November 30, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer - A Shot-by-Shot Analysis

Friday, November 28th, was not like any other day. The day after Thanksgiving brought the first real look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The 88 second teaser of J.J. Abrams directorial debut in the galaxy far, far away premiered at 30 theaters across the United States and Canada and online. I got to the first possible movie with the teaser at 9:30am EST. I waited. My heart raced. My stomach turned in knots with anticipation. And finally... there it was. New Star Wars! There's no high quite like the one you get from seeing new scenes from the Star Wars universe.

I left the theater after the trailer ended and went to Starbucks to write up a quick reaction for Nerdist just as the trailer was hitting the internet. I watched it twice more on my phone. And once I returned home? Forget about it. I streamed it to my big screen and watched it repeatedly on my laptop. I was in an excited frenzy all afternoon and just about the time I started to calm down, I spoke with friends at The Star Wars Report and Full of Sith about the teaser. I slept soundly last night and woke up with Bill Murray's "Nothing but Star Wars..." on the brain.

And today? It was time for more processing. Let's go through the trailer shot by shot and see what we can see. But first, go ahead and watch The Force Awakens trailer again:

I have not been reading rumors about the plot or characters or looked at leaked concept art. All I know about the film is what has been revealed through official channels, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'm looking at the trailer without regard to any rumors and would appreciate if you didn't reference rumored plots in the comments. Which plots are rumors? All of them. We don't know anything for certain beyond what we see in this trailer.

As as soon as I saw sand dunes on the movie theater screen, my mind screamed one word: Tatooine! I almost yelled it out loud and raised my hands. I restrained myself though since the theater was a subdued group and I don't think many of them were there explicitly to see The Force Awakens trailer. Anyway, desert automatically makes me think of Tatooine but that's because it's familiar territory. While it seems like a given we would go back to the home of the Skywalkers, maybe it's another similar planet. Maybe it could be Lothal, the planet that's the focus of Star Wars Rebels.

While my heart was on cloud nine because seeing the dunes meant the Episode VII trailer was finally here (it was the last one before the film), a voice-over started.

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?"

That voice-over caused quite the controversy on the ol' interwebs as many started insisting - sometimes vehemently - that it was Benedict Cumberbatch. Why they thought of Cumberbatch, I have no idea. He's not confirmed as a cast member and though I guess it sounds a bit like him, he was nowhere near my first guess. I thought it was someone in the movie, specifically Max von Sydow. It appears I was wrong though and it's actually Andy Serkis. Hitfix confirmed the identity of the narrator, and while I wouldn't have suspected Serkis, I'm not surprised since the man has continually proven himself to be a talented chameleon.

The words tie right into the title of the film and they sound so dark and gritty that they put you on edge. Cut to:

John Boyega in stormtrooper armor appears from the bottom of the screen. My heart jumped. My first thought: new cast member! Second thought: the first footage from the new Star Wars movies kicks off with someone who is not a white male. I shouldn't have to call it out and compliment that but given that diversity in films and the Star Wars universe is a problem, props where props are due.

Boyega's character is clearly under duress. He seems startled, confused, and really sweaty. That or maybe he crashed into an oasis in the middle of this desert. On the other hand, that armor looks awfully hot and confining. My guess? He's on the good side and was possibly undercover as a stormtrooper and made a not so smooth landing on the surface of the planet. Boyega's emotion in this quick clip set the tone for the trailer. It throws you into the story and makes you feel invested. What happened to this guy? Is he okay? Is he our hero? Is he Force sensitive? Can I give him a towel and a frosty beverage?

And the quick part? Also a key part of the tease. The speedy pace is one factor that contributes to this first look feeling like Star Wars.

Boyega's character seems to take in his surroundings in no time and turns. The move shows off a new style of stormtrooper armor, and it's sleek. Smoother and probably more efficient. I fully expect cosplayers to have full suits made by the time Celebration Anaheim rolls around. Also, wait a minute. The Force Awakens takes place about 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The Empire may have been taken down, but they're still kicking. Stormtroopers are still around.

We leave Boyega behind and meet what has come to be known as soccer ball droid! It's an astromech head on a rotating body, and he's adorable. It's a different droid for a different time and trilogy and just another sign that time has passed. As the droid rolls along in the sand, you can see what looks like the hull of a podracer in the background. Now, the sport of podracing probably isn't exclusive to Tatooine, but we saw it happen there in The Phantom Menace. A clue that we've seen this planet before? Maybe.

The soccer ball droid is inexplicably getting some hate. I know it's the internet and there will never be a time when everyone is happy but picking on a cute little droid? And guess what haters, it sounds like soccer ball droid is based on an unused concept from Ralph McQuarrie. A Redditor found a snippet of a interview with the artist, and I pulled out my stack of Star Wars Insider back issues and found the interview published in issue #135. The interview with McQuarrie was conducted in 1984 by Thomas G. Smith. When asked about the droids, McQuarrie states he thought of R2-D2 "as running on a giant ball bearing - just a sphere, a circle, wheel-like. He had gyros so he could go in any direction on this ball." See:

And some concept art:

source: Wookieepedia, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie (all the text in that book is Japanese but the art makes it worth buying!)
Interesting. You know, maybe he is legitimately a droid made from some kind of ball meant for recreation purposes. Maybe he was scavenged and repurposed.

