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A Kinder, Gentler ‘Rogue One’?

The new trailer takes a small step away from the dark side

Screen grab via ‘Rogue One’ trailer/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Screen grab via ‘Rogue One’ trailer/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“The world is coming undone,” Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera intones six seconds into the second trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which premiered during the Olympics on Thursday night. “Imperial flags reign across the galaxy.”

With those scene-setting sentences, spoken as a piano plinked out a few plaintive notes of “The Imperial March” over ominous strings, Star Wars fans who’d feared for the future of a gritty Rogue One exhaled louder than Darth Vader did during his cameo in the closing shot. The trailer — another network crossover between Star Wars and mainstream sports — arrived at a time of some uncertainty for would-be fans of the film. A little more than a week earlier, The Hollywood Reporter had reported the rumor that serial script/screen doctor Tony Gilroy had taken over the film’s previously rumored reshoots, which were supposedly scheduled after Disney executives emerged from a screening of director Gareth Edwards’s original Rogue One cut craving Star Wars–themed versions of Bryce Harper’s hat.

Via Washington Post <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/06/hey-lets-all-make-our-own-donald-trump-hats/">hat generator</a>
Via Washington Post hat generator

The studio’s concern presumably went something like this: Just as fear of the Death Star failed to keep the local systems in line, Rogue One’s foreboding tone might fail to keep casual fans in line … to buy tickets. The Force Awakens was fun, and The Force Awakens broke box office records. From Disney’s perspective, then, the prescription must have seemed simple: a little less grimness, a little more lighthearted romp. That formula has always worked well for the franchise, but it also seemed to threaten Rogue One’s status as a different sort of Star Wars movie, the very quality that made the stand-alone so exciting.

If what we saw Thursday night was “fun” Rogue One, we don’t have to worry about it turning into an Ewoks cartoon. That said, trailer no. 2 did make a few attempts to showcase the film’s (slightly) softer side. Unlike the first trailer, this one wasn’t 100 percent humorless, mixing in multiple moments of levity. All of the comic relief came from K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk. Edwards once described K-2SO as “the antithesis of C-3PO,” and the droid’s punch line about begrudgingly letting Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso live was much more HK-47 than Threepio or BB-8. But Kaytoo does make the same mistake of telling someone the odds, a lone, off-puttingly pandering instance of J.J. Abrams–esque recycling from the original trilogy.

Whereas the teaser introduced Jyn as a streetwise lone wolf, trailer no. 2 presents her as part of a team, playing up the comradery (and maybe more) between Jyn and rebel recruiter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). It also ends on a less somber note. The first trailer left us with the image of an anxious-looking Jyn dressed in the threads of an Imperial pilot, as Gerrera’s voice-over warns her about the danger of embodying the evil she’s trying to defeat. This time around, we cut to black (for the first time) on a confident, almost-smiling Jyn wearing rebel duds and backed up by badass allies on a lived-in-looking drop-ship.

The musical cues support the more uplifting imagery: Instead of the first preview’s solid 30 seconds of high-pitched alarms, we hear only a single, old-school siren, followed by a swelling orchestral score. Finally, Disney seals the deal with some fan service, casting Vader as the crowd-pleasing closer Han and Chewie played in the second teaser for The Force Awakens, while still relegating him to the subordinate role he probably plays in the full-length film.

None of these new looks seem to have sabotaged Rogue One’s central, time-tested conceit of getting the gang together: The trailer finds time for plenty of atmospheric moodiness and Stormtrooper slaughter, courtesy of Jiang Wen’s vengeful assassin and Donnie Yen’s Zatoichi-esque swordsman. At every turn, the rebels are dwarfed by the weapons they’re trying to take down: man vs. AT-ACT, woman vs. TIE fighter, ragtag group vs. weapon that blots out the sun. This is still something new for the franchise.

The hand-wringing about Rogue One’s reshoots was probably always overblown; with anticipation for future anthology films riding on Rogue One’s success, Disney had every incentive to tinker, and it’s not as if past Star Wars productions went down without drama. Still, it’s reassuring to see such clear signs that even after the adjustments made by Edwards, Gilroy, and any additional directors who had a hand in the final footage, Rogue One’s essence remains intact. With four months to go before the final cut comes out, there’s plenty of time and material left for a last prerelease look; we still haven’t heard Ben Mendelsohn speak. But an eye-catching cape is worth a thousand words, and Disney has to save something for December 16.