Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Trailer!

At the Star Wars Celebration Rebels panel they debuted the trailer for Season 2 of Rebels.  Again, more great work from Dave Filoni and company.  For Clone Wars fans the trailer features the return of Captain Rex and that villainous pirate Hondo Ohnaka.  Looks to be a great season!

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens Teaser Reaction

So Thursday kicked off the largest gathering of Star Wars fanatics this side of Mos Eisley… Star Wars Celebration.  To open the festivities, director J.J. Abrams, and executive producer Kathleen Kennedy hosted a Force Awakens panel complete with the stars of the films, as well as some behind the scenes people.  They finally concluded the event with what everyone had been waiting for… the new Star Wars The Force Awakens teaser trailer:

The internets went wild as Twitter feeds flooded with reactions to the two minute tease.  The general consensus seems to be overwhelming excitement… My reaction is a little more tempered.  While there are certainly some awesome elements, there are quite a few things that concern me.  Still I really enjoyed the trailer, but something felt… off at the same time.  I decided to give it a few days and watch the trailer a few more dozen times.

There’s Something Familiar About This…

JukuuThe trailer begins with like the original teaser for The Phantom Menace, in a very quiet long establishing shot, as our hero, Rey traverses the desert of Jakku on a speeder bike through a ship graveyard.  It’s a wonderful moment and evokes a very Star Wars otherworldly feel… we fade to black.  Unfortunately the rest of the trailer is hampered by a case of living in the past.

In fact, that’s the whole premise of the trailer… to convince older fans that Star Wars is safe again…

and the last thing Star Wars needs to be is safe…

Vader Helmet Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 X-Wings Trooper Snow PlanetWhile reflecting on the trailer a good couple of days I’ve come to the conclusion that director JJ Abrams is doing his damndest to convince audiences that his new Star Wars film is fresh, while all the time catering to the nostalgia of older fans, and ultimately fails miserably on the first count.  The trailer is little more than a 70s/80s retro fest with nearly shot for shot recreations of the Death Star II exhaust port chase, a recreation of a famous publicity shot, and constant call backs to the Original Trilogy.  Originally I was going to do a point by point breakdown of different shots, and I may at a later date, but to summarize, there’s a lot in the trailer I really like, but there’s a disturbing tendency on JJ’s part to play it safe and simply cater to fans, and that’s not what the Saga needs right now.  What Star Wars needs is a fresh voice with bold ideas who understands what came before and wants to continue telling stories rooted in myth while approaching it from a new angle.

Does JJ “Get” Star Wars?  image

What particularly disturbed me about the Celebration Force Awakens kick off panel were comments uttered by Abrams himself which really made me question whether or not he even understood what Lucas was trying to accomplish with the entire Star Wars Saga, let alone the Original Trilogy. At one point Abrams regurgitated the Prequel basher talking point that Star Wars is really at its heart, a Western, which of course implies that Lucas really doesn’t get Star Wars at all and the appeal of the franchise.  Somehow, Star Wars is a space Western and if Lucas just would have kept Star Wars limited to that box the Prequels wouldn’t have gone off the rails (so the theory goes).  This whole mantra of Star Wars as Western source seems to have begun by a group of Lucas bashers who created, what they call, the “4 Star Wars Rules.”  Apparently on some level Abrams subscribes to this theory.

While talking about his experiences shooting in the desert of Abu Dhabi he said, “Star Wars is as much Western and fairy tale as it is anything else.  One of the things you expect and want to see is these tangible, beautiful John Ford landscapes…”  A nice sentiment JJ, but you are simply talking out of your butt.  Any first year film student will ArtooThreepiotell you the “John Ford look” is all about Monument Valley found at the border of Arizona and Utah.  Monument Valley is an area dominated by sandstone buttes and mesas… not rolling endless sand dunes.   I suppose you could argue he’s talking about the sequences in the valleys of the Jundland Wastes, but that seems a stretch as most people think desert planet when they hear the word Tatooine.  In fact there’s very little in the way of John Ford to be found in A New Hope, but there’s a lot of it found in Attack of the Clones.   Instead what Lucas did in A New Hope is adopt a very David Lean look from Lawrence of Arabia to inform the visuals of the desert planet.  With a big, endless desert framing most of his shots.  However, Lucas clearly channels his inner John Ford in Attack of the Clones:

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(NOTE: Thanks to Mike Klimo of Star Wars Ring Theory for recently posting these screengrabs on his Twitter feed.  They’ve been very illuminating)