And now for something different:

Stormtroopers in some kind of transport ship. Again, we see that their armor is improved. Their helmets have changed. Their weapons look upgraded. And notice how their heights vary? It could mean the guy who people are joking is "too short to be a stormtrooper" is a rebel spy tucked among the ranks (maybe it's Boyega's character), but I see it as a reminder that clones are no longer used. Stormtroopers aren't replicas of Jango Fett and haven't been since after Order 66. The Empire hasn't reverted back, and they're still powerful enough to have some legions of troopers and ships with which to move them. It sends a message that the fight is not over. Who or what are they assaulting?

Next, we meet another member of the primary cast announced back in April: Daisy Ridley. She's also on a desert planet and is piloting a vehicle unlike any other we've seen in the Star Wars universe. It looks like a fudgsicle, and I'm sure some on the desert planet would prefer that on a hot day.

Ridley's character looks tough and determined. From the seconds we see her on screen, she made an impression on me. She strikes me as the kind of person who is scrappy and who has street/desert smarts. Is she on the run from something? If so, she seems to stay cool and calm. Her attire and attitude reminds of Leia during the speeder bike chase on Endor. In this shot, her look actually matches McQuarrie's early concept art for Luke Skywalker, Starkiller. Here's an action figure based on that art:

source: Rebel Scum

Also? The second face we see in the trailer is a woman. 

And now a third cast member, Oscar Isaac. He's in the helm of an X-wing, and he looks slightly worse for wear. His lip appears swollen, and he has a bruise on his cheek. He's wearing an inflatable vest (someone translated the Aurebesh and it says "Pull to Inflate" according to @Cevan77) and we'll see why in a moment. Note that the Rebel Alliance symbol, the Starbird, is prominently featured on his helmet and vest. That's interesting, isn't it? The symbol hasn't changed in 30 years. Just as there are still stormtroopers, there are still squadrons of X-wing pilots fighting back.

My heart of hearts wants Isaac to be a member of the Antilles family because I have a soft spot for Wedge.

Anyway, the fact that the teaser introduces Boyega, Ridley, and Isaac tells me they're the sequel trilogy's Leia, Luke, and Han (not necessarily in that order). These are our stars, the characters who will carry the Star Wars baton forward. Yeah, it's pretty awesome.

PS: Since we're talking about diversity, the third face shown in The Force Awakens trailer? Also not a white dude.

After cutting away from Isaac, we get a second or two of X-wing sexiness. A squadron of updated X-wings with s-foils open fly across a body of water surrounded by hills, and it is just so damn pretty. I won't pretend that I know the ins and outs of X-wing construction, but it's obvious the design has evolved in the last 30 years - as it should - but also goes back in time as these ships echo McQuarrie's concept art.

And then an ominous figure ambles into view - a figure in dark robes who moves in a predatory fashion. The character seems to have a slight limp but strides with purpose. The voice-over comes back in, "The dark side..."

The Sith lunges and ignites a red lightsaber. The blade doesn't look as smooth or sound the same as lightsabers we've seen before. It vibrates differently. Plus? The handles frakking ignite. The lightsaber has CROSS-GUARDS. Holy Ewoks. The cross-guards look more like fire, but it's hard to tell. The plasma blade very much has the look of being homemade. I'm guessing the Sith made it on his or her own without the guidance of a master. The snowy forest feeds my shot-in-the-dark theory that the Sith is a recluse living in a cave in the middle of nowhere. Isn't speculation fun?

The lankiness of the figure makes it seem like the person under the robes Adam Driver, but it could be Gwendoline Christie (I'm surprised no one's done a side-by-side with Brienne of Tarth yet) or someone else entirely. Whoever it is, this shot is chilling and creates a striking and memorable image - just like so many other striking and memorable images in this trailer. It tells us not only is the Empire still a threat but so are the Sith. They are not eradicated, and where there's one Sith, there's usually another. Unless they've seen that maybe the whole "rule of two" thing has historically not worked out well for them.

After a pause, the voice-over continues, "... and the light."

At this point, I was convinced we'd see Luke Skywalker. That didn't pan out, but we did see a familiar face of sorts:

The new theme music by John Williams swells and the glorious Millennium Falcon swoops into view. This is when I cried. Han Solo's ship is as stunning as ever (look at that rectangular radar dish!) and whoever is piloting isn't just showing off over the dunes (Tatooine again?!), he or she is evading TIE fighters. The Empire is everywhere, and the Rebel Alliance is still fighting.

As the trailer closes, the sound of a lightsaber powering down plays.

Why is December 18, 2015 so far away?

Overall, the tease left me feeling excited. And it was just that - a tease! The mystery of The Force Awakens teaser stood in stark contrast to the Cinderella trailer that aired just before it in the theater I was at. The Cinderella trailer told the entire story of the movie. I'm not exaggerating. With The Force Awakens, we saw a brief taste of what's ahead and focused on the new cast. It could have easily been a long shot of Luke, Leia, and Han in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and most of us would have been happy. Instead, Abrams went in a bolder direction. He showed us new faces, didn't reveal too much of his hand, and gave us some familiar and exciting sights and sounds (new John Williams music!) with all the ships - the X-wings, the TIE fighters, the beautiful Falcon... And that mysterious voice-over! On top of all that, we didn't go into space. Very interesting.

