The Force Awakens

The modern movie marketing machine is a marvel to behold.  We don’t just have trailers now.  We have teasers, which are very short trailers for the actual trailer.  The teasers get scrutinized and reviewed as if they were one-minute movies.  And when it’s a teaser for the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII, the first official narrative step beyond the big Ewok dance part at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” an Internet frenzy is bound to ensue.

Not all of the reviews for the Black Friday release of the teaser for “The Force Awakens” have been positive, but I liked it.   I’m withholding judgment on the movie itself, mind you, but I like the way the teaser is put together:

It’s great because it gives you a few exciting and intriguing images, while leaving you entirely in the dark about the plot.  Modern trailers give far too much away.  I’ve seen a few that essentially spoiled the plot of the entire film.  Contrast this little 90-second nibble of whatever Episode VII is about with this clever fan-made trailer for “The Empire Strikes Back,” designed according to modern movie-marketing standards:

Some people think this modern-day “Empire” trailer is great, but I think it’s deliberately awful – the people who made it did a fantastic job of packaging the best movie in the Star Wars series the way a 21st-century marketing team would, and it’s too long, too heavy on plot details, and too eager to spotlight every single nifty sequence in the film.  Rare is the modern movie that hits us with anything spectacular that wasn’t heavily telegraphed in its trailer.

No doubt a much longer and more spoilery proper trailer for “The Force Awakens” will be along shortly, but for now, this teaser does a great job of dishing out a few nuggets of imagery and making you curious to see the story that ties them all together.  For example, what kind of sadist puts a flesh-ripping energy cross-hilt on his lightsaber – a feature that’s probably more of a threat to the wielder than his enemy?  

On a more serious note, that first shot of John Boyega clad in stormtrooper armor, confused and anguished amid the wastes of Tattooine (originally described to us as the backwater nowheresville of the galaxy, but in fact the very crossroads of galactic history) signals what could be an interesting story beat.  If he really is a stormtrooper who has a change of heart, and not just wearing the armor as a disguise, it could give us a perspective on the saga we’ve never seen before.  It stands to reason that some fundamentally decent people must have willingly participated in the Empire, perhaps because they valued the sense of order it brought to a chaotic, mismanaged galaxy.  The whole Imperial system wouldn’t instantly cease to exist just because the Emperor learned, the hard way, that waiving occupational-safety standards for the Death Star to litter it with poorly-covered bottomless pits was a bad idea.  The New Republic still had its work cut out for it, dealing with what remains of the Empire, and they would find themselves pitted against some foes who truly believed in it, including some old enough to remember the bureaucratic train wreck of the Old Republic.  

If one of the heroes in the new story is such a person, and he sees the error of his ways through honest character growth, it would be far more powerful than the emotionless, sterile, tell-more-than-show storyline about Jedi arrogance that Lucas couldn’t quite commit to in the Prequel trilogy.  The closest I can remember any previous media coming to that idea was the “TIE Fighter” computer game from the early Nineties, whose hero was an ace Imperial pilot with good reasons for supporting their cause.  I hope that’s what we’re getting from J.J. Abrams, along with Milennium Falcon acrobatics and lens flare.