This week’s release of the teaser trailer of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought back a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt as a Star Wars fan since the early 80’s. There’s something about the years between 1977 and 1983 that gave the fans of the franchise a sense of anticipation that didn’t include the skepticism and disappointment we received with George Lucas’s prequels. In the years leading up to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, there was always the sense of optimism for an upcoming sequel, as if we knew all along that the next film would be even better than the last. At no point did we ever walk into the theater thinking we would walk out disappointed, like man fans did between the years of 1999 and 2005.
I was skeptical when J.J. Abrams was named director of Star Wars VII. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented director and I thoroughly enjoyed his reboot of Star Trek. But as much as I was relieved that George Lucas wouldn’t be adding another layer of disappointment to the franchise, I was concerned at how a director that grew up a fan of the Star Wars franchise might either go fanboy and rehash what he loved about the original films (much like Bryan Singer’s homage to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie with 2006’s Superman Returns) or try to make it his own by deviating too much from the original canon. The jury is still out on The Force Awakens until December 2015, but after seeing the first teaser trailer this week I’m feeling that sense of optimism that’s been missing for 30 years.
And it started with the opening shot.
John Boyega as a stormtrooper on what looks like Tatooine gives me hope that the stormtroopers in The Force Awakens are no longer clones. Growing up watching the original trilogy and reading Marvel’s Star Wars comics throughout the 80’s, I always saw the stormtroopers as recruits from throughout the galaxy. Abrams including a storyline in The Force Awakens from the perspective of a stormtrooper is a fantastic plot device that will add a dimension that was never seen in a previous Star Wars film: a level of humanity to the footsoldiers of the Empire rather than showing them as the soulless clones that were really no more than blaster fodder.
Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement in the script gave me hope that the story (and especially the dialogue) will be an improvement over the prequels. I’ve always felt that his screenplay with Leigh Brackett made The Empire Strikes Back the best of all the Star Wars films. His a familiar voice is what is needed the most now that Luke, Han and Leia are (finally!) back.
I’ve always been more of a fan of the old school special effects techniques that were used in the original Star Wars films (models, matte paintings that were actually painted, etc.), and the over use of CGI over the last 15 years has tended to detach me from a story since the effects and digital matte paintings look more like video games than realistic settings. In my opinion, the old models of the Death Star, AT-ATs, etc. that were photographed (on film) for the original trilogy still look better. But seeing the X-Wing Fighters and the Millenium Falcon (finally!) streaking across the screen again made me forget my usual rant against the overuse of CGI, and I intend to go into my screening of The Force Awakens with an open mind to enjoy it for what it is.
But there was something else about the sequences shown in the teaser trailer that gave me a sense of comfort and even nostalgia: the sound effects. Anthony Daniels’ C3-PO and Kenny Baker’s R2-D2 were the characters that bridged all six of the previous films together. John Williams’ musical scores were the foundation of each film that (especially the during the prequels) brought back the emotions we felt the first time we watched Episode IV. But watching the teaser trailer made me realize how much the sound effects have also bound the films together over the last 34 years. We instantly recognize the sound of a lightsaber firing up, and the beautiful simplicity of the the sound of a blaster shot. X-Wings and TIE Fighters have that familiar scream as they streak across the screen. It’s not just the characters, effects and the universe created by George Lucas that brings us back to the theaters with each sequel, it’s also the sense of familiarity and nostalgia that brings us back. It doesn’t matter how disappointed many fans were with the prequels (myself included), we keep coming back because we want more Star Wars. And Abrams’s trailer for The Force Awakens brought back the same feeling and excitement I had as 11 year old kid in 1983 waiting on line for Return of the Jedi.