In the past three years, many fans’ attitudes toward Disney’s takeover of the Star Wars franchise has gone from indignation to careful optimism to, as of today, outright frothing excitement. A new trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens—only the second bit of footage that’s been released—is why:
In contrast to the three prequels that resembled 70s and 80s originals in neither setting, tone, nor quality, this clip reminds of the originals in every frame. Many of the ingredients are literally the same. There’s Tatooine, or what looks like it. Star Destroyers, X-Wings, and Tie fighters. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, R2-D2, and even Darth Vader’s charred helmet. That John Williams theme.
The filmmaking, too, looks promising. Director J.J. Abrams has said that Episode VII would prioritize practical effects instead of CGI to recreate the tattered, tactile feel of the originals, and he appears to have delivered. He's also delivered some stunningly composed shots, actors who seem in the act of actually acting, and a sense of momentum that suggests this new movie will boast more pure competency than the three prequels combined.
This is a better shot than anything in the last three Star Wars movies pic.twitter.com/cMk7vaoVds— Gilbert Cruz (@gilbertcruz) April 16, 2015
The new elements of Episode VII that have been revealed so far are objectively awesome-looking—and, also, extremely familiar. The new Tie designs, the apparent villain wearing a Vader-esque helmet, and the costumes for new actors John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Daisy Ridley all appear to be lightly tweaked versions of original-trilogy items. This, too, might be a corrective to the mistakes of the prequels, which were set a few decades before A New Hope and yet featured technology that seemed of an entirely different universe than the one that fans had come to know. Viewers couldn't help but wonder: Why weren't there any glimpses of junked Naboo fighters or pod racers somewhere in the original trilogy? By putting in a downed Star Destroyer, an upgraded Storm Trooper, the Millennium Falcon, etc., Abrams is in one way being a more conscientious storyteller than late-‘90s/early- aughts George Lucas was.
But: You could argue that what defines Star Wars isn’t merely the specific items like lightsabers and X-Wings. It's the fact that each film showed you something completely bizarre and fabulous. The Star Destroyers so familiar in this trailer were shocking and bold to audiences in 1977. Each subsequent film had similar moments of inventive brilliance, whether it was the image of Cloud City or Emperor Palpatine’s lightning fingers. The prequels, if nothing else, kept this part of the DNA; the Gungans and their underwater cities, for example, may not hold a high place in the cultural canon, but they were, at least, attempts at innovation. Episode VII, by contrast, has only shown us attempts at remixing, with soccer-ball R2-D2s and crucifix lightsabers and a new season for Imperial fashion. Maybe Abrams has a bold, new vision we've yet to see. Or maybe it will turn out that the galaxy far, far away has finally, in spirit, been conquered by the pandering, fan-servicing, sequel-obsessed universe of today.