The Rebel Alliance is back on the big-screen in this week’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The story (don’t call it a Prequel) is set just before the events of 1977’s A New Hope, the original Star Wars story, and tells the stories of how the plans to the Death Star wind up in the hands of the Rebels at the beginning of that movie.
Rogue One stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a young woman who has had a troubled life. When the Rebels get wind of a dangerous new space station-sized weapon the Empire is building they recruit Jyn to assemble and lead a small team of specialists and fighters to infiltrate an Imperial installation and steal the plans to that weapon. That team includes Rebel Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and others, a specialized team that’s small and nimble enough to hopefully get in and out undetected.
One of the reasons Jyn is selected for this assignment is that she has ties to the Death Star itself. Specifically, she’s the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a scientist who was forcibly recruited by the Empire while Jyn was still a young girl to help build the super weapon. He was brought in by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Empire’s director of special projects and an imposing figure in the government’s hierarchy. He’s the adversary Jyn and her team go up against, the one getting in their way at every turn. He’s also facing internal struggles of his own, namely those that come from the Emperor’s right-hand man Darth Vader.
The first teaser poster debuted at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year and was given to attendees there. It shows the battle on Scarif that’s shown in the the first trailer, with Rebel troops fending off a squad of Stormtroopers who are invading the beach the Rebels are holding. X-Wings swoop through the sky but looming large in the background is the Death Star, nicely placing it in the center of the story’s focus since it’s around it that everyone’s actions revolve.
The theatrical poster – released the day before the final trailer to help hype that up a bit – is great, notably taking a different visual style from the previous movies to help set it apart from the Saga entries. Jyn dominates the image, looming large over the assembled Rebel team below her. Behind her is the Death Star, with Vader’s face visible in the structure. Interestingly, the image of the Death Star also bleeds into Jyn’s face and body, perhaps a nod to her familial role in its construction. Down at the very bottom are the oppositional Imperials, with AT-ATs and Stormtroopers working their way toward a beach as we’ve seen in the trailers.
A series of posters featured most of the main cast, showing a close-up that also featured the Death Star plans overlaid, like they’re being projected onto their faces.
A fantastic-looking IMAX poster took a much more artistic approach, assembling the group of Rebels in a V formation that we see is made up of X-Wings flying across the equator of the Death Star. It’s pretty cool looking and makes the audience look twice to see what they’re looking at, which is a good goal to have. That was followed by another one-sheet showing a Rebel helmet lying in the water as Stormtroopers advanced in the distance, an image that seemed pulled straight out of Saving Private Ryan. This one specifically called out to see the movie in a Dolby theater.
The first trailer – which debuted on Good Morning America, because synergy – immediately introduces us to Jyn Erso, a young woman who has some problems with authority. “I rebel,” she says. She’s given an assignment to uncover “a major weapons test” and find out how to destroy it, which we see is the Death Star, shown as the super-laser is lowered into place. She accepts the mission and the rest of the trailer shows the kind of adventures she and her team will be getting into and some of the other characters she’ll come across on those adventures.
It’s a pretty great trailer. Not only do we get a clear message that Jones is the star and Jyn is the main character here, which is great. It also clearly establishes the timeframe of the story, from the gritty, ground-level view of the Yavin 4 base to the AT-ATs to the Death Star itself to a young Mon Mothma giving Jyn her orders. There are some great glimpses at the bad guys too, from Ben Mendelson’s Krennic to the OG Stormtroopers hitting the ground. It’s action-packed, filled with cool visuals and scale and more and is everything a teaser trailer for a movie like this should be.
The next trailer debuted during the Summer Olympics, giving it another big spotlight. This one starts with an intonation about how the Empire is spreading throughout the galaxy. After we’re once again introduced to Jyn and told how dangerous she is we once more here about how the Empire is developing a new weapon that the Rebels would very much like to destroy. From there on out the focus is more on the team that’s assembled, with establishing shots for each of the main characters that provide a bit of motivation for their activity with the Rebellion. At the very end we get what everyone was waiting for, the first actual look at Darth Vader in the movie, which is just as cool as it sounds.
It’s a good trailer but probably not as good as the first. While there’s less story, there is more of a focus on providing some sort of context for the rest of the characters who we’ll be following as they try and take on the Empire. That comes, unfortunately, at the expense of screentime for Jones as Jyn, but those are the breaks I suppose. The Vader reveal is handled pretty well and isn’t as clunky as it could be so it’s a solid second effort.
