lays “The Skywalker Theme” (the good) over the “The Imperial March” (the bad), suggesting that Jyn Erso is somewhere in between. (I excerpted the overlayed themes, and you can hear them below.)

Will the absence of the Jedi, the “gods,” as Edwards put it, play a part in Erso and the other characters’ decisions? We’ll see. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be in theaters this December.