Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer breakdown

The time has finally come to get a glimpse of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first of at least 3 planned anthology movies that so far sit on the fringe of the episodic storyline we’re so far used to.

A majority of the film’s cast members were announced in August of last year, but only a promotional image came attached to the press release. The teaser above stands as our first look at the film in action.

Here is the cast as we know it:

  • Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso
  • Diego Luna as an unknown Rebel soldier
  • Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook
  • Ben Mendelsohn as an Imperial admiral
  • Alan Tudyk as a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid (mo-cap)
  • Jonathan Aris as Senator Jebel
  • Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma
  • Alistair Petrie as a Rebel general
  • Donnie Yen as unknown
  • Jiang Wen as unknown
  • Forest Whitaker as unknown
  • Mads Mikkelsen as unknown
  • Eunice Olumide as unknown

Recent reports suggest Spencer Wilding will play Darth Vader in the film. To what capacity, no one outside of the production is sure. Although the teaser trailer for Rogue One was much longer than I anticipated, there was no sign of the breathy helmeted Imperial enforcer in the minute and forty-eight seconds we were given.

Vader or not, the teaser was titillating and packed with great moments. Let’s dig in, shall we?

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Binary Sunset takes a minor turn as Alexandre Desplat’s approach to the classic Force theme plays somberly in the background of the opening shot. Felicity Jones walks slowly down a hallway, escorted by two Rebel security officers in white helmets. At the end of the hallway, she turns. Simultaneously, a man’s voice demands, “state your name for the record.”

“Jyn Erso,” replies Jones’ character, followed by a resounding drum.

“Forgery of Imperial documents, possession of stolen property, aggravated assault, resisting arrest…” continues the male voice, listing a heavy pack of charges Erso has accrued. This explains the handcuffs she wears as she walks briskly behind a female Rebel officer through a hanger.

Here, mechanics tinker with second-hand machinery, a unit of infantrymen rush past, a GNK power droid ambles on slowly, a shuttle hauls bodies past a now-vintage 4 cylinder X-Wing, several X-Wing pilots hang around, and an R5 astromech droid lurks in the shadows.

“On your own from the age of 15,” observes Mon Mothma who is portrayed by Genevieve O’Reilly. This is the same actress that originally landed the role for scenes cut from Episode III and is a dead ringer for Caroline Blakiston who played the political leader in the original trilogy.

“Reckless, aggressive, and undisciplined,” continues Mothma as Erso takes a look around the command center in which she finds herself. Mothma looks across a holo display towards Erso. A man to her right holds a data pad. The spotted patch on his left breast declares his ranks as General. By the same method of identification, the scruffy-looking gentleman played by Diego Luna further to Erso’s left appears to be a captain. Behind Mothma, two more generals stand in waiting. Closer inspection reveals a white-bearded man behind the lot that looks an awful lot like General Jan Dodonna.

“This is a rebellion, isn’t it?” speaks Erso, followed by a heavy whack as the shot changes from her lurking along a corridor with a light head dress—and a lanky droid (most likely Alan Tudyk’s motion capture role) following closely behind—to her smacking the crap out of a stormtrooper. Then we see her crack the skull of another one as someone who appears to be Diego Luna’s character covers her back. In a similar shot, she draws a fallen stormtrooper’s blaster to eliminate a threat while a rebel runs towards her from behind. The final shot of this clip shows a shadowed character triggering a detonator, blowing two stormtroopers to high-Heaven. Erso pulls Luna’s character to the ground to avoid the blast.

Back in the command room, without skipping a beat, Erso finishes her plea with a resounding statement, “I rebel.” I love this line delivery more and more every time I hear it. Jones delivers with complete confidence in her role, making Erso a strong female lead from the start. Mon Mothma takes this line in with a small smile she can’t seem to completely hide, sheepishly looking away like most would when they’ve been bested in conversation by someone clever and perhaps a bit cheeky.

The Lucasfilm logo takes on a smudged steel texture that adequately sets the tone for this new breed of Star Wars film which promises to be darker than the others before it.

Blaring and rumbling brass sounds resound, increasing the sense of urgency as Mothma delivers her pitch. A shot from within in a transport shows Erso looking either nervous, eager, or a mixture of the two. “We have a mission for you. A major weapons test is imminent and we need to know what it is and how to destroy it.”

A space shot opens up on a pearly white Star Destroyer. What looks like a star-filled backdrop wipes away as a large object’s shadow slides across the surface of something massive, the Death Star. In this shot and the next, we see the laser dish for the weapon descending into the space station. There are several more star destroyers visible for scale. This shot is absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see on the big screen.

“Is that clear?” asks the General in the command room. Erso responds with equal parts sarcasm and contempt for this man’s authority as she clearly speaks, “Yes sir.”

Imperial alarms sound off. A squadron of X-Wing pilots leave a Rebel hanger with Erso and Diego Luna’s character immediately behind. The GNK power droid makes another appearance amidst a number of rebel soldiers.

A solitary figure stands with pistol drawn at the center of a room. He is clad in a white Imperial uniform, complete with a collared cape and Admiral insignia on his lapel. We know this is Ben Mendelsohn. We do not know what role Mendelsohn plays.

