Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The New Star Wars Trailer

I watched the trailer for the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, during halftime of he awful New York Giants/Philadelphia Eagles game on Monday night. I didn't have much of an immediate reaction to it, though I formed one idle speculation. It was only after reading some of the other online reaction that I decided to write about it.

It looks like the big debate is about why Luke Skywalker doesn't appear in this trailer, given that we know Mark Hamill is signed for all three new films. The two most plausible explanations for this absence are a) Luke is only peripherally involved in The Force Awakens and will be more prominent in the next two films, and b) Luke is Kylo Ren, the guy in the Darth-Vader-like suit talking to Vader's cremated head.

I find myself firmly behind Theory B. Given that the events of the first three films seem to be the subject of rumor and speculation in the Star Wars universe ("There are stories..."), how many people would know exactly where to go on Endor to find Vader's cremated body and recover his head? Of those, how many would be Force users? Also, as much as I like to forget The Phantom Menace, I do remember that the prophecy about Anakin Skywalker was that he would "restore balance to the Force," not ensure the dominance of the "light" side. In that sense, Luke may be giving himself over to the Dark Side temporarily for a larger cause. If this is the case, we might be looking at a more interesting, morally ambiguous take on a franchise that has always seemed black and white. Is this too much to hope for from Disney?

Of course, there are other ways in which one could bring balance to the Force. The prequels paint a picture of a Force divided into two camps: the passionate but destructive Dark Side, represented by the Sith; and a light side, represented by the Jedi, that has lost all sense of empathy and has become increasingly manipulative. It can be argued that the reason Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side is because none of the Jedi can relate to him as a human being; they can only tell him that whatever he is feeling is wrong. This trend continues in the original trilogy when Yoda can't empathize with Luke's fear for Han and Leia, but merely tells him that he must stay "if [he] value[s] what they fight for." Meanwhile, Obi Wan shows his amoral side by using mind control to force people to make better life choices. This amoral streak will later show up in the form of lying to Luke about his parentage and then declaring that his lies were true "from a certain point of view." Thus, the light side has lost much of its humanity and is in danger of losing its moral compass. Maybe the balance that needs to be restored is between empathy and intellect. Of course, this kind of distinction is probably too subtle to make it into a Disney film, given that it's mostly (perhaps unintentional) subtext in the earlier movies.

Now on to some of the things I liked and disliked about the trailer. I liked the fact that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan ignored George Lucas's silly galaxy-wide celebration of the Emperor's death at the end of the special edition of Return of the Jedi. The expanded universe presented a more plausible situation where the Empire doesn't just die because the Emperor's dead, and the new movies appear to portray a post-Endor galaxy more in that mold. Actually, it would be more realistic for the galaxy to split into more than two factions after the events of RotJ, but simplicity has been the trademark of the Star Wars franchise, so I understand the unwillingness to have a multipolar universe.

I also like that the black stormtrooper of the earlier trailers seems to be the main Force-wielding protagonist of the new movie. The thought of all those internet racists crying and spewing into their beer and Mountain Dew warms my heart.

What I don't like is that it looks like there's a lazy repetition to the storyline. We seem to have another story of a developing Force user (though this one is a veteran ex-stormtrooper instead of a naive farmboy). The story starts on Tatooine and ends somewhere forested. There even seems to be a new Death Star on the new poster. All of these bits of deja vu make me nervous, especially since the last time J.J. Abrams decided to reimagine the glory days of a franchise, the result was Star Trek Into Darkness. While STID wasn't a horrible movie, the worst parts of it were its attempts to parallel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.