Even the plot of A New Hope has almost nothing to do the Western genre.  Sure there are elements of the American Western sprinkled throughout; Han is certainly a space cowboy, Mos Eisley, and especially the cantina have a very Western frontier town feel to them, but they are just elements of the whole.  A New Hope, like Star Wars in general is an amalgam, a pastiche of the influences of Lucas’ youth and interests as a filmmaker, borrowing heavily from sources such as Flash Gordon, Tolkien, Greek myth, Japanese cinema, Medieval adventure tales, layering it all with a spiritual element gleaned from the world’s major religions.  A New Hope has far more in common with Flash Gordon serials (which Lucas originally wanted to adapt) than a Western, and the plot borrows liberally from Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, The Hidden Fortress.

Abrams failure to grasp this raises a whole lot of concerns on my part.  I’m just not sure he really understands the mythology and legacy behind Star Wars.  He certainly understands his feelings of Star Wars as a child, and how that impacted him as a youth, but there’s so much more to the Saga than one’s childhood memories and fantasies.  That’s a large reason that while on the one hand I enjoy the trailer immensely, on the other I worry that The Force Awakens will be little more than a nostalgia fest; something Abrams is intimately familiar with.

Han & ChewieFor a lot of fans, the final shot of Han & Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon was the “money shot” and sent them over the moon as fanboy/fangirl chills ran up their spines.  The waves of nostalgia washed over them and they were filled with a sense of awe as their dreams were finally realized… George no longer had his hands in the Saga, all of their wildest Star Wars dreams could be realized.  For a brief moment I was even hit with a feeling of being that child who grew up with Star Wars back in 1977, waiting anxiously for the next installment and contenting myself with reading another issue of Marvel’s Star Wars in the meantime.  It was a wonderful moment, but as soon as the screen faded to black I realized that something about it felt very off to me.  I pondered about that shot for a good chunk of time until I realized I had seen all of this before… because I had a poster of it on my wall.

Han & Chewie

JJ was up to his old tricks… The shot is nothing more than a recreation of that iconic poster, and while it’s a nice nod it really speaks volumes about one of Abrams’ biggest weaknesses, and accentuates a growing concern I’ve had for months.

You see, one of the biggest knocks on Abrams has always been his lack of creativity as a filmmaker.  He’s always been involved in projects that on some level are derivative of other works.  Three of his past four motion pictures have been sequels of franchises, with the one exception, Super 8, being a complete knock off of a 1980’s Steven Spielberg film.  Even the TV series he’s produced have borrowed liberally from other works.  One of my favorite shows he produced, Alias, is nothing more than one part The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., one part X-Files, with a heavy dose of Dan Brown mythology.  When you look at the totality of his work there is really nothing there that screams “visionary,” or even suggests an artist who really has the ability to oversee the relaunch of a massive franchise… just look at his very hit and miss results with Star Trek.

JJ ArtooUltimately, his lack of his own creativity is his downfall as a filmmaker.  While Lucas could take all of these wildly divergent elements from myth, pop culture, and religion and massage it into it’s own self contained universe which felt original yet familiar. Abrams, on the other hand, has shown no such ability as an filmmaker.  His work routinely feels like a homage to another artist’s work, or a series of ideas slapped together in an effort to feel original, but wind up coming across as derivative.  This trailer does nothing but reinforce that point as there is no original substance to be found.  The one thing I can say about Lucas was he had an ability to tease you with new locales, strange aliens, and situations in each of the five teaser trailers that followed A New Hope.  Whether it’s battles in the snow, the forest, a high speed race through the deserts of Tatooine, raging storms over a water planet, or a deadly lightsaber duel on an erupting volcano, Lucas was always able to tantalize with new ideas.  JJ’s tease is little more than a complete rehash of the Original Trilogy with a new young trio surrounded by visuals and designs that are all comfortable and familiar.

And that leads to my biggest gripe and concern… I’m not convinced this film will be terribly original, and will in fact be little more than a soft reboot of the Saga, allowing Disney to distance itself from George’s Saga, and move forward, and frankly Disney has found the perfect guy for THAT job. While Abrams talks a lot about “moving the Saga forward” I’m not so certain with this trailer that Lucasfilm is really going to attract interest from young audiences.  The trailer really caters to older Star Wars fans, and if you are a young person who is not already invested in Star Wars there’s little in this trailer to suggest something new or fresh about the Saga.

