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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Force Awakens: Five Intriguing Things


Hey, remember a couple weeks back, when the first The Force Awakens teaser hit theaters and the internet and everyone was buzzing about it? Let's go back in time to then and pretend this post was written in a timely manner.

Back in the day, you had to actually go to a movie theater in order to see a new trailer, and so in 1999 I plunked down actual money alongside Paul Zenisek for a ticket to Wing Commander, just to see the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace trailer. The movie was pretty awful, but hey, the trailer was pretty awesome (arguably better than the movie itself), plus we got to see a couple of girls who were just there to ogle Freddie Prince Jr. walk out when they realized it was a sci-fi movie.

This time, I just had to pull up the teaser on my laptop the afternoon of Black Friday, and it's entirely possible that not having to watch Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lilliard mug their way through a terrible movie afterwards added to my appreciation of it. So here's five things from an 88 second teaser specifically designed to whet appetites and reveal nothing concrete that caught my attention.

Diversity


In order, the first three cast members of the new Star Wars trilogy we see are African-American, female, and Hispanic. It's uncertain (but possible) that these three characters are the new trilogy's trio, the Leia/Luke/Han of Disney's Star Wars universe. Whether they are in fact the new stars or just random supporting characters, it's worth noting that the very first images we've been given of these new movies add some much needed diversity to a universe that, across six films, features exactly two females in prominent roles and two minorities in supporting roles.

Stormtroopers


It's not surprising that Stormtroopers would pop up in the new films despite the apparent end of the Empire by the close of Return of the Jedi; they are one of the franchise's most iconic villains, and with the most iconic villain presumably well off the table, it's down to the Stormtroopers to represent Star Wars Villainy. What remains unclear is if the slightly-redesigned Stormtroopers belong to a remaining or resurgent Imperial element (as was the case in the previous Star Wars Expanded Universe for many years following Jedi) or if the galactic government that has sprung up in the Empire's place has simply appropriated the use of the armor for their shock troops (much as the EU's New Republic integrated Star Destroyers into their post-Jedi fleets).   

X-wings


While in the films, X-wings remained primarily spacecraft (one crash-landing on Dagobah aside), their use within planetary atmospheres was a staple of the EU. So it was exciting to see three of them, skimming over some body of water with some mountains in the background on some planet, in what is a gorgeous shot.

The Lightsaber Cross-guard


One of the highlights of the Episode I trailer was the reveal of Darth Maul's double-bladed lightsaber (a creation of the EU making its way into the films). It's tough to beat that in terms of sheer coolness, and the lightsaber crossguard shown in this teaser doesn't quite meet it, but it's still a neat effect, and a pleasant indication (along with the divisive soccer ball droid) that the new films will continue to tinker with and adapt existing technology. Plus, the cross-guard also suggests a new style of lightsaber combat, one derived more from the medieval pounding of broadswords than the existing katana/fencing-inspired styles.

The Millennium Falcon


I'm obviously a colossal Star Wars nerd, so it's not surprising that the sight of the Millenium Falcon in the teaser as the classic theme blared gave me chills. We don't know why it's being attacked, where it's trying to go or even who's aboard, but the sight of the ship juking and diving with an agility not previously possible given the limitations of movie making technology in 1983 made one thing clear: Star Wars is back!

9 comments:

  1. I'm super excited to see it. i hope it's awesome. I'm cautiously optimistic

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  2. The trailer has me excited, but at the same time I'm worried. I don't want a bunch of winks and nods to the classic movies, and I'm afraid that's just the sort of thing J.J. Abrams might do.

    Also, why does every villain need to have some exotic lightsaber (or, failing that, extra lightsabers)? You had Darth Maul with the double-bladed thing (which was cool at the time and not yet a step too far), Dooku with his fencing saber, General Grievous with four lightsabers, this guy with his crossguard, and on the TV shows, there was Asajj Ventress with her dual fencing sabers that could be combined into a double-bladed saber, Savage Opress with another dual-bladed saber, and now the Imperial Inquisitor with his weird buzzsaw saber. Plus somewhere in CLONE WARS there was a black-bladed "darksaber", too.

    Darth Vader and the Emperor both just had plain old red lightsabers, and there was nothing wrong with that!

    But, complaints and concerns aside, I'll be lined up to see it nonetheless on opening night!

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  3. I'm just glad JJ Abrams finally found a project worthy of his daddy issues obsessions...

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  4. First, I'm not sure I can separate out how I felt about the teaser on its own merits from the general thrill of knowing there's an honest-to-gosh canonical Star Wars movie continuing the series coming out and it will probably be good.

    Second, I definitely applaud the apparent diversity, but that shot of the (Imperial?) Stormtrooper and/or guy posing as one (John Boyega as Finn, we've since learned) had a bit of an "I met God... and she's black" thud to it. Abrams & Co. may have been in a bind given the series' traditional, much-discussed minority problems and felt that making a statement right out of the gate was the best way to go. I guess it just feels slightly too much like a statement, even if I agree with the statement. Also, I'm distracted by the fact that, at least in a fleeting glimpse from the angle we got, he looks like Tracy Morgan enough for it to be, well, distracting. Part of it too is surely that the shot is so completely devoid of context it just bugs me, especially given how the teaser would obviously be / has predictably been analyzed to pieces.

    Third, I'll just repeat that last part as its own point. Glimpses in the teaser break down for me pretty much to either stuff that's so random it's nearly impossible to care about to stuff that's flat-out awesome. I put the sight of the X-wings and especially the Millennium Falcon in that latter category, as well as the mysterious hooded figure with the funky modified lightsaber; what that shot had that's missing from the other vignettes that flash by with unfamiliar characters is tons of mood. Maybe the hoverball droid and the girl on the Speeder (Daisy Ridley as Rae, we've since learned) are in some gray middle area, if only because they do get implicitly connected in our brains to extant characters whether or not the girl is actually a certain someone's daughter. I think I'd almost rather have had no look at anyone in particular, just droids and ships and landscapes and cloaks but no faces, more Star Wars feel than specifics, if we weren't going to get any peeks at the old characters nor any real sense for the new ones.

