Everyone has seen it by now, the new trailer for Rogue One. I have to admit that this is one of those few times that a trailer has gotten me revved up for a film. After the absolute success of The Force Awakens, Rogue One will be the first in a series of supplemental Star Wars movies. I like this move so far, though I do have concerns about story fatigue. One of the great things about the canon being opened up is that there is now room for more and better stories building and pinging off one another as well as having nothing to do with one another except in the most tangential or casual manner.
At first, I thought this movie was going to be about the Bothan spies that stole the plans for the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. When I saw the character Mon Mothma in the first trailer and then again in this one, I got chills.
When I was a kid, Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie I saw in the theatre. I had already devoured the previous two movies in ancient laserdisc and VHS form while assembling a rather sizeable collection of toys through which I would play out my own Star Wars stories. My friends and I spent hours building our toy bases all the while discussing just what the story would be we’d act out once everything was set. The actually playing time was always brief, fifteen to twenty minutes, as we had our character toys fight, run, strategize, and ultimately destroy the bases we had built.
Going to see Return of the Jedi in the theatre felt like something big. One of the deepest impressions I had of that movie was the scale of the Rebel fleet. Up until this point, the Rebels had always come off as rather shoddy or scrappy. But in this, the fleet the ships were big, significant, the halls clean and the chambers grandiose, and now the Rebels had uniforms that looked less like field garb and more like proper attire (General Madine, for example). We had only gotten a glimpse of this when our heroes were at Bespin. I realized (somewhat consciously but mostly unconsciously) I was feeling the story mature, grow.
When Mon Mothma (the only other woman in the Star Wars universe) stepped forward to explain how the new Death Star plans were acquired, she spoke slowly and deliberately with more than a slight touch of wistfulness. It was this moment I realized I wanted to know that story, how were the plans acquired, why did so many Bothans have to die, and why did Mon Mothma lose her composure for the briefest of moments?
So when I learned Rogue One was going to be a prequel of sorts about the stealing of Death Star plans, I had hoped it would be this story. Seeing the first trailer for Rogue One, I felt like it very well could be. That we were going to see the story of the Bothans and discover why Mon Mothma was so serious. The gritty nature of the first trailer also tapped into the theme of the Rebellion’s maturation. These were the scrappy fighters existing between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at once dirty but becoming respectable.
But that’s not the story. Rogue One goes further back to the transmission of the original Death Star plans to the nascent Rebellion. Yet it is very much still a fill-in-the-gaps story. Instead of the Bothan spies, we’re going to get the story leading up to the iconic crawl of Star Wars:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR...
What we see, I suspect, in this film is the fight to beam the plans to Princess Leia’s ship which is then pursued and overcome in the opening sequence of Star Wars.
My original hope for the story of Rogue One was premised on my desire to see the sacrifice made by the only off-handed mention of other rebel heroes. To tell this story is to have one that ends in death, one that creates the emotional force that would imbue Return of the Jedi. The thing is, I think we’re still going to see this kind of story.
Jyn Erso has been tasked with being the tip of the spear leading what looks like a group of bellicose militants. Like the Bothans, there is little likelihood that this story turns out well for its protagonists even if their actions eventually lead to the Rebellion’s victory. A spy possesses little in way of longevity, passions are always high as are the stakes. We, as moviegoers and readers of cinema, desperately need this kind of tension. There is a stark lack of real emotion in the science fiction, fantasy, and superhero films of late. To be blockbusters, they must be far-reaching but, ultimately, shallow. A far better critic than I has talked about how dull genre films are becoming as they rake in grotesque sums.
Rogue One needs to be a hero movie embracing not the grimdark of say Game of Thrones or the thin metaphor of superhero flicks but rather the bloody melodrama of say Nick Cave songs and the tragedy of David Lean’s Hollywood epics. The pieces are there. The trailers we’ve seen betray a vast scope and a deep intensity. I think we all feel so much more positive about the quality of storytelling in these new Star Wars movies than we do in any other film universe. We do, because, there is going to be loss and it will be of the kind that cuts us deep only able to be healed with more and varied stories.
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