Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens
Three trailers for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens (or to give it its full title lest we incur the wrath of the fans), STAR WARS EPISODE VII THE FORCE AWAKENS, have now been released. With each new trailer came a positively deafening chorus of approval from fans of the long-running franchise as well as the usual smatterings of haters hating, as they are wont to do.
Most fans have had reactions ranging from nodding in approval to squealing a little with excitement but then pretty much everyone, or so it would seem, has taken to social media to express their joy that Star Wars is finally coming back to the big screen.
For many though, these trailers have been a very emotional experience. Some – usually fully-grown adults – have been in tears, others have rushed out and snapped up all the latest toys (not for their children, but for themselves). But why have these trailers had such an impact on so many of us?
The answer, it would appear, is both very simple and beautifully complicated all at once; at its core, our emotional response to these trailers is about childhood friendship.
Star Wars (whether original trilogy, prequel trilogy, Clone Wars cartoon series, Rebels cartoon series, or these new films) always plays a massive part in the lives of those children who enjoy it.
For those of us of a certain age, we think that the original trilogy lives in a very important place in our hearts whereas actually it’s the feelings, the emotions we experienced (often for the first time), when seeing Star Wars as children that we associate with these films. They are, after all, a tale of good versus evil – a tale as old as time.
Whilst those who grew up with the original trilogy were either mildly amused by the prequel trilogy or utterly destroyed by them, depending on their particular take*, it’s undeniable that the stories and characters still resonated with the children the films were aimed at. The films were watched, the merchandise and toys were bought, and the playground games of ‘Star Wars’ where played all over again. And so it will follow with the new films now being released by Disney.
So how does this childhood attachment elicit such a powerful response from those who were there to experience it ‘first time around’?
As we played with our Star Wars toys and playground games in the late 70s and early 80s, we immersed ourselves in this new universe. The excitement of space travel was still very new, the idea of playing with action figures of film characters was practically unheard of – or at least had proved financially unsuccessful on previous attempts – and so we willingly let Star Wars into our hearts and lives. As part of that deal, we allowed Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo into our lives too.
We watched these people battle Darth Vader and the Emperor, eventually defeating evil and managing, seemingly against all odds, to redeem one of cinemas’ greatest villains.
We played as and with these people. We read books, watched films and TV shows with these people and, most powerfully, we dreamed with these people. In short, they became our dearly loved friends.
And then in 1983 after STAR WARS EPISODE VI RETURN OF THE JEDI was released, we had no more new (big screen) adventures to look forward to. But that was ok because we had the films to revisit again and again on TV and video. Cinemas even re-ran the films regularly. Our friends were here to stay and stay they did; through our formative years and beyond although by that stage we had started to lose touch with them.
Whilst our friends never left us, we parted ways with them. It wasn’t an intentional break, more a natural part of maturing, of moving on.
We had new films, new stories, new friends, new girl/boyfriends, new loves, new passions. We grew older, left school, left college, started to work, ‘grew up’.
We had kids and had a blast sharing our childhood stories with them but there was a pang in doing this; a subtle, quiet, nagging wish to see these heroes in a new adventure. All that was pushed aside, of course, when seeing ‘little Johnny/Daisy’ lifting a plastic lightsabre high above their head and chasing the dog around the room with it. The pang was brief but it was there…bubbling away.
The prequels weren’t satisfying to us. Aside from any critique that could be levelled against them from a technical perspective, the simple fact of the matter was that they weren’t stories about our heroes. Nods, yes. Mentions, here and there. Nothing really solidly our friends though.
After the prequels were complete and some had been so unkind to George Lucas et al., it seemed inevitable that we were never going to see our friends again and this, perhaps more than not seeing them in the prequels, hurt the most. It brought that subtle, quiet nagging – that pang – back again.
With the news that Lucas had sold Lucasfilm (and with it the Star Wars and Indiana Jones universes) to Disney, people were cautious. Would this mean new films? What stories would they tell? Could we dare for a new hope to see our friends again?
