Saturday, April 18, 2015

Star Wars Trailer Breakdown - Good and Bad

It was one of the great shocks of my young life to find out Darth Vader's true identity. I followed my dad around, badgering him with questions. How could that be? Anakin is dead! He's not dead? Obi-Wan said he was. He LIED? Why didn't Obi-Wan tell Luke the truth? I thought Obi-Wan was a good guy!

At last, frustrated, my dad said, "Obi-Wan lied because George Lucas wanted a big reveal for the next movie." As you can imagine, this both shut me up and yet left me unsatisfied. Certainly, the storyteller must have some sort of motive, but it must also make sense within the story. Apparently, George Lucas felt the same way, going back to sort of reverse-engineer the situation for Obi-Wan's secrets. This was one of many problems in the prequel movies, and is one of the reasons I'm a bit more optimistic about the upcoming sequels. In the prequels, the ending was predetermined. Anakin would become Darth Vader. But now, all bets are off.

The teaser does leave me torn. It starts out with a surge of grandeur and nostalgia. It splendidly sets the tone for the new films, and provides us with some important information:
  1. This is a wild, barren, gritty, old, Wild West kind of world.
  2. It's simultaneously an old and a new world - the abandoned Star Destroyer immediately calls back memories, but it is abandoned - we are in a new place in which the original stories have faded to the level of mythology.
  3. Speaking of which, the mythic quality of this shot isn't to be underestimated. The prequels had lots of big battles, but little sense of the mythical. The original trilogy, on the other hand, was basically a myth stripped down to the bare basics. A boy, a sword, a wizard, a princess, a dragon, an evil castle. Starting with a crumbling monument (making me think of Ozymandias, or the broken statue in Ithilien) evokes something ancient, something with history and depth.
In short, it's a terrific establishing shot, conveying tons of information very simply. On the other hand, the rest of the trailer is hit and miss. The voice-over is by Mark Hamill. It has a call-back to Darth Vader, then a shot of R2-D2, and a cloaked figure with a metal hand. (With regards to the latter shot - is that Luke? If so, why's his hand metal? His prosthetic looked like a normal hand in the original films.) Leia. A light-saber.

"You have that power too." A promising hint about the new cast, and then we switch over to said new cast, and the wheels begin to fall off.

X-wings. Light-saber cross-guards. John Boyega (who, apparently, has nothing to do in this movie except stare around in a shocked manner) and Daisy Ridley running across the desert. Sith? Nazi stormtroopers? Again? Daisy Ridley. TIE fighters. Storm troopers, John Boyega, Star Destroyer, cool looking assassin dude, BB-8, Daisy Ridley helping John Boyega, Millennium Falcon pursued through tight spots.

"Chewie, we're home."

The end.

The first shot of the trailer does a great job of calling back old memories, but from then on, I want new stuff. Instead, we are introduced to the same recycled villains. (Even the prequels did this: calling them clones instead of stormtroopers.) The same type of Nuremberg dictator shot. Even the space-ships are exactly the same - X-wings, TIE fighters, a Star Destroyer. Surely we can find something new? At least there was no Death Star.

Also: recycled landscapes. More Tatooine? Desert? In Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi we switched to, respectively, ice and clouds, and jungle. A little variety, please.

John Boyega's Finn is, presumably, the hero, but he seems to mostly be playing the damsel in distress, needing rescuing by Daisy Ridley's character: Rey. Not exactly mythic knight, is it? There has been talk about including strong women in the franchise. Well, what about Leia? (True: there was that whole Jabba's palace thing, but we'll try and forget that.) Star Wars is the last place to put revisionist social commentary. The original trilogy was a bastion of reactionary forms; the prequels were very Freudian and modern. Which worked better? Sure, give us a strong female character, but not at the expense of the men, please! I've written before about this strange need to over-compensate - and I hope it doesn't infect a galaxy far, far away.

But it's still early days. That cheesy line from Harrison Ford hints of sentimentality in the screenplay, but it also sounds as if it was written specifically for the trailer. We can hope he'll be back to his cynical self in the film. We still haven't seen Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac (was that him in the X-wing?), Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, or Mark Hamill (though one of those may be the face-less Sith villain.) The trailer is obviously going to focus on nostalgia, which means returning to the sand and the Nazis symbolism. There's still a lot we don't know. In other words: Great, kid. Don't get cocky.

Hannah Long


  1. Hannah, you are critiquing the movie's most prominent black character. Do you have any idea what that reveals about you? I'm embarrassed to even call myself your friend. Shame. Shame.

    1. I know. I'm a terrible person. I also felt that Darth Vader was a villain, and this is probably because he was black.

      On a more serious note - that is part of the problem, as well. I'd be ecstatic to see a young, heroic black protagonist, rather than the victimized, wimpy boyfriend to Katniss 2.0.

  2. I really have to do my own post. I'm still reeling from the excitement of seeing the trailer. I'm sorry, (or rather, NO I'M NOT) but I LOVED that end shot with Han and Chewie! It did distinctly feel like something just for the trailer, but it just felt right for me. Like a homecoming! Granted, I probably like them far more than you do. You probably enjoy them but I'm a bit of a fangirl over here with her pompoms. I'm just that excited.

    I do get several of your points. I DO hate that level of over-compensating with the female/male hero element in a story. It's like, "Honestly, are you incapable of having them both great? Are you limited in your capacity of making good characters in general?" There was definitely that feel of mythology there! I loved that! It's what I love of the old movies. That classic structure. And that incredible image of the Star Destroyer in the sand!!! WHOO! I need a print of that. Okay, perhaps not need, but I definitely want one for my wall. :) I'm very curious. I do keep in mind it's just a teaser trailer, it's not a full-fledged one--so I do somewhat expect just to feel like I'm getting tastes. So I'm not too bothered by the simple projection of what I feel are the concept ideas. Personally I'm thrilled especially with the old ships, and the Tatooine setting. It's just taking me right back to being a kid watching the original trilogy, making me feel like I truly KNOW this place. Honestly I just love the look of the ships. I definitely need to do a post on this. I keep thinking about how hard it is to just get any writing done now, now that I have two jobs, but surely I can do it if you college brainiacs can do it! ;)

    1. I enjoyed seeing Han and Chewie again, but I thought "Chewie, we're home" felt like the wrong line. It wasn't something Han would say.

    2. I agree. When I first saw it I got all the nostalgic goosies, and of course I was ecstatic just to FINALLY see Harrison in full old Han getup after nothing but "Mr. Sweaty Black Dude" and "Ms. Generically Strong Female Character." But on reflection I thought, "Wait, whaaat?"

      Maybe it'll make sense in context.

  3. Okay, nerdy Star Wars/Steven Spielberg trivia tidbit for the day. From La Wik:

    "Lucas himself was not able to predict how successful Star Wars would be. After visiting the set of the Steven Spielberg–directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucas was sure Close Encounters would outperform the yet-to-be-released Star Wars at the box office. Spielberg disagreed, and felt Lucas's Star Wars would be the bigger hit. Lucas proposed they trade 2.5% of the profit on each other's films; Spielberg took the trade, and still receives 2.5% of the profits from Star Wars."

    1. Ha! That's great. Alec Guinness, much like Spielberg, suspected Star Wars would be very successful. He famously hated being identified with the movies (he volunteered to be killed off), but he became very wealthy on his 2% of gross royalties. :)


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