So, like most fans I’ve watched the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer a few dozen times, and I’ve had a full day to process my thoughts about it. I really enjoy the trailer overall, but there are aspects I’m somewhat ambivalent about. In retrospect, it’s a nice trailer which generates interest in the film, but I didn’t find particularly earth shattering, or game changing as some fans have called it. Frankly I found the teaser trailer for Jurassic World a much better tease and definitely has me hyped to see it opening day. However, there are some really interesting aspects about the trailer I wanted to delve into a little bit closer. So strap yourself in, cause here we go!!!
1. Cinematography: I’ve always been a fan of the look of J.J. Abrams films. Sure, he uses shaky cam from time to time, and the lens flares can be a bit much, but his visual style has always been rooted in a Spielberg look (e.g., Super 8) mixed with some modern techniques (e.g., Alias pilot, Mission Impossible III). I figured he would stick to a visual style more closely resembling what Lucas, Kershner, and Marquand established in the 6 films of the Star Wars Saga, but there were a couple of shots that really stood out like a sore thumb and bothered me quite a bit.
For example, the first shot we see is a desert skyline; fine looks great. Then one of our heroes, played by John Boyega, jumps up into frame… no problem. However, my big problem comes specifically from the lighting of the shot; it is extremely flat, and lacks any depth of field. For a brief moment I thought someone was pulling a fast one and this was a fan made trailer as it looks like a shot someone had taken with their home video camera. It’s ironic that Abrams constructed a shot that is so flat it almost looks like it was shot on video, while both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were in fact shot on video and never looked like they were.
My other problem comes from the Stormtrooper landing sequence, as Abrams returns to form and makes generous use of shaky cam and a modern blue hue which is commonly found in horror films (he made ample use of this in Super 8). My problem with both of these is they simply do not fit the visual language of the other six films. There’s certainly room for creative interpretation in the Saga. For example, Peter Suschitzky’s camera and lighting work look significantly different than Gil Taylor’s work in A New Hope, or Alec Mills’ in Jedi, but there is still a consistency that looks and feels like the preceding films in the Saga. However, this is a fairly drastic change.
One could argue that the films need a different look for a different time, and that’s true to a point, but when the films are numerical and are chapters of a continuing story, there should be an effort made to keep the look and style consistent. If you want to hire Paul Greengrass to make a total shaky cam, documentary film about Clone Commandos in a spin off film, then fine. The spin offs are certainly an arena where directors should be allowed stretch and see what they can do with the Star Wars genre, but I firmly believe the “Skywalker Saga” should have a consistent approach. Again, there’s room to explore, and the remaining shots in the trailer look like they came from a traditional Star Wars film, so it may just be this one sequence.
2. Ball Droid: I love ball droid, or ME-551 as I call him (HINT: change the 5’s into the letter they look like… you’re welcome futbol fan). He’s adorable, cute, and strange like a lot of Star Wars characters. I found it extremely amusing that a lot of “fans” who have bemoaned George Lucas adding cute or childish elements to the Saga, had no problem with this droid. He’s literally a soccer ball with a mini R2 dome attached, and makes all the cute little beeps, moans, and whistles that we’ve grown accustomed to from droids.
Of course some of these fans argued that cute wasn’t part of Star Wars before Jedi and those insufferable Ewoks. I guess I must have been imagining things when I saw mouse droid in A New Hope, the little bat guy squeal for his drink in the cantina, or watched Chewie cower in fear like a dog after escaping the garbage masher and hear the screams of the Dianoga. Those scenes all struck me as “cute.” But what about the fart and poo jokes in Phantom Menace, Yancy? Well we had belch jokes in both Empire and Jedi, and a cute little fight scene between a little droid and an annoying diminutive green Muppet; so excuse me if I’m not offended by more childish humor in my Star Wars films. Get over it; cute has always been a part of Star Wars.
3. Daisy Ridley: I know almost nothing about this character, besides what I’ve read on various spoiler sites, but I love the design of her clothing, her speeder bike, and I love Ridley’s determined look in her brief moment on the screen. I know I’m going to love Kira (or whatever her name turns out to be), and despite what some rumors are reporting, I have a suspicion she’s Han and Leia’s kid. She has that same kind of feisty Leia Organa/Padme Amidala vibe to her, and I cannot wait to see Ridley’s performance on the big screen.
The other big stand out moment during this sequence was the reveal of her speeder bike. It has a great lived in universe look, and feels like something you might find in Mose Eisley, or racing down the streets of Mos Espa (from Episode 1). It’s a terrific design that looks like one part souped up speeder bike, and one part Magnum Ice Cream bar.
4. Sith Guy and His Lightsaber Broadsword:
I really like the look and feel of this entire sequence. Our Dark Side villain moves in a very stealthy yet aggressive manner as if he were hunting prey. In a very dynamic shot we follow him/her through a snowy forest, when suddenly the lightsaber is ignited. It’s a very cool moment that works especially well with the dire sounding narration. The look of the saber is cool, but I will have to agree with critics that it appears to be fairly impractical.
Ultimately I really have no problem with the design as it’s meant more for visual impact than anything else… after all these are fantasy laser swords we are talking about. So I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief here. Even if those little cross guards really would serve no function in “real life” they could make a handy bottle or letter openers
5. CGI… everywhere:
So we heard a lot of hoopla going into this production that the new Star Wars film was going to be made using “old school” techniques, with less CGI. Practical sets and miniatures were the new norm (as if the Prequels didn’t use these), and the film might even use stop motion in one scene. Older fans were all aflutter as they apparently believed that the page was being turned on the CGI-fest of the Prequel Trilogy era, and we were entering a new phase where model makers were going to lovingly craft models (which they did for the Prequels by the way), and use motion control cameras to create shots in camera (they did this in the PTs too) in front of a green screen. Well the trailer unveils, and what do you know… CGI everywhere.
Ball droid.. yup CGI. Beautiful X-Wing fighter shot… most of that was constructed in a computer. The glorious, over the top Millennium Falcon flyby… yup, that’s CGI too. Obviously a model of the Falcon was used, but it was (like most of the PT models) scanned and turned into a computer model enabling FX artists to create much more complex and elaborate effects shots than was possible before. If any fan honestly believed they were going totally “old school” and would not use the tools available to effects artists today, then you were dreaming. Industrial Light and Magic is going to use every tool and technique at their disposal whether it’s “old school” or newer CG advances. Lucasfilm is banking everything on this film, and will leave nothing to chance.
Overview: Reflecting on the trailer after 24 hours has not really changed my opinion. The Force Awakens is a solid teaser trailer, but I would hesitate to call it spectacular. There are some terrific moments, but there are also areas that raise concerns for me. To me this trailer feels more like a preview of a teser, almost like the web exclusive “Breathing” teaser for Attack of the Clones. Hopefully, by the time we get to Celebration a proper teaser will be unveiled that will give us more to sink our teeth into.