This isn’t the Star Wars VII teaser review you’re looking for

Sorry to be that guy and launch another review of The Force Awakens trailer that literally nobody asked for, but I felt millions of voices cry out and I just had to join them. Hopefully soon we will all be suddenly silenced.

So a lot of people are picking apart this trailer shot by shot and asking “What does it all mean? What is the story here?” This is not that review.

Step back a bit, let’s ask instead “What type of movie has JJ Abrams made? What does this trailer show us about that?”

George Lucas was a highly literate filmmaker and very much a product of his time. Abrams is too. For Lucas that meant he was a student of classical cinema and of classical storytelling. You don’t need me to tell you this all again but that is why Star Wars: A New Hope and its sequels follow a pretty well trodden folk tale structure and why we have lots of really in your face symbolism and recurring tropes.

For Abrams, film literacy manifests itself differently. The generation after Lucas are able to work within classical cinema and to break it apart. This is, basically, postmodern film making: referential, intertextual, transmedia perhaps and always playing with symbols and signs. This force runs strong in Abrams’s work: Lost had it, his postmodern book project S had it, and… his Star Wars movies have it. It’s not postmodernism in the purest sense, perhaps, but it is craft borne out of that approach.

In Star Wars Abrams inherits a rich pool of signs, a huge Lego set which he can play with at will. What the second trailer for The Force Awakens shows me is that the film Abrams has made will acknowledge these signs in a pretty significant way.

It looks to me as though the film will directly tackle symbolism within the Star Wars universe: Abrams won’t just acknowledge the heritage through reusing tropes (though surely somebody will lose a hand and somebody will fall down a big shaft). He won’t limit himself to cheeky moments of fan service.  What he will do is put the symbolic language of the universe at the forefront of his film. That is why in this trailer we hear Luke Skywalker reprise his “the force runs strong in my family” speech, that is why we see the sudden reappearance of his long lost original blue lightsaber (that was his Father’s before him) and that is why Vader’s breathing mask is part of the story. What else do we see? Familiar faces, familiar ships, in new configurations, they are part of this too. More importantly cybernetic hands, cloaked figures and a villain who has set the geekier end of fandom alight because he has taken on the appearance of expanded universe fan’s favourite Darth Revan.

So I guess I need to put my cards on the table with a prediction? I’ll keep it broad, you can get specific plot points elsewhere that have a ridiculous level of detail. In Abrams story the symbols of the Old Republic, of the Sith Order, of the Empire are being put to use as part of a struggle to win the peace, post-Palpatine. These symbols will drive the action, as quest objects. Abrams will show off his Lego kit to great effect. And you’re going to love it.

GE15 gets a kickstart

We’ve just passed 100-day day on the election countdown, and while once again we’ll find voices calling it as the “social media election” (despite previous elections making the same claims) the thing that’s caught my eye is that it seems to be the crowd funding election.

First it was the Greens, crowd funding a candidate for every constituency in Brum, and now Labour’s PPC for Yardley has a campaign to build a war chest to help her fight against John Hemming.

Micro funding was always held up as being an important part of Obama’s success in the US, but a crowd funding campaign moves that idea to new territory: it heightens the sense of collective action, by rallying folk around the funding target. Crowd funding, so tightly wound into a discourse of innovation and disruption, also chimes with the rhetoric of UKIP earthquakes and Green surges, to the idea that we’re all activists now and everything is up for grabs.

We live in interesting times.

Night running (deserves a quiet night)

Sometimes I think “I need a head torch” but then the road opens out from the woods and I’m running across the top of Blackroot Pool. The thin slither of new moon, the stars, and I’m a mile or more from traffic in any direction. It’s just me and the road through Sutton Park, and the water and the stars and I don’t need a head torch.

No coding necessary — for your free audiobook download

I’ve just started listening to the podcast Criminal, having heard about it when it joined the Radiotopia collective. It’s good, you’d like it, especially if you’re jonesing for Serial. But that’s not what I’m talking about right now.

I’ve listened through the first couple of episodes, when the show was boxfresh, and the latest one, after it joined Radiotopia, and whilst the programme itself hasn’t changed there’s one big thing that’s new: the ads. Continue reading No coding necessary — for your free audiobook download

Getting in on the ground floor

I’m a terribly safe reader. I stick to authors I know until I have a solid recommendation for a new one. Last week though I got to the end of the book I was reading and saw a tweet about The Girl on the Train that got my interest. My book had ended on a real downer so I grabbed a sample of The Girl on the Train, just after midnight, and gave it a go. I’d bought the book before I turned the light out. Continue reading Getting in on the ground floor

Mockingbird Cinema, Custard Factory

I hadn’t realised that the theatre space at Custard Factory had opened again and is poised to do lots of interesting things (because basically, I don’t get out much so I don’t find out things).

A friend had his birthday party there last night (he rented the screen, we watched Top Secret, it was a great night) and that gave me a chance to get reacquainted with the joint. Continue reading Mockingbird Cinema, Custard Factory

Glengarry, Glen Cars

I didn’t quite get into Serial hipster-early, but I just got the jump on the popular rush after a few people who really like podcasts tipped me off. Inevitably when they did they all said “…from the guys at This American Life.” And I wasn’t hip to that either.

Well, today it was time to find out what I’d been missing. Everyone suggested the same gateway episode: 129 Cars.

It’s Glengarry, Glenn Ross with cars as a sales team try to make their monthly target: it’s fascinating, emotional, funny and dramatic and it’s a super tight piece of radio production. Go listen, now.

Highs & lows street

Today I had to do a lot of business with various companies on “the high street” and was struck by just how far we’ve come with remediating the Internet back into physical shops.

Beyond all the obvious stuff about unexpected items in bagging areas, and outside of the economic discussion about cost cutting that leads to all of this, high street shopping feels to me more and more like clicks than bricks. All those automated systems, all that lack of human agency, reduces much of the process to the same user experience as online shopping (but with the hassle of leaving the house). Continue reading Highs & lows street

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