By now you’ve probably seen it, the biggest film-related video to hit the internet since the release of the Jurassic World trailer less than a week ago. The first teaser trailer for the latest instalment in the long-running Star Wars saga was released in the early hours of the morning (Australian Eastern Daylight Time, naturally) to a flurry of speculation and praise. The opening shot is classic Star Wars, the desert of (presumably) Tatooine, the score subtly moving in and then, suddenly, the arrival of John Boyega as a stormtrooper. Outside of an unfortunate voiceover that almost derails the sequence (aren’t rhetorical questions just the best?), the teaser is off to a pretty great start – we’re already desperate to find out why one of the apparent stars of the film is donning the white armoured uniform of the Empire.
Rather than launch into any semblance of narrative, though, Abrams and his editorial team keep it very much a teaser, showing a series of immersive images and potential plotline clues in and around some very frustrating cuts to black. There’s an understandable need to build tension but the teaser, which is actually more about showcasing a variety of settings and characters than construction of easy-to-sell narrative, is jarringly edited, John Williams’ horns surging to life as the images are taken away from us. It’s like watching seven cliffhanger endings in a row – theoretically an alluring prospect but in practise a fairly frustrating viewing experience. You’re better off treating the entire thing like a series of 8-second mini-trailers played back-to-back.
After Boyega’s stormtrooper, the next thing we see is an “R2-D2 head on a Jabulani soccer ball body” droid scurrying across the outskirts of a desert airbase.1 It’s the part of the trailer than firmly reminds you of the appeal of the Star Wars franchise to children, here we have a cute droid that serves as an amusing image whilst also acting as a dual reinvention of and throwback to the original trilogy. In fact, you could probably say that about the trailer as a whole – all we see are mostly clever variations on existing sequences and imagery rather than anything truly innovative or new.
Next up are the stormtroopers themselves, and this is actually one of the better edited portions of the teaser, quick cuts and the hanger door opening having a sense of pace and tension about them that’s very much akin to modern action or thriller cinema. I’ll attest to being a little bit worried about this element of the film, Abrams’ last feature, the god-awful Star Trek: Into Darkness, had uninteresting and even pedestrian scenes of action.2
Then we have some character introductions – Daisy Ridley on a very large and hopefully fast space-bike and then Oscar Isaac in an X-Wing (Llewyn’s finally done good). These are fairly easy intros, both painted as part of the rebel alliance, but it’s Isaac who gets the arresting shot of a series of X-Wings flying over a lake straight after. All we can really gather at this point, plotwise, is that there’s some kind of training going on at a rebel air base, probably in preparation for some kind of atack.3
Then we hit the point of controversy, the first Sith character in a forest (hopefully in search of the Black Lodge – this could be the most insane Twin Peaks comeback ever!), who unsheathes his lightsaber only to reveal that – gasp! – it’s got two mini blades underneath that make it look more like an actual sword than a neon fencing foil. I actually have no issue with the lightsaber design, it’s a directorial stamp, gimmicky and nowhere near as interesting as Darth Maul’s double but it’s still appealing – this and the droid seems to show Abrams having a bit of fun with the franchise.
The trailer ends on a high, the Millennium Falcon soaring above the desert, weaving around some Tie Fighters. If I had to guess, which I don’t but I will, I’d say that this scene is probably a flashback of some kind, it feels way too much like a scene ripped from the original trilogy.
The Teaser Conundrum
In 2009, Abrams released the teaser trailer to his reboot of the Star Trek film franchise and it’s interesting to compare that to the teaser released this morning. Both have the tension mounting cuts to black, though the Star Trek trailer’s approach is vastly preferred, keeping a consistent sound mix and setting the entire teaser almost entirely in one location. Both teasers have the iconic theme music soar in at the end, and both use arguably the most famous spaceships from each franchise as the final shot. Whilst the soaring Millennium Falcon is very exciting to see, there’s almost something more impressive in the way in which Abrams kept the Starship Enterprise grounded for the entirety of the Star Trek teaser – leaving much more to the imagination of the viewer. That said, both teasers have completely different aims – there’s a sense of mystery surrounding each of them, but the Star Wars teaser has placed a focus on characters and actors, playing off of the huge traction the initial casting announcement got. Star Trek was an almost complete reboot, so the narrative was much more of a surprise than The Force Awakens will be.4
Another point worth raising is with regards to the release strategy of this teaser. It’s all over the internet now but it is also playing before every film across 30 theaters in the United States, suggesting, to me at least, that we might hit an unfortunate point of mass saturation. I don’t think there’s enough mystery peppered throughout that will keep it consistently engaging, though for the time being we can all enjoy the Twitter snark as people ruthlessly compare the latest Hunger Games film to the trailers that preceded it.
Peter Walsh: “Is that lightsaber meant to guard one’s hand from being lightsabered off? If so, about time. Seems like the biggest occupational hazard for Jedis is having their hands cut off. I also want to know about that droid. It seems to roll, which leads me to believe it will have a similar trouble with stairs as the droid from Robocop.”
Brad Mariano: “Looks interesting so far, but doesn’t give much away regarding the film’s biggest uncertainty – not plot, but how many lens flares Abrams can fit into this new universe”
Dominic Barlow: “I like Moses from Attack the Block. I like the dumb saber. I like that there’s no Original Trilogy characters. I’ll watch the film probably.”
James Hennessy: “It’s pretty consciously going for an anti-digital, very 70’s space opera aesthetic, which I think is nice. I have the feeling Abrams’ one is going to be a lot of fan service for those disappointed in Lucas’ films”
Jeremy Elphick: “This kind of feels like its entire purpose is simply to generate interest and remind people the film still exists. Personally, I forgot it did. It doesn’t really indicate anything beyond your typical Star Wars scenes. It teases that the film will be like other Star Wars films, but there’s no indicator towards plot or anything else. To me it’s fairly unfulfilling but definitely served its purpose of reminding me it was there in the first place.”
Saro Lusty-Cavallari: “While the annoying jerky editing is most likely a product of the trailer and not the film, the scene with the storm troopers is particularly weird, with a style that seems like one of a hundred Star Wars shooter games and Zero Dark Thirty.”
It’s a decent enough preview of the next film in the Star Wars franchise but it’s probably not as interesting as hoped for. It’s not a ‘teaser’ in the traditional vein, an elliptical and tonal preview, rather it feels like a trailer they cut all the connecting parts out of.5 That’s not a bad thing, per se, we do get some really vivid images and all of the characters are intriguing, though its editing and overeagerness to stir already present tension does tend to drag it down.