Star Wars Moves Forward by Looking Back
–by Dan Roth
As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story debuted during an Olympics broadcast, and naturally it set the Internet buzzing. It’s a decent first look, showing us a chunk of Felicity Jones’s work as Jyn Erso without revealing too much about plot specifics or character relations. But while it ultimately amounted to a fairly generic spattering of Star Wars imagery and dramatic one-liners, the trailer hit one heck of a crescendo at the end. Darth Vader reappeared, getting in half a breath (all ho-, no -bur) before the scene cut out.
For the people who cut this trailer, that end scene was like cashing in a winning lottery ticket. Frankly, the first two minutes could have been an uninterrupted slow motion look at the construction of the Death Star and people still would have gone bananas over the peek at Vader. It was a surefire way to make the trailer not only go viral, but be well received. But isn’t it also a little bit strange?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story represents uncharted territory for the Star Wars universe. In fact, in a way it’s what makes it a “universe” rather than just one continual series. While Disney has long been planning massive expansions of the Star Wars saga—side projects and standalone films in addition to new installments in the main series—Rogue One will the first actual release that’s a part of this effort. It’s the first live action Star Wars film outside of the core series, and it’s supposed to deliver something different, even if it’s deeply connected to the events of A New Hope. And yet, rather than relying on completely new material, the trailer chose to go to the one character from the past guaranteed to stir up excitement. The question is rather this represents a fear of moving on or a strategic embrace of past success.
Not so very long ago, in the lead up to The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans around the world were collectively wondering just how many characters and elements from the original trilogy would pop up in Episode VII. An official Star Wars betting market even emerged online, allowing fans to wager on which characters might reappear. There were different odds set for Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and others, and most people assumed that only one or two of the classic characters would be in the new film. But as we now know, The Force Awakens pretty much roped in every significant character who was still breathing at the end of Return Of The Jedi. Not only that, but Harrison Ford got about as much screen time as any of the newcomers.
“Chewie, we’re home” was the equivalent of the Vader cameo for the hype cycle for The Force Awakens.
Clearly, there’s a little bit of a pattern developing here. And in all likelihood, it’s going to continue in the near future. Looking at the Star Wars movie release calendar, we can see that there are three more confirmed films: Episodes VIII and IX and the upcoming untitled Han Solo film. All of these films will retain close connections not just to the universe and atmosphere of Star Wars, or to the plot of the core series, but to the actual cast and characters of the original trilogy. We already know that Luke, at least, will play a role in Episode VIII, and it’s hard to imagine Episode IX being devoid of retro character appearances at this point. A film about a young Han Solo won’t necessarily include Ford or any other familiar actors (though it wouldn’t be a shock to see them worked in), but you can probably bank on Chewbacca being around just to keep us comfortable.
Simply put, as new material rolls out and Disney continues to promise a potentially limitless expansion of George Lucas’s sci-fi brainchild, there continues to be a heavy reliance on material from the ‘70s and ‘80s to keep fans engaged. The Star Wars franchise needs nothing more than its own name to sell out theaters, secure earnings in the billions, and excite fans the world over. But there’s excitement, and then there’s love. The creative folks behind the modern Star Wars films are undoubtedly aware that they barely need to lift a finger to get people excited. But to inspire passion and to tap into the legitimate adoration so many fans feel for this franchise, they’re holding onto the actors and characters that have been in our hearts for decades.
What will be fascinating is how they move forward when this strategy is no longer convenient, and whether invoking the likes of Rey or Poe Dameron 10 or 15 years from now is anywhere near as effective as doing so with Luke, Han, and Vader today.Powered by Sidelines