I didn’t do a detailed dive into the last trailer for The Force Awakens, partly because I simply didn’t have the time, but mostly because I think that kind of over-analysis robs something of its impact. When you dissect every last frame and pixel, you’re left with, you’ve lost the sense of whole and are left with, well, a collection of frames and pixels. So freeze-framing to look for background characters really isn’t my thing. But there is something in the trailer I’ve been wanting to talk about, something very smart and, I think, very revealing about Disney’s strategy for the franchise.
We hear Rey say, “There were stories about what happened.” And Han, over the course of several scenes, replies, “It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.” Now we know trailers are notorious for taking dialog out of context. It’s highly possibly those lines aren’t even in the same scene, or even in that order. But they’re in that order in the trailer, and for a very definite purpose: to convey the idea that the great Galactic Civil War has faded into myth.
We know the Jedi are considered almost mythical at the beginning of Star Wars. Given the vast size of the Star Wars universe, it’s likely a great number of people never actually saw a Jedi in person. And no doubt the Empire went to great lengths on some good old-fashioned revisionist history when it came to the Jedi. So while the in-story eighteen-year gap from Revenge of the Sith to Star Wars, might seem like too short a time for people to think the Jedi never existed, it’s certainly possible for their reputation to have diminished. Now, instead of noble warriors wielding great powers, they’re just a bunch of religious fanatics with laser swords who damn near sank the entire galaxy. Crazy old hermits out beyond the Dune Sea.
And it was that Camelot-like sense of a lost, shining mythical past that informed so much of the original Star Wars. Right from the opening “A long time ago…” we’re in a fairy tale, something that feels like it’s been told and re-told for generations. It borrowed the weight of myth to give itself resonance.
Which is why Han’s lines in the trailer stood out to me so much. Because now, the events from the original trilogy seem to be viewed as just as much of a myth — or at the very least, ancient, distant history — as the events from the prequel trilogy were. But now Han’s words take those events and give them the weight of legend. From someone who was in the midst of those legends himself. We’re possibly witnessing a story about the power of myth, of story, of how epic tales can resonate and see people through the darkest of times. And that’s a far cry from the taxation of trade routes being in dispute.
But there’s also something going on here on a meta level. Because by showing Han casting the events of the original trilogy as epic myth, the trailer serves to give those films themselves mythic stature. Here you have one of the most iconic characters from those film talking about them with reverent awe. They’re true. They’re real. They matter. And because this new film continues their story, it matters as well. Han may be trying to tell Rey and Finn of a better time, but he’s also asking us to remember 1977, 1980, and 1983. To think back to when and how we fell in love with the whole thing in the first place, even if we think we’ve forgotten.
It’s been no secret that Disney, while not outright disowning them, has not gone out of its way to embrace the prequels. The 3D re-releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were immediately nixed shortly after they acquired the franchise. Nearly all the new Expanded Universe material deals solely with a time frame from the Rebels cartoon — which takes place about five years before Star Wars — forward to the new film. The main thrust has been to look forward, both to the future of the franchise and the future of its fictional world. You’ll see a Darth Maul here, some clones there, but for the most part, it’s as if Anakin and Padme and Jar-Jar never existed. Or, at the very least, aren’t invited to the family reunions.
What’s going on here is a sort of rehabilitation of Star Wars. Making it back into the modern myth it (more than a little accidentally, despite what Lucas will tell you) eventually became. Restoring the luster that had been tarnished by the prequels. Just as Han wants to reawaken the echoes of a much more glorious galaxy for his young companions, The Force Awakens wants to reawaken the glories of the Star Wars saga. In both cases, reminding us of the myths that started it all seems like a good way to start.