The road to Episode IX: A Trilogy of Teasers

So last weekend we finally got the long-awaited Episode IX teaser. But how does it compare to the other Sequel Trilogy teasers? And what does that tell us about the upcoming movie? You may find the answer surprising!

The Force Awakens

The first teaser that we got for Episode VII: The Force Awakens was the 90-second teaser in December 2014, narrated by Snoke it wasn’t actually much a teaser for The Force Awakens and more one for the entire upcoming Trilogy. The first real teaer that focussed on The Force Awakens was the one that came out on Star Wars Celebration 2015, April 16th 2015, the one below:

One of the first things everybody noticed was that it was narrated by Luke and that they had been using his voice from The Return of the Jedi with an overdub. Visually the trailer starts out with an establishing shot of the Sand-planet Jakku and Rey’s speeder in the distance. Interestingly the first character we see traces of is Darth Vader, via his helmet, and the first character we actually see is Luke. Then there is the lightsabre hand-over from Maz to Leia which is not part of the film and neither are shown properly. Then follows a quick series of shots that show the faces (or masks) of our main characters, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn. This exposition of characters continues until in a brief moment of darkness we hear Han’s voice and then we see him and Chewie enter the Falcon.

As would become tradition for the Sequel Trilogy teasers, there is no hint as to what the story is and even no hint as to which of these characters is the central character of the trilogy. Also, there is quite extensive use of footage that is not part of the film. The end of the trailer is used for a reveal of some sort, here being that Han will enter the Millennium Falcon again. These are all elements that will be repeated in the other two trailers as well. So the Sequel Trilogy is quite consistent in how its trailers are formatted and what they tell about the film.

Of course with hindsight after seeing the The Force Awakens a few things are striking. The first half of the trailer before the “This Christmas …” title-card pretty much follows the first half of the actual film from Jakku to Maz Kanata and her possession of the Anakin saber. It is followed by a collections of action-based outtakes from all over the first half of the film with only the Starkiller Base shot truly coming from the second half of the film. Let us see whether this pattern repeats itself in the next teaser.

The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi teaser also came out during Celebration Star Wars 2016, on April 14th to be precise. Have a look at it before we continue:

Again it is narrated by Luke Skywalker although this time, after his first few sentences Rey answers. The first bit of the trailer pretty much focusses on Rey clearly establishing that she is now the lead character in all of this. Again, all prior to the “This Christmas” title-card is from the first half of the actual movie. It is followed by intercut shots from various action sequences, this time clearly also involving the Battle of Crait which comes from the finale of the movie. Like the previous teaser, just before the end it halts its pace, returns to darkness to have Luke’s voice announcing the end reveal: that the Jedi must end.

In hindsight after seeing the movie it is of course again clear that much of the material used actually never made it into the final movie. But where the The Force Awakens teaser avoided showing Force-powers, the The Last Jedi teaser wants to make clear Rey is, or is becoming, a powerful Force-user.

However just like the The Force Awakens teaser the The Last Jedi teaser does actually reveal the main issues that the film deals with: Luke’s conviction that he is unable to prolong the existence of the Jedi Order and Rey’s growth towards embracing her role in the Galaxy far far away. The The Force Awakens teaser did so by showing us Kylo’s attachment to Vader, the handing-over to the next generation elements and the coming together of three new characters.

Interestingly there is essentially one shot that both teaser trailers ‘quote’: Luke’s loss of his Jedi Temple. Although Luke is hardly visible in the both trailers his presence is felt through his narration of both. Where in The Force Awakens Luke was the whole focus of the entire film, despite his absence, in The Last Jedi it was the effort to ‘bring Luke around’ to re-asserting his inspirational role that was the main gist of the film.  A later ‘full’ trailer for The Last Jedi would once again revert to a Snoke narration. But both teasers were very Luke-centred in accordance to the actual story-line’s McGuffin.

The Rise of Skywalker

Of both The Force Awakens as well as The Last Jedi the titles were known well-ahead of the teaser-release. Not so for the final instalment of the Sequel Trilogy.

The third time a Sequel Trilogy trailer is narrated by Luke. This evidently cannot be a coincidence or just a convenience. Instead it shows that a continuing angle of the filmmakers towards the story is the centrality of Luke as an “absent” character. In The Force Awakens he was absent until the final moments, in The Last Jedi he was absent out of volition due to his fundamental doubts regarding the Jedi and in The Rise of Skywalker he must be effectively absent due to his death in the previous episode.

Although the The Last Jedi teaser did not start with a single sequence, the collection of shots were all taken from the first-half sequences involving Rey’s training. The The Rise of Skywalker teaser follows the pattern of establishing a sense of story before the Christmas title-card: that of the impending confrontation between Rey and Kylo. It also clearly establishes Rey as now being an able and formidable Force-user.

The The Rise of Skywalker teaser however has an additional title card that is a direct quote from the The Phantom Menace teaser. It makes clear that this film wants to be a concluding chapter of a story that started with Episode I, not just a conclusion to the Sequel Trilogy. This time the reveal at the end of the teaser, Palpatine’s laugh, is also a reference to the ‘phantom menace’ that must have been behind the First Order given that Snoke, though Supreme Leader, cannot have been the ultimate lever-puller. If that would have been the case the First Order would have likely self-disassembled after The Last Jedi, just like the Empire did after The Return of the Jedi.

What does it tell us?

It seems to me that the latest teaser trailer is much more a kin of its predecessor than of the Sequel starter. As a result I would suspect that the story of the first half of the film is actually a search for, by Rey, or confrontation with, Kylo Ren. Where the The Last Jedi teaser showed us Kylo’s helm destroyed in the first half, the The Rise of Skywalker teaser shows us Kylo’s helm put back together during the second half. It is worth noting that the hands doing the welding are clearly not Kylo’s but someone else’s. That seems to be a hint as far as I am concerned.

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The retrieval of Anakin’s lightsabre was still a mystery after the first two films. One might contemplate that Maz is a collector of artefacts, but this might also involve a yet unknown character that collects and fixes such artefacts. The hands fixing Kylo’s mask might belong to that yet unknown character and perhaps this is what leads our heroes on a path towards discovering a secret of  Palpatine still hidden in the second Death Star.

In the first teaser Luke narrates mainly about himself and his own story. In the second he clearly addresses someone (Rey of course) who answers his calls. In this one however Luke has gone onto speaking in plural. We already know that Obi Wan was heard speaking in The Force Awakens, that Yoda appeared in The Last Jedi. I cannot see this as meaning anything else but that Anakin will somehow appear in Episode IX, either as a voice or as a fully-fledged Force-Ghost. If there is an unknown artefact scavenger still hidden in the cast of these movies, then this last episode might very well involve a race to reach some kind of desired artefact, or collection of artefacts.

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The opening shot of the teaser clearly shows a sand planet. However its mountainous look may very well mean that we are not dealing with Jakku but rather with Tatooine. There are a few other fast an interesting shots. The burning A-wing in the second half of the teaser seems to fly past a Star Destroyer but with the Republic colour scheme, the new world we see through the clouds looks like a darkened and more desolate version of the cityscapes of Naboo, the rocks amongst which we see Finn and Poe look as if they were taken from Geonosis.

An ‘artefact hunt’ as a story-arc could very well  work as a way of uniting al three trilogies and bringing them to a close. With the death of the Emperor in Episode VI the tale of how the Galaxy far far away finds “itself” again and comes to terms with its recent history was left unfinished. Perhaps that is what Episode IX is going to try and do, by taking us on a wide-ranging tour past much of the entire history of the Republic, the Empire and the Skywalkers.

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