Star Wars Celebration 2015 is in full swing, and while there’s a ton of fun and fascinating content, today’s conference (April 16th 2015) was definitely a fan highlight. Between new faces and old friends, insightful glances into the production philosophy, hints at big reveals to come, and a brand new trailer, today’s conference pulled the heart-strings of every dedicated Star Wars fan, and ignited an excitement that has lain dormant since that sinking feeling that accompanied the Prequel films.
We’ve already brought you the trailer revealed at the end of today’s conference, and as exciting as that was, it was far from the only thing to geek out about.
1. The Franchise is in good hands. It’s very clear from today’s conference that Kathleen Kennedy is incredibly excited to work on Star Wars. Her genuine nature and straight-forward tone made it very clear that she was both honored and daunted by the responsibility she has been given. It’s also obvious that Kennedy and JJ Abrams have established a very solid partnership, and both are dedicated to upholding that responsibility.
Kennedy and Abrams partnered on the Force for Change, a charitable organization dedicated to “harness[ing] the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.” In the past, Star Wars and its global financial reach have been leveraged for a great many charitable works, and it’s very nice to see this trend continue. By the end of 2014, A Force for Change has raised $4.26 million for UNICEF‘s global effort to provide food and education for the world’s children. At today’s conference, Kennedy and Abrams announced the global success of the charitable organization, and pledged their continued support to UNICEF.
This commitment indicates on both of their parts a great understanding of the power wielded by the franchise, and that’s vital to their stewardship of same. In particular around the time of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, there were some concerns about the over-commercialization of the franchise, and while Force For Change doesn’t necessarily obviate that concern, it does a good bit to indicate the nature of the people at the helm of one of our favorite franchises.
On a more concrete note, today Abrams was questioned about his choice to focus heavily on concrete sets and physical performances over visual effects. Before he could respond, a swell of applause and affirmation rose from the crowd, and that’s a sentiment I’m sure all Star Wars fans echo. He responded that one of the things he loved about the franchise was its gritty, real, lived-in, worn feeling. This response was met with more in the way of thunderous applause, and both this constant assurance, progression photos, and the new trailers have done a lot to quell the concerns fans had about Abrams coming off of his critically-acclaimed and widely-successful but somewhat reviled-by-fans Star Trek films. He made a special point to highlight the fact that he’s endeavored to stay faithful to the amazing visual disparity George Lucas and his visual design team created between the dirty, gritty, organic Rebel Alliance and the shiny, flawless, and monochromatic Galactic Empire.
While the above speaks volumes, it’s probably best to discuss aesthetic with a well-rounded familiarity, and the best way to get acclimated to The Force Awakens visuals is to watch …
2. The new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Just watch it. Whether you’ve seen it before or not, treat yourself. Watch it again.
I don’t want to spend too much time poring over the trailer, as we’ll have an in-depth analysis of same later tonight, but with regard to the visual elements, the nail has been hit on the head. It’s remarkably clear that the concrete sets and physical performances have created an experience that feels more grounded, more real, much more like Star Wars than do the Prequel films. Moreover, the CG that is present has obviously seen a tremendous amount of attention – it’s far more Gollum than it is Jar-Jar. That said, as grounded as it is …
3. This is a Star Wars for our time.
I think that there’s a strange dichotomy that exists in geekdom. I think that geeks often view themselves as the underdog, the outcast, and the rejected, and yet often we are among the most judgmental, abusive and segregated of people. Gamersgate has done a great deal to highlight it, but if we are honest with ourselves, it has always been a problem.
And yet, the awareness of the problem is growing, and the reaction against that kind of prejudice and close-mindedness is strong, and heartening. This may seem to have little in the way of relation to Star Wars, but just as Force for Change is using the strength of the franchise to do great good, The Force Awakens is making strides in the realms of gender and racial equality.
The original Star Wars trilogy was similarly ahead of its time – racial and gender equality are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were in the late 80s and 90s, and yet in that time of comparatively tense relations between the races and genders, the original Star Wars trilogy featured one of films’ true Lady Bad-Asses in the no-nonsense, Stormtrooper-blasting, not-afraid-to-rip-her-gown or muss-up-her-buns Princess Leia. Similarly, there’s no question that Lando Calrissian is easily one of the slickest and smoothest operators in fiction, and a total fan favorite.
