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.