My reaction to the Force Awakens teaser trailer

So there’s an outside possibility that you might have noticed this already but the trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film has arrived:

This must be fast becoming some of the most closely analysed 90 seconds of footage ever. Despite this it’s hard to tell too much about the final film from it. This is the most teaser of teaser trailers. We get only one small snippet of dialogue and next to no plot details. And crucially, we don’t get any insight into how the characters from the original trilogy will mesh into this new film. As Den of Geek puts it this trailer is ‘fanfare’:

It may not tell us too much – other than that the Rebels, the Empire and the Sith are back, which is plenty to be getting on with, admittedly – but it’s a rallying call for the saga’s legion fans. Star Wars is back.

And in that regard it seems to have worked. Fans seem (even more) excited by what they have seen. That, however, seems mostly to be on account of the cool stuff in it: the new improved stormtrooper uniforms, the new improved X-Wings, the new improved Millennium Falcon and that adorable droid football thing.

As nice as these are to see, and the aesthetic is to look at in general, I don’t think this is the most encouraging thing about the trailer. If one looks back to the first trailer for the Phantom Menace, an experience which brings back painful memories but which is nonetheless instructive, you’ll see plenty of cool stuff there: Darth Maul wielding a double bladed lightsabre, podracing, Samuel L. Jackson as a jedi master and YODA!!!

The problem was that Lucas was really good at coming up with cool things to fill a universe with hopelessly inept at using them to build an engaging story. Watching the Phantom Menace one feels that not only were the special effects computer generated but that the plot and dialogue were too. It’s lifeless and lacking in pathos.

Compare that with the shot of John Boyega that opens the trailer:

His expression, the sweat pouring from his face and his isolation all combine to make one feel his utter terror. This single shot generated more empathy from than anything in the entire prequel trilogy let alone the Phantom Menace trailer.

It’s a demonstration of director JJ Abrams’ prowess as a storyeller. That’s something that Lucas, despite his genius for universe building, always lacked. It was this absence that became so evident in the prequels. But give Abrams Lucas’ universe to play with and we just might be about to see something special.