Selling Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My latest marketing recap column at The Hollywood Reporter covers Disney’s massive campaign for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The Rise of Skywalker comes as the end cap to what is now a nine film series, just as creator George Lucas long said he originally envisioned. At the center of all the films — aside from the spinoff movies like Solo and Rogue One — has been the Skywalker family. First Anakin (the Prequels), then Luke and Leia (the Original Trilogy) and now Kylo.

That’s exactly how the film has been sold in a campaign that kicked off in April and has gained steam over the subsequent months. With tracking tracking estimating an opening weekend of up to $200 million, anticipation for how the story concludes, what lingering questions will be resolved and what it means for the future of the galaxy far, far away is high.

You can read the whole thing here.

Flashback MMM: Star Wars

I wasn’t planning to write about Star Wars this week. There was another movie I had in mind to jump back and take a look back at the movie for and I had an angle in mind and everything. But over the last week I’ve seen so much celebration of this being the 40th anniversary of Star Wars – now officially referred to as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – that the pull to go back and revisit this classic that’s defined much of my life proved too great to resist.

Yes, as I said, it’s been 40 years since the first Star Wars movie was released in theaters. I won’t waste time or space recapping how the movie was just kind of a middling sci-fi title before it came out. And I don’t need to rehash the plot about a farm boy that is drawn into a larger world of mystery, magic and rebellion on the path to embracing his destiny. We all know what the movie is about and why it’s become such a cultural touchstone, despite (or because of) its B-movie origins.

The challenge in looking back at portions of the marketing for this 1977 classic is that I’ve watched it roughly 5,392 times over the last 40 years. The first time, according to my parents, was when they took me to the York Theater in Elmhurst, IL (then a single-screen second-run house) when I was just a few years old. Because I wasn’t even two when it first came out, I’ve always assumed that screening came during one of its releases in subsequent years, either ’78 or ’79. Since then I’ve seen it on VHS (it was my go-to movie on days when I was home sick from school) and recently on DVD, as well as when it came back to theaters 20 years ago in Special Edition form.

That means it’s hard to judge the trailers and other components objectively. I love this movie. It’s part of my DNA. I’ve explored the Expanded Universe (New and Original Formulas) in depth. But I will make an effort for my art.

Luke and Leia Like You’ll Never See Them Again

The poster, specifically the A poster that we all know and love, is a wonderful bit of artwork from the Brothers Hildebrandt that captures the spirit of the movie even if it makes a couple choices that in retrospect are questionable. It sports the famous “triangle” design that pairs Luke and Leia, he standing defiantly at the top of a rock, his hands over his head holding a lightsaber that’s flaring in all directions. Leia is just off to his side, looking voluptuous and holding a blaster as her space gown blows in the wind. The design decides to up the “superhero” angle showing his bulging chest muscles through his open tunic and she’s very sexualized in her own way with a low-cut outfit that also shows plenty of leg. The droids are off to the side, though as recently pointed out they were a late addition by comic artist Nick Cardy and weren’t part of the original design.

Looming in the background is Vader, who as we’ll see wasn’t an otherwise big part of the marketing, but who here is shown as an evil presence that is seeing everything. That’s a very mysterious image, with his shiny black visage personifying darkness and danger. The Death Star is in the upper left, a swarm of starfighters racing toward it, an image that hints at the rebellious conflict that forms the crux of the conflict faced by the characters. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” is in the corner, copy that would set up the entire universe and become perhaps the most well-known marketing copy in the history of movies. It also serves here to tell audiences that this isn’t a futuristic story like Logan’s Run or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a “historical” story that is set in the past of some other culture, not our own future.

A Billion Years in the Making

The teaser begins by promising this is a story that may be happening right now elsewhere in the universe. It name-drops director George Lucas and ties him to American Graffiti, before beginning to divulge some of the story and settings. We’re told that this is an adventure involving a boy, a girl and a universe and that it’s a “sprawling space saga or rebellion and romance.” There are shots of many of the exotic aliens and other characters that audiences would encounter in theaters ranging from Tusken Raiders to the inhabitants of the Mos Eisley cantina. Along the way, we’re also shown droids, laser swords and more that make it clear a whole world has been created that’s unlike anything else.

