We’ve all had a couple of days now to digest the Force Awakens teaser. Most people seem to love it—indeed, it’s had 40 million hits on Youtube so far.
But now that the dust has settled and the initial rush of astonishment at actually seeing footage from the film has died down, it’s time for some honest reactions.
There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
I admit that the voice-over took me completely by surprise. The shot of the dunes is pure Star Wars, and the voice-over recalls pretty much every classic ’80s fantasy film you care to name. We’re not getting a recreation of the original trilogy here—what we’re getting is something better: a continuation, using an ’80s sensibility, that nonetheless borrows the best technology from today.
And here’s the moment I was completely sold. This is not the sterile world of the prequels—this is a real universe inhabited by real people who experience real conflict and real peril. John Boyega’s character is clearly in big, big trouble. He’s desperate and in a state of panic. Is he running from somewhere or to somewhere… or both? Either way, the tension is palpable, and that’s all that matters.
But it’s not all dark gloominess. Even The Empire Strikes Back had many moments of whimsy, especially involving Yoda and the droids. Kira’s droid here is built for whimsy, and comes from Ralph McQuarrie’s original idea for R2-D2.
I don’t know what it is about this shot, but it immediately takes me back to my childhood. Again, this isn’a straight recreation of the original trilogy, but it is an incredibly plausible extension of it. I can easily imagine seeing this shot in late ’85, two years after the release of Return of the Jedi, and it blowing the mind of my seven year old self. It may not look like the original trilogy per se, but it feels like the same cinematic universe, and that’s the point here.
Note that up to this point, while the editing has been in the style of a modern teaser, the shots themselves have been very traditional. It’s only at this point that we’re thrown into a more current filmmaking style, which actually borrows heavily from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (two films from directors who were arguably at their peak in the ’70s and ’80s). J.J. Abrams may be a modern filmmaker, but he’s still a Spielberg/Lucas fanboy at heart, and even when he deviates from tradition, he’s taking cues from the masters.
Here we get our first glimpse of Daisy Ridley’s character, Kira. The shot is pure Star Wars and recalls Leia on the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. I admit that I don’t like the design of this speeder, but it certainly does bring the prequel aesthetic into the sequel trilogy, making the whole saga feel apiece.
One thing I will say is that, while I’m not a fan of the orange/teal colour grading that’s all the rage these days, this shot of Kira is a thing of beauty. For some reason, it takes me back to seeing Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome on the big screen in ’85—it has that same look about it. And you can tell The Force Awakens was shot on real film as well.
Note a couple of things: 1) the two shots of Kira in the teaser don’t appear to be from the same sequence (if you look closely at her goggles, for example) and 2) the colour grading is obviously preliminary. Compare the colours in the official still to my own screencaps.
This is a classic shot already, immediately recalling the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. There’s really not that much more to say, except that I can already imagine the action figure.
Easily the most dynamic shot thus far, we see new X-wings skimming water on a new planet. I’d still place good money on the desert planet being Tatooine, but this is another new environment for Star Wars, and it’s thrilling to see X-wings racing across its surface.
The dark side…
To me this most closely recalls Ridley Scott’s Legend, but with an added dose of primal, visceral menace. Again, this is like nothing else we’ve seen in Star Wars, but it’s not beyond what the series can handle visually. Indeed, the cumulative effect of the teaser is to pull you back to a universe you haven’t visited in 30 years. Well, that’s my experience, anyway.
…and the light…
Initially I was distracted by how dynamic this shot is. It’s just not what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. But what it achieves is the same thing the Death Star trench run achieved in ’77: it pulls you in and takes you along for the ride. This may not look like a traditional shot from the original trilogy, but at its core, in its DNA, it’s Star Wars through-and-through.
And finally the title card. I must admit, the logo, which uses the ITC Serif Gothic typeface, struck me initially as bland and uninspired. Now, however, it’s growing on me. The font itself is a staple of ’70s and ’80s science fiction and fantasy, appearing on pretty much everything, including Masters of the Universe action figure packaging.
The typeface in the logo actually encapsulates everything that’s great about this teaser: Abrams isn’t simply giving us a rote imitation of the original trilogy but rather a new film, using new technology, that at its core exists in the same universe and comes from the same cinematic tradition.
I may be in the minority, but the Phantom Menace teaser didn’t really connect with me the way it did with many other fans, and the movie I got was the movie I expected from the teaser: a fun look at the history behind Anakin and Obi-Wan.
But that idea, of exploring the early backstory of those characters, in a universe that was aesthetically unfamiliar, didn’t really excite me. This teaser, however, does. This is the film I’ve waited 30 years for, and it’s only a year away.