The strongest card the studio has to play is the big emotions that are part of the story. So it hits that beat as forcefully and repeatedly as it can, showing Smith breaking down and having his conversations with death and everything else as a way to sell the movie as a big-budget tearjerker. In fact that’s the primary value proposition on display here, that the audience should come in and have a good cry with the characters who are all feeling everything so hard they can’t keep their emotions in for even a minute.
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.
The story that’s on display here is one that would likely be compelling regardless of the actual subject matter. Meaning it’s an interesting story of race, identity and worldly expectations that works even if it’s not about Obama. His presence just adds a layer of complexity to what we’re watching that brings with it some real world significance as we see a future president’s formative years.