So, yes, my ears perked right up when the first words of the trailer asked, “Who are you?” (Thank you, Carrie Fisher.) And as the trailer unfolded, I got very excited for this movie. And, perhaps, a bit reticent.
Trailers tell stories, of course, mini-condensed stories that act as hooks to get us to actually fork over time and money to watch them. This one (the American release) promises, by virtue of its structure and focus, a certain kind of story. It has to be a story that answers the Question, the oldest Question in the Universe, hidden in plain sight. Who are you?
The trailer doesn’t actually begin by asking the question, though. Not aurally. Visually, though, yes. We see a masked figure. Alone. In a world that’s post-apocalyptic, what with all the broken architecture, dead technology, dust and sand. And when the figure is most alone, most distant, it’s the most natural question in the world. Who are you?
“I’m no one,” comes the reply to the older woman’s question. Which is actually a poignant answer, alchemically speaking. It can come from two different places. One place (the more likely, given this is the first movie of a trilogy) is that of the beaten ego. Someone who doesn’t believe in herself, who doesn’t give herself intrinsic value, who has given up. Let us remember, though, that “giving up” or “letting go” is a precursor to Grace. For the second place such an answer can come from is from someone who has transcended ego. Who has left it behind, who has found a certain kind of emptiness inside such that space has been made to let something else in (i.e., “grace.”)
This promises, then, to be a story about Identity. How to find it. And from there, presumably, how to place it in service to something greater than one’s self. A story of grace.
The structure of the trailer reinforces this reading. It begins by strongly focusing on three individuals. First there’s Rey, the young woman we’ve briefly discussed. Next up is Finn, who’s on an entirely different spiritual journey. “I was raised to do one thing,” he says. “I’ve got nothing to fight for.” We see him crash land on a desert planet, presumably Rey’s. And it’s an interesting twist, in that what’s been a minor stock character – the Stormtrooper – is now made into a full-fledged character. Here’s the redemption story.
Next we focus on the villain, Kylo Ren. We never see his face, it being hidden by a cross between a gas mask and Darth Vader’s helmet. But what’s interesting here is that this is still a character study. He isn’t just menacing. He’s motivated. “I will finish what you started,” he says to the destroyed remnant of Vader’s mask. So, a revenge story.
It’s only halfway through the trailer that we start getting what’s usually taken to be typical Star Wars fare – a chase scene between spaceships. But even this is given a twist, because it’s not just any sort of chase scene, it’s a nostalgic one, for this chase scene features the Millenium Falcon. Iconic. And we even get an old Harrison Ford playing Han Solo. And of course we should be concerned. Repeating what’s happened over and over isn’t progress. And when the battle scenes and dogfights and explosions come roaring in, it’s hard not to believe this is just a gussied up war story.
So, nostalgia. I was 9 years old when the original Star Wars came out. It blew me away. I didn’t even know Doctor Who at that point, just Star Trek TOS. Suddenly we had new games to play on the playground. (I usually played a droid.) So yes, I loved it, uncritically. It was adventurous, and weird, and funny. It was also incomprehensible, for I was raised agnostic/atheist, and so had no basis for really grasping the Force, let alone the bit where Obi Wan lets himself get cut down by Vader, only to disappear like a rabbit in a hat.
What I like most, though, was how the main characters all became friends. The relationships that formed. Probably because that was what was missing the most in my life, a proper social life. Anyways.
Gettting back to the trailer. Even the nostalgia it evokes, which by itself is fairly conservative just by its nature, is tempered by what’s juxtaposed with it. Rey says in voice-over, “There are stories about what happened,” and Han Solo replies, “It’s true. All of it.” And amidst the predictable battle scenes and dogfights and explosions, he continues, “The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.” Which, you know, is placing a primacy not on nostalgia for its own sake, but for stories, for mythology. And this goes back to the Question. What is that makes us us? Who are we? We’re all stories in the end. This is what occupies the interior dimensions of the psyche, neurons and blood vessels and midichlorians be damned.
Princess Leia picks up the voice-over: “The Force. It’s calling to you.” More dramatic shots, now coming at a rapid pace. She could very well be speaking not to whomever she’s conversing with diegetically (Rey, presumably) but with the audience. So we have a Breach. Something that’s trying to extend out from the story itself.
The screen goes black. Empty. “Just let it in,” she says. The grace note.
I am no one.
I am me.