We’re Going Back… To The Past!!!

Back-to-the-Future-Doc-BrownThere was an alarming exchange midway through the panel in which Katleen Kennedy seemed to suggest that fans reaction is a very important part of the storytelling process.  Of course she added the caveat that Lucasfilm will still tell the stories it wants, but there certainly was a not so subtle subtext running throughout her comments that said, “We’ve heard your cries.”  Well sorry, but fanboys should have pretty much no say so in the future of Star Wars.  Many of these “fans” are the same Lucas bashers who wanted boderline evil Anakin betraying the Jedi and exterminating them in a three arc story, forgetting the wise words of George, “…a monster becoming a monster isn’t a story.”   Storytelling by committee, and more importantly, by consensus is not art, it’s just catering to the mob.  It seems pretty safe to say that JJ’s mandate is to push every fanboy button, and weave a very safe Star Wars film which takes little to no risk, all in the hopes of avoiding controversy.  He will cater to their every whim; in fact JJ appears to be all in…

During his Force Awakens panel Abrams once again began to engage in Star Wars historical revisionism found among Prequel/Lucas bashers suggesting that his films were going to be more “tangible” and “real” because they built sets for the actors to interact with. Of course this is meant to imply that George moved away from this tradition and simply shot all of his films on digital stages in front of green screens.  Of course this completely ignores the dozens of sets and locations used for the filming of the Prequel Trilogy.  Lucas too desired a tangible look for his films, however he had to go another course.  Instead of dealing with a galaxy in the middle of a war he was examining a Republic in a state of decline, that is ultimately pushed over the ledge by Palpatine.  So on the one hand the universe had to be shiny, a little less used looking, while on the other hand still staying true to the rules he established in the universe.  I think he did a pretty darn good job:

imageimageimageimageimageimage

As you can clearly see these are real sets, designed and constructed by a group of talented artists who took weeks, and months to develop designs which could tell the story Lucas was trying to tell.  Each one of the Prequel films is filled with beautiful sets and locations, certainly enhanced with special effects, but if you don’t believe Jjj-abramsJ will be incorporating the same techniques, I’ve got some lovely beach front property in Yuma I can sell you. However, what really grinds my gears is that JJ is so willing to cavalierly dismiss the work on those films, all for the benefit of throwing around a few buzzwords that get fanboy hearts aflutter.

I used to work as an intelligence analyst back in the day with a focus on international politics… so words are really, really important to me, and what’s left unsaid, or implied by the words you are using is as important as what you actually say, or what you meant to say.  During one portion of the interview section of the show JJ states that the mandate he had was to “set a standard” and that everything had to feel real.  That’s a good enough sentiment, but then he takes it a step further; unnecessarily so: “You knew people were in those places.  The way the light interacts with the set.  You want it to be legitimate, and authentic.”  Abrams is clearly separating himself from Lucas here, and is making it clear, although unstated, that he’s going to make a movie for older Star Wars fans who felt burned by the Prequels.  To make matters worse he’s actually implying through his words that what George did in Episodes I-III was “inauthentic” and “illegitimate.” As if Lucas totally dismissed the use of practical sets and locations. I think as I’ve shown in the pictures above that was certainly not the case with the Prequels.

Lucas & DanielsAlso understated in the Force Awakens panel was any mention of Lucas, or even a hint of his involvement in the production. I think George’s name came up a whopping two times in the entire panel, despite the fact Lucas created this large sandbox that all of these people are playing in now. I’m really beginning to suspect that George’s statements from January that Disney had jettisoned his treatments for the Sequel Trilogy and were doing their own thing is true. Early on we were told Lucas and Abrams were meeting regularly, and Lucas’ son even suggested that George and JJ were texting daily. Then Star Wars scribe Michael Arndt, who was writing scripts based on George’s treatments was let go, and then Disney Studios honcho Alan Horn implied in a Q&A that he wasn’t aware of Lucas’ involvement in the project any more. That would certainly explain why Lucas is even barely given a mention at Celebration; even Lucas’ good friend Kathleen Kennedy only mentioned his name in passing while recounting how she became head of Lucasfilm.

imageFrankly, this troubles me a great deal. Much has been made of Abrams ability to weave a mythology in his television shows like Alias and Lost, but in the case of both shows, that mythology became a muddled mess as the shows wore on. Both shows did not find their footing again until AFTER Abrams had left the productions. Add to that his inability to understand the roots of the mythology behind the Star Wars Saga, and there is cause for concern. So excuse me if I have a lot more faith in the guy who actually created the universe, than a sometimes very talented filmmaker (Super 8) who is often prone to make materials that are devoid of real depth and miss the point of the source material (Star Trek Into Darkness).

