I have vivid memories of seeing the trailer for The Phantom Menace for the first time, and dissolving into a puddle of tears and emotion. Of course, it was 1998, so it was on the big screen instead of on my phone, but the new trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens still had the same effect all these years later. You can see the trailer on the big screen this weekend in front of any movie at 30 select theaters across the country, or you can see it right now right here. Check it out below and read on for my thoughts and analysis.
The trailer opens with a slow fade in on a desert. At this point, we have to assume that the desert is Tatooine, home planet of the Skywalkers on the outer rim.
A menacing voice says, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” A very familiar musical note sounds, and a face appears on the screen.
This is John Boyega, who is a newcomer to the series and is playing a character that hasn’t yet been identified. He appears to be a stormtrooper (or in disguise as a stormtrooper).
He’s breathing hard, and he looks like he’s on the run from something. Judging on the brief sound of an Imperial Probe Droid, perhaps he’s on the run from the remnants of the Empire (his former bosses?). Or maybe he’s stranded and the Probe Droid is trying to find him? See my plot theory at the end of the article.
John Williams’ intense music continues as we get long stretches of black with images interspersed. First up is a look at a new kind of droid.
Perhaps designed to more easily traverse uneven terrain, this droid looks like a typical R-2 unit’s head balanced on a ball. The droid appears to be rolling around a scrap yard, like the sort we’ve seen in several Tatooine cities throughout the series. this could easily be outside of Mos Eisley, Mos Espa, or something completely new. Although Mos Eisley seems the most likely given the film’s stronger connections to the original trilogy rather than the prequel trilogy.
Next we get a couple of quick shots of a group of stormtroopers on a transport, heading to some unknown destination.
We obviously can’t tell where they’re headed. Perhaps they’re after John Boyega, or some of the other characters we see in the trailer. This is the first real sense we get that George Lucas is not in the director’s chair and J. J. Abrams is. It’s dark, the lighting is completely different, and it’s just unlike anything Lucas would have given us. We can imagine that the Empire is in tatters following the battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, but you’d think they could at least replace flickering lightbulbs in their transports. (That was the beginning and the end of any and all snark in this analysis.)
We then get a glimpse at another new character, who also looks to be on the run.
This is newcomer Daisy Ridley. As with John Boyega, we don’t yet know who she’s playing, but we can make some inferences. She’s wearing an outfit that makes her look like a native of Tatooine, and she seems pretty at home on that speeder she’s speeding off on.
The question is who is she running from (or running to)? Are the same people who are after John Boyega after her? Are the two of them connected at this point, or will they join forces eventually?
Next up is one of the two sequences that have generated the most talk online. It opens with a shot of a familiar cockpit.
This is another series newcomer, Oscar Issac, in the cockpit of an X-Wing. He has the rebel alliance symbol on his helmet and his vest. Not much has changed since in the look of X-Wings and their pilots since the original trilogy, but there are some changes. There have been some design changes to the flightsuit, and even more to the helmet. It’s supposedly been decades in the Star Wars universe since the events of Return of the Jedi, but not too much has changed. I will say that the cockpit looks a little cleaner and more modern than the ones in A New Hope. There aren’t hoses everywhere, and the tactical display on Oscar’s left is a little more streamlined. Still, stormtroopers and X-Wings are still around in force.
This is definitely not Tatooine. Are these ships a part of the New Republic (as seen in the many books that have now been declared not canon), or is the Rebellion against the Empire still going on? The Rebel Alliance symbol seems like a clue, but it’s possible that the logo was adopted by a new government. Are these X-Wings off to battle some TIE fighters, or are they on the run from something too? They seem to be keeping low to the water in a way typically used in movies to remain undetected.
Regardless of what’s actually happening here, the footage is seriously awesome. It’s visually impressive, it takes the familiar and gives us a new look at it. It’s probably exactly what many people had in mind when they imagined Episode VII.
We next move to a snowy forest at night, where we see a shadowy figure.
The mysterious voice (perhaps belonging to the shadowy figure?) says, “The Dark Side.” Many people are guessing that this is Adam Driver, who has been rumored to be playing the film’s villain, a Sith. Whoever he is, he’s got a red lightsaber, which typically signals villain.
But it’s not just any lightsaber.
Anyone who remembers seeing The Phantom Menace trailer back in 1998 remembers the first shot of Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber. It was all anyone could talk about for what seemed like months. This new tri-bladed lightsaber, with its one main blade plus a crossguard, is seemingly The Force Awakens‘ attempt to repeat that feeling. It’s a cool image, and it seems like a practical defensive measure for a lightsaber to have, especially considering how many characters have lost a hand or an arm to a lightsaber in this series, but it doesn’t have quite the wow factor that Darth Maul did all those years ago.