But it’s really, really nice to see that 32 years after Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is representing our world; a more varied, real, and open-minded world. It has become clear that Daisy Ridley’s Rey, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, and John Boyega’s Finn are the main protagonists of this film. It’s a tad difficult to think of a another film in recent history whose three most important characters aren’t Eastern European or American White Males, but more than that, science fiction and fantasy are – with some excellent and notable exceptions – largely the domain of white men.
Kathleen Kennedy was asked in today’s conference who she would have been, if she had been a Star Wars character. She replied that in the past, she wouldn’t have had a lot of choices, but that’s going to change with this film.
I think science fiction is a genre of aspiration. I think science fiction is about what humanity can and should be, what we must become if we are to survive and The Force Awakens looks to be an excellent example of just that.
4. The Empire Isn’t Dead – and so neither is Star Wars.
There have been a lot of questions about canon in recent history. I am of two minds on the subject of the extended universe having been tossed out the window by Lucasfilm. I hated to see those novels discarded, but it was done with respect, as they continue to be published with a simple amendment to the cover art, and the other side of the coin is that team behind the new films needed creative license, and not to be hampered by works with which they weren’t involved. That is a different debate entirely – and a somewhat moot debate, as it is in the past. It bears mention, because if that massive litany of content is discarded, then we have no idea where this film is going. We know so little about it.
That’s amazingly exciting. That means for the first time in 32 years we have a new Star Wars story.
In response to the inevitable nitpicking about the prequels: A) Hush. They were awful, even when they weren’t. B) They weren’t a new story – Lucas had been continually refining them for years and C) THIS IS NEW. This is a sequel to Return of the Jedi. We finally get to see what happened to the galaxy after the Death Star was destroyed.
Now, while we don’t know much, we can piece together some assumptions – and we’ll actually be doing so in great detail, later tonight in an in-depth analysis of the trailer, but for now:
The Empire is back in a big way, and it looks exactly the way it should. Shiny helmets, TIE Fighters, perfect formations, massive Star Destoyers – and that’s Star Wars. Plucky Rebels versus faceless Stormtroopers. X-Wings versus TIE Fighters. Snowspeeders vs. AT-ATs. Patton Oswalt put it perfectly – “I love the things I love.” Well, apparently Abrams, Kasdan, and Kennedy get it. Both of the trailers and all of the promotional material for the film, and for that matter Star Wars Celebration 2015 as a whole heavily feature what we love about Star Wars: Lightsabers. X-Wings. Star Destroyers. Stormtroopers. This is the Star Wars from your childhood. This is the good versus evil, in browns and tans and greens versus blacks and whites. This is grit versus polish. This is Star Wars. And you can’t have Star Wars without …
5. Han and Chewie. Chewie and Han. And the Falcon.
You knew we were going to talk about it. The real strength of Star Wars, the reason it has nestled itself comfortably in the hearts and minds of billions of fans, is simply that it has heart. Science fiction can be very cold, and most of it is. It can be clinical, and it can be didactic and preachy and tie itself into knots with techno-babble and overly-aggressive philosophy.
I think what people love about Star Wars is that’s it’s not simply or essentially science-fiction – it’s space opera. It’s Kurosawa with lightsabers instead of katanas. It’s the big picture, it’s good versus evil and it doesn’t feel the need to explain itself. Star Wars – the real Star Wars – has always understood that people love the idea of the underdog against the world. They the kid-from-nowhere-makes-good narrative. They love the scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype. Star Wars is about characters we identify with, and we love them because we understand them, we identify with them.
I don’t think it would be unrealistic to state that the Star Wars community was disappointed by the prequels. Similarly, I don’t think it would be unrealistic to say that the community is worried about the new films. I was worried – less than most, but a little. I’m not worried about this movie anymore. And the reason for that is a small thing, a tiny thing, really.
The last shot of the trailer is Han and Chewie. In the Millenium Falcon. And Han says: “Chewie, we’re home.”
I don’t think I need to explain how correct, or how perfect that is as a script moment, as a writer moment, as a performance moment, as a directorial moment, because all of that is obvious. It’s a moment of total catharsis, and it’s a very clear indication, that we – all of us – are home.
Thanks very much for reading, and if you have any insights or reactions, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!