This week the final trailer for The Force Awakens arrived and was met with great enthusiasm and yet something bugged me. It was the memory of the final trailer of The Phantom Menace. I loved the trailer and I absolutely loved the movie but what I found negatively astounding was the change in response of a large section of the fan-community from the trailer to the film. And yet everything what ‘prequelhaters’ would focus their vitriol on was right there … in the trailer they loved.
A memory from the past
“Nothing changed really! I mean, everything’s changed but nothing has changed!”
That is how in the SDCC clip about The Force Awakens Mark Hamill describes some of his feelings about the upcoming movie. So, if we take that as a starting point, is there also something different in the way the hype for the movie is building up this time around? The answer is, No! Not really!
When the title ‘The Force Awakens’ was announced in late 2014 this raised many an eyebrow. If you now try to retrieve those posts & YouTube reactions you really need to look quite hard: so much for the internet keeping things available! What has mainly survived are the positive reviews of the title. But back in late 2014 there were quite a few parodic memes around regarding the title. Then at the end of November of 2014, coincidentally almost exactly 15 years (within a week) after the appearance of the The Phantom Menace trailer in November 1998, there was the teaser trailer of The Force Awakens. Well we all know what happened: the same as 15 years earlier!
So yes it is true, we have been here before yet we don’t know this story! But let’s see what we saw before!
So as you see, the 1998 trailer opened up with the cgi-gungans emerging from the fog, the gleaming beautifully sleek Naboo star-cruiser in the Tatooine desert, the beautiful Theed miniature in a cgi-enhanced shot, a view of Amidala, Kid Ani in a pod-race and Jar Jar freaking out over cougar-fish. You might argue that everything, but really everything, that a few months later a large part of the fan base would fall out with was presented right in their faces in the first 20 seconds of the trailer. And to make sure they saw it … all these elements returned in the remaining 2 minutes of the trailer. For me it is still clear why this trailer worked so well in gearing up anticipation for Episode I. But it also still mystifies me that those who would soon hate the movie, didn’t already spot the sources for their irritation in that trailer.
A different look at the The Force Awakens trailer
So if we now turn to the The Force Awakens trailer and acknowledge that there will be fans who will, within the next two months but probably only on the 18th of December, radically change their opinions on the movie by 180 degrees; is it possible to already identify now from this trailer what could be the elements that attract fan-hate? Well, I will give it a try (though I love the trailer) and see if I can find things that people have just glossed over now that will get them really upset by Christmas.
Han Solo is old
Yes of course we know Han Solo is old. We see it in the trailer and though he can still speak like a convincing scoundrel, that doesn’t mean he can act like one. I am not saying he couldn’t ‘act’ like one but that possible his age will prevent him from having any of the bad-ass moments that scores of senior-fans are expecting. There will be no running after Storm troopers this time unless he has a body-double or a digital double. A cgi-Han can do anything Abrams likes just like a cgi-Yoda could. The question is: will it be believable? In the trailer we just see Han walk and stand still, no running, jumping or anything else flashy. This could very well be all he does and for some fans that could, miraculously on December the 18th, turn into something that is ‘not like the Originals’!
There’s a real BB-8 but we hardly see it
Another hyped thing about The Force Awakens is the practical prop BB-8. But the real question is of course whether we will be seeing much of it? One of the loveliest shots of the trailer are BB-8 and Rey going through the desert side by side. Almost everyone will have thought this was the practical prop BB-8, but was it? Check how fast this BB-8 rolls through the sand and compare that to what we saw on Star Wars Celebrations after shooting had finished! Also check out how deep Rey’s feet sink into the sand and how the wind affects the sand she throws into the air with her shoes and compare this to the depth and extent of BB-8’s trail. I think the BB-8 in this shot is a digital double without a doubt. We have seen other trailer shots in teasers where BB-8 speeds through the desert at high speed and if we compare that what the ‘practical prop’ could do on a sand-free stage there is every reason to believe that the majority of shots that show BB-8 in significant action are digital doubles of the practical prop. Abrams and others tend to phrase it quite nicely that the practical effects are easier for the cast to work with. It may very well turn out that many practical props were use specifically for that purpose, of making the actors feel good, but that they play little part in the film itself.
-Rey: There were stories about what happened …
-Han: It’s true, all of it.
where a question involving a plural (stories) receives an answer involving a singular (it). Now either this is because Han’s answer is actually not a reply to the question we hear Rey posing or it actually is. In the latter case it is a good example of crappy dialogue writing. More likely however (I think) it is a dialogue that as such does not feature in the film. For all we know the actual question in the film to Han could be: “Is it true what mum says about you and that other woman?” (See the comics if you don’t get this). I personally suspect the dialogue will be okay, but from the trailer I definitely see potential here for people to find a stick once they have decided they want to beat up the dog.
