Last night, during halftime of a forgettable â€œMonday Night Footballâ€ game between the Eagles and Giants, the ESPN announcer Mike Tirico said, â€œFor many of you, I know, this is a moment you will never forget.â€ He wasnâ€™t talking about Eli Manningâ€™s latest interception but instead introducing the world premiÃ¨re of theÂ first full trailerÂ for Disneyâ€™s â€œStar Wars: The Force Awakens,â€ which hits theatres on December 18th.
Tiricoâ€™s statement was surely meant to evoke standing in a sweaty movie line in the summer of 1977, or else sitting agog in the dark in your friendâ€™s basement, or whatever other memories viewers might have of their first encounter with â€œStar Wars.â€ Yet, describing a two-and-a-half-minute advertisement during the middle of a football game in these terms seemed overcooked, and helpedÂ remind the audienceÂ that the rollout of the trailer was a ratings push for ESPN and an exercise in brand synergy by Disney, which owns the network. But then the screen went black, and the trailer started.
There is a thrill in seeing and hearing familiar objects lovingly and meticulously brought back to life: the swooping, whooshing, and beeping of TIE fighters, X-Wings, lightsabres, blasters, and droids. Some scenes had already been shown in two previous teasers, including the Millennium Falcon in glorious flight, a shot of Darth Vaderâ€™s charred helmet, what appears to be the cybernetic right hand of Luke Skywalker reaching out to touch R2-D2, and Han Solo in his rugged earth-tone togs. Other sights are new: more shots of planets in the â€œStar Warsâ€ palettes of desert, forest, and ice, and extended looks at the new, young heroes and villains and creatures who will carry the saga forward. There is more evidence toÂ geek outÂ about and parse for clues about the movieâ€™s plot. Is the scrap-collector Rey supposed to be Han and Princess Leiaâ€™s daughter? Is Finn, the reformed Storm Trooper, training to be a Jedi? Why is the villain Kylo Ren talking to the ghost of Darth Vader? Might Luke Skywalker,Â previous pronouncements aside, turn out to be evil? Does Chewbacca color his hair?
Mostly the trailer is further reassurance that the director J. J. Abrams has been a careful steward of the aesthetic and tone of the original â€œStar Warsâ€ trilogy, and that these new movies will not repeat the mistakes that marred George Lucasâ€™s odd and widely loathed prequels, in which everything, whether human or digital, was subsumed into an uncanny valley. The new movie looks right, it sounds right, and, to the extent that such a thing can, it feels right. Yet what the trailer doesnâ€™t do is what the new movie almost surely canâ€™t, which is to produce in adult viewers the same sense of unsullied wonder and awe that they experienced the first time they watched â€œStar Warsâ€ as kids.
In 1977, the critic Pauline Kael, writing in this magazine,Â saidÂ that the original â€œStar Warsâ€ movie was as â€œexhaustingâ€ as â€œtaking a pack of kids to the circus.â€ â€œEven if youâ€™ve been entertained, you may feel cheated of some dimensionâ€”a sense of wonder, perhaps,â€ she wrote. â€œItâ€™s an epic without a dream.â€ To fans who first saw â€œStar Warsâ€ in that sweet spot between the ages of six and twelve, Kaelâ€™s dismissive grownup assessment sounds less like heresy than total lunacy. How could anyone watch â€œStar Warsâ€ and feel anything less than wonder or surprise? Surely only a jaundiced adult could glance upon the cantina at Mos Eisley or the shiny halls of the Death Star and see them as anything less than life-altering and dream-making.
Coming to the original â€œStar Warsâ€ trilogy at the right age is a minor blessing: young enough to be confused by the fact that â€œa long time ago in a galaxy far, far awayâ€ looked like the future, or to be terrified by pretty much all of â€œThe Empire Strikes Back,â€ or to think that tiny Teddy bears armed with sticks and rocks really might be able to defeat armored professional soldiers. But old enough to recognize the regret and redemption of Obi-Wan Kenobi, squirm at the flirty banter of Han and Leia, and understand just how magnificently terrible it would be to discover that Darth Vader is your father.
For some people, the â€œStar Warsâ€ universe has been an evolving part of their lives, with new novels, comic books, animated series, movies, video games, fan-fiction, and conventions deepening their connection over time. But for many, especially those who have tried their best to forget the prequels, â€œStar Wars,â€ as a fact of life, ended with â€œReturn of the Jedi.â€ When youâ€™ve become enraptured with â€œStar Warsâ€ at a young age, it is no longer possible, or even really the point, to figure out later on if they are especially good movies or not. They are an immovable memory, a feeling of awe and a kind of collective cultural childhood, and thinking about them is remembering that awe.
â€œThe excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood,â€ Kael wrote, in 1977, of the adults who had fallen under the sway of the original movie. If â€œStar Warsâ€ in 1977 was already a nostalgia trip for adults, back to the world of Buck Rogers and soapy serials, then a new â€œStar Warsâ€ in 2015 is a nostalgia trip going nowhere at light-speed. The destination cannot be reached, no matter the energy expelled, since that place is the unrecoverable moment when you saw the movies for the first time, with wide, trusting eyes. The year 2015 should be a great one to be seven years old.
Just as in the â€œStar Warsâ€ universe, an adultâ€™s enjoyment of the new movie might hinge on a battle between different versions of the dark side and the light, between faith and skepticism. Han Solo was the great skeptic of the original â€œStar Warsâ€ movies, the only main character to wink amid all the earnest discussion of made-up jargon and wooden dialogue. His philosophy, gleaned from years of scraping by, was that life was â€œall a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.â€ Now, in the trailer for â€œThe Force Awakens,â€ as if to reassure us that the impossible is possible, that an adult can simply enjoy a new â€œStar Warsâ€ movie without being hit by the crushing wave of nostalgia and finding the present reality lacking in comparison, Han has become a man of faith, converted, a true believer. â€œItâ€™s true, all of it,â€ he says. â€œThe dark side, the Jedi, theyâ€™re real.â€
Both sides have pull, but despite the visual splendor and obvious earnest intentions of â€œThe Force Awakens,â€ my own prospects for joy in it seem mostly doomed. â€œStar Warsâ€ is for kids. â€œIt is useless to resist,â€ Darth Vader once said, of the dark side. Now, in the new trailer, a voice-over says, gently, promising that everything will be all right, â€œThe Force, itâ€™s calling to you. Just let it in.â€ If only it were that easy.