Trailer Reaction: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

SW Force Awakens PosterWow. Just wow.

In late 2012, when George Lucas relinquished the reins to his beloved LucasFilm and allowed avid producer Kathleen Kennedy to begin sculpting a new Star Wars trilogy, episodes VII-IX, I was stunned into submission. My emotional response didn’t stem from excitement or giddiness; instead it was rooted in disappointment. More Star Wars movies? Really? It just didn’t seem right; it didn’t seem necessary. Unfortunately for those in my generation, our theatrical Star Wars experiences were limited to the despicable prequels, then exacerbated by the foolish attempt to re-release “The Phantom Menace” into theaters with a 3D add-on that made the 1999 letdown even worse. It just seemed like Star Wars was over; “Revenge of the Sith” kind of made up for the travesties that were “Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” and while it may still have been a very far cry from the Original Trilogy, it at least was the best of what later-career George Lucas could muster up: It brought his saga to a fitting, if not completely celebratory, close. Gearing up for a whole new trilogy, one where the first installment would be hitting screens a decade after “Revenge of the Sith” came out, just seemed desperate. What could Kennedy possibly put together that would make Star Wars feel relevant again?

Apparently she put together something really, really, really fucking exciting, and if the newest trailer is any indication, we could be in for the treat that we all were expecting back when the teaser trailers for “The Phantom Menace” dropped in late 1998.

In the early stages, “Episode VII,” now officially titled “The Force Awakens,” was looking iffy. Multiple directors were passing – Brad Bird, Matthew Vaughn, amongst others, were in high contention for the gig – and screenwriter Michael Arndt (Oscar-winning writer of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Toy Story 3”) had submitted a draft that was ultimately all but totally trashed. A 2015 release date was slated, and even with some two-plus years till then, production seemed to be perpetually stuck in the pre- stage. But then J.J. Abrams was brought on board, ditching “Star Trek” and taking control of a franchise that he was a notable fan of (unlike “Star Trek,” where he was hopeful he was doing right by its fandom) and dove right in, reworking the screenplay and setting things right.

Since then, things have been peachy…and then some.

Word since production began has been strong, from fanatic critics like Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny, who reported that all of his insider info was massively positive, as opposed to the insecure rumors he picked through during the “Phantom Menace” days, to adoring filmmakers like Kevin Smith, who shared an Instagram photo, from the film’s Pinewood Studios set, of him crying after setting foot on the Millennium Falcon. The summation of everybody from the inside track was that Abrams was doing it right; abiding by his own fandom and the general public’s, but putting a stamp on it that was undoubtedly his own. It was an awakening in many respects, so much so that it’s reflected in the film’s title.

Kevin Smith InstagramThe film’s existence became official when a 90-second teaser debuted the day after Thanksgiving at the end of last year. It was brief, but crucial. It offered a glimpse at the new characters, a potential villain, some notable imagery and locations, and then a money shot of the Millennium Falcon doing a dizzying, and undeniably Abrams-ian, loop-de-loop to evade on-coming TIE fighters. The Internet went crazy. There was still over a year to go, but “The Force Awakens” was real, and it was time to begin getting truly excited.

Yesterday, during the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, J.J. Abrams personally unveiled the film’s second trailer; it hit the Internet immediately after and my first viewing was something along the lines of this. Clocking in at two minutes, it still feels teaser-y, but expands perfectly on what the Thanksgiving teaser offered. We get more locations, even more imagery, some thought-provoking circumstances, a better look at most of our new characters, and then FLASH…Han fucking Solo and Chewbacca. There they are. No more speculating, no more joking around, “The Force Awakens” is the real deal.

Below the trailer embed, we have some thoughts. No persuasive reasoning to be excited, just thoughts. You don’t have to be a “Star Wars” fan to be excited for this.

Seriously, this winter is almost too good to be true. My two favorites franchises, James Bond and “Star Wars,” have new films premiering within a month of one another, and they both look fantastic. I wrote about the “Spectre” teaser a few weeks back, and while my excitement for that hasn’t waned an ounce, I can’t deny that “The Force Awakens” is my most anticipated movie of the year. Even with “Age of Ultron” right around the corner, new films from auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro G. Inarritu sure to be igniting awards season, and the “Batman v. Superman” trailer on the horizon, the reality of an awesome new “Star Wars” movie outdoes everything else cinematically for me. I would give up all of those things (except James Bond) just so that I could have “The Force Awakens” right now. Seriously, Marvel, DC, and The Academy be damned.

Upacking this trailer could take thousands upon thousands of words, so I’ll do it as stream-of-conscious-ly as I can. First, let’s just consider some of the first images.

SW Trailer JakkuThat opening shot is a doozy – regular Abrams collaborator, Dan Mindel, making a great case for the return to 35mm. We watch somebody, presumably Daisy Ridley’s ‘Rey,’ speed across a desert landscape; a downed X-wing is in the foreground and a downed Star Destroyer occupies the background. I believe it’s safe to say that this is the same desert planet glimpsed at in the teaser where we first saw John Boyega’s frantic stormtrooper, ‘Finn,’ and then Rey peeling off on her speeder. Interestingly though, according to Abrams during the Star Wars Celebration’s opening panel, this planet is not Tatooine, but rather a new planet called Jakku (Jakoo? Jack-ou?) that apparently was a hot commodity at some point, fought over by both the Rebels and the Empire.

