I’ll confess I’ve never not been excited about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Disney gained my trust, and Lucasfilm earned it back, with The Force Awakens. But after the final trailer came out for this prequel side-story, opening in December, I’m very, very excited, and my trust does not seem misplaced.
While this Star Wars Story’s first full trailer focused on the visual splendor and plot continuity between Rogue One and A New Hope—still no word on how the Bothans will figure, though—the second trailer focuses on thematic continuity. Besides the blatant references to the importance of hope, and its animating power in the rebellion, Rogue One’s second trailer seems to promise that in Star Wars, even outside the core trilogies, families always matter, and moral complexity can be encountered without sacrificing moral clarity. Most importantly, fathers matter.
Fathers, especially the absence of fathers, have long been an essential component of the Star Wars formula. Even before the revelation of Darth Vader’s identity, Luke Skywalker is inspired and motivated in A New Hope by his father’s legacy and the loss of father figures such as his Uncle Owen and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Once Luke learns who Anakin is, he seeks his redemption. In the first three episodes of Star Wars, Anakin’s fatherlessness was supposed to be a meaningful contribution to the whole mythos, and may be yet redeemed by work done by the new trilogy, but it mostly disappointed. It did, however, create the vacuum that Emperor Palpatine filled. More recently, in The Force Awakens, the importance of fathers was affirmed once again. Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, feels, fairly or not, that Han hasn’t been there for him. And Rey is haunted by the loss of her family, and clearly sees Han as a surrogate father figure.
At least from what we can determine from the trailer, in Rogue One, Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is not a Skywalker, but she is not just a female Han Solo either. While Han and other core Star Wars characters filled classic Western or genre character tropes—Rogue One looks like a mix of war movie and monster flick (Vader!)—Jyn is a proper protagonist all her own. And consistent with the Luke and Anakin stories we’ve seen, and Rey and Kylo’s first chapter, the new trailer promises that the foundation of Jyn’s story is familial.
So, as little as we do know about Jyn Erso and her father Galen—props to the writers for choosing such an excellent name for a scientist—the trailer makes clear that their relationship, as much as their prospective skill sets, will play a vital role in enlivening Rogue One. It seems that, as it did in The Force Awakens, themes of family will be prevalent, as will familiar plot beats. Jyn, seemingly orphaned by her father’s apparent conscription by the Empire, joins the rebellion and seeks her father’s redemption and the destruction of the Death Star.
That’s a complicated story, especially condensed into a single film, and if they pull it off the creators of Rogue One will have managed to preserve Star Wars’ capacity to evoke a morally complex universe even in a mostly classic white hat vs black hat story of moral clarity (not to mention offering viewers a stunning bit of cinema, as this supercut of all the footage that has been released from the movie shows).
The grand politics of Star Wars, a realm of Empires and rebellions and Republics and Trade Federations, has always been the stage for Shakespearean family drama, for space opera, for the small politics of the home—even if home is a starship. Luke fought for the sins and the redemption of his father. Han—(spoilers! As I have to use the past tense)—fought for the sins and redemption of his son, for whom Leia still fights. Politics and civilization all begin with the family.
We never got the chance to watch Leia process Anakin’s life and death, though we may in episode eight. And in The Force Awakens we saw in Rey an orphan girl on a desert planet discovering her destiny in the force, like Anakin. But in Rogue One, we’ll see a daughter deal with the sins of her father, his participation in evil, and follow her attempts to redeem him. Rogue One seems to be expanding the Star Wars universe in an authentic way – but never straying far from one of its central themes: the power of family bonds.