Every so often on this blog, I am liable to nerd the crap out. ‘cuz as a general rule, I like liking things. Also, I’m a huge nerd, and when what was basically the first thing I was a nerd about does something cool, I”m gonna be there. So let’s talk about The Force Awakens. Again. Though this time it’s less recapping and more analysis.
Based on the trailer, and also what was said at Celebration, it’s really sounding like Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is going to be the protagonist of The Force Awakens, which I’m obviously excited by. It also seems like they’re building her up along with John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron as the ‘new’ Luke, Leia, and Han (or Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan).
It’s cool, since one of the Holy Trilogy’s greatest strengths was its core characters. We knew Luke was our protagonist, and Han and Leia the deuteragonists. Luke had the biggest arc in each movie and was the most dynamic character while the other two had their own smaller ones and supported Luke’s along the way. There was a cohesion there that gave us a throughline through each film. So unlike Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme who hardly ever had key moments together, the new one seems ready to establish this trinity of characters from the outset. Furthermore, one of the Prequels’ bigger narrative issues was the lack of a true protagonist. The character who should have had the biggest arc in the latter two — Anakin — ended up not doing much for big chunks of the film (while Obi Wan discovers a nascent rebellion, Anakin… falls in love with Padmé. While Obi Wan goes after a Separatist commander, Anakin… sits around on Coruscant). It’s hard to support a protagonist who’s not doing much.
To that, The Force Awakens, thus far is making an effort to pay tribute to the Holy Trilogy. Besides character archetypes and dynamic, they seem geared to do this through visuals too. Sometimes this means replicating shots — the Falcon’s dodge in the derelict ship’s engine is straight out of Jedi, and the droid BB-8 looking around the corner is a dead ringer for Leia’s introduction in A New Hope. Then you’ve got the with grand epic shots and a world that reeks of an unknown history (crashed Star Destroyer!). There’s even stuff similar to the Prequels; the shot of the Stormtroopers turning round is not at all unlike the end of Attack of the Clones. There’s a rich visual history woven into the look of the new film that makes it feel Star Wars.
There’s new to it too, though. The snap-zoom as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters is a very Abram’s Star Trek shot (which in turn is arguably influenced by the visual work of Firefly). They’re also taking full advantage of how far special effects have come in the past few decades and giving us starfighters flying through atmosphere, which is what we’ve all always wanted but didn’t really know until we saw it happen.
Look, I’m excited for this movie. Star Wars has been a part of my life literally as long as I can remember (no lie, one of my earliest memories is me discussing the ending of Empire with another kid in the first house I lived in — so I’d have to have been four at the oldest). It’s hard for hype not build when we see a new movie coming out by a team that’s proving themselves more and more capable with each teaser. They’re taking something old and making it new (more diversity, taking advantage of technology) while remaining true to itself (visual style, character archetypes), making a new Star Wars that feels fresh.
On a more personal note, there’s this mix of wonder and craft that satisfies both the kid who saw The Phantom Menace for his eighth birthday and the twenty-three-year-old who spends his weekends ranting about superheroes, feminism, and video games.