It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time when you get a break from my pretentious rants about movies, musicals and movie musicals. But before you go, dear reader, I thought it might be nice to inform you of a little indie film headed your way next year. It’s called “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and a trailer hit the Internet last week, recieving a muted response and some mild acclaim.
I jest, of course. “The Force Awakens” is the most anticipated new arrival since the Royal Baby, and Star Wars fans (who need a catchy nickname like the Trekkies have) have been delighting in and/or bitching about it for well over a week now. At this late date, allow me to add my voice to the mix.
First of all, The Good: practical effects are back. Director J.J. Abrams claimed from the outset that this “Star Wars” would dial down on the CGI, and instead achieve its various wonderments primarily through the use of models, miniatures, and stunt work. If that shot of X-Wings winging their way across the water confirms anything, it’s that Abrams has made good on that claim and officially committed to giving this film a grounded, more realistic look than most of today’s blockbusters.
Part of what made the original “Star Wars” films so enchanting was the way that they used practical effects to make outlandish creations feel like tangible realities. Part of what sunk the prequel series was the way it used computer-generated effects to make incredible scenarios seem sterile and fake. As this trailer shows us, J.J. Abrams is leading a charge back towards the glory of the originals. He’s made the “Star Wars” universe something you once again feel like you can reach out and touch.
Furthermore, the trailer nails that distinctive “Star Wars” tone. I was worried that Abrams would muck this up; his “Star Trek” films, although perfectly entertaining action operas, lack much of what comprises the traditional “Star Trek” tone.
It would seem he hasn’t made the same mistake this time. When “Star Wars” works at its definitive best, it does so by blending three venerable genres: the “Jaws”-era blockbuster, the Homeric epic and the delectably cheesy sci-fi/adventure B movie. In this trailer, the opening shot of John Boyega provides the B movie. The shot of the hooded figure trudging through the forest gives us the epic. And the shot of the Millennium Falcon making its triumphant return gives us that distinctive blockbustery tingle. Visually and narratively, Abrams isn’t just making this universe one we can touch; he’s making it one we can recognize.
So yes, my overall reaction is positive. But there’s still stuff I’m worried about, because I waste my days worrying about these sort of things.
Foremostly, I’m worried about the dialogue. In the prequels, George Lucas proved that he was to the English language what carbonite is to Han Solo. The lines were portentous to the point of hilarity.
To me, that seems the case here as well. I still think that screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote “The Empire Strikes Back”) will do right by this story, but the trailer’s voiceover, with its mouth-breathing ramblings about light and dark, makes me a little worried.
My other big concern takes the form of a question: why are they keeping Luke, Leia and Han from us? It could be because they’re saving them for some future Big Reveal. Or it could be because they’re all so old that all their scenes take place at an outer space IHOP. After “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” all this bring-back-the-old-actors stuff makes me nervous.
As for that much-parodied lightsaber, it looks a bit impractical, but I won’t knock it till I see it in combat.
Overall, this trailer is a cause for cautious optimism and a signifier that Abrams IS moving us away from the prequels and MIGHT be taking us somewhere beautiful and new.
Finally, since we’re on the topic, I can’t resist bidding a “Star Wars” related farewell to my Trinitonian colleagues who are leaving this semester: “The Force will be with you. Always.”