Can Star Wars ever be fresh again? That’s the question that’s bugged me ever since it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the first in a brand new series of movies set far, far away in that fabled galaxy.
So it was with considerable trepidation – and yes, a healthy dose of new hope – that I watched the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it hit the internet last Friday – a teaser which, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is set to become the most-viewed movie trailer ever.
I’m pleased to report I was encouraged by what I saw. Strike that, I was thrilled. Okay, it was just a tease – a stream of disconnected shots punctuated by tantalising seconds of black – but everything was married neatly together by a soundtrack that was one part pure Star Wars sound effects, one part new John Williams score (yes, that music really was brand new).
I also saw enough of the new film’s design and visual effects to thrill even the most jaded fanboy. There’s a cute robot that looks like the unlikely offspring of Artoo Detoo and a soccer ball. There’s Daisy Ridley’s character riding a cool and chunky new speeder bike. A hooded character in a misty forest igniting a lightsaber with extra twiddly bits. Next-generation X-Wings powering majestically over a lake.
Best of all, there’s the Millennium Falcon barnstorming her way at zero altitude over what has to be the Tatooine desert before encountering a pair of screaming TIE Fighters. The ever-reliable internet drew my attention to the fact that everyone’s favourite heap of junk appears to have exchanged her radar dish for some kind of squat, square thingummy, but it took my son to point out the obvious: she lost same dish after colliding with one of those pesky bulkheads in the interior of the Death Star during the climax of Return of the Jedi. And, you know, those replacement parts are hard to find.
Further discussion of the trailer sent me and my son into full nerd-mode, during which he mused that the extra beams on the lightsaber – allied with the fairytale feel of the forest environment in which it’s seen – give that particular shot the feel of a medieval fantasy. Are the Sith being presented as an ancient warrior caste? Only time will tell.
And so on. In short, it’s geek heaven.
But I think it’s also more than that. Random though the shots might seem, there’s no doubt they’ve been very carefully designed and selected to make sure they’re fit for purpose. What purpose? To excite, yes, but also to reassure. Did the teaser do both those things for me? You know, I think it did, and for three reasons:
First, this looks like the Star Wars I remember from my youth. The Star Wars that came alive for me when I received through the mail my copy of The Art of the Empire Strikes Back and sat for the best part of the day opening my mind into a larger universe. The teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks just like the pictures in that book, and I’m not the only one to think so. The best comment I’ve seen in this regard was this tweet by comic artist Rob Liefield:
Second, this sounds like Star Wars. John Williams? Check. Crisp reiterations of all the right audio cues, from the schzoooom of a lightsaber to the elephantine shriek of the TIE fighters. And did I hear a probot buried somewhere in the mix?
Third – and for me most important of all – there’s the opening shot. Arguably, it’s the least spectacular of them all, although it performs the essential task of defining John Boyega as the new face of the franchise. But let me tell you what else I think it does.
Putting all the geek stuff to one side, what’s the one thing we all want out of the new Star Wars film? The same things we want out of any adventure story: characters we love, fully engaged in a compelling story. And I think that’s exactly what this one shot promises. Whoever John Boyega’s character may be (is he a Stormtrooper, or just dressed up as one?), he looks to me as if he hasn’t a clue what’s going on. Where am I? What is this place? What the heck is going to happen next?
This, I believe is the key to rediscovering Star Wars. We need to forget what’s gone before. We need to leave all the baggage behind and see these wonderful worlds through the eyes of someone who has simply no idea what’s gone before. I hope Boyega’s character has never heard of Luke Skywalker. I hope he has only the vaguest idea about empires or rebellions, or squashy little green guys with big pointy ears. I hope he wouldn’t know one end of a lightsaber from another and has never, ever kissed a Wookiee.
In short, I hope he’s as fresh to all this as I want to be in December 2015.
So what did the other Cinefex staffers make of the teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Here are their thoughts:
“My gut reaction is that it has all the fun of the original … without the cheese! I am unexpectedly excited to see it. Even though I was in the primo demographic group – 22 years old, a frequent movie-goer, up for doing whatever the ‘thing’ to do was at the time (mood rings, pet rocks, watching Saturday Night Live) – I was one of about five people who didn’t stand in line to see the first Star Wars. I’ll stand in line to see this one!” Jody Duncan
“It seems like J.J. may have caught the spirit and look of the original films quite wonderfully. The gadgets and such were updated and fun, and there were also some beloved familiars. But I think the reason why Star Wars hit the chord it did – and endured – isn’t because of the effects (which were great) or the excitement of the adventure (which was wonderful). It’s because of the deeper story it told, and the archetypal depths it plumbed. If Mr. Abrams thinks so too, I shall be a very happy fan.” Janine Pourroy
“This looks like a Star Wars film should look. I like the way J.J. Abrams has honored the nostalgic visuals and sounds from the original films. I also like the look of the new droid and lightsaber. The X-Wing fighters looked really good flying low over water, and the Millennium Falcon clip makes me want to see more. Bring it on!” Gregg Shay
“My knee-jerk reactions? The youngsters look intriguing. The zippy rollerball astromech immediately reminded me of Ralph McQuarrie’s “Art of Star Wars” Artoo thumbnail sketch. The 88 seconds did of course include Abrams visual trademarks: at least one lens aberration and a swirly whirly upside-down aerial chase-cam shot. But I got a tingle at the new needle-nose X-Wings zipping over the lake. Kudos, ILM. I know from skimming online that some commentators are kvetching, and I don’t need to hear any more opinions on the moral sins of CGI — if that’s your criticism, it’s time you threw away your 1995 ‘to do’ list. As far as I’m concerned, J.J. appears to get it, and I know he’s one of us in that he loves this stuff. I think we’re in safe hands.” Joe Fordham