Has 'Rogue One' Won Over 'Star Wars' Fans Yet?

Can the first stand-alone 'Star Wars Story' manage to be different and similar enough to succeed in its mission?
Lucasfilm

The "Celebration reel" footage shown during the Rogue One panel was, on the one hand, a reassuring move for fans — last year at this time, Lucasfilm premiered a similar video for Star Wars: The Force Awakens at San Diego Comic-Con — and, on the other, a sign of the tensions at play in creating the first stand-alone Star Wars film.

There's documentary footage of director Gareth Edwards shooting the movie — and, wonderfully, seeming to be geeking out as he does so; the shot of him choreographing an X-Wing attack at 1:19 is very charming in the sheer joy he seems to be feeling. Also including interview snippets of the movie's cast talking about the strength of the movie and pleasures of working on it, the clip is in many respects similar to the Force Awakens sizzle reel from last year. The music is stirring, the cast seems sincere in their affection for the work, and there are enough visual cues and clues to provoke speculation about what and who will be seen in the movie (The Rocket Raccoon-esque alien at 2:08 is already my new favorite Star Wars character).

Again similarly to promotion for The Force Awakens, the video opens with a discussion about the practical effects in the movie — something that is surely reassuring to fans who who remember the over-reliance of CGI of the prequels.

"Your heart's beating, and you're actually in this situation," Felicity Jones explains. "You get something genuine that you couldn't have planned." (A statement punctuated with a piece of scenery falling on her head after an explosion, amusingly.) There is an implication in much of this to fans: We're taking this as seriously as doing everything the same way as we did that last movie you liked.

But a minute into the video, Edwards makes subtext of the promotion into text. "The pressure's so high," he says. "We're making a film that's … touching my favorite movie of all time. But if you're too respectful of it — that you daren't do anything new or different or take a risk — then what are you bringing to the table?"

What follows that statement are shots that underscore the uncertainty surrounding that question: For all the "new" and "different" that is on show — mostly new characters; seeing people run through slow motion explosions or walk dramatically in a lineup may be new to the Star Wars franchise, but are hardly anything worth boasting about — there are as many things fans would recognize, and are potentially more excited by: Stormtroopers in action, a fight between what appears to be an Imperial officer and a Stormtrooper, an X-Wing fighter pilot.

It's telling that, after the scenes of the new and different elements, the footage ends with Felicity Jones facing the audience and reciting a variation on a line that is as much part of the mythology as any other dialogue in the entire Star Wars franchise. "May the Force be with us," she says, and even that slight variation sounds as nervous as it does bold.

As a capper, it both works — could there be more of a crowd-pleaser than that line? — but it also feels curiously inorganic, as if it's been created specifically as a crowd-pleaser, to remind people that what they're watching is a Star Wars movie and that they should remember the warm feelings they had for Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) et al soon after meeting them last December.

The overall impression of the reel is one that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been struggling with since news of the reshoots broke a little over a month ago; that the movie is uncertain about its own identity, and is trying to simultaneously break new ground for the series while maintaining enough Star Wars-ness to please the mass audience that helped make The Force Awakens such a success. It'll appeal to the hardcore fans, of course, but in order for the movie to be a Star Wars-level success, Rogue One has to do more than just that.

Forget about stealing Death Star plans — straddling the line between being faithful to fan ideas of the franchise and re-inventing Star Wars as a stand-alone universe might just be the far more impossible mission.

 

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