We’ve all seen it a few dozen times by now, the first teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. For the most part, it looks quite good. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and hiring of Abrams signaled a clear advancement of the franchise from the malaise of the prequels to something better resembling the original trilogy. Indeed, this trailer’s aesthetic looks a lot more like classic Star Wars than anything we saw in Episodes I through III.
There’s only one major hiccup, and it’s quite concerning. While the TIE fighters look like TIE fighters, the X-Wings look like X-Wings, and the Millennium Falcon looks better than ever, what’s up with that new lightsaber?
With Abrams’ direction setting the tone for the plethora of Star Wars films due in the next six years, his creative choices prove definitive and therefore important. We can look to his previous efforts in the Star Trek franchise for clues into how he will approach it.
One thing that seemed very clear from Abrams’ approach to Star Trek was that he wasn’t shy about drastically altering the aesthetic of the universe. Everything from the way phasers work to the look of warp drive to the Apple store-themed bridge of the Enterprise was a sharp deviation from the franchise’s established look and feel.
With Star Trek, you can get away with that for a couple of reasons. First of all, the aesthetic of the franchise has been changing steadily over its forty-eight years of production. Plus, narratively, the time-travel alternate-universe plot device in Abrams’ reboot allows much wiggle worm for re-imagining how the Star Trek universe works.
But Star Wars is different. The aesthetic of the Star Wars universe has remained relatively constant throughout the six films thus far released. True, things were more shiny in the prequel era, but blasters still looked and sounded like blasters, droids still moved and bleeped like droids, and lightsabers still looked and behaved like lightsabers.
This new saber seen in The Force Awakens trailer looks, sounds, and behaves very different from those seen in previous films. Instead of the classic tinted laser sword with a bright white core, we get something that looks more like an electrically charged flame. A lot of attention has been drawn to the saber hilt guards, which give the blade an appearance reminiscent of a medieval broadsword. Some people don’t like it. Others love it. There are good arguments for and against. But for me, the real issue is the look of the beam itself, which looks nothing like what we know a lightsaber should. It also behaves differently, appearing instantly instead of visibly emerging from the hilt.
It’s a nerdy nitpick, to be sure. But it’s nevertheless concerning because, if Abrams is willing to “fix” something as unbroken and revered as the lightsaber, what’s he willing to do with other aspects of this universe? Star Trek showed us how willing he is to screw with an established aesthetic. What additional liberties will he take with Star Wars, and why is Disney letting him?