Breaking down the new teaser for The Last Jedi

Rejoice Star Wars fans, we have a new teaser to meticulously and neurotically scrutinize! The two minute video premiered during the annual Star Wars mega-event, called “Celebration.” Writer/director Rian Johnson, flanked by Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and some of the stars of The Last Jedi, talked about the new movie and hinted a little at what was in store. No major spoilers were given, obviously, but if you’re the kind of person who wants to go in entirely fresh…well you might want to hit the back-button on your browser now.

First of all, they dropped this poster, which instantly became my favorite Star Wars poster ever, supplanting the classic Empire Strikes Back release:

Simple, stark, beautiful.

After that they released the video. Here it is in its entirety; we’ll have a moment by moment breakdown underneath.

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First of all, having watched it now multiple times, what strikes me is how short it feels, and yet it’s the standard two-minute length that all trailers shoot for. The original teaser for The Force Awakens (the one which ended with that great shot of the Millennium Falcon and the John Williams fanfare) was only ninety seconds long. This one is half-a-minute longer and yet it felt like it was over in thirty seconds. The TFA teaser is interesting to watch in hindsight; it has a lot of quick cuts, making it feel like it was showing a lot more than it was. Almost all of it is footage taken from the opening act. There’s a quick shot of Kylo on the Starkiller Base planet and another of Poe flying the squadron to Maz Kanata’s castle, but other than that the trailer stays fixed on Jakku. With that in mind it’s not a stretch to imagine that the TLJ trailer also focuses most of its footage on the opening act.

Let’s break it down…

To start with, the first shot looks like the traditional starfield that opens every Star Wars movie, but as we get closer we see it’s actually water-glistened rocks on the island where Rey found Luke (the planet’s name is Ach-To). It’s a cool effect that means nothing to the plot but does give a small taste of what everyone has been saying throughout the production: Rian Johnson is the most visually-creative director the franchise has ever had.

Rey is the first person we see, just as she was in the first full trailer (not teaser) for TFA. Finn and Poe are important, and of course so is Luke, but this is Rey’s trilogy. She appears on the screen with her palm slapping the glistening rock, out of breath and drenched in sweat. She’s training.

LUCASFILM flashes on the screen and I get all toasty inside. John Williams music fades in, a mixture of the Force Theme and Rey’s Theme. Written forty years apart but they fit together like hand-in-glove.

There’s a beautiful establishing shot of Ach-To (Skellig Michael in Ireland) during a sunrise, as we hear Luke Skywalker for the first time since 1983 (not counting that Vector Prime commercial from back in the day). Mark Hamill has been everywhere lately doing media and interviews for the movie and for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. Beyond that he’s been the Joker in countless TV episodes, movies and video games. He even reprised his role as the Trickster on the CW’s Flash show. We’ve been hearing his voice formally and informally for years now, but when he speaks in this trailer, it’s not Mark Hamill; there’s a difference to it. He sounds nothing like the charming, carefree seemingly-ageless Mark Hamill. He sounds like the stoic Luke from Return of the Jedi, albeit a little more worn down by time. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve watched the original trilogy a million times, you’ll recognize the difference in his voice here compared to all the other projects Hamill has been doing in the meantime.

“Breathe. Just…breathe” are his words, as we pan over Ach-To and cut to Rey standing with her back to the entrance of a cave.

“Now…reach out…” he says (to Rey).

Rey is doing that Zack Snyder Superman thing, but really it’s a modern take on Luke lifting stones around Dagobah. She’s becoming “one with the force” and is able to feel it flowing through her and around…everything.

The screen cuts to black as Luke asks her “what do you see?”

“Light…” is Rey’s response as General Leia appears, her back to us while she examines a starchart. Remember that the First Order may have lost their Starkiller Base but they still managed to destroy the seat of the Republic’s government. All that remains is the unsanctioned-by-the-Republic “Resistance” that Leia has been leading against Snoke and his army. Carrie Fisher apparently had a big part in this movie and was set to have an important one in the next one too. She’ll have some part to play in Episode IX, but her role will be reduced dramatically. Here, however, her part is exactly as it was intended to be. Here’s hoping it’s a fitting send-off to our princess.

Also, headphone-wearers can make out the faintest traces of Leia’s “help me Obi-Wan” line from A New Hope.

“..darkness.” Rey continues. Judging by the lights in the room, this looks like a First Order base or Star Destroyer. Shattered glass surrounds a broken helmet and mask. Is it Vader’s? No: Look closely and you can see the pieces of Kylo’s helmet from TFA. There’s another echo from the original trilogy here too: You hear Vader’s breathing as well as “…seduced by the dark side” faintly uttered (by Obi Wan, from A New Hope).

The music swells as the camera moves in on a bookshelf inside a cave. You can barely hear Yoda saying “surrounds us and binds us” (from The Empire Strikes Back). There are eight (possibly nine or ten depending on if those on the end are bookends or books) volumes resting there. This is easily one of the more mysterious moments of the trailer. What’s in the books? What has Luke discovered? Han told us in the previous movie that Luke went looking for the first Jedi Temple. Is Ach-To the place? Are those books the writings of the first Jedi? Are these the journals…of the Whills? There’s a spotlight highlighting a piece of paper in front of the books…

The paper shows a take on the Jedi Order logo. You can see the starburst in the middle and the flairs on either side (colored blue). Incidentally, the logo is recreated in the poster at the top of the page (where Rey’s blue blade turns red as it reaches the top). As a hand (presumably Rey’s) touches the paper, you hear her finish her statement about what she sees. She says “a balance” (possible “the balance” or “and balance”). Following that is the faintest sound of a lightsaber igniting.

