“Nothing’s changed really.” So said Mark Hamill in a behind-the-scenes reel shown at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. He spoke of the latest installment in the Star Wars saga, which is coming to theaters on December 18th. “I mean, everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed.”
That’s the paradoxical sense that you get when watching the final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which aired during Monday Night Football before exploding online. This is certainly Star Wars, evoking a familiar sense of awe not felt since the original trilogy. But it’s also something different, a new story moving in a new direction, focused on a generation of characters with their own unique journeys.
Disney and Lucasfilm have made no secret of their desire to distance themselves from the prequel films. Everything seen from The Force Awakens to date takes its queues from the original trilogy. Narrative details have been lacking, but this final trailer gives us a sense of the story, indicating that the sequel’s plot will echo the original films as much as its aesthetic.
The trailer focuses on three characters, the female scavenger Rey, a deserting stormtrooper named Finn, and the Vader groupie Kylo Ren. Each character appears poised to take their own version of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Rey in particular reminds us of Luke Skywalker, a “nobody” from a backwater world who inexplicably becomes swept up in galactic conflict. We learn that Ren seeks to “finish what [Vader] started.” And we see that Finn will somehow go from a disillusioned grunt to a heir to the Jedi.
As a fan, I most appreciate how this new film seems to build upon the existing mythology. There was a mystery to the Force in the original films, especially the first one. Some characters even doubted its existence. One such doubter, Han Solo, has now become a herald of its reality. “The Dark Side, the Jedi, they’re real,” he tells our new heroes.
This gives us some sense of the title’s significance. The Force awakens to a world which has not known it. This too evokes the original trilogy, where knowledge of the Force was so scarce that Luke had never heard of it prior to meeting Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s a stark contrast from the prequels, where the Jedi were bureaucratic and given metaphysical explanation.
The new Star Wars looks to return us to the old, to once again ignite our imaginations and invest us in characters. If the film delivers on the promise of its marketing, this could prove the best time to be a fan since first viewing The Empire Strikes Back.