Again, to be clear, I did enjoy the trailer, with certain reservations. My biggest concerns are not necessarily with the content of the trailer itself, but with Abrams’ apparent inability to grasp the magnitude of the depth of story telling that Lucas presented in his six part Saga. For all of Abrams’ talk of wanting to move the Saga “forward” for “a new generation,” this trailer seemed needlessly mired in the past, and shows little in the way of anything new or fresh. The trailer seems to be catered to a certain subset of fans who are still bitter at George Lucas for not giving them a Prequel Trilogy that had been brewing in their minds for nearly 20 years. Ultimately it feels like a trailer by put together by a marketing group:

Stormtroopers… check
Star Destroyer… check
Millennium Falcon in a fight… check
Vader… check

I really want The Force Awakens to be a film that launches fandom for a whole new generation of fans, but from what I’ve seen it looks like I’m stuck in a 1980’s time warp.

Force Awakens

My Hiatus – There and Back Again

I’m back.  It took a while for the bug to return, but I’m back.

While I had promised back in late December to return to regular blogging in a “few weeks” a number of events occurred that legitimately made writing regular updates nearly impossible.  Namely my job situation changed, and for a few weeks over the Holiday season I had to look for a new job.  I found that job in early January, but I felt it was inappropriate to be spending my newly found free time writing about my passion for Star Wars when I needed to find work.  Also during this period I went through a fairly profound change in my faith, and moved closer to a more orthodox Christian tradition.  During this same time I spent a good deal of time in prayer, and reading my Bible.  Again, it was a time to be serious and less focused on something that’s let’s face it… a little frivolous.

georgelucasHowever, something else happened that made me really examine my fandom, and what was happening within the Star Wars fan community, and Disney’s handling of the Saga.

Back in January Cinema Blend interviewed George Lucas for his upcoming animated film, Strange Magic.  In the interview Lucas stated:

“The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the ones that I originally wrote.” 

I was floored.  Disney had claimed these films were based on George’s treatments for the Sequel Trilogy.  How in the world could Disney simply discard Lucas’ ideas, and what impact would that ultimately have on Star Wars as a whole?  To me this was akin to a publisher buying the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth sagas, then asking Professor Tolkien, if he were alive, to develop a sequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings, then he turns in the manuscript, and the publisher says, “Sorry, John, we’ve decided to go a different direction.”

Then follow that up with the announcement that Prequel Trilogy basher and writer of the first Star Wars spinoff fim, Garry Whitta, was being replaced by ANOTHER Lucas basher, Chris Weitz.  Of course this announcement, along with the Lucas interview set the internets ablaze, and once again exposed the seedy underbelly of a small, but vocal minority of Star Wars who insist on bashing Lucas, and fans of the Prequels at any turn.

I realized that I had my fill of this nonsense.  The endless online forums battles, my Twitter feed being filled with garbage from countless geek websites deriding fans of the entire Saga, or once again bashing Disney or Lucas for not giving them the “unaltered” Original Trilogy in high definition.  Unfortunately it appeared the continued segregation of fans between trilogies, by fans was going to continue, and Disney was doing little to foster a sense of welcoming fans of the whole Saga.  Even a casual statement like, “We stand behind George’s vision of the Saga and will continue to honor it going forward,” would be a nice sentiment.  Instead they hire yet another Lucas basher, albeit a little less intense, Chuck Wendig, to write the official story of what happened in the days that followed the Battle of Endor.  Is it really that hard to find creative types who have a love for George’s six-part Saga (Disney here’s a hint there’s a guy you are already employing, his name is Dave Filoni)?godfather3

So I decided to step away from fandom for a while… my passion appeared to be waning. But just when I thought I was, as REM put it, “Losing My Religion,” a few things happened along the way that rekindled it.  Just when I thought I was out, Star Wars pulled me back in.

