As we’ve discussed, though, there are signs of clever self-awareness about nostalgia within The Force Awakens, and it’s more than likely that there are huge curveballs to come. The racial and gender diversity in the principal cast members is new, for one thing. Maybe the advertising so far has all been a work of misdirection, and the good/evil dichotomy is not quite what you’d expect in the film (see: fan theories about Luke as villain). Perhaps there won’t be a big triumphant ending for The Force Awakens—after all, unlike when Lucas made the first Star Wars movie, everyone knows this is only one chapter in a larger story. Certainly, the filmmaking techniques won’t be straight outta 1977, however much hype there is about a return to hand-built sets and film stock.
But when I whine about wanting a sense of newness, I’m talking things that may seem more superficial but are actually essential to the Star Wars magic: character designs, sets, and effects that make you go what?! (Think of the first time you glimpsed, say, Jabba the Hutt, or the Death Star.) The closest analogue this latest trailer provided was the jungle temple’s ambling red droid—who, to be honest, reminded me a bit of another iconic robot associated with J.J. Abrams. Then again, mind-blowing inventiveness is a lot to ask for—just making a sci-fi blockbuster that competes with the Marvel machine critically and commercially is tough enough.
Sims: No, Spencer, we don’t know that Alderaan was peaceful—perhaps those were just the lies of a REBEL SPY. At least, that’s the argument posed by Jonathan V. Last in his supposedly seminal article “The Case for the Empire,” which Kristol proposed as the ur-text for his crackpot theory. “Leia’s lies are perfectly defensible—she thinks she’s serving the greater good—but they make her wholly unreliable on the question of whether or not Alderaan really is peaceful and defenseless,” Last writes. This fountain of madness might be the funniest thing that’s emerged from the trailer reveal so far.
Inventiveness is, indeed, a lot to ask for from a blockbuster, and an interesting third act might be an even higher bar to clear. Maybe The Force Awakens ends with our heroes trying to take down the planet-sized superweapon, just like the original Star Wars did, but honestly, every Marvel movie pretty much wraps up that way as well. There are definitely some moments that feel true to Abrams rather than the series he’s taking on—that trademark lens flare over Kylo Ren’s shoulder, that VFX wizardry that shows the Millennium Falcon tunneling through hyperspace—but what stuck out most prominently was the feeling of chaos, that apocalyptic vibe you mentioned.
In the original films, the Empire is pretty solidly in control, and its ships cruise around in imposing formations, while the Rebels always feel like they’re clinging to their one rickety hidey-hole, trying to stay one step ahead from death. Thirty years on, Abrams is giving us a galaxy wracked with violence and death. There’s Kylo Ren and his black-clad minions wreaking havoc in the rain, the chrome Stormtrooper Captain Phasma presiding over a burning village, TIE fighters careening out of control, and lots of open warfare, not the Rebel Alliance guerrilla tactics we remember so fondly. There’s some real boldness at work there, and a sense that Abrams is setting a table for three films, rather than just his own. The Force Awakens might lean on some Star Wars greatest hits to reel old fans back in, but after that’s accomplished, there’s much more work to be done.