Applying chaos theory: We need to talk about how good the new Star Wars movie looks

Is that the Millenium Falcon engulfed in flames? Literally the only way to make the Millenium Falcon any cooler would be to engulf it in flames, and it looks like they engulfed it in flames.


This is the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer that rightfully shattered the Internet last night. Now quantifiably the most anticipated movie in the Internet era by an absolutely staggering margin, it’s time to break down what makes this trailer, and every other bit of media released from this production, so tantalizing.

It would have been difficult to mess this thing up, but J.J. Abrams and company have done a lot better than not messing up. They’ve capitalized on every one of the myriad advantages afforded to them by the rabid nostalgia for this franchise.

Let’s go back through the first two trailers, just as excellent as this last one.

The thing to note about these two is the way one really builds on the other. Super-cool new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) narrates the first and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) the second, and they’re both structured around the narration. The speakers introduce us, then we’re taken away by a crescendo of familiar sounds with some shot to do with the Millenium Falcon as a kicker. But even in the shot-to-shot details, the second trailer builds on the first. In the first, we see Ren igniting his lightsaber, and in the second, we see him swing it. In the first, we see Finn (John Boyega) rise into the shot in a panic in Stormtrooper armor but without a helmet, and in the second, we see him take that helmet off. Rey (Daisy Ridley) frantically rides off on her speeder, then she runs from an explosion after having collected Finn. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) flies his X-Wing close along a river, then he rises from the water and we see a close-up of him whooping. It feels really professional how they connect to each other, and makes them feel like part of an advertising campaign rather than just two teasers. It gives the impression that everybody has their ducks in a row here, which calms the biggest fear for this movie after the calamitous prequel trilogy.

This advertising campaign has been so good at drawing out the nostalgia for the original trilogy while also making things look new. They used a whole slew of tools to accomplish this, but the biggest thing that sticks out is the music. The prequel trilogy tried to establish its own sound outside of a few key sequences, and I didn’t realize until now how much of a misstep that was. These trailers feel more like a Star Wars movie than any of the prequels, and it’s because of the music. The crescendo in the first trailer, which hits perfectly as they reveal the Falcon, is the series’ main theme. The second brings in the closing notes from the Force Theme at the 1:00 mark, and the third combines a whole slew of themes, including a sinister modification on the Force Theme at 1:20.

Additionally, they make extensive use of the signature T.I.E. Fighter screech and the WAP of X-Wing cannons to drive it all home.

Visually, they draw heavily on the original trilogy’s production design and feel. The above mentioned starfighters are everywhere in these trailers, as are Imperial star destroyers and stormtroopers, with the troopers and T.I.E. Fighters receiving beautiful makeovers. The lightsaber, the series’ most iconic design element, also receives an update, with Ren’s crossguard and generally unstable looking blade. Also, much of the trailers is set on a desert planet that is probably not Tatooine in the same way that John Harrison wasn’t Kahn.

With all this nostalgia stuffed in, it would be easy for this to seem like drawing on old icons is all they plan to do, but the updates extend far beyond the troopers’ armor. The climactic shot of the first trailer, a dizzying flip by the Falcon that almost sees it crash into the desert below, is something the like of which we never saw in any of the six preceding movies. There were few atmospheric dogfights in any of those movies, but they seem to be a focus here. Fighters screaming past the camera, a T.I.E. Fighter shooting up its own hangar at 1:15 of trailer two, the X-Wing shooting little bits off another one at a time at 1:33 of trailer three instead of just pummeling it until it explodes, even the winding shot just before that where Dameron intercepts Finn for a pat on the shoulder as the camera crosses over him — these are 21st century moves. Star Wars ain’t never had this kind of camerawork before. Despite pushing the boundaries on visual effects from the get-go, the series hasn’t ever had a lot of these visuals before — the shot of the Millenium Falcon in hyperspace at 1:15 of trailer three? Didn’t exist, does now.

I’ve never seen a movie look both this nostalgic and this modern at the same time. This movie, it’s gonna be so great.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will begin its attack run on theaters Dec. 18.

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