Monday, July 13, 2015

Episode VII: Title and Teaser

One aspect of the Episode VII production that I did comment on in a timely manner was the casting announcement—which you can read here—hence why I'm now skipping it and going straight to the title and teaser announcements.

Before we talk about The Force Awakens' title, let's quickly look back at all the previous movie titles. There are two things that I think are most important in a Star Wars title:
1. It must be accurate to the movie  - This should go without saying, really.
2. It needs to be catchy and/or ear-pleasing. Something that feels nice to read and hear.
3. It needs to be exciting. "Active" titles that use verbs or other words that imply action are good.

1977: Star Wars - A lot of people forget that Episode IV: A New Hope wasn't originally called that. It was Star Wars, plain and simple. Short, catchy, epic, and exciting.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back is epic. Arguably the best Star Wars movie title. It's exciting, active, and perfectly accurate to both the events and tone of the movie.

1981: When Star Wars was re-released in 81, it was subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope. A New Hope makes sense given the movie's story, but it's rather flat and boring. However, since it's only a subtitle and wasn't even used at the film's release, it kind of doesn't matter.

1983: Return of the Jedi isn't as powerful of a title as the originally-proposed Revenge of the Jedi, but it makes more sense. After all, it's not as though Luke or any other Jedi actually takes revenge at any point—unless we're counting Vader offing Palpatine at the end? In any case, Return of the Jedi sounds a little too close to the title of The Lord of the Rings' 3rd-and-final book, The Return of the King, but it's still a pretty good title overall.

1999: The Phantom Menace. Honestly, it took me a long while to figure out just what the "phantom menace" was referring to. I suppose Darth Sidious's hologram does kind of look like a ghost, but only kinda. It's also not an active title. Rather than the "phantom" attacking or revenging or actually doing anything, he's... menacing? To be fair, that's a pretty accurate picture of what goes on in the movie, but in that case I think I'd rather have a title like "Attack of the Droid Army" or something that actually describes what action there actually is in the movie.

2002: Attack of the Clones is probably the silliest title, but it's definitely active. It was said by many that the single best part of the entire film was the Battle of Geonosis at the end, so maybe it's fitting that the movie takes its title from that.

2005: Revenge of the Sith is easily the best-fitting title. Not only does it perfectly describe what happens, but it also parallels Return of the Jedi and its original Revenge title. Any Star Wars fan worth their spice knew about the Return/Revenge dichotomy, and the Revenge of the Sith title was instantly embraced.

2015: The Force Awakens.
It feels like it's halfway there. On one hand, it does have a verb—"awakens"—but as verbs go, "awakens" is about as soft as you can get. It's a bit gentle for what is supposed to be an epic action movie. TFA also uses "the Force," which is something that, oddly, no previous Star Wars film has done. It makes sense to reference the Force, so it's nice to have that in a title. On the other hand, we have zero point of reference at this point for what "the Force awakens" actually means. Was the Force asleep? Is it getting more powerful? Is it actually the Force that's waking, or are people in the Galaxy waking up to the Force? I'm left here with questions, but not in a good way. "Awakens" is just too soft a word to denote the primary action or arc of the story. Now, perhaps when the movie is out it'll all make sense. But for now, The Force Awakens is, for me, a title that works just fine, but doesn't exactly soar.

Now then, onto the first teaser trailer:

Well, "teaser" is certainly accurate. We barely see more than glimpses of anything. And here's the worst part: they're teases of things we've already seen, either through official press photos, video messages from JJ on the set, or leaks. Seriously, just about everything in the trailer short of the little ball droid and the crossguard saber were things we'd seen before. In fact, a lot of the teaser felt like a summary of the leaks so far: the stormtrooper helmets, the new X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon, the concept art of Daisy Ridley's character on her speeder, etc. However, since I haven't actually covered any of those leaks, I suppose I'll actually go ahead and give my thoughts on everything in the teaser.

John Boyega in a desert! And that's all we see. He's clearly in distress, but why? No idea.

A ball droid! Also in a desert! Also with no context. He looks good, at least.

Daisy Ridley riding a fudgesicle! I have no thoughts, really.

These new stormtrooper helmets are RAD. Seriously, they might be my favorite trooper helmets ever. Not even joking. The two shots of the troopers we see implies a heavy assault situation of some kind. I liked the intensity of it.

Oh yes. Here we go. X-Wings in flight. We have never seen X-Wings look this good before. It's a new design, but it's actually very close to the old Ralph McQuarrie concept art for the original X-Wing. And having them against the water like that shows just how fast they're going. It's really intense.

And here's a pilot guy. The Rebel pilots were my favorite part of the OT, so this makes me happy for no good reason.

And here we have the thing everybody was talking about: the crossguard/broadsword lightsaber. I like the crossguard. Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction, so a medieval-style laser sword makes sense. Also, the blade looks "rough," almost like it's either a very old saber or one cobbled together without the usual expertise of a Jedi, which implies some interesting things about its origins and its wielder.

And here we have the Falcon. I'd say it's nice to see her, but for some reason this shot doesn't do a thing for me.

Last thing to mention: the voiceover. It's a dark, possibly non-human voice, referring to "an awakening," both of "the dark side and the light." So at least we know now that "The Force Awakens" is an appropriate title, probably. But we still don't know what the awakening means. Are there new Force-users popping up in the galaxy? What exactly is happening with the Force?

So, overall, what did I think of the teaser? Meh. Saber aside, it didn't reveal anything new to the hardcore fans who'd been following Episode VII news, and it "teased" mostly in ways that didn't create interest. The shots were so short and out of context that it really didn't do anything other than say "this is a movie that exists." Which we already knew. After watching the teaser, I think my interest for the movie actually went down, not up.

Bonus Round: Trading Cards!

After the reveal of the teaser, Lucasfilm released photos of fictional trading cards for The Force Awakens meant to mimic the old trading cards for the OT films. This is where most of the new characters' names were revealed.

There's not really much to say about the names, other than the fact that BB-8 is about as perfect a name as anyone could have for that little guy.

Next up: the second teaser.

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