The trailer lays out the story in a bit more linear fashion. It introduces us to Luke Skywalker, a humble young man who’s about to have his world turned upside down, along with Han, Leia, Ben and the rest of the main cast. It’s short but is heavy on laser blasts, space battles and other adventures.

Looking at both of the trailers, they’re not trying to set up what we now call an expanded universe or mythology. It’s simply selling an epic space adventure. There are no references to The Force – though that would get more play in the theatrical re-release trailer – or anything else that would make this more magical. There isn’t even much screen time given to Darth Vader, the character that would inspire countless Halloween costumes and help convince George McFly to talk to Elaine. It’s…subtle. Subdued. The movie is certainly big, but it’s sold as being more focused on the personal adventures of the main character of Han, Leia and Luke than anything else.

Taking off my “let’s pretend I haven’t watched this movie so much I wore out two VHS copies” hat, it’s amazing how the campaign undersells some of the key points that have made this movie so memorable. There’s so very little dialogue, and while the was never the movie’s strongest point there are so many classic lines that have been repeated endlessly over the last 40 years it’s surprising to see that that missing. As I said, Vader is a big missing presence from much of the campaign. And The Force is almost completely absent.

What was sold was…kind of the movie Lucas set out to make. It’s positioned here as a matinee adventure in the vein of Flash Gordon and other old outer space tales, without much that nods to any aspirations to cinematic greatness or, as I said, any hints as to there being more to the story than what’s on display here. This campaign, coupled with the publicity and eventual word of mouth that came out of a release that saw it open on just 32 screens opening weekend, obviously worked, positioning Star Wars as a must-see for everyone, regardless of age, gender or other differences.

Picking Up the Spare: Rogue One, The LEGO Batman Movie, La La Land


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  • The Chicago Auto Show is underway and Nissan has brought its Rogue One-inspired vehicle there. More details on the where and why here.

La La Land

  • There’s a new motion poster that touts the awards nominations and other accolades the movie has racked up recently.

The LEGO Batman Movie

  • Watch to the end of this version of the opening theme for “The Big Bang Theory” and you’ll see the custom LEGO animation done to help promote Batman’s latest big-screen outing.

After the Campaign: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There’s been quite a bit written in the last few weeks about moments that were prominent in the marketing of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story but which didn’t make it into the actual movie, as well as how discarded dialogue changed a lot about the meaning and tone of the finished movie. I’m not so much concerned about specifics – these kinds of stories can be written about most any big tentpole effects-heavy movie but they’ve received more attention because of the stories of extensive reshoots – as in how the overall tone of the movie was or wasn’t conveyed by the campaign.

To quickly recap, the story (set just before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope) follows Jyn Erso, a young woman with a history of getting into trouble and acting out, taking no one’s bullshit and carving out her own unapologetic path in the universe. She’s broken out of an Imperial prison by operatives of the Rebel Alliance, who are interested in her connection with her father, one of the designers of the Death Star. They want to find out if there’s a weakness to be exploited before the battle station comes fully online. But she doesn’t know where he is, as he was taken away by the Empire when she was still a young girl, her mother being killed in the process. So it’s a search for her father and the secret plans, all while Jyn comes to grip with her destiny as a woman with a cause to fight for.


Yes, there were a lot of moments from the marketing campaign that didn’t make it into the finished movie. That may be because of the reshoots or it might be the result of alternate takes being used to craft one movie as opposed to another, with the real storytelling being done in the editing room. But that’s not the real story of how the marketing did or didn’t accurately sell the movie.

Toward the end of my column I mentioned that there was a shift in the tone of the campaign, from one of it being about Jyn’s journey to being more broadly about the small band of Rebel Alliance fighters who she rallies to take down the evil Empire in what amounts to a war movie set in the Star Wars universe. And *that’s* the movie that was on display when I saw it last week. While Jyn is certainly central to the story, it’s much less about her emotional journey through the events than the first teaser trailer lead the audience to believe. It’s not about her propensity to rebel, it’s not all about her running a solo adventure involving infiltrating Imperial stations.