While all of these negative behind the scenes things were happening on the Disney/Lucasfilm front, the actual products being released were pretty darn good.  Marvel Comics began their stewardship of the Star Wars license, and so far the results have been pretty good.  The Princess Leia mini series, and Kanan: The Last Padawan have been outstanding titles.  Star Wars started strong but has kind of meandered as of late, and the last two issue of Vader have been pretty bad (I’ll be reviewing the four titles in an upcoming post soon), but overall it looks like Marvel has a good handle on the Saga and have incorporated elements of the entire Saga in their story telling.  Meanwhile the official canon has also continued in a series of pretty good novels.  So far Tarkin has been a standout among the new books, but the Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn was quite good as well.  Unfortunately the Luke Skywalker novel, Heir to the Jedi was hit or miss, but all in all the canon novels appear to be well thought out and have tied into the comics very smoothly.Kanan

In addition to this quality expanded canon coming from Lucasfilm, Disney’s animated series, Star Wars Rebels, ended in a rousing fashion.  After some early missteps, and some ratings confusion, the show found its footing and a regular audience on Disney Channel during reruns.  More adventures await as the second season is set to debut and will have a full order of 22 episodes.  Hopefully, Disney will allow the adventures of the Ghost Crew continue for some time, and introduce new Younglings and Padawans to the Star Wars universe.

While I may have been growing weary of Star Wars fandom, and Disney’s apparent miscues, the canon material coming from Lucasfilm kept my fandom on a low burn.  However, what finally put it over the top to a full boil came from fellow fan Mike Klimo and his brilliant blog Star Wars Ring Theory.  I had known about Mike’s blog for a few months, but recent he has been making the rounds on a number of podcasts and will be featured in a write up in Star Wars Insider.  So what is Star Wars Ring Theory… well as I’ve always suspected, Lucas’ entire Star Wars Saga completes a circle in how it presents itself.  Lucas used a writing technique call “ring composition” to construct all six episodes of the Saga.  Basically Mike did the serious research of going episode by episode, and more importantly, shot by shot, and line by line, showing how together the entire Saga makes up a intricately woven tapestry… Lucas constructed the Saga in a very specific fashion, and while it can be enjoyed on just a basic, almost visceral level; if you dig deeper, there’s something more… a lot more.  Digging deep into Mike’s work, and listening to him speak so passionately about it made me realize how much the Saga meant to me, and I wasn’t about to let a bunch of grumpy fans, or misguided corporate suits take away from my enjoyment of George’s work.Ring Theory

So I’m officially back, and will return to my normal writing schedule.  Thanks to my readers for being patient with me, but rest assured there will be some good stuff coming up in the weeks ahead.

Coming soon: The Most Subversive Star Wars Story Ever… The Phantom Menace

I’ll Be Returning This Week

After a furious pace of blog posts, I decided it was time to take a brief break for the Holidays. In addition there were some major work related changes going on with the Evans family, so I needed to focus on that.  So I’ll be back this week with regular posts.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and will have a terrific New Year!

May the Force Be With You!

Do… or do not. There is nor try. Part II

Well, I posted this blog entry a couple of months ago, and I’d like to thank all of my readers who have responded.  Right now I’ve been training for the upcoming Star Wars Disneyland Half Marathon, and our race team has been raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).  We have a team goal to raise $9,000 for LLS and are about $1,000 short right now.  So during this Holiday season I’d like to ask my fellow Star Wars fans to consider a small donation to LLS through our team.  You can find the details at the bottom of the article.

Now for those of you asking why the heck I’d be doing something crazy like walking 13.1 miles… well continue reading:

October 2, 2014:

One of501st the best aspects of Star Wars fandom is the sheer number of fans who are involved in charitable works.  Both the 501st and Rebel Legion are well know for their involvement in fundraising and bringing attention to a whole host of notable cause like children’s cancer research, the American Red Cross, and the Make a Wish Foundation among others.  And other Star Wars fans across the world have joined forces to raise money to help offset medical expenses for fellow fans, or simply help out in their local communities.

To be a member of the Evans clan, community service is pretty much a requirement.  You WILL help out those who are in need or less fortunate than yourself, and you WILL do whatever is asked of you with a grateful heart.  My wife and I firmly believe this is a way to actively put our faith into action, and will pass on a legacy of community service to our children, and theirs. rebel legion

For the past 13 years or so my wife has helped raise funds for the American Cancer Society and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  Most of our fund raising activity surrounds racing events like marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons.  We help out in race prep, getting runners registered, working the finish line passing our water to runners, and tear down.  Rather than pay us, the company who sponsors the race pays our favorite charity.

