Film News

How J.J. Abrams’ 88-Second Force Awakens Teaser Reminded Me What It’s Like to Love Star Wars

How many times have you watched the new Star Wars teaser trailer? It’s already generated 40 million views, and 17 of those came from BadAssDigest’s Britt Hayes.  What makes her experience different than your’s or mine is that she did it as part of a panel at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. A group of movie bloggers watched the trailer on the big-screen with a gathered crowd, and then they walked through the thing 16 more times to debate every single part of it. Who provided the opening voice-over (it’s Andy Serkis)? Who’s the hooded black figure with the red light saber – Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Gwendoline Christie, or someone totally different? Why doesn’t the Millenium Falcon have the circular radar attachment anymore? What does “The Force Awakens” even mean? In her piece describing the panel experience, Hayes concluded:

You would think after watching this trailer so many times, I would be exhausted and maybe even resent the thing by now, but I think I might be a Star Wars fan again, guys […] I went in this morning ready to watch a trailer for a film that I felt sort of OK about. I wasn’t that excited, but I was more on board with it than I was a year ago, when I felt absolutely zero interest in diving back into this universe at all. But as of now, having watched the trailer over a dozen times and dissected it with my peers in front of a room of people who are bigger fans than I am or ever have been […] I can officially say that I am genuinely excited for Star Wars again.

Hayes’ exact experience may have been unique, but her conclusion seems very common. Like Hayes, I am never going to walk into a theater full of Star Wars fans and come anywhere close to being the biggest fan in the room. I, like so many others, am a lapsed Star Wars fan, raised on the original trilogy, poisoned by the prequel trilogy, and watching from afar with a passing interest ever since then.  Now, after this teaser, I might be a Star Wars fan again.

As a kid, I had the Star Wars-themed bed sheets, the hand-me down Star Wars action figures from my older brothers, VHS copies of the films taped off of TV, and the Super Star Wars trilogy of video games for the Super Nintendo. As a teenager, I got pulled out of school early to see Phantom Menace with my family opening day, and though I came away disappointed when Menace was very, very not good I still attended The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith on their respective opening days with friends and family. We all practically jumped out of our seats with joy during Yoda’s two big fight scenes, laying the smack down on Count Cooku in Clones and dealing with the floating Senate seats and Ian McDiarmid’s astonishingly campy acting during the Palpatine fight in Revenge of the Sith. However, these were largely involuntarily responses to seeing objects of intense nostalgia being slotted into heroic moments to take full advantage of modern CGI technology. The films themselves lacked the same cinematic joy of the originals. As an adult, I simply grew away from Star Wars, tuning out the “You should really watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars!” recommendations.

Of course, George Lucas has always made Star Wars for kids, quoted as saying in an interview at the time he made the first film:

“My main reason for making it was to give young people an honest, wholesome fantasy life, the kind my generation had. We had westerns, pirate movies, all kinds of great things.   Now they have The Six Million Dollar Man and Kojak. Where are the romance, the adventure, and the fun that used to be in practically every movie made?”

Soccer Droid
The soccer ball droid from Force Awakens

Partially because of Star Wars, that youth-leaning formula Lucas sought to resurrect now rules the film industry, and something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens is simply the latest example of a franchise being revived instead of spending money on creating the next great Star Wars-like movie that doesn’t have to actually be called Star Wars. Its creator, Lucas, is gone, replaced by an esteemed producer (Kathleen Kennedy) and a director (J.J. Abrams) whose recent work wears its influences a little too clearly on its sleeves (the Spielberg-worshipping Super 8, the derivative mish-mash Star Strek Into Darkness). The production has not been an altogether smooth one, the original screenwriter essentially fired and his work pretty much tossed out, trade magazines whispering about a power battle brewing between Disney’s head honcho and Kennedy and Abrams, Harrison Ford getting hurt, the release date being pushed back, and the original cast photo revealing an internet-enraging lack of diversity. Even the announcement of the film’s official title, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was mostly call for quick jokes in many circles (e.g., “Did the force forget to set its alarm clock this whole time?”). A site like BadAssDigest has been covering the increasingly crazy plot rumors for months, with one prominent rumor arguing the film will focus mostly on new characters who are in search of a Luke Skywalker who has gone crazy and been overcome by The Force in the years since Jedi.

