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“There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?”
The first line of dialogue from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser released online Friday morning is wonderfully meta; have we felt it? Of course we have — what else explains the excitement surrounding the release of the trailer so early on the day after Thanksgiving, or the frustrations of social media filled the realization that everyone has to update Quicktime? But it’s a joke that is readily forgiven, considering what immediately follows.
It’s not just the sight of John Boyega popping up from the bottom of the screen that thrills; it’s seeing him do so in a Stormtrooper outfit, against a sandy landscape with both the intercom crackle of Stormtrooper discussion and a John Williams score blaring out; it feels like Star Wars, immediately. That’s something that’s true of everything that follows; everything is familiar enough that it registers as “the real thing,” but with enough novelty to get our attention: An R2 unit with a ball for a body! A carrier filled with Stormtroopers ready to deploy! Daisy Ridley on something that looks like a cross between a speeder bike and a land-speeder! X-Wing pilots shot in the same framing as the original movies! It’s Star Wars, everybody!
And then, of course, the money shot: the one that no fan could resist — in theaters or online. The Millennium Falcon, flying in space as Williams’ beloved theme plays. And TIE Fighters are attacking, with that sound! (The sound in this teaser feels very important; it’s the music, the sound effects, as much as anything that give it legitimacy as Star Wars; the roar of the engines, the sound of the laser blasts, these are things that fans have held in their heads for decades; if those weren’t present, and weren’t exactly right, the entire enterprise would be doomed to failure.)
Again, it’s both familiar and new; that shot of the Falcon and TIE Fighters in the air, with the audience quickly realizing that we’re upside down, is far more kinetic than anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before, born of a cinema that became mainstream after George Lucas‘ original movies (It is, indeed, very J.J. Abrams, in terms of framing; a nice way of his claiming ownership over the franchise subtly here). It’s dizzying, exciting — and, like the R2-ball or the slightly different Stormtrooper helmets, or the mysterious Sith with the new lightsaber, a sign that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very purposefully the same-but-different, informed by the same nostalgia that it very intentionally plays on here, but not beholden to it. It’s the perfect shot to end on.
In so many ways, there’s nothing really revealed here, as such. We knew the cast list, we knew the Millennium Falcon was going to appear in the movie already. That there’s a bad guy with a lightsaber isn’t a surprise, and no plot gets revealed beyond, “The Force is back and it sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch is doing the voiceover.”
And yet, watching the teaser, all of it feels new in a way that it hasn’t before, perhaps because Star Wars, at its best, has always been about the visceral, childlike thrill of the visual spectacle. (Who can forget seeing the Death Star for the first time, or Darth Vader?) This is a teaser that, undoubtedly, was put together cynically to provoke both nostalgia and excitement for the future in equal measure, but there’s no denying that it works.
December 2015 suddenly seems just that little bit further away.
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