“Who are you?”
Those are the first words spoken in the newly debuted promo for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And they’re appropriate words, given how the hype for Disney’s reboot of the franchise has mainly revolved around all the unanswered questions about what actually happens in this film (other than J.J. Abrams giving cool visual makeovers to things from the original trilogy, that is).
The question’s also appropriate for the first image of the trailer: a head swathed in canvas, wearing goggles, with some sort of rod slung over the shoulder. It’s not a character immediately recognizable to people who’ve obsessively tracked the drip-drop of info about Episode VII, making for a nice moment of disorientation to start things off.
The hooded figure climbs around what appears to be abandoned wreckage of a starship, and the “Who are you?” is answered by an English-accented female saying, “I’m no one.” Then we see Rey, the Daisy Ridley character who: 1) got the best real estate on the poster, 2) was recently tipped by the executive producer Kathleen Kennedy as being very important to the movie, 3) and has been described as a “scavenger” on the desert planet of Jakku. She’s with the cute sphere-and-muffin-top droid BB-8, traveling across sand dunes and then staring wistfully into the distance a la New Hope Luke. This (and the rod-like tool she holds) all makes it seem likely that she’s the hooded person in the opening shot, perhaps exploring the downed Star Destroyer revealed in the first teaser. “I’m no one” is a reply that doesn’t help answer the question of whether she has Skywalker blood, but it does perhaps give a hint about how she thinks of herself in relation to the wider universe.
Next comes the soundbite for the other young protagonist of the film: John Boyega’s Finn, taking off a Storm Trooper helmet but this time while inside a starship rather than lost on a sand dune. “I was raised to do one thing, but I’ve got nothing to fight for,” he says. A damaged TIE fighter spirals down to said sand planet, where we next see Finn, sweaty and scared like he looked in last November’s teaser. It’s still not clear whether he’s a Storm Trooper who eventually defects or someone who infiltrates the ranks of the
Empire First Order, but the rest of the clip does make it seem as though he’s on the side of good.
Then comes the popular Halloween costume of next year, Kylo Ren, looking out of the bridge of a starship at some red glowing light in the distance. “Nothing will stand in our way,” says a deep, effects-laden voice presumably belonging to Adam Driver. “I will finish what you have started.” The trailer cuts between a straight-ahead shot of Ren’s face mask—not unlike the one for Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—and the remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet, offering what seems to be more confirmation that the big bad guy of The Force Awakens is essentially an original-trilogy fanboy.
The line about “What you started” is perhaps the most intriguing element of the trailer. It’s spoken as Kylo Ren holds his hand out at a screaming Poe Dameron, the X-Wing pilot played by Oscar Isaac. The trailer then cuts to a shot of a forest being engulfed by flames and shockwaves. The poster published this past weekend had an image of what appeared to be a renovated Death Star, and info on the Star Wars website hints that it might actually be a Starkiller Base, “an ice planet converted into a stronghold of the First Order and armed with a fiercely destructive new weapon capable of destroying entire star systems.” Later in the trailer, there’s indeed a battle at an ice planet with a big trench à la the Death Star. If entire solar systems are getting exploded on-screen, it raises the stakes considerably, possibly amping the dread levels beyond the Cold War nuclear fears in the originals. Perhaps incoming: an updated version of film-critic arguments about whether J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness was too gratuitous in its use of apocalyptic imagery that evoked 9/11.
Much of the rest of the trailer is a montage of self-evident badassery—dogfights involving the Millennium Falcon, Kylo Ren standing in the rain with other people in dark armor, Storm Troopers making a land assault on what appears to be jungle ruins, X-Wing pilots mustering for action, explosions, flames, Han Solo. Rey cries in one shot, and in another fires a blaster while displaying extreme emotion. We see Chewbacca, Han Solo, and Finn lower their hands from behind their heads, as if threatened with arrest. And we see Finn, appearing terrified, draw a blue lightsaber to fight Ren’s red hilted one. There’s no mistaking by now that the new Star Wars will be heavy on the Wars part of the title; instead of the black expanse of deep space, there are wide terrestrial landscape shots dotted with lasers and soldiers and starcrafts.
At one point, Rey says that “there are stories about what happened,” and Han Solo replies, “it’s true, all of it—the dark side, the Jedi, they’re real.” It’s the latest of many indications that The Force Awakens will be set in a time when the Force seems to have receded in the public’s mind and possibly in potency, not unlike magic itself at the start of the Game of Thrones saga. Though Mark Hamill has signed on for the film, Luke Skywalker has yet to clearly appear in any of the marketing material—perhaps he’s hiding in the structure shown in this trailer’s most striking shot of a temple emblazoned with multicolor flags and a red robot limping in the foreground. Or perhaps he’ll not be seen at all.
The voiceovers also signal that The Force Awakens will be explicitly in conversation with the legacy of the earlier Star Wars films, and that Earth’s mythologization of George Lucas’s creation in the past 40 or so years will be echoed by the characters within the film itself. But this trailer is a heartening indication that even as the rebooted Disney franchise obsesses over nostalgia, it will still serve up elements that feel new and thrilling. For now, as has always been the case with the best Star Wars products, the mystery is the magic.