Instead it’s much more similar to the movie being sold in the last two trailers that made up the campaign. It’s not Jasmine Bourne taking down the Empire, it’s the Rebellious Seven dropping grenades down outer space chimneys if you get my meaning. While there are plenty of shots that didn’t make it into the final cut even from those trailers, the tone is more spot-on to the finished product. There are elements of the “Jyn’s Journey” story that made it in, but none of those are even hinted at in the trailers, which don’t show anything from the portion of the movie devoted to Jyn’s upbringing and history before being unwillingly co-opted into a fight she previously had little apparent interest in, at least when we meet her at the outset of the story.

Which is a shame since when the teaser trailer debuted that was the part that got most of my interest. Sure, I was hooked in by the shot of the Death Star’s focusing dish (I’m reading the “Catalyst” novel that sets the stage for Rogue One now) being lowered into place and other big epic space stuff. But after rooting hard for Rey in The Force Awakens I wanted to see another take-no-prisoners-and-give-no-fucks female character playing an integral role in the Star Wars Universe.

That’s largely what the movie *did* show, but it was almost as if the reshoots and recuts showed off the second-guessing that may have taken place. While I greatly enjoyed Chirrut and Baze in particular (Cassian was largely a non-entity for me), you can see where someone in the process decided to turn the spotlight their way more frequently, which means Jyn isn’t as integral as the initial wave of marketing promised.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time at Rogue One. And being a fan of the Expanded Universe (both new and old), I loved how it lead right into the events of A New Hope. But I’m more and more intrigued to see the movie that was shown off in that teaser trailer. Unfortunately there’s zero history, with the exception of George Lucas’ Special Editions, of anything like a “Director’s Cut” of a Star Wars movie making its way to home video. So while some deleted scenes are likely to pop up on the eventual Blu-ray release, it’s likely they won’t fill in significant enough gaps to show what might have really been.


Picking Up the Spare: Doctor Strange, Rogue One


Doctor Strange

  • At the time of my column I couldn’t find any information on the partnership with Skype but I just stumbled across them. Apparently you could add the doctor on Skype and become his virtual assistant. The company also introduced a new series of movie-themed emoticons to use.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  • Amobee ran some numbers to find out which of the movie’s promotional partner companies were most associated with Rogue One based on social chatter. Basically, it’s looking at which brands were most often mentioned along with the movie in some way.
  • Disney marketing exec Ricky Strauss talks about the approach the studio took to the campaign, including the difference in selling a stand-alone story versus on of the “saga” movies.
  • According to estimates, Disney spent over $23 million just on TV advertising for the movie.

MMM Recap: Week of 12/16/16 New Releases

Collateral Beauty


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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


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.

Movie Marketing Madness: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_ver5The 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 Posters

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_ver2The 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 Trailers

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 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.

The studio also partnered for major social media events with Twitter and National CineMedia to make sure anyone who didn’t already know about the movie had the problem corrected.

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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Diego Luna) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Ben Mendelsohn) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

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.


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.

Rogue One: Recon Takes You Inside An X-Wing Cockpit

Last week Star Wars and Verizon debuted Rogue One: Recon, an immersive 360-degree virtual reality experience available exclusively at Verizon stores. Recon, developed and directed by ILM chief creative officer and Star Wars veteran John Knoll, takes you inside the cockpit of an unnamed X-Wing pilot who, along with his wingman, picks up and decides to investigate some mysterious Imperial communications chatter. As soon as they jump into a system, though, they’re confronted not only with a fleet of Star Destroyers but also an as-yet-incomplete Death Star. The pilot has to transmit what data he’s assembled back to the Rebel base quickly, before the encroaching Tie Fighters or Star Destroyers blow him and his partner out of the sky.

