The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

Act II: Conflict

Then we see a beautifully shot juxtaposition of the cool, blue natural world with a black and red villain (Color contrasts have always been a major stylistic element of Star Wars cinematography–note the blues and reds in the climactic battle of The Empire Strikes Back, and the reds and greens in Return of the Jedi–it’s not just the lightsabers).  Note the particularly grim continuation of the voiceover from Act I.

Act III: Resurrection

Nothing in the trailer prepares us for the valedictory Act III–a resurrection of that most iconic vehicle, the Millennium Falcon.  Note that we see it rise, to the tune of the original Star Wars theme–a nice melding of reassurance and innovation there.

Like the X-wing fighters before, we see the Falcon fighting in a planetary atmosphere, not space.

In fact, the trailer doesn’t have a single shot of outer space in it.

One is reminded again of Abrams’ penchant for reimagining science fiction sagas with a more terrestrial focus–how many scenes in his two Star Trek movies happened not in space, but inside air?

But the major function of Act III is to complete the standard narrative template–from establishment to conflict to victory.  And the trailer leaves no doubt that this favorite ship is confidently, powerfully fighting back against the trauma of Acts I and II.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better teaser trailer–in under two minutes, we get a complete, miniature film arc.

381 days to go…

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