Everything Wrong with the New ‘Star Wars’ Teaser
The new teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a moody, intriguing preview of J.J. Abrams’ vision for the Star Wars universe. At 88 seconds, it gets a couple things right and some things very, very wrong.
First, let’s give Abrams some credit: If nothing else, this sounds like a Star Wars film. The familiar shriek of X-wing engines and landspeeders, the hum of a lightsaber, and that final whir of the Millennium Falcon as it soars across the sands of (what is almost certainly) Tatooine. This matters; the sounds of Star Wars are as iconic as its sights, and yet these don’t appear to be samples. Abrams and his sound team seem to have revamped the Star Wars soundscape without falling into mimicry or scuttling the legacy of previous films.
The voice-over — dark, foreboding, cryptic — is on-point as well. There’s plenty of speculation as to its source, and the name Benedict Cumberbatch is being thrown around a bit too much for my liking. When the Star Trek-directing Abrams was announced as director, Star Wars fans were already a bit incensed. (A good friend told me “It’s like cousins kissing.”) If Abrams brings over a Star Trek villain, he might as well put Luke aboard the Enterprise.
If the teaser’s sounds are dead-on, its visuals fall short. I’m not saying these shots aren’t pretty, fun, or exhilarating. They are. But they don’t look like Star Wars. From its opening shot of an endless desert, suddenly interrupted by a sweaty man in stormtrooper armor, the trailer plants us firmly in the realm of subjective experience. It continues: a tracking shot of a soccer ball-like droid. A shaky close-up on a stormtrooper ready for battle. From close behind, we follow a dark-hooded figure through a snowy forest. These are engaging shots, but they’re the stuff of sci-fi action-adventure films. And, though it’s easy to forget, that’s not what Star Wars is.
It’s a space opera, as much about epic mythology and galactic-scale adventures as it is about any one of its main characters. Like the heroes of ancient mythology, the characters of Star Wars have always inhabited a narrative bigger than themselves, and as such the details of their human suffering go unreported. Cut by a lightsaber? They don’t bleed. Tortured on some weird electro-table thing? They don’t scar. Lost in the desert? They don’t sweat. You’ll never see a close-up on Luke Skywalker’s pores, or a POV from Han’s blaster. Interesting as these shots may be, they make the epic tale of Star Wars into a subjective, personal experience, and that’s just not the scale at which the drama of Star Wars occurs.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to see things at that level, though?” you might ask. Well yes, it would. And Disney has already realized that, which is why we’ll see spin-off films every other summer from now until we die. Those are the perfect vehicles for exploring the Star Wars universe through a less-grandiose lens. But this is Episode VII, the continuation of the monumental narrative that made us love this unlikely universe in the first place. This isn’t a sandbox for J.J. Abrams to play in.
And, speaking of vehicles and play, I have to talk about that final shot of the Millennium Falcon. Did my heart soar with the majestic bucket of bolts? Yes. But is the inverted perspective warranted? For a film whose aerial battles are based on World War II films, the sweeping, upside-down shot just read too modern. It felt like — and I can say this from experience — a kid playing with his Star Wars toys. (It’s also VERY reminiscent of Abrams’ first Star Trek film. Is your cousin a good kisser, J.J?)
In fact, the teaser basically gets all its ships wrong. Whether we’re seeing X-wings cruise over lakes or TIE fighters zip around the dunes of Tatooine, we’re not seeing any space battles, which is kinda odd considering the film is called Star Wars. Taken by itself, this isn’t particularly worrisome. It’s just a teaser, after all. But it gets a bit more alarming when you realize that Disney is making similar mistakes in its animated series, Star Wars Rebels, which will likely tie-in to the new film as part of Disney’s “make Star Wars into another Avengers universe” strategy. In Rebels, we’re seeing a LOT of TIE fighters serving as in-atmosphere patrol vehicles, with fighter pilots doubling as some kind of Imperial police force. Pilots regularly exit their craft to hassle civilians, despite the fact that the only door on their ship is 10 feet off the ground, with nary a ladder in sight. (The show conspicuously cuts away every time someone has to get in or out of a TIE fighter.) In fact, some of the now-discarded literature claims that TIE fighters aren’t even designed to land on their wings, though they do so regularly in Rebels. This begs the question: does Disney understand, or even care, about putting space ships in space?
Lastly, I’m not going to get into the controversy over this new lightsaber, but I’ll say this: If we’re forced to continue the prequel-created tradition of re-inventing the lightsaber every film, then eventually we’ll end up with this:
Lest I leave you thinking I’m an implacable curmudgeon, let me mention a few good things about this teaser:
- As Alex Fitzpatrick has already written, the choice to open with a POC is a good one. Maybe not “this totally makes up for the near-total lack of POC in the original trilogy” good, but good nonetheless.
- There were a couple shots that most definitely belonged in a Star Wars film. They’re below.
I’ll have more to say, I’m sure, as we see more from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.