The video, released recently, only shows a fraction of what’s available to anyone who goes and puts on the headsets at Verizon stores themselves. Those people can turn their head to see alternate angles from any perspective outside the virtual cockpit they’re strapped into, giving them even more of an immersive experience. So you can see the underside of the Star Destroyer you’re flying under, watch as Tie Fighters fly past and more.

That’s a pretty incredible leap from where we were 20 years ago when the X-Wing PC video game was essentially a modified flight simulator with Star Wars graphics. Not only was your field of vision limited but you couldn’t fly your ship (different missions let you choose different starfighters) outside of defined areas.

Not only is a massive technological achievement but it’s an important part of the Rogue One story and the marketing for the movie. This week also sees the release of Catalyst, a new novel that tells the story of how Orson Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn in the movie) recruited a brilliant scientist, Galen Erso, to eventually build the superweapon that would later become known as the Death Star.

With big movies and franchises like Star Wars it’s quickly becoming insufficient to simply market and release the movie itself. The audience now expects the backstory to be told in some manner. In this case it’s with a VR experience and a novel. With Doctor Strange, released earlier this month, it was a prequel comic from Marvel that setup the magical world and characters the movie would expand on.

Part of this is driven by the companies who are managing these brands. Why just sell one movie ticket when you can also sell a $15 book and drive traffic to a store of a promotional partner? But it’s also becoming part of the customer’s expectations in terms of entertainment media.

Not only do entertainment brands need to constantly stay in front of people’s eyes, even when there isn’t something new to actively promote, but it needs to do so on various and shifting channels. So Twitter needs this, YouTube needs that and Facebook needs another thing. Keep it fresh and offer as many touchpoints with as much original content as possible because you need to hit someone’s attention when they’re waiting at the bus stop or in line at the grocery store or just ignoring their work duties for a few minutes.

Add on to that the proliferation of fan theories online and on social media. Any lingering question from these big, shared-universe franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, DC or other brands will be endlessly debated and questioned by fans and others until all possible answers have been sussed out. So there are dollars to be had in providing official, canonical answers to some while letting others remain hanging out there, with talent and producers usually teasing that it *might* be answered in whatever movie, book or TV episode is coming next. Unanswered questions are the new cliffhangers, with fans anxiously awaiting until a hanging plot point is resolved.  


The Rogue One: Recon experience is the second big virtual reality movie-based story to be in the news recently. A fully-immersive VR experience based on last year’s hit Matt Damon drama The Martian is coming this month to PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, with an Oculus version coming soon. A new trailer with narration by Ridley Scott, who directed the movie and oversaw the VR story, teases how this is the closest most all of us will likely come to actually walking on the red planet.

VR is going to be a big part of future movie marketing efforts, especially for tentpole science-fiction movies that have strong built-in appeal with the geek and tech crowds, at least at first. These additional stories – they are to movies what expansion packs are to video games – will eventually hit all genres and audiences. It won’t be enough to simply watch the reboot of Bridget Jones’s Diary in 2036, you’ll also expect to be able to virtually explore her apartment and favorite neighborhood pub. Movie marketing and storytelling will be, by default, immersive.

Some Odd Rogue One Products

My first post at The Drum is a look at some of the more questionable licensed product tie-ins for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:

Much has been written over the years about the role Star Wars and its subsequent sequels played in the expansion of licensed movie merchandise. The modern action figure market largely owes its existence to the franchise, which had kids of all kinds begging parents for Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C3PO and other figures. Just as important has been the market for other consumer goods bearing the characters and marks of Star Wars. Stocking caps, bed sheets, pet toys and more have allowed all ages and genders to find something that allows them to show off their fandom in some manner.

Sometimes those products have been a bit…baffling. Certainly the Jar Jar Binks candy tongue dispenser should have gone through another round of user experience testing. And someone should have looked at the design for the C3PO tape dispenser a bit more closely before it went to production.

Even Rogue One isn’t immune from tie-in products that are a bit questionable at best. So let’s take a look at some of the more eyebrow-raising products hitting store shelves to help promote the new movie.

