In the few hours since its premiere, a lot has already been said about the new teaser for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Which is to be expected. The teaser brings up more questions than it answers, and each shot could be picked apart for hours. The most important thing to take away from it however, is the sense of the past. This is going to be a film which completely bridges the gap between the original trilogy and the new. Not only because of it’s reliance on pracical effects, although there’s a lot of CGI, but its tone and visual scope.
The first shot of the crashed X-WING and STAR DESTROTER across the vast desert landscape is like something directly out of A NEW HOPE. Like J.J. Abrams said during The Force Awakens panel, STAR WARS is just as much a John Ford western as it is a space opera, or fairly tale. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is my favorite of the movies (not to mention my 3rd favorite film of all time), A NEW HOPE is superior in its cinematic grandeur. Think of the droids wandering the desert, Obi-Wan and Luke looking over Mos Eisley, or the burning Lars Homestead. These are images which transport you immediately, and the sand dunes of Jakku (or Jackoo, not sure how it’s spelled yet) does exactly the same thing.
Then there is the shot of Luke’s lightsaber being handed to Leia. (I guess this is technically speculation, but based on the voice over, AND the design of the saber, I’m most likely correct.) This so closely resembles the original trilogy, with it’s short pan, and distant background, that it could almost be a deleted scene from RETURN OF THE JEDI.
The voice over is not to be ignored either. It is the exact same speech Luke gives Leia in RETURN, until the very last line. Ending it with “You have that power too” is what brings this into the next generation. I’m sure this was intentional, and it works splendidly.
None of this rings false to me. At no point did I feel the filmmakers were trying to win our approval by manipulating our nostalgia. Everything about it felt like a very calculated way of building this new world with a firm foundation. Actually building on what came before, and expanding it, rather than just telling more stories in a universe we love. A great deal of care seems to have gone into, not paying tribute, but honoring, and existing within an already established world. Even the MILLENIUM FALCON flying through the Star Destroyer remains not only mirrors the final attack on the DEATH STAR, but it also moves chartacteristically of the Falcon.
I have no intention of going shot by shot. You’ve seen the trailer. I just want to emphasize my point that this was all about aknowledging the past and bringing things forward.
In my last Star Wars trailers article, I went through the prequel trilogy and detailed my initial reactions to them. This time, I will do the same with the original trilogy. When the final trailer premieres, it will focus solely on that trailer.
The first Star Wars trailer I saw was for the SPECIAL EDITIONS in 1997 – and it blew my mind. I say this without any hyperbole. I was 12, and seeing the x-wings come flying out of the TV, with that classic score was thrilling, to say the least. My opinions regarding the added CGI has changed over the years, but at the time, I couldn’t be happier. This was my chance to see the films I’d been watching my whole life in a brand new way, and I was ready.
The original Star Wars was a hard sell. Nothing like it had existed before. Sure there was FLASH GORDON, and sci-fi epics like 2001: A SPACE ODDESSY, or PLANET OF THE APES, but Gordon was cheap kid’s stuff, and the latter two were not fantasy adventure films. Science-Fiction existed on the fringe of entertainment, it didn’t have the kind of mass audience appeal we take for granted today. So it must have been hard to convey what the movie was to a totally unprepared audience. It’s initial trailer was more of a sales pitch, focused on the themes and spirit of the adventure. This makes for an awkward collection of action, tied together with a cheesy voice over, that made the whole thing appear more as B-movie, rather than a classic destined to change cinema forever. Watching it now is awkward knowing what was to come.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK had the benefit of an immensely successful predecessor to sell itself. Tickets to that movie were sold the minute credits started rolling on Star Wars. So their trailer was able to market itself on the fun and excitement of the original. Yet there’s still a bit of trouble. How could a sequel to the most succefful movie of all time be any good? Nothing like EMPIRE had existed before either. Naturally, another sales pitch had to be released. This time with more confident footage, backed with the rousing John Williams score. The narration came from someone familiar, Han Solo himself. The result isn’t quite as awkward, but still makes me cringe a little. We all know how great the filme turned out, but at the time, people needed it explained to them.
By the time RETURN OF THE JEDI was released, audiences knew a Star Wars sequel could be done well. This has to be why the final trailer wasn’t so much of a sales pitch, but an invitation. The command to RETURN to Star Wars plays a like a schtick, but it’s appropraite. That’s exactly what people want to do, return to the saga they love so much. Here the narrator seems to be saying, “You know these people. Adventures are still to be had. Rreturn to their world. Return to your friends. All of it is big and fun. Precisely the kind of trailer needed to bring everyone back.