The screen cuts to black, and the mysterious voice finishes his statement with, “and the Light.” And after a beat that seems to last forever, this happens:
If you’re curious, this was the moment when I completely lost it watching the trailer. It’s a gorgeous, modern, spectacular shot of our heroes’ ship. I’m sure we all assume that Han and Chewie are at the controls, with Leia beside them, C-3PO screaming in the back, while R2-D2 tries to keep the ship flying. Even if that’s not the case, seeing the Millennium Falcon flying around looking stunning while John Williams’ opening fanfare plays is a moment that will take your breath away. You know those TIE fighters don’t stand a chance.
The trailer up to this point has been pretty dark, with some desperate looking people on the run, and things looking generally grim, but this moment feels the most like the Star Wars we know, while simultaneously feeling fresh and new. Even with the prequel trilogy, the effects could never have looked this good, and J. J. Abrams visualizes action and effects in a way that’s completely different from Lucas. At the same time, it feels right at home with the series, matching the style and the feel of the familiar. It’s the perfect balance of old and new, and it’s blown any thought of other movies completely from my mind.
The Star Wars theme plays as we are greeted with a familiar logo.
After a moment, the film’s subtitle appears as well.
Interestingly, there’s no “Episode VII” in the logo. Is the film’s official title now “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” without any reference to episode number? (Judging by the label of the the trailer on the official Star Wars youtube channel, the answer would be yes.) Is this an attempt to distance itself from the prequel series, which stressed episode number over subtitle, or do they just feel like episode numbers are unnecessary at this point? Given the rumors of numerous other Star Wars spinoffs coming outside of Episodes VII-IX, it might be a way to avoid distinguishing the two. Regardless, it looks like Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the title, without an episode number.
So here’s the thing. I’m a huge Star Wars fan. More than any other film or films, Star Wars is solely responsible for my love of cinema and storytelling. I wore out the VHS copies of the original trilogy growing up, and I saw the prequels in the theater a combined 27 times. And what I’m not, is a hater. I unashamedly love the prequel trilogy, and I think it’s a brilliant bit of storytelling. While seemingly everyone else was advising J. J. Abrams on what from the prequels he should avoid for the new film, my advice was that he should learn from all the way the prequels succeeded. I felt, and still feel, like they’re a good foundation for him to build upon, and that they, despite some flaws, are masterpieces of story. Plus, they’re 50% of Star Wars as we know it, and can’t be written off or ignored just because some people hate them.
My point is that while other people will complain about this trailer, future trailers, and the film itself, you’re not going to hear any of that from me. I’m excited and I’m not going to go out of my way to be snarky or cynical about the film. It’s not in my nature, and it’s not fun. So as more and more Star Wars footage emerges over the next year, this can be your destination for a positive and enthusiastic look at The Force Awakens, even if that’s not the cool thing to do.
Ok, so getting all of that out of the way, what’s my theory about the new film? For that, we have to look at the film’s title, as well as the voiceover from the trailer. “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? The Dark Side and the Light.” My best guess is that, having helped fulfill Anakin’s destiny of bringing balance to the Force, Luke has retreated from view, the last of the Jedi. The war against the Empire has raged on, but has never fully ended. However, new developments in the Force have led to an awakening of Force abilities in people across the galaxy. Anakin wiped out all/most of the Jedi and the last two remaining Sith were destroyed, but now Luke is no longer alone. And I imagine the Empire knows it. I think John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are both new potential Jedi, and are on the run from someone who wants to capture them and either train them as Sith or kill them. Han and company will need to locate Luke and bring him back into the fold in order to help them counter the Empire’s move. Perhaps Adam Driver/the hooded figure is manipulating the Empire to his own ends, or perhaps he’s working independently. If the prequels were all about the destiny of the Jedi, and the original trilogy was about the Rebellion against the Empire, then this trilogy might see those two storylines combined, giving us the theoretical “best of both worlds”.
Obviously, we didn’t see Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, or Peter Mayhew in this trailer, but I imagine the next one (perhaps airing in front of Avengers: Age of Ultron) will give us a bigger look at the film, including our familiar heroes. But for right now, I’m thrilled with the new trailer, and I’ve never been more excited!
What do you think? Did you like the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Are you disappointed that we didn’t see the returning characters, or are you happy that it focused on new faces? What was more impressive, the X-Wings skimming across a lake or the shot of the Falcon? What’s your theory on the hooded figure, and what do you think of his new lightsaber? What are John Boyega and Daisy Ridley running from (if they’re running at all)? What do you think about how Abrams style fits with the saga? Are you as excited as I am? Let me know in the comments!