The final trailer takes a much more linear story approach instead of just showing off cool bits from throughout the movie. We meet Jyn as a young girl as her father vows to protect her, which he does by being taken by Krennic. Then we cut to her grown up and in the custody of the Empire before she’s rescued by Andor and his crew. She’s needed because her father, it’s explained, may have vital information about the Death Star that’s being built. Jyn signs on to help and the team assembles itself, followed by shots of ground battles, space battles involving X-Wings and lots more action.
There are a couple good shots of Vader in here, along with more showing AT-STs, Mendelson chewing scenery as Krennic and lots more. It’s not all that remarkable but it’s a solid outing that ends lots of general mystery surrounding the story and lays it all out for audiences.
One more trailer came out about a month before release that hit many of the same notes as what had come before, but with a bit more K-2S0 action and other small moments added in. We still get the gist that we’re watching the small group of Rebels who are out to steal the Death Star plans and the overall feel that this is a war movie more than anything else.
Online and Social
The Rogue One official website opens with full-screen video that pulls clips from the trailers and shows off all the primary good guys and bad guys.
Scrolling down the page the first content section is “Videos” and has all the trailers, featurettes and sizzle reels, video from the movie’s red carpet premiere and more. After that the “Gallery” has over 50 stills from the film.
“Story” contains a brief synopsis of the movie’s plot. Finally, “Downloads” has some wallpapers you can download to your PC.
Over on the left of the page there’s a prompt to explore an Imperial intelligence document. Open that up and you get 3D schematics of the Death Star’s super laser that you can explore and dive into more deeply to learn how it works. That’s a cool touch.
Much of that same content can also be found on the film page on StarWars.com. The same videos and stills are there but that page also features Databank entries on the characters, ships and planets that are featured in the movie. There’s also a gallery of posts about Rogue One that are curated from the official Star Wars blog.
At the very bottom are links to the official Star Wars Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and other social profiles. Those pages have been used to share all kinds of news throughout the publicity cycle and are evergreen for the franchise as a whole.
On mobile, there was a special Rogue One-themed iMessage sticker pack featuring characters from the movie along with cute little sayings. And the official Star Wars app continued to share all sorts of updates and offer exclusive movie-specific material.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot appeared in mid-summer, much earlier than normal, even for a movie this huge. No new footage made it into the spot, which focused on the Rebels and their struggle instead of the whole Death Star angle. It’s sold here as more of a story of a personal character journey, not a huge epic, which is a nice change of pace. Later TV commercials mirrored the changing nature and tone of the trailers.
Of course the movie had a ton of promotional partners, including:
- Duracell: Created co-branded TV spots that played up the toys you can power with Duracell products and showed them being used at a children’s hospital. These spots were also run on social networks as paid posts.
- Nissan: The car company sensed a perfect tie-in opportunity to promote its Rogue compact SUV, launching a campaign that involved a series of TV spots, sweepstakes and other activations. The company also created an actual Rogue One Limited Edition version of the vehicle featuring movie branding.
- Gillette: In addition to co-branded packaging, the company ran a full campaign that included TV spots and an informational website that had background on the spot and the movie as a whole. That TV commercial was also used on Twitter in a paid Tweet.
- Verizon: The wireless carrier worked with Lucasfilm and ILM to create Rogue One: Recon, a VR experience available exclusively in Verizon stores that took viewers inside the cockpit of an X-Wing whose pilot, along with his wingman, stumbles across the Death Star.
- General Mills: Co-branded packaging offered a free movie ticket with qualifying purchases was supported by a TV spot taking place in a grocery store.
- Uber: Announced a promotion that showed available town cars as X-Wings or other ships and offered exclusive movie content within the app.
Billboard ads used key art and the image of Stormtroopers wading through the coastline, which has been one of the go-to images for the whole campaign.
Media and Publicity
Aside from cast and crew announcements the first big bit of publicity and buzz-building was when a cast photo was released along with news principal photography had begun.
Much later on there was a lot of conversation centered around reports of extensive reshoots, rumored to be because Disney execs were unhappy with the tone of the movie’s first cut. Those turned out to be, as they often are, overstatements and lots of fearmongering and nothing that was outside of what had already been planned and anticipated for a movie of this size.
The first real bit of press came in the form of a cover story in Entertainment Weekly that revealed all sorts of new details about the story, characters and lots more, including how Darth Vader would be returning to the franchise.
Shortly after that the movie was obviously a big part of Star Wars Celebration earlier this year, where the whole cast and crew appeared and revealed various parts of the story, the filmmaking process and more. Attendees were shown an exclusive trailer that never did leak online but the rest of us got a sizzle reel focusing on the filmmaking but also showing off lots of new material and hinting at plenty more.
