'Rogue One' Trailer: What Ever Happened to New and Different?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was, audiences were told, a different kind of Star Wars movie — one that would, as only seemed appropriate for the first of the stand-alone spinoff movies, stretch the idea of what audiences expected from the franchise as a whole. Watching the second trailer for the movie, however, it's easy to forget that.

When the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens dropped in late 2014, the nostalgia it evoked was notable (and much-noted). In a way, it made sense in that framework to offer visuals and music that leaned heavily on audiences' familiarity with the franchise as a whole. The movie was a reintroduction to a beloved brand that also had to re-establish in the collective mind of the mass audience that this wasn't the Star Wars of the prequels that everyone had agreed weren't any good; this was the "real" Star Wars of the original trilogy that had left fond memories in the minds of an entire generation. Of course it made sense to push the nostalgia aspect of the movie, when viewed from that point of view.

Trailers for Rogue One, though, should be different because the movie itself is supposed to be different. And the first trailer for the movie almost delivered, with a soundtrack that devolved into a blaring siren and a grittier look at warfare than the series had provided to date. But the second trailer …

It's not just that the most memorable thing about it is the music, which is a variation on John Williams' "Imperial March" from the original trilogy. Rather, it's that all the highlights of the new trailer feel derivative of the original trailer in some way: the Star Destroyers, the Death Star, the AT-ACTs, all leading up to the climactic moment … which is the reveal of the villain of the original trilogy, done in such a way that you get to see the back of his head and hear his iconic breathing apparatus. It's a trailer that feels built specifically for audiences who know and love the existing movies, not to convince anyone who has somehow managed to avoid all of them until this point.

(The Vader reveal is especially amusing if considered from the point of view of someone who doesn't know whom Darth Vader is: It's someone in a helmet … breathing heavily!)

By contrast, the new characters — with the notable exception of Donnie Yen's ass-kicking blind man of faith, itself hardly the most revolutionary idea, if new to Star Wars movies — seemed to accomplish little in the trailer beyond giving each other nervous looks or making you wonder if all droids are required to study Anthony Daniels' accent before being allowed to speak. Hardly the most enticing of glimpses at our new heroes.

Given the echoes between the first and second trailers — dialogue and scenes that appear in both or recurring elements — it's difficult not to view the second trailer as a more traditional version of the first, akin to a fan edit that wanted to make things more Star Wars-like. Consider the fate of the siren. In the first trailer, it dominates the sound for half the running time; in the second, it's quickly replaced by music.

This is likely intentional, given that the movie underwent reshoots to restore a more traditional feel between the release of the first and second trailers. A restatement of a core Star Wars aesthetic is key to the second trailer, but it leads to a lessening of the feeling that Rogue One will legitimately be any different from what we've seen before — and, therefore, an undermining of the key premise of the stand-alone Star Wars Story spinoffs.

In a way, this isn't really a stumbling block — there's enough of an audience for new Star Wars that Rogue One is highly unlikely to falter at the box office, and the second trailer's emphasis that Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a convict released in order to carry out a dangerous mission might tweak those disappointed by Suicide Squad enough to spark a little more interest and ensure that people show up on opening weekend. (Does that mean we can cast Darth Vader in the Joker role? Quick, someone stencil "damaged" across his helmet!)

Common wisdom would suggest that, for the good of the long-term health of the franchise, Rogue One and subsequent stand-alone films would do well to broaden the appeal of the franchise and the property as a whole, if only to differentiate between the "core" movies and the spinoffs and not exhaust the audience's desire for more of the same.

In pushing Rogue One's promotion, if not the actual movie, closer to what fans expect, Lucasfilm and Disney might be making a risky choice — although maintaining the same tone and visual style for multiple movies across a number of years certainly hasn't hurt Marvel's mass appeal to date. Maybe there's something to be said for cookie-cutter franchise management after all.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be released Dec. 16.

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