Relics of the Past: A closer look at the second The Force Awakens teaser

First of all, if you’ve been living under a rock, the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney and Lucasfilm are really downplaying the “Episode VII” monicker, I think to distance the film from the Prequels) has hit the web. If you want to see it and the first one that premiered a few months ago, I have made my own mash-up combining the two…

The art of a good trailer, along with a good movie poster, has been lost over the years. Not to go all “back in my day…” but Back In My Day movie posters were mini-masterpieces, conveying the tone of the film in question, leaving the spectator giddy with anticipation. Consider a few examples:

jaws-poster

Minimal, but doesn’t it perfectly capture the essence of the movie?

jurassic-park-poster

Another minimalist design, but the tagline is so simple it really sparks the imagination

back-to-the-future-poster

You learn everything from this poster: The tone is funny (look at Fox’s face), the genre is sci-fi, but not HARD sci-fi (it’s a DeLorean for crying out loud), and there’s the promise of adventure (the streaks of fire). Great poster.

star-wars-episode-1-poster

One of the best: This picture basically sums up the entire prequel trilogy

Those are just a few posters that are worthy to be hung on the walls of nerds everywhere. One of the walls of my garage is lined with the three prequel trilogy teaser posters and the three theatrical posters from the original trilogy. Those were works of art.

This?

marvel-avengers-poster

Everyone is looking at something else

and this?

guardians-of-the-galaxy-poster

Once again, what are they looking at?

These are just bad photoshopped messes of nothing. There’s nothing in either poster that conveys the tone, or teases the film in anyway. The designers just slapped the cast onto the poster, threw the logo on there and called it a day.

Movie trailers have likewise gotten lazy, but in a different way. They’ve basically become 2-minute summaries of the movie. The plot is given, the major action set-pieces are shown, the best one-liners are used. By the time you see the movie itself, the audience spends most of the two hours just saying “oh so that’s where that scene from the trailer goes.” Trailers aren’t supposed to be those kiddie jigsaw puzzles you had when you were three years old (the big ones that only had like 10 pieces). They’re supposed to be the film-equivalent of a strip tease. They’re supposed to let you know what you’re going to see without giving you anything.

The guardians of the galaxy poster may have sucked, but the trailers were pitch-perfect.

And now with Star Wars on the horizon, fans around the world are pouring over every piece of promotional material, interview, inside-scoop and set-pic they can get their hands on.

I remember as a kid firing up my 1998 Compaq Presario computer to watch the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode I.

Here in 2015, it took me about 10 seconds to google it, click the link, copy and paste it onto this article and begin typing this sentence. I have it playing in the background as I type, and by the time I finish this paragraph, the trailer will be over. I’m doing all of this on a 2014 Dell something-or-other PC, harnessing the power of 10mbs internet speed. Back then, however, I was running on a 56K modem and my download speed was measured by the cycle of the moon. I literally started downloading the video, went outside to enjoy my Saturday (I was an adventurous 15 year old lad), and returned SEVEN HOURS LATER to find the video was about one-quarter of the way downloaded.

aaaand I just finished watching it. Man, that’s a great trailer.

Back then I left my PC on for the rest of the day and overnight and when I awoke the next morning I finally got to experience it. It was worth the wait.

Yesterday I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my wife, as we awaited the ultrasound to see our third son, Joshua. While waiting, and about to be seen, I got a notification on my phone that I was not expecting: “New Star Wars trailer drops.” Without a second’s hesitation, I excused myself, went to the bathroom and watched it instantly.

I regret nothing.

Once I got home I watched it again. And then again. And then once more just to be sure. I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched it three times to make sure it wasn’t a dream. I’ve watched it a dozen more times since then too. So, after pouring over it, what have I found?

To start with, Lucasfilm still knows how to make a great trailer. The mood is captured, the imagination is stirred, there are stunning images that are given no context, but are filled with possibilities for their meaning. And then there was the money shot at the end. The first teaser focused entirely on the new faces to the franchise, but it ended with the familiar John Williams’ score and a shot of the Millennium Falcon fighting TIE Fighters.  This one kept the focus on the new, in that the only people you saw (until the end) were the new cast members, but the voice of Luke was there, the image of Darth Vader’s helmet was there, R2 and the Falcon were there, but then, at the end, came the money shot. Han and Chewy together again.

As for the trailer itself, it raises lots of questions and gives no answers, as it should.

The first thing we see is a crashed X-Wing. It’s design is akin to the classic, Original Trilogy model and not the new style that we see in other shots. You see the crashed ship and you think of it as a relic of the past. That’s the theme of this trailer. The first trailer’s theme was an awakening, as Andy Serkis’ character narrated, and it was highlighted by introductions for the new cast. The symbolism worked perfectly. Here the symbolism is also on point.

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-1

But before you can even dwell on the tiny crashed X-wing, the giant crashed Star Destroyer comes into focus.

star-wars-destroyer-2.0

This was such a great, Spielbergian pan, taking you from the mystery (the crashed X-wing) to the awe-inspiring (the spectacle of a star destroyer half-buried in the desert sand). Already I am confident this will be the best looking Star Wars film since Empire.