So about the Empire…how are they still around? The climax of “Return of the Jedi” saw the Empire’s downfall, in both the destruction of the second Death Star, and the cathartic death of Emperor Palpatine at the hands of a now-heroic Darth Vadar, but this trailer indicates a possible return. And speaking of Darth Vadar, the next shot seems to be Vadar’s remains, or what’s left of those remains of the funeral pyre Luke set for him in the moving last moments of “Jedi.”

There’s a lot of reference to “Return of the Jedi” in this trailer, in fact. If you felt that Mark Hamill’s (!!!) voiceover was oddly familiar that’s because it is, it’s from “Return of the Jedi” (click to 1:29) only slightly rearranged. The inclusion could be for misleading contextual purposes potentially (damn you, Abrams!) or it could have something to do with the familial relationships that have been rumored. Our next two shots see a cloaked figure – possibly Luke himself – extending a mechanical hand onto R2-D2 and then an unknown figure passing Luke’s old lightsaber (originally Anakin’s lightsaber) to another unknown figure. The voiceover at first seems to indicate that Luke is talking to his offspring, and the younger hands receiving the lightsaber could be attached to the body of Daisy Ridley. Again, entirely speculation, but, if the familial rumors are true, then ‘Rey’ might not be Luke’s daughter, but rather his niece; this would make her the child of Han Solo and Princess Leia. The line, “You have it too,” in “Return of the Jedi” context, refers to Leia, so maybe Leia passed her recessive ‘Force gene’ down to ‘Rey?’ It’s a guess, and probably one as good as any. Moving on…

Then the trailer picks up and we get a nice throwback “This Christmas” title card, followed by some nifty new X-wings, one piloted by newcomer Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac. He lets out a cheer that calls back the exciting pilot moments of both Anakin and Luke before the action starts up. We see Rey and Finn running through the Jakku desert, pursued by a TIE fighter; there’s some “Triumph of the Will”-looking shots of stormtroopers with a stylish new Empire drape behind them as well space shots of tricked out new Star Destroyers. Then there’s the questionable shot of a TIE fighter wreaking havoc on stormtroopers in a hanger bay and Finn exasperatedly removing his stormtrooper helmet, panting. This is one of the trailer’s most bewildering shots, and out of context really lays question to Finn’s motives. Is he the one in the TIE fighter? Is this how he escapes onto Jakku and leads to where the original teaser trailer found him? And obviously stormtroopers are not all Jango Fett clones like the prequels revealed. Tantalizing…

SW Trailer PhasmaThen we quickly see the ‘Chrome Stormtrooper,’ a seriously decked out, seemingly elite member of the stormtrooper guard. My guess is that this is Captain Phasma, a high-ranking military type to be played by Gwendoline Christie from “Game of Thrones.” It’s then immediately succeeded by a cheeky shot of BB-8 peering around a corner in what looks to be the Millennium Falcon.

Padded in there for good measure are two rapid, action-y shots of Kylo Ren, wielder of the triple-blade lightsaber who became a major talking point after the first teaser. There’s a lightsaber slash, a terrorizing shot of some force usage, and a split-second look at Ren’s face, which is covered by a badass mask. Where this character fits into the proceedings is arguably more perplexing than anything else in this film, but even more so I want to know what actor is behind that mask. Consensus seems to believe it’s Adam Driver, but there’s no confirmation on that; we still don’t know who Domnhall Gleeson is playing at this juncture either. Furthermore, it’s important to note that “12 Year a Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o’s character is still a mystery too. Who’s to say that Lupita isn’t underneath Kylo Ren’s mask? If there’s anything we’ve learned about the “Star Wars” universe it’s that the majority of names are asexual; Anakin Skywalker’s mother, Shmi, shares a name with Captain Hook’s right hand crony, Mr. Smee. Kylo Ren doesn’t sound gender specific to me. I seriously wouldn’t rule out Nyong’o in this case.

SW Trailer KyloAnd then lastly we get another sweeping shot of the Millennium Falcon being chased by TIE fighters (probably part of the same scene from the teaser) complete with a snap zoom flair that Abrams has employed a few times before (0:37; 0:25) before flashing to black and hear, in a familiar gruff, “Chewie…we’re home.” Han Solo appears with Chewbacca by his side, a smile on his face, and the offical title card smashes onto the screen with the last few chords of John Williams’ score exiting on the “December” tag. Where’s home, Han? Is it Jakku? Have you just been reunited with your daughter, Rey? The questions continue to be endless…

SW Trailer Han ChewieAnd there we have it, our second official look at “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and it looks beyond fantastic. We’re moving there, friends, it might not seem like it, but we are, slowly but surely. We’ll start to see this trailer attached to tons of summer movies beginning with ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron” on May 1st. I’m guessing we’ll get a final trailer somewhere in the August-September range, a theatrical one with a look at Carrie Fisher and a slight indication of what the plot is. I’ve read assumptions that it might be another brother-sister story; with Gleeson playing Rey’s long-lost brother, and/or it’s more specifically about the search for Luke Skywalker after the discovery of his lightsaber. Speculation really is king here; they’re all likely suggestions, but with Abrams, you have to expect that nothing is at it seems. There’s always a mystery-box waiting to be opened.

In Abrams, we trust.

The Force will awaken on December 18th 2015.

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