Article by: Anthony Florez
Once upon a time in movie culture, it was possible to watch a new trailer and say, in a reasoned, tempered voice, “Well, that seems interesting. I look forward to its release.” Today, in the age of the internet, there is only hyperbole, only emphatic praise or vitriol, more so when it comes to the endless stream of sequels, prequels, reborquels, reboots, or spin-offs of beloved franchises that will continue to be released long after humanity has perished from the earth. From the way criticism is phrased on the world wide web, whatever species that evolves from the rubble will look back and discover our Twitter feeds only to speculate that the harbingers of our doom were named Bay and Snyder and Lucas. And as a critic, I have to say that I would agree. But behold, there is another generation of new directors that are making the rounds lately, a new draft class from a school of filmmaking that gets smaller and smaller every year: the independent.
Although, I am fully supportive of new, creative talent helming these tentpole franchises, I get a little bit weary and my reasoning is sports related (what, just because a guy writes about Star Wars doesn’t mean he can’t watch ESPN on occasion). There is a trend in football recently of taking college star quarterbacks and throwing them right into an NFL starting position and this has had mixed to disastrous results. The same, I think, is true of these indie directors. While there has been a few success stories, there have also been a few Johnny Manziels. If that name is not familiar the comparison I am making here is directed at Josh Trank who directed an underrated gem, the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle. That film has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is immediately followed by Fantastic Four. Which has a 9% rating. Stories abound of his behavior on-set and rampant studio interference which is why that comparison is so accurate, I believe that success came too quickly for both of them and neither was given time to develop before being put under enormous pressure. Another example? Colin Trevorrow and Jurassic World. I accept that this film made all the money on the planet but it seemed to me like a clamoring CGI cash grab without any real heart, which is surprising because the indie darling he made immediately before this, Safety Not Guaranteed, was nothing but.
Which brings me to Gareth Edwards and the new teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The response online has been largely positive (orgiastic) and I don’t feel any of that positivity is unwarranted. However, my personal reaction was, “Well, that seems interesting. I look forward to its release.” Edwards charmed my pants off with the micro-budget suspense-horror Monsters years ago — he’s got a thing that makes a lot of talented directors so interesting and that’s the ability to make a lot out of a little. A less is more approach. And this worked very well through the first and second act of his big-budget debut Godzilla, but there is still this sense that he didn’t have enough time to develop all the skills necessary before being put in the big game. Monsters had the intimacy of two characters trying to survive and rely on each other. I liked Godzilla, but I can’t remember a single salient plot point that didn’t involve Bryan Cranston yelling or Ken Watanabe saying, “……let them fight.” Which was awesome, admittedly.
According to the plot summaries, Rogue One is about the secret mission undertaken by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the Death Star and find its inevitable weakness so that when the time is right they put all their hopes and ambitions of overthrowing the evil empire in the hands of a random teenager they plucked out of some backwater desert planet. Still think Luke is a hero? What if those “womprats” he used to bullseye in his T-16 back home were the Star Wars version of this.
Rogue One is gearing itself up to be an espionage/thriller with an ensemble cast, and by the way, have you seen this cast? Holy Mackerel. That’s what the industry refers to as an ‘ensemble’ which is a word that comes from the old Aramaic and translates roughly as ‘amazeballs’. My point is, this is a different animal all together than what Edwards has directed before so his work is absolutely going to be cut out for him, not just with the material and the beloved subject matter, but the range and depth of acting talent that is at his disposal. Again, if my tempered and reasoned reaction seems cautious it’s because while I agree that the trailer looks fantastic, I have seen this trick before. The Star Wars soundtrack is going down in cinematic history as one of the most iconic and moving of all time and you could play a stripped down, slow version of it over a cow giving birth and still move me to tears. But while The Force Awakens trailer used this to preview exactly what the film turned out to be, a love story to the source material, Rogue One is going to have to doing something a little different to establish itself as anything other than another fan film. What’s worse, this film is going to take place within the context of the original trilogy, the sacred cow of sacred cows, so it has the unenviable expectation of capturing the atmosphere and scope of A New Hope without overshadowing it by doing too much with modern effects and technology.
Now that I have shared my trepidation, I’ll take off my critic hat and fanboy out for a second. First, DIEGO LUNA. Second, “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” ……….Well. Third, and this is the most important thing, in my opinion: what they didn’t show. I have the basics of the story and I have heard the rumors (slight spoilers, click at your own risk) and I am optimistic that the full length preview will stick to the less is more approach which is rumored to be released along with Captain America: Civil War. We’re all going to see Rogue One anyway, it’s unavoidable, but let’s hope that Disney takes note of the tragically spoiled Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and leaves the plot where it belongs: in the theater, rather than the next trailer.