Another series of stories in EW continued to flesh out the story and provide more background on the characters, including Edwards talking about the role Jedha plays in the story, Tudyk sharing the backstory to the droid he voices and Whitaker providing even more details about his character’s connection to Darth Vader. Jones also talked about the importance of having a female hero in this universe.
Edwards, as part of a big cover story in Empire Magazine, talked about the meaning behind the movie’s title along with more reveals of what would be happening.
The next big wave of press came with the revealing of various toy lines. The biggest bang in this was a short stop-animation video that used everything from action figures to LEGOs to POP figures to tell the story of the Rebels trying to snatch the Death Star plans.
A big feature on Jones touched on her career to date, the role taking a part in Star Wars plays in that, and the fact that this comes at a time when she has several roles, all of different size and in different kinds of movies, coming out. Another similar feature continued the narrative that this was Jones’ breakout year.
One of the biggest narratives to come out of the movie’s press push was about how female fans were making the movie their own in a way that The Force Awakens laid the groundwork for but which is now in full effect. The presence of Jyn as *the* main character along with other women in the story has pushed that segment of the fanbase into overdrive, which of course has created some levels of pushback from the butt-hurt fanboy section of the world. That doesn’t diminish the awesomeness on display here, though.
About a month out from release, EW ran a substantial cover story on the movie that revealed new details on the story, featured some new photos and had interviews with Jones and others in the cast about their characters. Around the same time, executive producer Kathleen Kennedy talked about this movie’s role in the franchise, the potential for what’s next and more about the Star Wars Universe in general.
It was just Jones in the spotlight. Knoll also got his share of press, with this profile about his role in the story’s genesis and his career with the Star Wars universe. And Luna and the rest of the cast each received their own profiles like this one along with consistent accolades from the fans who were anticipating the movie not just because it was Star Wars but also because of the inclusive and interesting cast. And Tudyk got his turn as well, where he was able to talk about improving on the set and otherwise performing as K-2SO.
Because this is the era we live in there had to be some politically-themed controversy around the movie. Not only was this attacked by Men’s Rights Activists because it was the second movie in a row to feature a female lead character but rumors circulated that the movie’s writers had changed the story in some way to specifically attack (gag) President-Elect Donald Trump (gag). That led Disney chief Bob Iger to come out and specifically deny those rumors, saying there was nothing political about Star Wars, which is of course ridiculous. But there’s nothing, it seems, about this movie that speaks to our current political climate. In fact, it says more about the people making those claims that they see a story about idealistic grassroots organizations taking down totalitarian regimes and think it applies to Trump et al than anything else.
A few months ago I wrote about how Rogue One faced some marketing challenges that were unique to the Star Wars franchise, notably the truncated timeline it was operating on due to last year’s release of The Force Awakens. The fact that the campaign didn’t start until March or April of this year is pretty unusual in this day of big blockbusters whose marketing sometimes kicks off up to a year and a half before release.
It’s interesting how the campaign has differed from other legacy sequels from earlier this year. Unlike campaigns for Independence Day: Resurgence, Zoolander 2 and others there’s no overt playing to the previous movies going on here. Sure, Darth Vader shows up here and there and the entire thing is all about nostalgia for the backstory behind A New Hope’s opening crawl. But there’s nothing here that is specifically meant to invoke some exact sequence from Episode IV or any of the other movies. It’s about selling a return to the past via something wholly unique, not just a collection of slightly modified bits that echo what we’ve seen before.
What’s notable about the campaign is that it started off with a very different tone than it ended up with. That first teaser trailer was all about setting this up as Jyn Erso’s story and followed her arc from recruitment to infiltration and that’s where the focus of the rest of the campaign at the outset was. But overtime it became more and more about the team as a whole, starting to sell it as a wary movie in the Star Wars Universe and less as something specifically about Erso. Whether that’s because they wanted to broaden the scope to be more inclusive of the whole story or because of concerns among some that a female-centric Star Wars story wouldn’t sell as well remains unclear. While Jyn was never relegated to the background there’s certainly a first-half/second-half difference on display. Even her role in the campaign changed, from an outsider to the leader who delivers inspiring speeches and motivates the troops.
Still, this is a really good campaign. There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, primarily the posters and trailers that have consistently weaved in specific themes like Jyn’s propensity to rebel or the fact that the story revolves around the Death Star plans. Now it just remains to be seen whether audiences have the desire to revisit the galaxy far, far away once more.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Screenwriter Tony Gilroy has made comments about the troubled state of affairs he inherited prior to the much-discussed reshoots the film underwent. I’m not a huge fan of people throwing others under the bus like this, but that was a significant part of the movie’s pre-release media coverage.