Cut to Rey standing in front of statue(?) training with the Skywalker family lightsaber as Luke watches from higher ground. There’s a cropped line where Luke (seemingly) responds to Rey’s words about “light, dark and balance” by saying “…so much bigger.” It’s probably the second most interesting thing he says in the trailer. For seven movies we’ve understood the force through the perspective of “the light side” and “the darkside” and the idea of a “balance” between them. After thirty years, Luke declares that such an understanding is elementary. Time to advance to higher learning.

That marks that halfway point of the trailer. Now comes a flurry of cuts showing the wider cast of characters. There’s a couple shots of a new fighter, that reminds me of a wasp with a big stinger on the underside. They’re leaving a strikingly red exhaust trail behind them, which looks gorgeous on top of the white sandy beach. They’re approaching a row of what look like AT-ATs (or at least the First Order equivalent), ready for a land battle.

Here’s a shot which probably takes place in the opening act of the movie. Finn is clearly incapacitated, much like he was at the end of The Force Awakens. He’s being hurriedly moved to a new location. Why? Probably because…

Their ship is under attack. Poe and BB-8 run through a similar-looking hallway, and stop as their X-Wing is almost destroyed. This is just speculation, but maybe the First Order moves aggressively in the wake of Starkiller’s destruction, finds the Resistance hideout (which may have been what Leia was monitoring previously in the trailer) and acts to wipe them out. Poe and BB-8 escape but are separated from Finn. Maybe he’s rescued by Rose (the new character introduced in the TLJ panel before the trailer was shown) and that begins his side of the story.

Cut to the Millennium Falcon (piloted by whom?) blasting TIE Fighters out of the sky.

Cut to Rey with her blue saber ready to rock…followed by Kylo, with his red saber ready to roll. Judging by the backgrounds these are from different scenes entirely. Rey’s looks like Ach-To. Kylo’s features burning wreckage behind him. These kinds of teaser-trailers aren’t meant to lay out the whole plot of the movie. They’re supposed to conjure up feelings: Rey running from left to right with a quick cut to Kylo standing at stage right with his saber ready; it’s evocative, not descriptive. That’s what they were going for.

Luke’s voice returns, as he says “I only know one truth.” That’s immediately followed by a shot of Luke dropping to his knees next to R2-D2. It’s a shot that should look very familiar…

The first picture is a scene from The Force Awakens; the one under it comes from this trailer. In The Force Awakens, Rey saw a vision of what we assume is Luke’s Jedi Academy being destroyed. The details were never given but that hasn’t stopped most fans from assuming many things (like Kylo killed everyone and burned it down). If you go back and watch TFA, specifically the scene where Han gives his “it’s true, all of it” speech, he says “[Luke] was training a new generation of Jedi. One boy—an apprentice—turned against him; destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He just walked away from everything.” There’s a big difference in “destroyed it all” (which could be symbolic for “he brought down the whole idea”) and “burned the school down.” It could refer to the same thing, but it doesn’t have to. For all we know Rey saw a vision of the future, which will be seen here or even in Episode IX (which would make this shot here another vision of the future).

That scene is transitioned into one where Cpt. Phasma (back from her trash compactor!) marches out of the remains of a burning building. One again, we’re meant to think the two shots are connected but it’s entirely possible that these are totally different scenes, especially since the floor on which Phasma is standing seems to be metallic, whereas Luke’s burning building sits atop rocky soil.

One last battle scene is teased, this time in space where B-Wings make their big return.

We cut back to Ach-To, and we get our first real look at Luke (albeit as a shadowy silhouette). He finishes his “I only know one truth…” sentence by saying “it’s time for the Jedi…to end.”

The trailer ends with the promise that we’ll learn all the answers this Christmas.

It should not go unsaid that the music in the trailer really makes it. John Williams doesn’t compose trailers, by the way, but that doesn’t mean the arrangement was not carefully selected. The first TFA teaser used music to present a feeling of mystery that slowly turned into excitement. It ended with the bright and joy-inducing fanfare.

With this trailer, starting at the halfway point, the music turned dark. It wasn’t sad or brooding, but it was intense and almost angry. That’s the tone they wanted you feel for the trailer so it’s safe to say that’s the tone they’ll want you to feel with the movie.

As for what Luke means by “ending” the Jedi, that’s the big mystery of the trailer. If nothing else, it at least tells us what they mean by “The Last Jedi.” Note that Luke is standing at the entrance to a cave, leaving it as he speaks. Is this the cave with the books from earlier? Maybe he took Rey inside to show her what he discovered, which led him to conclude that the Jedi Order is not the great soldiers of good that they wanted to think they were for a thousand generations.

It’s clear from that line alone that Luke is not going to be a simple hybrid of Obi Wan and Yoda from the Original Trilogy. In fact, Daisy Ridley even said at the Celebration Panel that “Rey learns that meeting your heroes means discovering they aren’t always what you imagined they were…”

The teaser will be attached to Guardians of the Galaxy and Pirates of the Caribbean in theaters this May. Expect the next one (which will be more of a traditional “trailer”) sometime late-Summer/early-Autumn, when advance tickets go on sale. My bet would be opening night of Monday Night Football.

Until then, on with the speculation!

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