Sith
As a result of the rumors, I assumed this was probably Luke Skywalker, but now I’m not so certain

The rumors sounded goofy, my most recent exposure to Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) left a sour taste in my mouth that hasn’t gone away on re-watch, and I was more than a little dismayed that the independence that guided the Lucas period of Star Wars history had now given away to being a mere financial asset in the Disney family. I just didn’t think there was a need beyond an obvious financial one for more Star Wars.

Something which never truly occurred to me throughout this whole process is that Star Wars: The Force Awakens might actually turn out to be a good movie. It’s hard to even think of Star Wars in those terms anymore. I wasn’t alive in 1977 when Star Wars came out, sans any Episode IV or A New Hope claptrap. At that point, it was just a movie called Star Wars about a farm boy rescuing a beautiful princess from the evil Emperor with the help of a swashbuckling pirate, cowardly lion, wise old wizard, and two funny sidekicks. I’ve never been able to experience Star Wars like that. It’s always come with a set of toys, video games, bombastic John Williams scores, endless parodies, lazily by something like Family Guy, somewhat more creatively by Robot Chicken, on-going fanboy love/hate relationships with Lucas, etc.

John Boyega Star Wars
Not enough diversity? Fine, here’s John Boyega
Daisy Ridley Speeder
And Daisy Ridley

However, then I saw the teaser trailer, which gives us the familiar (Stormtroopers, a young person riding a speeder in the desert, droids, hooded Sith Lords with red lightsabers) with new twists (A black stormtrooper? A girl riding a speeder? A droid head on a soccer ball? That’s one kick-ass red lightsaber). That’s largely the same type of thing Abrams set out to do with his Star Trek films, deliver us the familiar with enough of a twist to pique our interest. However, beyond the new-but-familiar the trailer manages to present something that resembles an actual film populated by recognizable human beings in real settings, with even mostly CGI shots seemingly anchored in something at least kind of practical.

The imagery was so evocative of the original trilogy that within hours of watching the trailer I was on Amazon looking up the Star Wars Trilogy Blu-Ray box-set. I hoped that my local theater would show the teaser in front of the movie I was seeing with family over Thanksgiving (it didn’t). I downloaded The Secret History of Star Wars for my Kindle, and re-watched the Empire of Dreams two and half hour documentary on the Star Wars DVD box set (sad fact I learned: George Lucas got divorced right around the time Return of the Jedi came out). I watched my first episode of Star Wars: Rebel Force (it’s not bad), and mostly remembered what it was like to actually be in love with Star Wars as opposed to having moved on.

My cynicism keeps scratching away at this euphoria, reminding me that I’ve never actually loved a J.J. Abrams film suggesting his sensibilities may simply be incompatible with my own. The trailer doesn’t actually have a whole lot going on, introducing us to the new characters and establishing a visual flair more in line with the original films than the prequels. Sure, it’s striking imagery seeing John Boyega as a stormstrooper sans mask in the desert, but do I really care that there’s a black stormtrooper, albeit one played by someone who was great in Attack the Block? And is that red lightaber with the tipped handle even all that practical? What’s really all that different from allowing nostalgia to sweep me away when Yoda does something cool in the prequels and being stoked seeing the Millenium Falcon in the air again in the trailer?

But Star Wars: The Force Awakens might actually be a good movie. I didn’t even entertain that as a possibility because there was just so much noise surrounding it. However, now that I’ve seen the trailer I realize this might actually be pretty good, and I am actually allowed to fall in love with Star Wars again.  Not bad for just 88 seconds of footage.

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