It’s been a little over two years since George Lucas sold the Star Wars universe to Disney. Those two years have been full of tantalizing rumor and ambitious corporate theatrics. We know that Star Wars: Episode VII will take place many years after Return of the Jedi. We know that the original cast will return alongside an all-star squad of up-and-comers. Director J.J. Abrams has subtly pitched VII as a kind of artisanal Star Wars film: Shot on 35 mm film, with an emphasis on practical effects, a soundtrack by John Williams, and a life-sized Millennium Falcon.
We know that Episode VII will lead into a new trilogy, and also a few spinoffs. We know that the new movie will ignore the last few decades of Expanded Universe mythology, which is sad news for Mara Jade fans and not really news at all for people who have no idea what a “Mara Jade” is. We know that Episode VII will be titled The Force Awakens, which isn’t quite The Empire Strikes Back but is definitely not Attack of the Clones. (I dunno. What would you call a Star Wars movie? Like, I would’ve preferred Star Wars: Showdown on Nar Shaddaa, but that’s why they don’t let me title Star Wars movies.)
And now, for the first time, we actually know what seventh Star Wars movie looks like. November 28, 2014, will always be the day that the world got its first look at the post-Return of the Jedi cinematic universe of Star Wars.
So what did we see in the first trailer for The Force Awakens? My colleague James Hibberd already ran down the seven most important things we learned from the trailer, but this being Star Wars, there are stories within stories in every corner of the screen. Rewatch the trailer above, and then let’s dive in!
We begin where Star Wars will always begin: On Tatooine. Or anyhow, on a planet that looks so much like Tatooine that let’s just say for the sake of argument that it’s definitely Tatooine, and we’ll declare a general amnesty one year from now if it turns out that J.J. Abrams only wanted us to think it was Tatooine. A voice in the background, ragged: “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”
Kaboom! Up stands John Boyega, the star of Attack the Block. Nothing official has ever been released about the new characters, so it’s a bit of a jarring shock to see Boyega modeling a Stormtrooper outfit. Stormtroopers have never really been characters in the Star Wars movies. A couple clone troopers from the prequel-verse were demarcated as individuals, but I’m not even sure you ever saw the face of a stormtrooper in the original trilogy. (ASIDE: One of my favorite characters from the Expanded Universe was a Stormtrooper. Dear J. J. Abrams: If you cast John Boyega as Davin Felth, then I forgive you forever for Star Trek Into Darkness. END OF ASIDE.)
One obvious question here: Is Boyega playing a Stormtrooper? Or is he just pretending to be a Stormtrooper, a la Luke and Han on the Death Star?
Another obvious question: Why are there are still Stormtroopers in the Star Wars universe? By all accounts, Episode VII takes place realtime decades after Return of the Jedi. Assuming that we’re treating the Special Editions as canon, Return of the Jedi appeared to present the fall of the Empire. But if there are still Stormtroopers, we have to assume that the Empire still exists in some capacity. Is it a diminished force, on the run and diminishing? Are Stormtroopers now hired-gun mercenaries for other dark forces? Is this one of those Morgoth-in-The-Silmarillion situations, where the Empire has spent the last thirty years in hibernation, waiting for a moment to strike back again?
Also, why is Stormtrooper Boyega all by himself in the middle of the desert? And why, in the background, do we hear what sounds like an Imperial Probe Droid? Ludicrous conclusion-jump: I’m betting Boyega just crashlanded on Tatooine, and now he’s waking up in the middle of the desert, with a very urgent message to deliver to someone, and a need to reach that someone before the bad guys do.
The original Star Wars trilogy presented a universe filled with scuzzy, broken-down retro-future technology. The prequel trilogy presented that same universe at an earlier, more decadent moment, all clean edges and polished-metal sheen. What will the aesthetic of this third Star Wars trilogy be?
We get some insight from this shot, of what appears to be the new model version of an astromech Droid. Let’s call it R2-D3, although it’s entirely possible that this is actually a refurbished R2-D2. The head looks the same, but now it’s rolling on what appears to be a volleyball. Your kid already wants one.
