Movie trailer review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

OK. Let’s talk this new Star Wars trailer. io9’s already done a terrific shot-by-shot breakdown of the potential character interactions and plot structure hinted at within the trailer, and I honestly can’t add anything on that front, so I’m going to talk a little instead about how this trailer wants to make you feel.

First, I’m going to assume that the vast majority of movie-going Americans aren’t like the fine people over at io9, and don’t already know the names of all the new characters and planets being shown here, especially not when those characters are shown swaddled in rags or are heard only in voiceover. To them, the tiny figure rappelling down a rope in the opening shots isn’t Rey on Jakku: it’s just a tiny, disguised figure rappelling down a rope into the strange, dusty wreckage of something very big and very old, something that came before her. And let’s also acknowledge that, for a lot of people who are coming to this trailer, the original Star Wars trilogy came before them, too. For nearly everyone who’ll be sitting in the theater come December, Star Wars is that echoey cavern of childhood that we rappel down into on memory’s line, wiping away the dust and hunting around in the corners for something that makes us feel, once again, like children. And the next shot shows us that Abrams is keenly aware of that interplay, too—here’s Daisy Ridley, who is an adult, walking through a desert landscape with a huge stick and a droid that looks like a child’s toy ball, both items so outsized to her proportions that she appears childlike. This movie (unlike the Phantom Menace) isn’t about children, Abrams is telling us, but adults who still feel like children, lost and lonely, not just dwarfed by a hostile world but nearly erased by it: “I’m no one,” we hear Rey say as she watches the upward trajectory, far away, of a ship escaping the bonds of her world (io9 astutely points out here that the ship represents her wish of escape). But Rey’s not just passively watching—she’s sitting up and taking notice, the way Abrams wants us to, and moreover is going to make a case, over the next two minutes, for us to do. Rey is us, the alienated audience, jaded by decades of bad Star Wars movies than wanted nothing more from us than an open wallet and a slack mind, movies that left us as alienated as Rey is here. We—and she—need a friend.

And, right on cue, here comes another lost adult, spinning down from the sky in a shot that mirrors and responds to Rey’s wish with an equal and opposite reaction—a crash landing into her world. Finn is a soldier without a cause, a toy without a purpose: “I was raised to do one thing,” he laments, “And now I have nothing to fight for.” So both characters (which Abrams has sketched out for us in the space of about thirteen seconds—holy shit he’s good) have this neat parallel; they feel erased, insignificant, like non-entities. They are self-described nothings and nobodies.

Which makes Finn and Rey exactly who Kylo Ren is talking about when he says “Nothing will stand in our way.” In any other trailer, this would register as an eye-rolling bit of villain doggerel; here, however, the cliché is undercut. We already know two pieces of personified Nothing who will obviously stand in Kylo Ren’s way, and we’re primed for his comeuppance.

That said, we’re also pretty primed to hear more about Kylo Ren’s whole deal, because “I will finish what you started”, while ostensibly a line of Ren’s to Vader’s mutilated death-mask, is actually a line for us. It is a promise being made to the audience, who did not give one fat damn about Vader’s journey from childhood trauma through moody adolescence to the Dark Side, and who continued not to give one fat damn as Lucas dragged us through three interminable examinations of that journey. Abrams is promising us that he will finish what the original trilogy started, which was quite simply: a good story.

Speaking of which…. let’s hear one from Grandpa Solo!
“Those stories about what happened,” prompts Rey, approaching the bench slowly, hesitantly. Both she and Finn look like kids hoping to be allowed to stay up past their bedtime, a mood enhanced by a holographic projection of stars in ethereal blue; slowly, the magic is starting to descend. “It’s true,” he assures them/us, going through a Christmas wish-list of the things we all want to see in the movie: the Jedi, the Dark Side. (Well-trained audience members, primed from several months of watching and re-watching the first trailer, will automatically mentally fill in “…and the Light.”) This wish list is as significant for the things it’s NOT including as the things it is—story elements notably absent here include trade negotiations, galactic parliaments, science, and midichlorians. (Such were the delights of the prequels. You know I’ve never gone back and re-watched a single one of those movies? Once was enough. And fuck the midichlorians, anyway! What a bunch of bullshit! Way to reduce magic and Zen and something resonant and real-feeling to a blood marker! I still get mad thinking about that shit! Where was I?)

Oh right. Grandpa Solo’s story, accompanied by that gorgeous shot of Finn being literally turned around by the friendly camaraderie of a fellow resistance fighter. God, that’s an elegant way to symbolize his character arc. Two seconds, max. Have I mentioned how goddamn good Abrams is at trailers? And now we’re into the meat of the story. We’ve set up our heroes, our villain, and above all our reason for being here: we want to be convinced that everything we used to feel about Star Wars is real. It’s all of it real. And oh man are we ready for some story now: in quick succession, we get explosions, blasters, stormtroopers, X-wings, CHEWIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!, a modified-looking R2, more blasts, a pissed-*off* looking Rey with a bigass blaster, more explosions, LEIA!!!!!!!!!!!!, and finally Finn, firing up his lightsaber against a beautiful background of glowing blue snow, looking absolutely terrified. No sooner has Abrams assured us that “It’s all real” then shit gets extremely real. People are going to get blown up in this movie. It is not Star Parliament. It is not Star Trade Negotiations. It is not Star Regrout George Lucas’s Pool. It is STAR FUCKING WARS, and there is going to be some war here.

And all we have to do, in Abrams’ final call to action, is simple:

“The Force. It’s calling you. Let it in.”

God, I am ready for this movie.

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