Source: The Movie Marketing Blog: The Five Weirdest Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Products (So Far) | Marketing | The Drum

Technical Achievements as Part of Movie Marketing

A big part of the press push for this week’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the new movie from director Ang Lee, has been the technology used to film it. Lee shot the movie at an unprecedented 120 frames per second, a huge leap from the standard 24fps that movies have been shot and presented in for most all of its history.

This isn’t the first time high frame rate presentation has come up in the last few years. We just had this discussion in 2012 when Peter Jackson shot the first film in The Hobbit trilogy (as well as subsequent) installments in 48fps, double the standard but less than half what Lee did. Still, the conversation about how the enhanced look of the movie changed the presentation and the audience’s perception of the action on-screen.

It’s also not the first time a technical innovation in filmmaking has become a significant component of the marketing and publicity for that movie. In fact, on a number of occasions it’s been a key component in one way or another. To mark the occasion, here are five times camera or other breakthroughs have become part of the marketing.

2009 – Avatar (Fusion Camera System)

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since James Cameron’s 3D epic science-fiction story hit theaters. The marketing for that movie focused significantly on the new filming techniques Cameron undertook and developed to bring Pandora and its residents to life. That included building an all-new camera, the Fusion Camera System, to fully capture the action on the alien world he envisioned. The focus on that system, along with a virtual camera to swoop through both the real and computer-generated sets, helped reinforce the audience’s expectations that the movie was going to be truly groundbreaking.


1999 – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Oh sure, we all cringe at the mere mention of Jar Jar Binks now, but prior to the movie’s release he was poised to be the breakout star of the first entry in the Prequel trilogy. Part of that was because of the emphasis put on George Lucas’ frequent refrains about Binks being the first fully-digital character to appear on-screen. While there had been other digital creatures in movies, Jar Jar was touted as the first real character, the first one that walked and talked and fully interacted with the human cast just as any other actor would. Let’s be honest and admit that we were excited to see Jar Jar right up to the first moment he actually appeared.


1995 – Toy Story

The first feature-length computer animated movie is a natural for this list. Pixar’s first shot across the bow of the film industry was monumental at the time, opening up a whole new creative medium for animators. Computer animation had been widely used in Hollywood for over a decade and had been integrated into parts of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast a few years earlier. From here on out computer-animation would increasingly become the norm and it was only natural it would be the centerpiece of the publicity as it was unavoidable. And because of the stylistic choices made with designs, the movie has aged remarkably better than others.

1982 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The Macguffin of the movie is The Genesis Device, a tool that can terraform dead planets in a matter of hours and make them suitable for habitation. Almost as revolutionary, the shots of “The Genesis Effect” represented the first entirely computer-generated sequence in a feature film. That innovation and development was a central part of the marketing for the movie when it was being released and has continued to be an important part of the sequel’s legacy. This, along with Tron and a handful of other movies around this time heralded the way for computer graphics to change the game in terms of what could be shown in movies, opening up the canvas to be limited only by the creator’s imagination.


1937 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Just like Toy Story almost 60 years later, the first animated feature from Disney was groundbreaking and it’s easy to imagine this being a big part of the press at the time. In fact the movie’s status made it into the trailer, with narration that would tout the technical achievements of the filmmakers and show some of the process of creating the individual animation cels.


There are countless others, of course, spanning the course of film history. We could talk about the invention of the camera dolly in 1907, the first Steadicam shot in Bound For Glory in 1967. The trailer for Fantasia 2000 made a big deal about it being the first feature length animated feature to be shown in IMAX, but that was more about distribution than production. There’s The Matrix’s “bullet time” effect and Wizard of Oz’s mix of black-and-white and color film. And of course there’s Smell-o-Vision, which made its only appearance with 1960’s Scent of Mystery, though oddly that doesn’t seem to be a selling point in either the trailer or poster.

Filmmaking technology has been something that has captured the public’s imagination for over 100 years, becoming a big part of not only what has been shown in the movies themselves but also the appeal that’s been made to sell tickets in the first place. Sometimes it’s overt and sometimes it’s more subtle. With the advent of virtual reality upon us, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.