Star Wars: Rogue One – breaking down the first trailer

The first trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One is officially here. We take a closer look at what it all means...

If The Force Awakens had one herculean trial to undertake – relaunch the Star Wars franchise for a new generation of moviegoers – then Rogue One has a mighty task of its own. This is, after all, both a spin-off from the numbered Star Wars entries and also a prequel to 1977’s A New Hope.

As history has already taught us, Star Wars sequels aren’t necessarily easy to get right.

What Rogue One does offer, however, is the possibility of opening up the Star Wars universe in ways that were previously confined to books, videogames and other media. Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) has pitched his movie as a mash-up of Dirty Dozen and space opera; its basic plot involves the Rebels’ attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star from the cold palms of the Empire. Needless to say, the Empire doesn’t take this gambit lightly.

We’ll have to wait until December to see whether the movie lives up to its premise. But for now, there’s the teaser trailer to pick through. It leaves plenty of things hidden from view and open to interpretation, but there are all kinds of things to be gleaned from it. Things like these…

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Introducing Jyn Erso

As is always the way with Star Wars films, the production of Rogue One has been surrounded by all kinds of rumours – lots of them connected to the character played by its star, Felicity Jones. One of the suggestions was that Jones was set to play the daughter of Boba Fett; a more convincing report stated that she’d be related to the designer of the Death Star.

It now looks as though the former rumour is firmly off the table; as if in response to all the speculation, the trailer gets Jones’ identity out of the way immediately. She’s Jyn Erso, a tough maverick who’s a bit of a wild card among the Rebels. Having made her own way in the world since the age of 15, she’s taken in by the Rebellion – led by one Mon Mothma – and given a cause worth fighting for.

It’s worth pausing here to note how refreshing it is to see a “loveable rogue” go to a female lead, and to see Mon Mothma – who’s been a relatively small character in the Star Wars movies until now – apparently being given a more prominent role here.

For actress Genevieve O’Reilly, this moment in the spotlight’s been a long time coming; she famously played Mon Mothma (taking over from Caroline Blakiston) in Revenge Of The Sith, but had her role cut out of the theatrical release. (Her performance in that film exists only as a set of deleted scenes on the disc.) It’s fitting, then, to see her back in the fold, and verbally sparring here with Jones’ wayward Jyn.

In effect, Mon Mothma appears to play the part of the crusty old major in The Dirty Dozen: she’s assembling a team of crack Rebels to somehow infiltrate the Empire and discover what their secret weapon is. “We want to know what it is and how to destroy it,” Mothma tells Jyn in her ethereally calm voice.


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The effects

There’s a pleasingly retro feel to Rogue One, and not just because it’s based on a property hailing from the 1970s. Take a look at the shot captured above: doesn’t that Star Destroyer look like a miniature effect rather than something conjured from a computer?

There’s another interesting thing going on in this shot, too: look at how the shadow passes behind the Star Destroyer. It’s like one of Star Wars’ sweeping wipes – the quaint transitions between scenes George Lucas borrowed from his favourite filmmakers – except played in reverse. The shadow travels from right to left across the screen, gradually revealing the Death Star’s surface. It’s both jarring and dramatic, like a number of other things in the trailer – including those Death Star wails that suddenly start half way through. 

It’s in the next shot that we realise what’s casting the shadow – it’s the Death Star’s colossal concave superlaser dish, slowly being lowered into position.

The message is clear: this battle station is not yet fully operational.


Ben Mendelsohn’s villain

As the rumours predicted, Ben Mendelsohn really is playing some kind of Imperial commander [edit: Grand Admiral; thanks, readers] – and here he is in his fascist beige cape, brooding as only a top-ranking Empire boss can.

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There were mixed reports that Mendelsohn might be playing Moff Tarkin; others suggested that Tarkin would be a separate character, with Peter Cushing’s likeness recreated using CGI. We may be wrong, but there doesn’t appear to have been much attempt to make Mendelsohn look like Cushing here. Judging by a later shot, he’s also more a man of action than Tarkin, who seemed more like the kind of person who liked standing around, glowering at his underlings.

Look at how Mendelsohn strides along in the shot above; he looks as though he intends to inflict some terrible damage on someone or something. Or maybe he’s just in a bit of a hurry to get out of that cold water.


Empire hardware

Gareth Edwards’ plans to show us a gritty war from a Rebel soldier’s perspective is perfectly illustrated in this shot, which shows an Imperial tank rolling through a dusty town. The distinctive shape of the vehicle recalls the British tanks rolling around the battlefields of World War I – a design choice very much in keeping with Star Wars’ classic kit-bashed, used future aesthetic.