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-2

After that we are treated to the voice of Luke Skywalker, another relic of the past. The speech given to his sister toward the end of Return of the Jedi is played, but though it is a reused audio clip, the sound has been tweaked a bit to give Luke a more aged, gravelly voice. He mentions the force being strong with his father and we see this:

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-3

Unlike the voice of Luke, this is most definitely NOT a re-used piece of the Original Trilogy. The helmet of Vader as seen here is warped and decayed, no doubt from the funeral pyre that Luke made for his dead father at the end of Return of the Jedi. Why is it here, however? What value does Vader’s famous mask have? Who wants it and why? We don’t know. The trailer gives us no context, only questions. As it should be.

Luke continues, and mentions the force being strong with himself. That gives us this tender moment:

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-4

That has to be Luke, considering the timing of the speech, the affection for R2 and the robotic hand. They are somewhere near a fire, which subconsciously connects this scene to the previous. We see the image of Vader’s helmet after being burned and the next image is of Luke and R2 near another fire. There is a connection we’re supposed to draw, but the information we need to reach a conclusion is withheld, like a good trailer should.

Luke then mentions the force being strong with his sister, and that’s when we see this:

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-5

Again, following the previous logic we must assume the hand that is reaching out to take hold of the lightsaber is Leia. She is neither seen nor heard in either trailer and it’s possible her role in the film is not as large as Han or Luke’s. Still, the real intriguing part here is the lightsaber, another relic of the past. That is clearly Luke’s from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. That is the saber that previously belonged to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. It’s basically the Skywalker family heirloom. It’s reappearance here is the biggest mystery of all, to me. Viewers of Empire saw Vader cut off Luke’s hand, and along with it, this lightsaber. Later, as Luke was dangling from the Cloud City antennae, the hero watched as his hand and saber fell past him down to the planet (Bespin) below. Now Bespin was presumed to be a gas giant so how it was recovered thirty years later I have no idea. I am very curious to see what role it plays here.

It should also be noted that careful listeners can hear a sinister echo while Luke is speaking. He repeats the lines “The force is strong in my family” as well as “my father has it” and “I have it” but it’s hard to tell whether or not he says “my sister has it.” There is something in the background but it seems intentionally muffled so as not to be understood. More questions.

After that, Luke tells whomever he is speaking with that they have the power of the force as well, and that is where the trailer moves into it’s second act. The promise of a Christmas release is followed by action shots of X-wings zipping by, characters running, explosions going off. It’s all typical movie-trailer stuff, but unlike most modern trailers, nothing is lingered on, nothing is given away for free. There’s no context to any of it. It’s a tease, and a very well-executed one.

Then this guy shows up and says goodbye to the relics of the past:

star-wars-force-awakens-bad-dude2.0

Once again, what a brilliantly shot moment. The zoom in, force grab, close up on the villains face. Perfect. This guy is going to sell a lot of action figures, Halloween costumes, and still manage to give my kids nightmares.

I can’t wait!

The bad guy’s introduction moves us right into the big establishing shot of the Empire.

star-wars-force-awakens-stormtroopers

In what is becoming an annoying pattern, I’m sure, I have to again mention how brilliantly framed this shot is: the pan down as the stormtroopers turn around…These guys were always supposed to be a kind of Nazi gestapo force, but that has never been more clear than in this shot, almost forty years after they were introduced. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a mysterious black-robed figure atop the stage behind them, as well as the new logo for (one would assume) the remnants of the post-ROTJ Empire. Who is the new leader? What are all these guys turning to look at? A guess would be that they are turning after listening to a Hitler-esque speech and are turning to march out to war. But again, there’s no context, only eye candy.

A lot of quick-hitting shots follow, including this intriguing sequence

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-6

My working theory after the first trailer is that John Boyega’s character (first seen as a helmetless stormtrooper) is a defector from the Empire. Putting that theory along side this shot and I would guess that this is his getaway.

Speaking of…

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-7

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-8

I love the imagery. There is literal blood on his hands, and whatever he saw or whatever he did is likely what causes him to reconsider his life. That’s just a theory, because the trailer doesn’t tell me anything. As it should be.

And then holy cow who is this guy?

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-9

Decked out in chrome, with an “I’m a boss character” cape, walking around the interior of what looks like a Star Destroyer…I know nothing, but I am intrigued. My bet is this will be a mini-boss, either of this movie or of the whole trilogy, in much the same way Boba Fett, Darth Maul and General Grevious were in previous movies. On the other hand it could be that the new Sith character is not the next Darth Vader. He could be the next “big bad” ala, The Emperor. If so, maybe this chromed-up trooper is the new Darth Vader.

The trailer heads to the final stretch with this shot…

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-10

…that puts the focus on the droid, but still makes you say “wait, was that little guy inside the Millen…” but before you can finish it, your question is answered….

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-11

We come full circle back to the beginning of the trailer, as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters into the wreckage of a partially buried Star Destroyer. Modern trailers fail by condensing the films they are teasing into 2 minute “cliffs notes” versions of the movie. This trailer works beautifully because it reveals nothing but still manages to have a clear beginning, middle and ending. It’s a short film that doesn’t spoil The Force Awakens; it celebrates it.

And then these guys–our final relics of the past–show up…

star-wars-han-solo-2.0

Christmas can’t come soon enough!

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