Of course my wife got the bug to actually participate in some of these races as a walker.  She would diligently fundraise, for each race with her monies going to her charity of choice. She would work through the grind of training, and the inevitable pain of race day.  But in the meantime she would raise thousands to help cancer research.

Racing LadiesYou see, my wife hates cancer… I mean HATES it with a passion.  It has taken away family members and close friends of hers well before their time.  So she relentlessly pursues her goal of wiping out cancer from the planet, all the while towing her husband and kids along to help her raise money.  Then last year she convinced my youngest, Kiersten, to participate in a race.  She had a blast and wanted to do it again.  So their goal was to participate in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco.

Then my daughter got an idea… a devious, wicked idea… Dad loves Star Wars, right?  So let’s get dad to join us and do the Star Wars Disneyland Half Marathon in January. How could I say no, it’s Star Wars, it’s Disneyland (my other fan passion) and it’s for an awesome cause?  Well of course I couldn’t say no; so there it is.

So that’s the purpose for this particular post.  The Evans family is raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training for the upcoming race, and I will be run/walking the 13.1 mile course (GULP). Frankly, it’s a little intimidating, as I’ve put on a bit of weight (to put it nicely) since I participated in the PF Chang’s Rock n Roll Marathon years and years ago.  But I’m determined to DO it… not try.

So, the Evans team needs your help.  Our goal as a team is to raise $9,000.  We are getting there, but the December 31st deadline is quickly approaching.  So, if you feel inclined, I’ve put a link to my fundraising page here (or you can click on the really cool Return of the Jedi inspired graphic below) where you can make a tax free donation of any amount you want.  Even if you can’t contribute at this time, just drop a well wish in the comment field below, or say a quick prayer (if that’s your thing), or send some positive vibes our way:

Disney Marathon

The Force Awakens Teaser Observations – Themes & Other Observations (Spoilerish)

Force Awakens

NOTE:  There could be SPOILERS ahead, but this is largely my speculation, so be warned:

Another day, another watching the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer another dozen times.  The trailer has really started to grow on me with each subsequent viewing, especially as I started to analyze what the trailer is telling us about the state of the galaxy, and delve a little deeper into thematic elements revealed in this brief 88 second preview.

1. John Boyega – Hero On the Run

As the trailer opens we reveal the desert sands of Tatooine (I don’t buy for one minute that we are going to be introduced to yet ANOTHER desert planet), as ominous music rises and a menacing voice says: “There’s been an awakening… Have you felt it?”  Suddenly, Boyega jumps up in distress, clearly disheveled, and on the run.

WP4Phone_20141129090218One of the reasons I believe this is a revisit to Tatooine is that like many legends, and a number of the world’s major religions, they are all born out of the wilderness; or the desert to be more specific.  In the Star Wars universe, Tatooine is that vast wilderness in which our myth finds its genesis.  The story of Anakin, and later his son Luke, all originate from the desert wastlands of that planet that is farthest from the “bright center” of the universe.  So once again, our hero will emerge from the wilderness to take on his/her task.

I also believe there is a specific reason John Boyega is the first person we meet in the trailer; it will be his “Hero’s Journey” we follow throughout the Sequel Trilogy.  Somehow the Force has chosen to return through him.  As we’ve seen in both the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars, the Force is not simple some inert energy field surrounding all living things which is passive and is simply a tool to be used by someone with a connection to the Force.  It is in fact an active agent; a sentient thing with its own will which it reveals to those who are willing to listen.

Mark HamillSomewhere in the galaxy there is a growing malevolence, as our dire narrator reveals later in the teaser; so it is very like the Force is calling out for a champion to restore balance to the Force once again.  This of course begs the question, where is Luke, the Jedi who restored balance to the Force?  As I speculated in an earlier piece, I believe Luke probably came to some realization that the Jedi way, while noble in its goals, was not necessarily the right way.  The Jedi taught that attachment was forbidden, but Luke’s unconditional love for his father, which is an attachment, ultimately saved the universe.  So clearly, something about the Jedi Code as we know it is amiss.

