Obligatory Star Wars Post
December 2nd, 2014

So the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out. You’ve probably already watched it six or twenty times. A few thoughts:

First, if you haven’t seen the “George Lucas Special Edition” version of the trailer, go right now. It’s a work of genius.

Second, our buddies at Red Letter Media have a little analysis of it which is also worth your valuable time:


Moving on:

* It’s probably just me, but nothing in the new teaser did anything for me. Nothing in it is visually interesting. There’s no hint of story. Honestly, the most compelling shot is the terrified face of the Black Stormtrooper at the opening, which provides the only visceral sense of excitement or expectation. (More on this in a minute.)

* Say what you will about the Lucas prequels, but the teaser trailer for Phantom Menace was bad ass. No really. Strip away the disgust you now have for Jake Lloyd and Jar-Jar and revisit that trailer with fresh eyes and it’s infinitely more exciting and promising:

* You want to know how great that trailer was? It was first released as a teaser running in front of the awful Meet Joe Black. The Phantom Menace was such a big deal that at D.C.’s flagship Uptown Theater, they were advertising the trailer on the marquee with the feature presentation.

And I went with an unnamed companion, whose name rhymes with Mictorino Vatus, and paid good money to see Meet Joe Black, just so we could see the trailer. And we were blown away.

But here’s the real measure: The theater manager told the audience that he was going to run The Phantom Menace trailer again after the movie finished. So we sat through the entire, interminable movie just to see it again. And we were thrilled.

* For me, The Force Awakens trailer inspired about the same level of interest as any generic sci-fi teaser in recent years. It might as well have been the trailer for John Carter of Mars.

* This isn’t a value judgment, mind you. We care about the quality of the movie, not the trailer. There’s a rich history of trailers which over-promise terrible movies (Pearl Harbor had one of the greatest trailers, ever) and which under-promise amazing movies (The Dark Knight trailer barely hinted at the movie’s greatness). So none of what I’ve said is meant as a complaint.

Rather, it’s meant to explain just how much damage the Lucas prequels may have done to the popular imagination. When The Phantom Menace came out, you could legitimately argue that it was the biggest event in the history of cinema. I have never seen that level of cultural obsession about a movie. I can’t even think of anything that comes close. But the prequels were so terrible that they demolished a very large part of Star Wars’ cultural legacy–to the point where people have retconned their own Phantom Menace obsessions out of existence.

The question the new trailer raises for me is whether or not it’s possible to rebuild the cultural legacy of Star Wars,  even if the J. J. Abrams movies are very good. I’m not sure.

* Finally: The black Stormtrooper. As I said, for me, he’s the only interesting part of the trailer because he’s got such a great face. If the original Law & Order was still in production, John Boyega would have been given a special guest part because they had a knack for casting actors with wonderfully interesting faces.

Now, as Santino has noted, the internet quickly cracked back against all the racist complaints about the existence of a black Stormtrooper. Except that there were no racist complaints about the existence of a black Stormtrooper. What’s missing in all of the pieces responding to the “criticism” of Boyega’s casting as a black Stormtrooper are any real examples of criticism of Boyega’s casting as a black Stormtrooper. Buzzfeed, to their credit, found three tweets from random people who thought a black Stormtrooper didn’t make sense. Good for them! It’s further proof that on the internet, you can find anything. This does not amount to a single bean, let a lone a hill of them.

I think this might be a seminal moment. Over the last couple years, progressive internet mobs have gotten very good at manufacturing outrage to real, or perceived, grievances–Chic fil A, Brendan Eich, Justine Sacco, etc. But with The Force Awakens trailer they’ve learned that they can deploy the internet outrage machine even in the absence of any grievances. And it works just as well. In a way, it works even better–because there’s no one out there pushing back.

It reminds me, in a way, of how the radical left used to argue that the United States military was always inventing imaginary enemies in order to keep the public scared and their Pentagon funding intact.

* Exit Statement: I suppose the counterpoint to my argument about the destruction of Star Wars’ cultural legacy is that I could never be bothered to see John Carter of Mars, but I’ll almost certainly plunk down my $22 to see The Force Awakens, even if I have no real interest in it. In that sense, you could argue, the cultural draw of Star Wars is still immensely powerful.

  1. A.S. December 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I don’t disagree with you at all about the destruction of Star Wars cultural legacy by the prequels. Although I wonder how much of that destruction was inevitable no matter how good or bad the movies were. Seeing those movies (actually, I’ve never seen the 3rd prequel) was going to affect my memory of being a 6-year old sitting in the theatre in 1977 no matter what.

    But your story supposedly showing how big the Phantom Menace teaser was just doesn’t add up. You know why you watched it in the theater? Because that was the only place to see it! There was no Youtube. If you wanted to watch it 2 times, you HAD to sit through Meet Joe Black. Today, you can watch it 6 times simply by hitting a Youtube button 6 times. Your story just doesn’t provide any evidence that the Phantom Menace teaser is any differently received that the Force Awakening teaser.

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  3. rearadmir0l December 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

    RE A.S. “only place to see it” — not technically. You could try to watch on your free month of AOL from a CD 56k connection.
    I agree about how HUGE the preview was — I actually got a job @ a theater just so I could steal a copy of it. Which I did, and it is a rather substantial portion of my children’s college fund because by 2030 it will be worth a bazillion dollars!!!!!

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  5. James Versluys December 3, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    No, I did not see it 6 or 20 times.

    At no point before this moment could I imagine this being true, but I’m so uninterested I won’t even read a Lileks review, much less see the movie.

    Even when the new trilogy came out, Jar Jar couldn’t scare me off. I waited with each one using old timey baited breath.

    Then the term “black stormtrooper” came up.

    And for some reason I can’t name, I have no interest in the series any more at all.

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  7. Galley Friend A December 4, 2014 at 2:44 am

    I was 12 when the Phantom Menace trailer came out. It *was* available online. I remember because I sat for two hours at a school computer watching it download, patiently making myself wait a few minutes before hitting play again, still on each view getting only about two tenths of a second further into the video than the last. Anyway, I wonder if the prequels were worth it after all — for giving us Mr. Plinkett.

    As for the new flicks: let’s just hope J.J. Abrams resisted the temptation he undoubtedly had to have Han Solo yell “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!”