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  5. Hmh. I don't actually have anything to say to anything, but the hype returns me back to 1999 when I was doing my conscription in the Finnish defence forces and a buddy of mine returned from his leave essentially declaring that The Phantom Menace is the greatest film ever made.

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  6. @Sarah: I'm cautiously optimistic

    Me too. I mean, for me, it's just a question of *how much* I like it, but I'm cautiously optimistic it's more Empire/Jedi than Phantom Menace.

    I don't want a bunch of winks and nods to the classic movies, and I'm afraid that's just the sort of thing J.J. Abrams might do.

    Well, he does the original trio back, so that's one GIANT wink and nod to the classic movies right there. And you know there's no way they won't have someone say "I've got a bad feeling about this" at least once.

    But I'm much more forgiving of that kind of stuff in something like this, which is a direct sequel to the things it's referencing, vs. the Star Trek reboot, where it seemed like the entire second movie was one long wink at another movie, and that become detrimental at times.

    Also, why does every villain need to have some exotic lightsaber (or, failing that, extra lightsabers)?

    I think of it the same as escalation in comic book villains. You have your hero fight one villain, then two, then a whole team. Same deal with villains and their lightsabers (even if the heroes are changing).

    What I'd like to see is a good guy with a different/extra lightsaber sometime. Luke had a short shoto saber at one point in the EU to counter a villain's (of course) lightwhip; that'd be fun to see in the movie.

    @Blam: I guess it just feels slightly too much like a statement, even if I agree with the statement.

    I get that. It didn't feel that way to me (partially because we still don't know if these *are* the main characters), but I can see how it could.

    @Teemu: the hype returns me back to 1999 when I was doing my conscription in the Finnish defence forces and a buddy of mine returned from his leave essentially declaring that The Phantom Menace is the greatest film ever made.

    Heh. I can't throw stones. I camped out for tickets, saw it twice on opening day and six times in the theater overall. I enjoyed the hell out of it, even if it eventually did settle in as the weakest film of the series.

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  7. "he looks like Tracy Morgan"

    Blam, I love you from afar, so I'm not event gonna go there.

    I'm always surprised how knee-jerkingly opposed Americans are to most attempts at diversity or even race-swapping in entertainment, particularly of the nerdy kind. This isn't a case of a black Johnny Storm even. It's one black guy, in one Stormtrooper suit, of millions.

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  8. @James: // Blam, I love you from afar, so I'm not event gonna go there. //

    If you're intimating that perhaps I think he looks like Tracy Morgan purely because they're both black, I can promise you that I both (a) honestly believe that he looks specifically like Tracy Morgan there and (2) still hesitated to mention it because of how it might sound. For some reason I seem to visually associate people more often and to a greater degree than most folks do, and it genuinely gets, well, not exactly confusing but weird. At least it's not as bad as the condition my father-in-law suffered, which forced him to recognize everyone including his own daughters by their clothes and by context because he could not tell, say, one brown-haired young woman from another, period.

    As for the rest of your comment, whether or not it was directed at me: Like I said or at least tried to say before, I applaud the apparent diversity in the new movie as I generally do in all entertainment — not for any kind of quota or "political correctness" but to more accurately reflect the society in which we live (or, in this case, some fantastic mirror of it) and what we'd like it to be; I just felt a little like we were being hit over the head with "Star Wars: Now starring black people!" in a heavy-handed manner, understanding that for the kind of teaser they wanted to produce there may not have been any way around that.

    Which all might sound like I protest too much. So be it. Please don't take this is a potshot at your right to say what's on your mind and call things as you see 'em, simply as an exercise of my right to respond.

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  9. James: I'm always surprised how knee-jerkingly opposed Americans are to most attempts at diversity or even race-swapping in entertainment, particularly of the nerdy kind.

    It's not so long ago when a nerd by definition was a white boy and that the white boys were the targeted main audience of the nerdy entertainment. One can blame it on the white patriarchate all one wants, but that was the main demographics of the readers when pretty much all the immortal characters were made and it's not a surprise if things reflect that.

    Now if in 2014 one's message is supposed to be that your ethnicity or your gender should not matter and everyone is equal, isn't it kind of self-defeating move if the iconic and loved character is not "allowed" to anymore be of their original gender and ethnicity? "It's okay to be expect." The white boy in me rears a bit too on that notion.

    Plus, it's necessarily not the racial or gender swap itself causing the negative reaction but the associated marketing of it and honking of horns that they just can't go without nowadays.

    Jim Rhodes donned on Iron Man's armor in the 80's because Tony Stark as a person had screwed up things and there was not much kneejerk for that I gather. The Latin-Irish Miguel O'Hara was a great Spider-Man in the 1990's and in 2099. Great people rising when there was an in-universe need for them and going straight out for their adventures and loved for it, WITHOUT a perceived need for real-world press-conferences and releases that are all about sending a Message with the undercurrent that there's something apparently so wrong in those iconic and much-loved characters that someone of very definitely different gender or ethnicity needs to take over, which will btw happen in this month in a beautiful $1.99 issue AND $3.99 glossy special version which we in your favorite corporation are sure you all in our new widened target audiences will be picking up!

    Sometimes with all the underlining it's difficult to believe that two of the Earth's mightiest superheroes teams were lead by a black woman already thirty years ago. Competently.

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