Can we take a minute to talk about the teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens because holy shit we’re getting a new Star Wars movie and it actually looks like a proper Star Wars movie.
There is a lot to be excited about, but the thing that stood out to me was just how right J.J. was able to nail the aesthetic of the universe. A staple of the original Star Wars trilogy was just how lived in the environments felt. Each world and every ship felt well-used and worn in, and a lot of the machinery looked like it was being held together by duct tape and force of will.
This is where the prequels got it so terribly, terribly wrong.
It goes without question that the prequels are inferior to the original films; the plots lack any hint of nuance or subtlety, the acting is stiff, and the dialogue is downright embarrassing at times. Plus the prequels did a terrible job in addressing the audience’s “we know how it ends” mentality that frequently sinks films billed as “prequels.” But you know what? A movie can overcome these problems – and all three Star Wars prequels have awesome third acts which remind you that, yes, you are watching Star Wars. Hell, the last hour of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, when the actors were finally allowed to do this amazing thing called “acting”, almost redeemed the entire prequel trilogy.
But the one thing that the prequels could never shake was the feeling that everything felt a little off. The world was too clean. Sure, using CGI allowed the prequels to have a visual size and scope that the original films could only dream of, but those worlds were also too refined, too sterile. No matter where the story took you, whether it be the Jedi Temple on Coruscant or the ass-end of space (read: Tatooine), the ornate cities of Naboo or the dense forests of Kashyyyk, everything looked as if the sentient species of the galaxy were all shopping at the same Space Ikea.
By contrast, the original movies did a spectacular job of using their environments to further build on the world you were experiencing. The starships, especially the Rebellion fighters, felt like they were complex and bulky machinery that were being rigged with surplus parts. The aforementioned Tatooine felt like the arid outlaw haven that you’d expect of a port city, and the other planets conveyed their own sense of being with their visuals. The Empire had its own distinct look, as well, with everything feeling clean and orderly. Yet even with the Empire, the aesthetics told stories. The Death Star floors had scuffing from heavy foot traffic, the TIE Fighters had scorch marks and chipped paint, and the Stormtroopers who were planetside had dirt and grime marking their pearly white uniforms.
It may not sound like much, but these details go a long way in making the universe believable – or as believable as a galaxy filled with mysticism and laser swords can be, I guess.
This is where J.J., from what we’ve seen, has gotten it so right. Am I concerned that he’ll go full-J.J. on the story? Of course. After turning in two god awful Star Trek movies, you have to be a little concerned about J.J.’s ability to tell a story – even if that story was written by box turtle and conspiracy theorist responsible for Transformers and Transformers 2. However, the first Star Trek did serve as a damn fine Star Wars demo reel, and in the 88 seconds of the teaser trailer J.J. showed that, if absolutely nothing else, he can nail the aesthetic.
J.J. seems to have been able to modernize the look of the Star Wars universe while still keeping the film feeling unquestioningly like it’s taking place in the classic Star Wars films. Tatooine looks like the barren ass-end of space that it very well is. X-Wings still look like X-Wings, although now they look closer to the McQuarrie concept art from the 1970s. The Millennium Falcon still looks like the Millennium Falcon, even with its new sensor dish (which is a lovely bit of continuity from the end of Return of the Jedi, by the way).
And Stormtroopers still look like Stormtroopers, and Stormtroopers still look badass.
Jesus Christ that’s a beautiful shot.
There is a lot that I could talk about with the teaser trailer, but there are a thousand write-ups about it. I’m sure they’ll hypothesize about why John Boyega is in Stormtrooper armor, or who Daisy Ridley is playing, or why the mysterious Sith’s lightsaber
claymore cruciform looks so unstable. But in all honesty I don’t really care about all of that. All I wanted from the teaser was to see if J.J. could actually capture the look and feel of the Star Wars I grew up with.
And boy has he proven that he can.