More Stormtroopers, looking tough. The new-model Stormtrooper helmets have been tweaked just a little bit.
The Stormtroopers wait patiently as a ramp lowers in front of them. Disappointingly, they do not appear to be planning to drive a bunch of sweet cars off that ramp in midair. That’s what 2015’s other sevenquel is for.
Say, it’s franchise newcomer Daisy Ridley! Rumors ran wild earlier this year that Ridley will be playing the daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia. (Said rumors derive from a hazy set of facts, like that Ridley has brown hair and that presumably somebody has to play the child of Han and Leia.) We meet Ridley wearing some vintage Star Wars attire, with a goggles-and-serape ensemble that vaguely recalls Leia’s Endor outfit from Return of the Jedi.
Ridley is driving a vehicle that looks like the perfect Venn Diagram mid-point between the Return of the Jedi speeder bikes and Luke’s old desert landspeeder convertible. She appears to be in a hurry.
She also appears to be on Tatooine, or anyhow, an arid planet. Another ludicrous conclusion-jump: Ridley is playing a character who lives on Tatooine, possible a character who has been raised by someone who’s not her parents—let’s call this someone “Uncle Luke” just for the sake of argument—and the first part of The Force Awakens will be about very bad people coming to get Ridley, for mysterious reasons.
OH CRAP GUYS IT’S LLEWYN DAVIS! Inside an X-Wing fighter, we find Oscar Isaac, aka “the bad guy from X-Men: Apocalypse.” Isaac is rocking a Rebel Alliance helmet like a boss. What’s his callsign? Is he a member of Rogue Squadron?
He’s definitely a member of some squadron: A few other X-Wings join him. They’re flying over a body of water, so at least we know this isn’t Tatooine.
Pulling back for a second: So now we know that, thirty years after the destruction of the Second Death Star, there are still Imperial Stormtroopers and X-Wing fights being flown by Rebel pilots. Does this mean that the fighting between the Rebels and the Empire has never actually ended—that the “Star Wars” of the original trilogy have become a kind of neverending battle between two sides, the modern equivalent of the Wars of the Roses, or a slightly-less-cold version of the Cold War?
Or—and this is going way out there—has the dynamic between the Alliance and the Empire shifted in the last thirty years? Boyega is a Stormtrooper, but he doesn’t look like a typical Star Wars bad guy—”frustrated high-adrenaline confusion” is an emotion more typical of a Star Wars Good Guy. Conversely, is there something a little insidious in Oscar Isaac’s pilot-face? Could it be that, three decades after Return of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance has been corrupted from within? X-Wings Bad, Stormtroopers Good?
Almost certainly not good: This shadowy figure walking through the Forbidden Forest outside of Hogwarts. Kidding, but only because it’s not immediately clear where we are: The snow would suggest Hoth, but the shadowy forest is like a less swampy Dagobah, and anyhow it’s possible there will be some new planets in The Force Awakens. This shady figure is almost certainly Adam Driver, who general consensus states is playing the bad guy in Episode VII. His dark shrouded figure vibes “Dark Jedi,” although it’s worth remembering that that’s also the look Luke modeled in Return of the Jedi.
Also, he’s got a red lightsaber! With two mini-sabers on the end of the handle. Are the mini-sabers actually useful in combat? Or do they just look cool?
Now, listen. Lightsabers are very cool—they’re on the shortlist of the flat-out coolest science-fiction weapons in movie history. And lightsabers that are slightly tweaked to become Different-Looking Lightsabers are cool. Right? Well… keep in mind that, not that long ago, another trailer for a highly-anticipated Star Wars movie prominently featured a Different-Looking Lightsaber, which seemed pretty cool in theory:
So how do we feel about the new tri-part lightsaber?
The voice returns, clarifying what is awakening: “The Dark Side…and the Light.”
Kaboom! The “Light Side” is herein represented by the Millennium Falcon, returning to the screen in a twisty-turny flight path, up and down and round and round.
