At around 2:00 Thursday afternoon, productivity plummeted, online conversations ceased, millions of breaths were held, and then released in varying gasps of amazement and joy.
The new Star Wars trailer had arrived.
Now I remember waiting for our glacially slow internet connections to download the Episode I trailer back in 1998 with similar levels of excitement. But the signs of future disappointment — like Jar-Jar and Jake Lloyd’s acting and the awful Yoda puppet — were all there. We just chose to ignore them in the rush of knowing Star Wars was coming back to the big screen. Even with the Special Edition releases the previous year, Star Wars had pretty much been gone. We’d been in the desert and any drink of water looked good.
This time around, it feels different. Star Wars hasn’t faded away like it did in the years after Return of the Jedi. It’s been a constant presence, never gone long enough for us to miss it. The mere existence of a new Star Wars film isn’t enough on its own to send us into paroxysms of geek bliss. Besides, we learned our lesson the last time around.
And yet here we were cheering and clapping and some of us even tearing up as the new teaser for The Force Awakens unspooled last week. Because while seeing the Phantom Menace trailer made us think, “Hey, this looks like Star Wars,” this one made us think, “Hey, this is Star Wars!”
Because instead of being overwhelmed by a parade of new names and faces, there were all our old friends: Luke, Leia, Artoo, and then, amazingly, gloriously, Han and Chewie. Some only glimpsed, some definitely older and grayer, but instantly recognizable as the characters we grew up with. Woven around them were tantalizing glimpses of the new characters, who already seem to be fitting right in to the new — yet old — Star Wars universe. This wasn’t the shiny artifice of the spotless prequels. This was the dirty, lived-in world of the original films, now even more lived-in with the passage of years after the Rebellion. And no firmer statement of this could be found than in the stunning opening shot of the trailer, with the massive wreckage of a Star Destroyer telling us, “This is the Star Wars you knew, but not the Star Wars you knew.” Old and new colliding, with no idea what’s in store for us.
But the best thing about this trailer release was the shared sense of joy. I had people gathered around my desk at work to watch it. Within hours of its posting, YouTube videos of overjoyed reactions popped up all over the place, showing us gleeful, ecstatic faces, some young, some old, all enthralled. The crowd at Celebration watching the trailer live sounded like part rock concert, part football game, their voices gasping and cheering before exploding into cheers and applause when Han spoke the words that summed up how we were all feeling that moment: “We’re home.”
That shared experience is the best part of fandom. The idea that millions of us were all sharing the same thing, the same excitement, the same joy. For one fleeting moment, we’d all found a bright center to the universe, and everything was good and right and hopeful.
Yes, the lessons of The Phantom Menace loom large. The adult in me wants to talk about managing expectations and the best-foot-forward nature of movie trailers. But the kid in me wants to run around making lightsaber noises. And I think I’ll let him go for a while.