I never once bought the Expanded Universe notion that Luke would immediately set out to recreate the Jedi Order we saw in the Prequels; he would want to do something different.  Even after Jedi (back when we thought the Empire was destroyed), I wondered if Luke would be more like Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin Samurai we saw in Akira Kurosawa’s classic films Yojimbo and Sanjuro, dispensing justice and defending freedom throughout the galaxy.  He would probably pass on that knowledge to another, like his sister, but would be looking to the galaxy at large, standing up to evil wherever he finds it.  Maybe this is the reason Luke is largely absent during this 30 year period of civil war; there are other injustices in the universe to be fought than a seemingly never ending war.  But this raises more questions…

2.  The Dark Side – They Always Have the Coolest Lightsabers:  

WP4Phone_20141129104649Who exactly is the hooded figure with his red bladed lighsaber longsword (affectionately called “Excalisaber” by Lazy Padawan).  Could he be a fallen pupil of Luke’s? We’ve established in The Clone Wars that there is no life after death for the Sith.  So this is not some resurrected Sith Lord, and if Luke is the last of the Jedi, and the Sith were destroyed in Return of the Jedi, then Luke has to be the catalyst for bringing about the reemergence of the Dark Side in some way.

This of course makes for some classic mythological storytelling, recalling the story of Lucifer and his expulsion from Heaven,  Maybe this dark agent is the son of Luke who has chosen another path, once again echoing the fall of Anakin, but in this case it would be the father who redeems the son.  There are many exciting story telling possibilities here which completely fit in with the type of modern myth George Lucas was trying to tell.

And while I was fairly ambivalent about the villain’s new lightsaber with its mini-saber cross guards, the design has really grown on me in the last few days when I view it in the context of a larger story.  The design is a call back to the classic broadswords/longswords prevalent in Medieval lore.  While Lazy Padawan jokingly referred to it as “Excalisaber” the name is very appropriate.  The sight of the red blade igniting in a wintery forest setting evokes images of knights and castles… a feeling of something ancient; something that was lost to the mists of history, but has been found again.  This Black Knight lies in wait, ready to pounce on our heroes, armed with his sword imbued with the power of some dark magic.  It’s a great visual which really works in the Star Wars setting.

3.  Daisy Ridley… Luke Skywalker was once a girl:  

Luke girlI really love the design aesthetic of Daisy Ridley’s character as it very reminiscent of early Ralph McQuarrie designs for Luke, back when George Lucas was toying with the idea of making his lead a young woman. Daisy jumps on her speeder bike in an outfit which closely resembles some early production paintings, right down to her riding goggles.

What I really love about this sequence is the determined look on her face, and this feeling I get that she is one who is quick to action.  Whether or not she is the child of Han and Leia, I think she serves a similar role as Han, and both literally and figuratively drives John Boyega’s character into the fray, and really kick starts his Hero Journey.

WP4Phone_20141129090235I really do hope she turns out to be Han and Leia’s kid, but even if she’s not she will be a crucial player in the events of the Sequel Trilogy.  But I appreciate the efforts of Abrams and Kennedy to go back and use some of McQuarrie’s discarded designs for inspiration.  To me McQuarrie, John Barry, Norman Reynolds, and Joe Johnston were the key figures who created the visual language of the Saga from a production level.  Their work inspired and informed the work of Gavin Bocquet, Doug Chiang , and Iain McCaig for the Prequel trilogy.

4. Music – How Could I Forget John Williams

One of the aspects of the teaser trailer I forgot to mention in my previous reports was John Williams brilliant music.  There are some wonderful new bits of music for the first minute of the trailer before a new re-recording of the Star Wars theme takes over.  it’s a very interesting mix of an older Williams style from the 70s mixed with a more familiar sound from Williams work over the past two decades.

WilliamsThe trailer begins with dissonant strings playing as we look at the Tatooine skyline.  The piece sounds very similar to a short bit of music he wrote for Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition during the Gobi Desert sequence.  Then we cut directly into the action with a very busty bit of music which felt like an action piece from the Prequels.  The tone takes an ominous turn with the appearance of our villain.  The Falcon and the Star Wars Main Theme bring us home to a rousing conclusion.

While it was just a short snippet of music, Williams once again demonstrates that his compositions for the Saga are almost like a character unto itself.  It’s the Greek Chorus, informing us how we should feel as an audience, who we should fear, and who we should cheer for.  He has built an enduring legacy with the Saga, and the film composers who take up the baton from this music icon for the spin off films, and future episodes of the Saga will be hard pressed to fill the enormous void his absence will leave.

Overview: That should about wrap it up for my analysis of the trailer for now.  I may take another analytical look as more information about the film is revealed, but for now, until we get a full blown teaser trailer, I’ll just be satisfied watching this teaser a few more times.

May the Force Be With You

The Force Awakens Teaser Observations – 24 Hours Later

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.

May the Force Be With You