The Falcon appears to be flying over Tatooine. Guys, I can’t stress this enough: TATOOINE IS IN THIS MOVIE.
Something interesting to think about: The Millennium Falcon appears in the trailer right after the narrator says “The Light.” It’s an interesting decision, since you could argue that the Falcon actually reflects all the fun stuff about Star Wars that has nothing to do with the Force. The Falcon was flown by Han Solo, the only Star Wars lead who has no connection to the Force whatsoever. I guess you could get extremely pedantic and argue that everyone has some connection to the Force, and Han is a member of “the Light side” by virtue of fighting against tyranny.
But you could also point out that the Falcon represents everything that was missing from the Star Wars prequels. Episodes I-III took a deep dive into Star Wars arcana: The midichlorians, the virgin-birth allegory, the premonitions of doom, the fact that every character seemed to be an emotionally Jedi monk. For a movie called The Force Awakens, there’s surprisingly little Jedi mysticism in this trailer: No Luke, no Jedi masters. Ending on a shot of the Falcon feels like a clear statement of purpose from new franchise steersman J.J. Abrams: “Remember all the fun stuff? We brought that back.”
Of course, “bringing back the fun stuff” isn’t necessarily the same as “creating new fun stuff.” This is a trailer that features X-Wings, Stormtroopers, Tatooine, the Millennium Falcon, a red lightsaber, and a red-brown desert speeder—it’s like an Episode IV mixtape, “Now That’s What I Call A New Hope!” And so the last shot ends with one of the great iconic sounds from the original series: The scream of an attacking TIE Fighter, firing at the Millennium Falcon.
Let’s pull back again here: Why is the Falcon fighting Imperial TIE Fighters on Tatooine? TIE Fighters were always cheapo attack ships, practically designed to collapse: The Empire only used them because they didn’t care how many faceless TIE pilots they lost in battle. (Fans will note that these appear to be mere TIE Fighters, not trendy-chic riffs like the TIE Interceptor.) Since thirty years have passed between trilogies, we have to assume that whoever is using the TIE Fighters can’t afford better technology.
Maybe it’s kind of like Battlestar Galactica? At the start of the rebooted series, the heroic pilots of the Galactica have to start using outdated Viper attack ships. Maybe something similar is happening here: The remnants of the Empire are forced to use old-school TIE Fighters. Or maybe Evil Adam Driver finds an old Star Destroyer, filled with a fleet of TIE Fighters and a whole battalion of Stormtroopers?
Let’s pull back even further: What does it mean when the fellow talking in the background says that the Dark Side and the Light Side are both “awakening”? Return of the Jedi concluded with the implication that the Light Side had won; the Expanded Universe of books saw Luke establishing a new Jedi Order, returning the Force to the pre-Empire status quo. But “awakening” implies that the Force has been somehow absent from the Star Wars galaxy—or anyhow, it implies that Luke definitely hasn’t spent the last three decades building up a new crew of Jedi Knights.
So what happened in the last thirty years? Could it be that, at some point, the original-series band of heroes split asunder—that Luke went off like Ben Kenobi to live in the desert, that the Falcon has been in dry dock for many years? This trailer makes the explicit choice to focus on brand new characters—on Boyega, Ridley, and Isaac, who we have to assume are the new Power Trio.
But is part of The Force Awakens also the story of getting the original band back together? Seriously, why are the Rebels still fighting the Empire? Doesn’t that seem to imply that the victory in Return of the Jedi wasn’t such a victory? Could it be that The Force Awakens will be the Before Sunset of space operas, with all the youthful promise of characters in the original trilogy running up against the sad realities of time’s passing? Are they doomed to spend their lives fighting one star war after another?
Pause to imagine J.J. Abrams, standing inside of a room filled with a thousand computer animators, screaming “I GOTTA HAVE MORE LENS FLARE!”
What do you think of the Star Wars: Episode VII trailer? Do you have any wild plot predictions? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll respond in Monday’s edition of the Entertainment Geekly Mailbag.