Is this Star Wars Legends character Mitth’raw’nuruodo, better known by his core name Thrawn? Born of the Timothy Zahn trilogy that have been retconned by Lucasfilm's canon refresh, Thrawn was an imposing force in direct opposition to the Alliance. He was written as a member of the Chiss species which gave him weight as the only alien to obtain the rank of Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy. His pedigree gave him blue skin as well. Perhaps Mendelsohn's guy is new canon's take on Thrawn or an equivalent to the widely beloved bad guy. We shall see.

An Imperial tank roles through a city of some sort. Flanking each side are the kind of stormtroopers we’re used to. Riding in the cockpit and scout positions are two uniforms we haven’t seen before. Maybe these are mechanics or heavy artillery specialists. These aren’t quite the sandtroopers we saw leaked images of earlier this year, but they share some qualities. Both appear to have blast shields on their helmets and less-polished armor. The troopers on the tank wear helmets which have flared bottoms rather than the more straightforward bucket look of the sandtroopers.

Forest Whitaker appears in post-apocalyptic armored garb carrying a big stick. As he makes his way towards the camera and begins to speak, the shot breaks to show us another new variant to the stormtrooper armor.

“What will you do when they catch you?”

These “shadowtroopers” or whatever you’d like to call them have a much different face mold on their jet-black helmet than normal white ones. The muzzle is longer and the nasal passage area is open with a concave design pattern. This gives them a darker, more skeletal feel. These troopers also have a shoulder pad and much bigger guns than your run-of-the-mill bucket-heads.

A unit of stormtroopers lead captured rebel pilots through a market area. Erso as well as Tudyk and Luna’s characters sprint down an Imperial looking hallway. A number of stormtroopers of various styles and colors sprint down a similar hallway, possible after the Rebels as they flee.

“What will you do if they break you?” continues Whitaker as we see some stormtroopers gather around Donnie Yen’s character in the wreckage of a fallen X-Wing. This rebel is blind and carries a staff that does more than act as a walking stick. Here we get a small sample of the ass-kicking Donnie Yen is sure to bring to his role.

Again we see shadowtroopers looking menacing amidst smoke and degree. This time they seem to be firing their rifles on a beach in a scene that looks like Vietnam or similar tropical location. A large radar-like building that bears resemblance to Kylo Ren’s command shuttle is blown to pieces and a rebel soldier with a WWII-style helmet takes cover from the blast. Mendelsohn’s Admiral walks through the shallow water which is littered with the dead of both forces, Imperial and Alliance. His cape glides gracefully as he strides with urgency toward the flames.

A cloaked figure kneels before a glowing cylinder. The Emperor’s Imperial guards stand at attention to either side. The figure doesn’t appear to be Vader or the Emperor, but someone different. The stride and bulk of the figure doesn't match up with Vader's build. The Emperor bows to no one. Maybe this is an Inquisitor we’ve met in Rebels, or a new threat altogether. It’s impossible to be sure.

“If you continue to fight,” Whitaker continues…

Wen Jiang runs as blaster fire connects with the ground behind him. Erso and Luna’s character run towards an oncoming cluster of AT-ATs, also avoiding fire. At least one of their comrades isn't so lucky. The lead AT-AT zeros in and takes a shot, narrowly missing the captain.

“what will you become?”

The trailer ends on a shot of of our female lead in a shiny new imperial outfit, begging the question: Does Jyn Erso turn on the Rebellion or is this all part of the plan?

After this trailer, I couldn’t possibly be more excited for Rogue One. Whether Darth Vader appears or not, this movie looks like it has everything I hoped for in a stand-alone Star Wars story. Grit, urgency, and that unmistakable quality and attention to detail that gives it a true Star Wars feel.

What really impresses me is that from this trailer alone, the film passes the Bechdel test. [1] Both O’Reilly and Jones feel like genuine Star Wars characters and strong female role models to boot. I love how the franchise continues to be more inclusive with their casting of women and POC.

Rogue One debuts this December and will set the tone for how Disney handles auxiliary stories like this one in the future. The marketing of this movie is already confusing some due to a lack of Episode VII’s characters. Being that this takes place elsewhere in the timeline, will Disney have to course-correct to clarify the difference or will the market figure it out for itself?

Personally, I hope Rogue One nails it and brings in the dough at the box office. The Star Wars universe has plenty of room for stories that don’t directly deal with the Skywalker family line. This fictional universe, like our own, has infinite possibilities. I'm thrilled at the idea of sandboxing the franchise and letting more and more creative people play in it. The books so far have all been great, but the movies are where the franchise shines. I say bring on the side stories and new adventures.

The tale of how the Alliance came to obtain the Death Star plans seems to me like a great place to start this crazy experiment. It’s tied in with the original trilogy's adventurous plot, but not so much with the initial cast of characters. That’s a pretty safe mix with which to test the waters. Best of luck to Gareth Edwards and his production team. I'm excited to see what this becomes.

  1. The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. (Wikipedia)