The trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars sequel is careful not to show glimpses of familiar characters, but it feels like a calculated throwback just the same.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
"Dude, come here, you're going to want to see this."
My kid pulled his face cheek-to-cheek with mine and I tapped the phone screen to hit play. He had just spent hours yesterday on a long cross-country flight watching Star Wars: Rebels, fully engrossed in Darth Squizzle or Crash Bandicoot or whoever these new cartoon characters were that existed in some vaguely canonical but unrecognizable corner of the galaxy, and 88 seconds later — not that anyone was counting — it was over and he walked away and did something else. By the time The Force Awakens comes out next year, he will be the same age I was when Star Wars came out; this movie and its ensuing franchise onslaught are, I thought, literally made for him. But buying wholly into that might be a bit of a defense mechanism.
Certainly J.J. Abrams could have poured it on by dramatically revealing familiar faces, and the internet would have broken in ways Paper magazine could only have dreamed of. Leading with new faces, even in a teaser like this, is a statement unto itself that he's not going for the easy nostalgia. Rather, the teaser is a dog whistle in more subtle ways: the orange of the desert, the dirt and rust on an X-wing, and more crucially, the howl of the TIE fighters and the swelling of the John Williams score, which apparently can raise goose bumps by merely typing a reference to it. The final moment of the trailer is not an image, but the distinctive hum of a lightsaber.
These are more powerful cues than faces, and they're hopelessly embedded in the DNA of people of a certain age who maybe think they should know better. The ease of these cues' effectiveness is nothing short of embarrassing; Abrams knows the power of what he's holding and knows to only dole out a drop of it for now. Making two Star Trek movies prepared him for navigating a fully mobilized geek gauntlet, but that may not have brought the same baggage that this does. We can grow up and grow old and think ourselves past certain things, then the whoosh of a fake laser sword pulls us inescapably back, like some sort of giant totemic emotional — oh fuck it, it's like a tractor beam.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace