“Rogue One” is the first Star Wars movie of its kind, set apart from the traditional Skywalker Saga. Even its tagline – “A Star Wars Story” – makes it clear that this is something happening in the universe, but separate from the continuum we’ve seen so far. It’s something of a risk for Disney and Lucasfilm. How well it’s received will influence how many, what kind, and if any more spin-off movies are produced in the future. But how else did they manage to set themselves apart?
Looking back at the posters for episodes I-VII of the main saga, we see they’re filled with contrast. With the exception of Return of the Jedi, most of the posters contain deep blacks that make the colors pop. They’re even color coded for our convenience. That is, the bad guys stand beneath the red light, while our heroes wield lightsabers of blue and green. The dichotomy of light vs. dark is a one of the greatest symbolic battles in star wars, and it’s often played out in blue vs. red.
So how does Rogue One’s poster fit into this?
We can see Rogue One’s poster is very de-saturated. The colors are muted beneath a gray cast. They use lighting to separate the figures, not color. Overall it’s a more realistic palette that matches the tone of the movie.
Rogue one is, at its heart, a war movie. Its battles are the most nitty and gritty the franchise has ever seen. It also challenges the viewers in ways past movies have not. For the first time, it asks audiences “Why should the rebellion fight?”. It shows the less-than-savory realities of rebellion: the acts of sabotage, assassination, and other questionable acts done for the greater good of resistance. It presents us with a far more complex morality that can be divided into black or white – or in this case, blue and red.
You could even compare it to another upcoming war moving, Dunkirk, or previously released American Sniper. We see the same de-saturated colors, and in Dunkirk’s case, the same gray, blueish tones. These washed out images have come to represent a more realistic depiction of conflict that Rogue One also tries to evoke.
However, Rogue One does not go so far as to highlight a main villain. In posters past (with the exception of Episode II), you can clearly see the film’s main antagonist, hovering menacingly in the background. Their presence is a literal, looming weight above our heroes. Yet in Rogue One, Darth Vader is shifted behind Jyn Erso, our protagonist. He seems to fade into the Death Star. In fact, it would be easy not to notice him there at all if you weren’t paying attention. Darth Vader himself appears only briefly in the film, but it’s odd that Director Orson Krennic, the more present villain, is not featured at all on the poster.
It is also interesting to note that going by sheer space, the Death Star seizes the greatest amount. I would argue that the Death Star itself is filling in the spot for our traditional antagonist. After all, the movie focuses on stealing the plans that would ultimately lead to the weapon’s destruction. The Death Star is one of the biggest symbols of the empire.
In the end, Rogue One is a story about the Rebellion. The Rebellion is not fighting against Director Krennic, or Darth Vader; the Rebellion fights the Empire. By choosing to downplay any one personal antagonist, they emphasize the true threat they face: an empire that is slowly encroaching across the entire galaxy. And while their poster is not the usual fair we’ve come to expect from Star Wars, Rogue One’s tells its own story, with its own flair.