The first official teaser trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has dropped like Emperor Palpatine down a reactor shaft. Watch it, then take a read of my shot-for-shot wild and baseless speculation.
Scene 1: We open on Arrakis, er, I mean Tatooine, probably. Planets in the Star Wars universe only have one environment, remember. We look at some unremarkable but familiar dunes while someone doing their best Benedict Cumberbatch impression says something cryptic about waking up.
Then, things immediately get interesting. A man in Storm Trooper armor missing his helmet jumps into frame, sweating profusely and in obvious distress. But the most striking thing about him is he’s black. Now, in the original trilogy, there weren’t a whole lot of black folks. In fact, aside from Lando, the only other person of color we saw was an ill-fated X-wing pilot who blew up after three words of dialogue.
The Empire was xenophobic and totalitarian, consisting of humans almost exclusively, with very few exceptions. Tolerance and inclusiveness were not their strong suit, so what is this black Storm Trooper telling us? Is the Imperial remnant thirty years after RotJ turning a new leaf? Are they making efforts to be more diverse? Has desperation forced them to fill out their ranks with conscripts? Or is this man an imposter? A New Republic spy perhaps? All intriguing possibilities.
If nothing else, the fact the very first character we see from official footage is a person of color confirms that the producers of Episode VII are committed to greater diversity in these new movies, which can only be a positive development.
Scene 2: Cut to a soccer-playing astromech droid head. Is that ball part of it’s body? Is it playing with the kiddies? Who knows, it’s cute.
Scene 3: Back to more Storm Troopers and shaky camera work. It looks like a squad of troopers standing around inside a landing shuttle waiting for the door to drop when something outside goes terribly wrong. Blasters are pulled as whatever is waiting for them outside the shuttle opens the ramp.
There’s real, palpable fear here. Between this scene and the opening trooper in the desert, this is the first time Storm Troopers have been presented in a way we can identify with emotionally. It’s the first time we’ve been asked to put ourselves in their shoes instead of viewing them as nothing more than Bantha fodder. Very interesting.
Scene 4: Back to Tatooine again where a girl in her late-teens who’s dressed an awful lot like a young, pod-racing Anakin Skywalker hops onto what has to be the clunkiest-looking swoop ever built. It looks more like a farm implement than a speeder, and maybe that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Anyway, she’s busy running from something, just like the rest. Tension is building. Something is coming, driving everyone to retreat. But what?
Scene 5: Cut to a New Republic pilot, still sporting the chevron of the old Rebel Alliance, sitting inside a cockpit. He’s a dead-ringer for Wedge Antillies, although appears too young to be Rouge Squadron’s illustrious leader. Anyway, he’s leading the charge as three next-generation X-wing fighters barrel-along at breakneck speeds just inches above the surface of a lake with their S-foils locked in attack position.
These pilots are streaking into combat, flying low across the water, likely trying to avoid detection in a scene reminiscent of the famous RAF Dam Busters Squadron. Which shouldn’t be any surprise to Star Wars purists. The famous Death Star Trench scene was heavily influenced by a 1955 British film of the same name. The inclusion of this scene in the teaser gives us insight into just how deep J.J. Abrams’s knowledge of Star Wars lore and history goes. I puckered up watching this scene.
Scene 6: Cut again and we’re following a black-robed figure through a snow-covered forest. Finally, a new planet! Anyway, Benedict Cumberbatch says “Dark Side” which spooks this shadowy figure enough that they pull out a lightsaber. Holy shit, it’s red, a Sith! And then, holy shit, lightsaber cross guards! Instead of the classic, short-handled lightsaber which had been influence by the Japanese Katana, this one has a long handle with a blade and cross guards that are lifted directly from European two-handed swords wielded by medieval knights, not samurai. This is the first new lightsaber style since Darth Maul’s double-bladed saber that doesn’t scream “Gimmick!” to me, (Looking at you, Inquisitor’s spinning ceiling fan.) I really hope this new enemy’s fighting style reflects the more direct, physical, knock-down style of armor-clad European Knights to match his (or her) impressive sword.
Scene 7: We’re back to Tatooine, (Gods damn it. We’ve seen this backwater in every movie except Empire. Enough.) And now we’re given unadulterated, unapologetic fan service as the Millennium Falcon twists and turns through the desert air, barely pulling up to avoid the sand as it goes shooting past a pair of TIE fighters. It is a beautiful sight.
Two things jumped out at me about this scene. First, the Falcon has a new sensor dish to replace the one Lando lost inside the Death Star II. It’s rectangular instead of circular, which makes sense. Han was always tinkering with and upgrading his ship. So not only did he take the opportunity to mount an entirely different, and probably better dish, but it’s lower-profile, making a repeat less likely. This again shows us the detailed knowledge of the characters and the world that Abrams and his team are bringing to bear on this relaunch. It’s the sort of detail that leaves me feeling very encouraged.
Second, as far as I can see from their split-second fly-by, the TIEs chasing the Falcon are old-school TIE/ln units from the Galactic Civil War. Even by the end of the war, they were being supplanted by TIE Interceptors. Thirty years on, the original TIE would be obsolete in the face of new threats like the next-gen X-Wings we’ve already seen and no longer fit for front-line service. So, who’s flying these TIES? Is it a sign that the Imperial Remnant is so desperate and starved of resources that they’re forced to use outdated equipment? Or are these salvaged units being operated by forces outside either the Empire or New Republic?
But what really jumps out at me about the tone and overall presentation of this trailer is the threat everyone seems to be facing. Instead of the Empire being the all encompassing evil in the galaxy, the two Storm Troopers scenes suggest that whatever is coming is a threat to everyone and everything equally. Are we getting set up to see the New Republic and Imperial Remnant burying the hatchet and fighting a common enemy?
And think of what is missing from the footage. No original characters. The closest we get to seeing Han, Luke, or Leia are the beauty shots of the Falcon. And for a Star Wars movie, there wasn’t a single scene out in space itself. How curious.
What did you think? Let the endless speculation commence in the comments!