Applying Chaos Theory: Rogue One’s got jokes

Oh, wow. Suddenly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this PG-13 movie about a desperate suicide mission, something much darker than the Star Wars franchise has ever approached, is looking pretty cute. By my count, that’s four snappy one-liners in just 1:35, almost all of them accompanied by a reaction from our lead character that’s pure gold. What a fun, family-friendly space adventure this will surely turn out to be.

Obviously, this is a complete departure from the first trailer…

…which may have been for an entirely different movie.

Gracefully hidden beneath similar news about Suicide Squad that broke at a similar time, it was announced in May that Disney would re-shoot Rogue One. It was initially announced they would re-shoot 40 percent of the movie, though Disney walked those rumors back.

Maybe it was just buried in stories about Memorial Day movies or the desire to watch the DCEU continue to melt down, but this should have been a pretty big scandal. First, it wasn’t testing well, then there wasn’t any testing and it was only top executives who had seen the first cut. Then, an anonymous quote made the rounds about how this whole thing was normal.

It was always a low-key concern that something like this would happen with Rogue One. It was planned and marketed as not just a spin-off, but a wild departure from the main Star Wars series. For starters, it would be the first movie outside the main series. It would be the first movie without any jedi or lightsaber fights. It would be the first movie not to center on the Skywalker family.

To bring this to the big screen, Disney brought in a talented director but an acquired taste in Gareth Edwards, the man behind 2014’s controversial Godzilla. He’s still operating off goodwill from his similar and much less-known 2011 movie, Monsters, which you should see if you haven’t.

He follows in the footsteps of directors like Colin Trevorrow and Duncan Jones, who landed Jurassic World and Warcraft on the strength of indie hits Safety Not Guaranteed and Moon, respectively. It looks now like he may be following more specifically in the footsteps of indie directors Josh Trank and David Ayer, behind the camera for two quickly mythologized catastrophes in Fantastic Four and Suicide Squad.

2015’s Fant4stic is the granddaddy of this trend. The movie was clearly in trouble in January of that year, and the rumor was that the reshoots had been taken out of Trank’s hands because of how unhappy the studio was with his treatment of the film. By the time projectors rolled in early August, stories about the nightmare production were nearly endless. Highlights included Kate Mara’s seemingly yarn-spun wig and Trank reportedly causing more than $1,000 of damage to the Louisiana home Fox rented for him.

The final product, which he ruinously disowned, was a spectacular mess. Squad, which was even more extensively re-edited, was more of the same, allbeit not as embarrassing for the Ayer personally.

The striking thing is, these movies don’t just have similar headlines attached, they have a similar progression of trailers. Fantastic Four’s media also started with something eye-catching and different with potentially a more narrow appeal…

…then progressed to something so generic it didn’t have any appeal at all.

With Rogue One, the effect is even more pronounced because of the earlier talking points. Where we were initially promised a Star Wars movie without jedi, the later trailers focus more and more on Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind not-jedi who cleans out stormtroopers with his not-lightsaber whose every line is about The Force. Where it initially wasn’t going to be about the Skywalkers, Darth Vader (thank everything that is holy, James Earl Jones) is more and more prominent every trailer and rumors were intense for a few months there that the newly cast Han Solo would appear in the movie. Speculation is heating up on how lead character Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) will connect to the main series.

It looks for all the world like we have a similar situation to the disasters I’m comparing it to — the studio got a creative guy with a distinctive style, then balked when he made them a distinctive movie.

We won’t know until Friday if Rogue One has the same destiny, but it’s been following the same path. You may want to temper your enthusiasm for this one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will release Dec. 16.

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