But I had hope. I was no great fan of J.J. Abrams, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, particularly when set photos and reports started rolling in rife with promise. I tried not to get too worked up when Michael Arndt and his script were booted in favor of a version that, reportedly, focused more on Han, Luke, and Leia while introducing the cast for the new trilogy. And I watched the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens last November with zen-like detachment, awarding neither hype nor condemnation on the premise that there wasn’t enough footage to responsibly judge what the movie might be like.
I suppose that’s still true; we’ve seen probably two minutes worth of a two hour movie, but with this new trailer (which I’ve watched at least 20 times now), I can’t stay in a “wait and see” attitude anymore.
I’m afraid for this movie.
I’m afraid for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s falling into one of the prequel trilogy’s worst sins: reliance on nostalgia. But let’s break down a little of what’s really here to start with.
I suppose it’s intended to give a sense of scale not unlike the opening shot of Star Wars, with a Star Destroyer chasing down Princess Leia’s frigate, but even there we were close to each ship. Grandiose music doesn’t need to reinforce grandiose visuals, it needs to give voice to the grandiose emotions a character is unable to say out loud. Like this:
And doing so with more than just auditory clues. Before we get to some of the new things in this trailer, let’s look to some of the old familiars.
Most immediately noticeable, of course, is the wrecked helmet of the late Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker starting at 0:38, looking more skull-like than ever and accompanied by subtle tones of the character’s iconic breathing. “My father has it,” says the voiceover, speaking of the Force.
Next, a shot of R2-D2 with a figure I suppose we’re to take as Luke given that the VO now gets to, “I have it.” Remember, Luke’s right hand was cut off in The Empire Strikes Back, so he’s got a robotic one. Seems like a bit of a downgrade if that’s the case, though; in the original trilogy, the technology was good enough to give him a replica that was passable for a real hand.
Then what might be the money shot of the whole trailer, hidden before some flashier bits. At 0:52, we have someone handing Luke’s lightsaber to someone else with the, “My sister has it,” line going over. I’ll actually get back to this in a second, because there’s some potential there’s a lot more meaning here than has been made public so far.
Adding to the nostalgia factor are a number of other visual nods to movies past, like the droid peeking out at 1:21, the Millennium Falcon chased through tight spaces by TIE fighters, and (of course) Han and Chewie themselves at the tail end of the trailer.
In one sense, you have to expect this. Trading in nostalgia frequently makes for effective marketing.
But it’s not just the seeming overreliance on nostalgia that has me worried. It’s also, well, two particular visual tics.
One of these shows up just once in the trailer, at 1:27, on this shot:
The shot smash zooms close in to the two ships. It’s a camera trick Zack Snyder overused in Man of Steel, and it looks awful. Let’s hope this isn’t the new Abrams Lens Flare
John Boyega is on his back, and a hand (probably Daisy Ridley’s, they’re seen together in other parts of the trailer) reaches out to help him up. What’s strange isn’t that it happens, it’s the way it happens, a hand dramatically thrust into frame, considered, and then barely used to actually help Boyega rise. As I went back through the trailer, I noticed it was rife with these moments. You see it when Luke (or whoever it is) puts his hand on R2-D2. You see it when Luke’s lightsaber is passed. The camera lingers, and appears to overdramatize the moment rather than let the story’s own drama carry the action.
Throw in the not unreasonable concern that there might be too many characters to follow well (this trailer, for example, seems to contain bits of at least three major independent plot threads), and there’s a lot to be afraid of.
So I’m scared.
But I won’t pretend there’s not some cool stuff, either. We get a couple new looks at the Sith with the crazy lightsaber:
We get whoever this guy is. For what it’s worth, he looks a lot like a Dark Trooper from the no-longer-cannon Star Wars Expanded Universe. They’ve typically got Boba Fett-style jetpacks and laser shotguns, so that could be fun:
We get stormtroopers in very Nazi-ish formation (fitting, considering their namesake) in front of a massive, Nazi-ish reimagining of the imperial logo with someone of importance at a podium in the background:
And we get lots of new footage of John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, who together with their rolling droid, really do seem to be at the center of this movie, including an escape from an imperial starship:
Finally, time for a wild theory as to what is actually going to happen in The Force Awakens. What if all the Luke voiceover about his family and the Force is a red herring? Remember, this sounds like Luke’s voice from 30 years ago, not a mantric line repeated for the education of his progeny. And what is the passing of his lightsaber reminiscent of? That’s right, Obi-Wan giving Luke his own father’s lightsaber.
What if something has happened to Luke, he’s actually this movie’s villain, and the voiceover in this trailer is fully referential to his children?
I leave you with that thought. ‘Til we see more footage!