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

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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
 

The Force Awakens – Trailer Observations

Well the first Official Teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has dropped, and I’ve watched it a dozen times or so.  So here are some quick observations:

1.  LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the shot of the X-Wings skimming over the water, looked fantastic, and suitably epic!

2.  Nice to see the Falcon again, not necessarily sure I’m a big fan of that particular shot.  A little too much shaky cam for my taste.

3.  Speaking of shaky cam, just looking at the Stormtrooper landing sequence it is VERY evident this is a J.J. Abrams film, and will look very modern compared to the other six films.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as fans need to remember these films are being made for a younger audience and there are certain expectations they have.  Abrams like to use shaky cam to give the audience a “you are there” feel.  I’m sure he will dial it back compared to Mission Impossible III, but he’s not going to change the way he makes films.

4.  Bad guy’s lighsaber… jury is still out for me.  I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of cross guards on the hilt of the lightsaber blades as they seem unwieldy, but it is growing on me.

5.  Rollerball R2 unit.  I suspect older fans who hate “cute” elements in their Star Wars are going to hate this character.

6.  John Boyega OWNS the screen in the few seconds he appears.  I definitely wanted to know more about him.

Overall it’s a solid teaser, but I was left a little underwhelmed.  Compared to the Episode I & III teasers it was lacking.  The Episode II “Breathing” teaser was outstanding, and Empire’s teaser had me going back to the theater again, and again.

One of my biggest takeaways from this teaser is that J.J. is desperately trying to surround this film with an air of mystery, but this trailer comes across as less of a mystery and more like a series of random shots strung together that tell us little. The great thing about the teasers for the Prequels is that they hinted at just enough of a story to give the audience a tease of the upcoming adventure, but still managed to shroud it in mystery. J.J.’s Mystery Box can be frustrating at times.

On the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that J.J. avoided turning the teaser into a nostalgia fest, and instead of dwelling on the past chose to introduced the new characters that will propel the Saga going forward.