To much exposition
The trailer strongly suggests that at least all of Episodes IV, V and VI have entered the realm of ‘stories’ and legends except that Han now knows they are true. That he refers to the ‘Dark Side’ and ‘The Jedi’ strongly suggests that the same holds for Episode I, II and III. However if that is the case you might expect a lot of exposition in the film. The film needs a lot of people talking to Rey and Finn to tell them what’s happened as I suspect working with flashbacks for such core-story is out of the question. Or are we going to see Finn pull Anakin’s Episode III lightsabre to fight Kylo ‘Vader-Fanboy’ Ren without either recognizing that sabre? Surely not … so someone is going to tell the story (like 3PO did to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi). On the one hand that can turn some people into sourly disappointed fans who will come out of the movie complaining about all this family backstory chit-chat even though it would only have been two conversations and then even only the first minute of them. But hey … these same people think The Phantom Menace is filled with sheer endless debates in the Senate. On the other hand however, having someone in Episode VII recount the relevant parts of Episode I through VI is most definitely going to offend at least someone who think either to much or to little weight was put on their favourite bits. That doesn’t need to be a problem of course … except when they’re Red Letter Media twats who subsequently will unearth at least one-and-a-half-hour worth of material to fret about in a showcase of the narrow-mindedness which is so popular on the net.
There is no fun
LazyPadawan correctly observed, in her remarks on the trailer here, that the trailer showed no element of comic relief. Where the The Phantom Menace trailer showed Jar Jar as an obvious element of comedy (though despised by many critics after seeing the film) the The Force Awakens trailer shows nothing of that kind. Now most of the viewers seem to ignore or not notice that or even relish the idea of 136 minutes of non-stop bad-assery under super-weapon destruction gloom. But what they might find out is that they leave the theatre without a laugh or a smile. Of course it is possible that Abrams decided to hide this comic relief from us for now. Who knows, maybe Lord Snoke is a joke-cracking villain like we have never seen but Kylo and his budies seem about as funny as a pack of angry Hell’s Angels.
That ain’t the right score
Now almost all who saw the trailer praised the score to it. But something you need to know is that it is not part of the score of The Force Awakens! In a nice analyses here and here you can find out how Original and Prequel Trilogy elements were used for the trailer score. Of course it is tricky to score a trailer with music that will not be actual film score. Cinema visitors can be disturbed by this in two ways: they could love the trailer music and be disappointed when the movie-score is not like that or they didn’t like the trailer score much and are going to be overly-critical when hearing the film score. With a franchise that has as iconic scores as Star Wars meddling with expectations regarding the score is hazardous.
In a lightsabre battle someone dies
The lightsabre battle announced in The Phantom Menace trailer had two key casualties and Darth Maul was the almost unavoidable one given that we knew Obi Wan was going to survive. Similarly the lightsabre battles in Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope and Return of the Jedi also have lethal outcomes. The fact that the middle films Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back each have casualty-free sabre-battles (if you don’t consider an arm or a hand to be a casualty) is a key ingredient of the Hero’s Journey structure as I illustrated here. In the case of The Phantom Menace many people deplored afterwards how this awesome villain Darth Maul was so easily cast aside by Lucas. Though really, how could it have ended otherwise? Qui Gon struck down and Obi Wan running for his life? As if fans would not have complained about that? So what is going to happen to Finn and Kylo? It seems to me that no matter the outcome, there are going to be disgruntled fans because
- Kylo dies and Finn lives: another great villain finds an untimely end? Even having Luke standing at Kylo’s funeral pyre won’t mitigate that!
- Finn dies and Kylo lives: did you really just kill off this great character? This is like a cheap horror movie where the black dude dies first!
- No one dies: Are you serious? You mean that where the OT had Stormtroopers that couldn’t hit now ST has that awesome sabre and these knights of Renn can’t defeat an untrained storm-trooper wielding a sabre?
- Both die: What? …!
A body-part separating outcome would be narratively possible and even very meaningful potentially, but a bit early in the narrative sequence. It seems to me that few fans who are raving about the duel shown to start at the end have considered they might end up loving the duel but hating the outcome, like with The Phantom Menace.
Am I a Sequel Hater now?
Rubbish! I am pretty sure I will love this upcoming film. My certainty comes not from the fact that I am uncritical and love whatever I am fed by Lucasfilm, nor does it come from the fact that based on this trailer I now expect the arrival of the Star Wars film I dreamed of ever since I was 11 in 1977 (that one came into the cinema’s in 2005 and was called Revenge of the Sith). No this confidence comes from the fact that I know I will measure The Force Awakens not by what I want it to be, but what I will try to recognize as what Abrams wanted it to be. I am quite sure that the last thing Abrams wanted to do was disappoint himself. I love Jar Jar Binks, but if Abrams indeed chose to put his grave somewhere in The Force Awakens then it should be because he wanted that added to the Star Wars story. I can live with that because I know that I can make sense of that within my Star Wars story.
Because the attitude, I think, you need to have as a director of a Star Wars movie is: make the movie you want to see, not the one others are expecting! That is what Lucas did, that is what I think Abrams did and that is what I will totally enjoy to see. And that too is the attitude I think Star Wars fans need to bring to the cinema: Accept the choices of the story-teller as it is his/her film but take the freedom and have the creativity to interpret it in a way that fits your Star Wars. Because there is no ‘real story’ and there are no ‘true fans’.