Disney had proven with their acquisitions of both Pixar and Marvel studios that not only were they going to exploit whatever they could financially from the licenses, but that also, crucially, they were letting those subsidiaries do what they did best: crafting great stories, stories that people loved, with little to no interference. So once again, could we dare to hope they would do the same for Stat Wars? Dare to hope, once again, that we might see our long-lost friends.
Then Kathleen Turner, J.J. Abrams and George Lucas announced the new films were going into pre-production and the rumour mill went rife with tales of George Lucas meeting the original actors for secret lunches. Could it be? Could it possibly be?
When the first teaser trailer was launched we were indulged with echoing themes of the past films and a barrage of visual nods to both the original trilogy and the prequels. Examples being the sand dune setting of the opening shots akin to settings seen in STAR WARS EPISODE IV A NEW HOPE, the vehicle driven by Daisy Ridley’s character looking very much like the sand-speeder used by Mark Hamill in the first film and, of course, the use of the main John Williams Star Wars theme in the closing shots. Not to mention we saw lightsabers (with a twist – causing much debate online), X-Wing craft … and the one, the only Millennium Falcon, being chased by Tie-Fighters. In just 88 seconds, Disney, J.J. and Kennedy have shown us that these strong links to the past are very present … but what about our friends, will we get to see them? [Side note: at the time of writing this article, these 88 seconds have been watched more than 20 million times, on the Star Wars official YouTube channel alone ]
With the release of the second trailer we were given much stronger links to the past, this time with recurring motifs both musically and thematically. And what’s this, we hear Mark Hamill’s voice – talking as our friend Luke Skywalker once more – repeating what, at first, appear to be lines he’s said before; but there’s a twist ending, a surprise that got a lot of fans talking online afterwards.
“The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it, my sister has it.
You have that power too.” (Luke Skywalker)
We are also greeted with a lot of clips that compositionally mirror shots from both the original trilogy and the prequels: the sand dune wastelands, the X-Wings flying in formation, (with their s-foils “locked in attack positions”), the slow trolly and tilt in to the twisted and distorted mask of Darth Vader, the whoop of joy from an X-Wing pilot (a sound and head movement almost exactly matching that of Lando Calrissian during a scene from RETURN OF THE JEDI), armies of Stormtooper types, marching in formation – all powerful imagery reassuring us that we might see them again.
But then the trailer ends with the real treat, the moment we have all been waiting for. We hear the unmistakable dulcet tones of Harrison Ford saying one word, “Chewie!”, before the full reveal. And there they are – two long-lost friends; people who were so dear to us all those years ago; people who were such a large, important part of our lives; people who left our daily lives…are back. We are seeing our friends for the first time in decades and it feels so good.
“…We’re home”, says Han. “We know”, say all fans.
With the third and final trailer being released less than 24 hours hours ago at the time of writing, the Internet is still reeling. The release of the trailer and simultaneous opening of ticket booking stretched website servers to breaking point, crashing the box office systems of some cinemas and driving fans into a frenzy.
We saw more action, most shots throwing back to the old films, but crucially now at this stage of the marketing campaign we saw new locations (X-Wings battling over water), new action beats, and the new characters interacting with our friends. This was the final introduction the film needed. It’s a confident, bold, emotionally charged, and shows that our friends are not only back, but definitely part of the action.
With one notable exception. Whilst we heard Luke in the second trailer, we’ve still not officially seen him other than the possibility that it’s his hand that reaches out to R2D2. Indeed, he’s not even featured in the poster artwork.
Why Luke isn’t featured more heavily is, to most of us at this stage, a mystery. One that, no doubt, we will all enjoy discovering when we head to the cinemas to meet up with our friends once again.
The Force will be with you. Always (Obi Wan Kenobi)
*for the record, I actually enjoyed them for what they were but preferred the originals. And no, JarJar Binks didn’t annoy me, he reminded me of the dog I had at the time.