What a time to be a Star Wars fan.

Did you like the teaser?


  1. SW7 International Trailer is Full of Skywalker. :) Here...

  2. With a lot of family in town, we gathered around the TV Friday afternoon and streamed the trailer from YouTube. There was silence and then a great uproar. One of my nephews proclaimed, "Yes! Lando isn't the only black dude in the universe!" We loved everything about the trailer. And while there has been much 'internet hate' over the droid and the lightsaber, we loved them. December 18, 2015 cannot arrive soon enough.

    If time travel ever becomes possible, I hope someone shows up right now to take me a year into the future.

    Nothing. Damn...

    1. Keep working on that time travel thing and let me know if you figure it out. :)

  3. Thanks for your analysis. When I first thought about the Troopers, I assumed they were now the army of the Republic, as the Clone army started out. But then, the TIE Fighters shooting at the Falcon does suggest Imperial leftovers. Like you, I've not read any spoilers/theories or looked at leaked art, but I have been hoping this whole time that the new episodes are not going to be a simple re-run of the Sith/Jedi or Rebel/Imperial conflicts.

    1. You make a good point - it would be interesting to see different conflicts. But, maybe enough time has passed in universe that things will feel different.

  4. I loved the trailer especially for the moments of diversity you mentioned. I'm really at a point where I'm avoiding lots of speculation articles because Abrams is quite the trickster and knows how to throw fans off to keep some of the plot secret. I would love for these 3 to be the leads. I also hope we really get to see a diverse galaxy this time around in regards to human characters.

    1. It would be a cool twist if the stormtroopers are on the side of the Republic now because like you said, Abrams does like to keep his secrets and fool people!

  5. Adding to the stress of the opening scene: Is that Viper probe droid chatter heard in the background?

    1. It does sound like a probe droid!

  6. Some thoughts:

    * Yes, it's imperial probe droid communication we hear in the background.

    * There seem to be a lot of throwback to McQuarrie designs both in this and in Rebels. Seems like Disney is making deliberate design decisions.

    * New weapons, new armour, stormtroopers. Doens't need to be The Empire, just someone continuing their imagery, probably because they want people to be reminded of the Empire. Or a small remnant somewhere. Or maybe the galaxy was split into a smaller Empire and a Republic. Many options.

    * The Sith. We can't actually tell if it's a male or female, my hopes are for it to be Gwendoline Christie as a bad-ass Sith.

    * The lightsabre. Love it. Jedis have always constructed thier own sabres, I presume the Sith do too, but seem more prone to experimentation and customisation (look at Maul's double blade or Dooku's curved handle sabre) so it totally fits. The uneveness of the beams might be due to a flawed crystal.

    * The vest: The Aurabesh is actually upside down and the first word is indeed "Pull". You can't really make out more of the characters but Pull to inflate seem a reasonable interpretation.

    To summarize, I'm very excited.

    1. McQuarrie's art is everywhere, and I love it.

  7. I was brought up loving Star Wars with my Dad (a Luke Skywalker figure from Return of the Jedi has been a staple in my house for as long as I can remember, a relic from my Dad's childhood) and when I finally watched it, I was so psyched! It manages to be new but also nostalgic as well. After not being convinced much by the broadsword light saber, I actually think it looks really good. I can't wait for it to come out next year!

    1. I'm looking forward to seeing the broadsword lightsaber in action!

  8. Great analysis! And yes, I agree with this teaser working so well as a teaser and not showing the entire first two acts like a good-many trailers do these days! XD

    It's evocative of the the very first Star Trek (2009) teaser, I'd say. Basically; J.J. knows how to get people excited! XD

    I just wish so much that this teaser was released at a different time from the Jurassic World trailer...Because in all honesty, I've been more excited about the JW stuff (and I never thought I would be), which means when the SW teaser was released, I wasn't excited at all; just curious about what I saw...Even thought the cross-guard sabre was absolute nonsense (I see some sense now, but if it's used more like a real-world broadsword in combat then I'll be happy)...

    Even though now I'm getting more into it, I'm still cautious. Just a bit annoyed that I'm not excited like I am for Jurassic World! (Some recent JW news nearly even brought a tear; it was so joyous!) XD I need both! They're my first loves! XD

    My favourite part of this teaser, though, is definitely the X-Wings skimming the water...I want that as a painting! ^^


    1. You've reminded me to go back and watch the 2009 Trek teaser. Abrams does know just what to reveal!!

      The X-wings shot is simply gorgeous!

  9. I for one did not like it. Look at what we have in trailers nowadays. The Avengers trailer. The Dark Knight Rises Trailer. Hell even the Hunger Games Trailer. After months of waiting all we get is some flashy stuff from the Original Series, a look again at Tatooine and of course, a lightsaber with crossgaurds. Even the Star Wars The Old Republic Game Trailer was better

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