Different kinds of Stormtrooper and their armaments are glimpsed throughout the trailer, too; our favourites are these Shadow Stormtroopers. The one in this shot’s seemingly a commander, if his shoulder armour’s anything to go by. They certainly look tougher than the rank-and-file Stormtroopers we see throughout the trailer which, true to form, get variously shot, blown up and bashed with sticks.

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Forest Whitaker

We don’t know what his character’s name is yet, but Forest Whitaker appears to be playing an old warrior of some kind – a burly, battle-scarred mentor to Jyn Erso and her band, perhaps. The timbre of Whitaker’s voice, his armour and demeanour certainly point to a man who’s seen a lot of conflict in his life. Whitaker’s performance is intense and redolent of wise old samurai in Kurosawa movies – Kurosawa was, of course, enormously influential for George Lucas, and it seems that Gareth Edwards is mining the Japanese director’s work for Rogue One.


Donnie Yen

Martial arts star Donnie Yen creates a huge impression here, as he successfully beats down a Stormtrooper with little more than a stick. We don’t know much about Yen’s character, or whether he’ll have much more than a cameo role in the film – look how brief Max Von Sydow’s scenes wound up being in The Force Awakens – but his presence only serves to underline the film’s east-meets-west flavour. Other members of the Rebels include Diego Luna – who may or may not be playing a character named Cassein Willix, which is brilliant – and Let The Bullets Fly star Wen Jiang.

Note, too, the crashed X-Wing in the background above. We’re not sure what planet we’re seeing in these shots, but it’s evidently the site of a major battle between Rebels and Imperial Forces.

In the next shot we see a huge ship explode.

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Our theory is that it’s an Imperial troop transporter; images taken from the UK set of Rogue One showed the lower part of the ship, recreated full size, with extras dressed as Stormtroopers lying in the sand. Putting those bits of information together, it could be that the Rebels successfully blow up this hulking, four-winged transporter before it can take off.

Again, the effects in this shot look practical rather than digital; doesn’t that ship have a physical heft to it? Don’t those palm trees look just a little hand-made? It could be CGI trickery, of course, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Lucasfilm had opted to use scale miniatures to better resemble the look of the Original Trilogy.


Gonk droids

We love these little fellas. And is this Yavin? We’re guessing it is, but we’ve been wrong about planets in these new Star Wars films before.


Alan Tudyk?

One of the details Lucasfilm officially announced was that Alan Tudyk’s playing a motion-capture character. We’d bet our Return Of The Jedi badge collection that the tall robot you see on the left is Tudyk. We heard months back that he’s supposed to be playing an Imperial droid captured and reprogrammed by the Rebels. This appears to prove at least a part of those rumours.

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Incidentally, we can’t help noticing that this sequence appears to have been shot in more modern parts of the London Underground. Either that or the Empire has a previously unseen train system on the death Star.

At any rate, we can see a few more different types of Stormtrooper here – there are some off-white ones, which look adorably like old action figures left out in the sun too long. Interestingly, these are the helmets Donnie Yen tweeted about a year ago and hurriedly took down.


The Emperor’s Royal Guard

Here’s a shot designed to quicken the pulse of any Star Wars fanatic. A hooded figure kneels in a smoke-filled chamber, flanked by the Emperor’s Royal Guard. The only possible conclusion we can draw is that it’s Palpatine somewhere in all that smoke – perhaps preserved in some kind of life-preserving cryo-tube akin to Darth Vader’s own meditation tube.

The question is, who’s the hooded figure? Darth Vader isn’t in the habit of wearing hoods, so he’s out. Could it be Mads Mikkelsen, who’s conspicuous by his absence in this trailer, or someone else entirely?


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At-At assault

Another shot designed to provoke squeals. A quartet of At-Ats, spewing blaster death at feeble Rebels scampering around at their feet. It’s been over 30 years since we last saw one of these metal colossi stride about on the silver screen, and it’s great to see them back. Here’s hoping that, in the finished film, Gareth Edwards can make them seem as fearsome and powerful as they look in this lone sequence.


The final breath…

This last scene is hugely intriguing. Here’s Jyn, armoured and quite clearly ready for battle. She’s clearly on an Imperial vessel of some sort. Is it a Star Destroyer or the Death Star itself? Jyn turns to face the camera, as though she’s just heard something in our direction.

Turn the sound up. Way up. Is it just us, or is that the sound of breathing? A laboured breath – an exhalation, perhaps, from Darth Vader?

We could be in for a spectacular fight if that’s the case.

Star Wars: Rogue One is out in  UK cinemas on the 16th December 2016. 

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