Talking Pictures: A reawakening

'Star Wars' emerges, and fans take to the Internet in force

by David Templeton

“Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer!!!”

So posted San Francisco science fiction aficionado Skot Christopherson, his contribution to a late-night Facebook thread on the page of mutual Facebook friend John Harden. The latter, who’d been asked, by me, for his opinion on the aforementioned trailer—the second this year to include footage from the much-anticipated seventh Star Wars film—has been touring the festival circuit with his own science fiction epic, the short film, New.

His response to my question is a bit more reserved than Christopherson’s.

“Uh, Star Wars …,” he writes. “My quote on the FIRST teaser trailer. ‘Some people’s thresholds for freaking out are set awfully low.”

This was followed by a second post.

“But the new one is better.”

No kidding.

Forget about Furious 7 and its record-breaking accumulation of dollar bills—more than a billion-and-a-half in just three weeks. That spectacular reception is nothing compared to the warm welcome given to last weekend’s debut of the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer. Estimates are that 88 million people watched (and re-watched and re-watched) the 109-second preview in just its first 24 hours after being unveiled online. For comparison’s sake, consider that 88 million is more than twice the population of Canada. It’s slightly more than the total number of personal computers Hewlett Packard sold in its fourth quarter of 2014.

Compared with other movie trailers, it just might be an all-time record. According to a number of Hollywood media outlets—people who track this sort of thing as closely as a C-3PO sticks to R2-D2—the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer was seen by 35 million people in its first 24 hours, and even Furious 7, destined to become one of the most successful films of all time, was only watched 66 million times in the same 24-hour period.

Clearly, people can’t wait for the next Star Wars film, in part because it will mark the onscreen reunion of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo, with original stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. Ford, adding to the excitement, actually appears in the new trailer, dressed in his iconic Han Solo attire, standing next to his longtime hirsute best-buddy Chewbacca, uttering the line, “Chewie. We’re home!” Other highlights include shots of the desert planet Tatooine, a vast graveyard of crashed Imperial spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon being pursued by bad guys into the fuselage of a vast crashed spaceship, and a mysterious sight of the diminutive droid R2-D2 being caressed by what appears to be the robotic hand of a hooded Luke Skywalker. All of it is narrated by Skywalker himself, telling some unseen character, “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power, too!”

Whoever it is that has that power, they’re sharing it with the Walt Disney Company, which purchased Star Wars creator George Lucas’ Lucasfilm in 2012. According to some financial websites, the sheer overwhelming orgasmic splendor of the new trailer caused a spike in Walt Disney stock prices, instantly adding $2 billion dollars of value to the company, which paid just over twice that to purchase Lucasfilm, and with it the rights to make the new Star Wars movies as often as they like. Disney has announced that they plan to release a new Star Wars movie each year, pretty much forever, and they’re already at work on another sequel, plus a spin-off film, Rogue One, which will go back in time a bit to explain how the rebel alliance acquired the plans that allowed them to blow up the Death Star in the very first Star Wars film—episode IV, long before Lucas went back and made episodes I, II, and III. The new one, by the way, is technically episode VII.

“Has anyone noticed,” posts another Facebook user who prefers not to be named, “that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is technically the first movie in the series to have an episode number that actually matches the order in which it appears?”

But back to the trailer.

No sooner had those 88 million people watched it on day one, than the Internet began filling up with YouTube parodies and all manner of outrageous responses. By now, most of us have seen the video in which footage from the movie Interstellar has been fused with the new Star Wars trailer to make it look as if Matthew McConaughey is watching it for the first time, his reaction—actually a scene in which his astronaut character watches video his kids have sent from Earth—is pretty much the same as a lot of us—an emotional outpouring of tears and outright blubbering.

But no public response comes close to that of Father Roderick Vonhogen, of the Netherlands. A frequent blogger and podcaster on matters related to science fiction and Star Wars, Father Roderick’s video shows his own very real first reaction to the trailer. The reaction is one of the purest expressions of film geek joy ever to be captured on video.

“Holy Cow!” he says over and over, his face alternately beaming with delight—“Oh wow! An X-wing fighter!”—or glowing with open-mouthed wonder—“Darth Vader’s mask! What? Who’s talking? That’s Luke Skywalker! It must be!”—all of which ultimately devolves into a series of inarticulate “whoops” sounds and ecstatic repetitions of “Holy cow! Holy cow! Holy cow!”

Seeing Father Roderick’s unfettered glee is almost as much fun as watching the trailer itself. What does it say about the state of technology, or the commitment of fans, that a two-minute trailer can become such a global phenomenon months before the movie it’s advertising is released?

“I was not very interested,” posts North Bay actress Cindy Brillhart-True, “until the last shot with Hans Solo and Chewie … then I was completely hooked!!! It brought back such fond memories from my childhood! I can’t wait to see it!!!!!!”

Of course, as many are quick to remind me, this isn’t the first time that a trailer has raised expectations for an upcoming Star Wars film. Many are still stinging from the experience of the last three films—otherwise known as the first three films—which left many hardcore fans disappointed.

Posts self-described “Internet contrarian” Tadd Schellenbach, “Remember when everyone was so excited about ‘Phantom Menace’ after the trailer came out?”

Yes, Tadd. We all remember.

But that was a long time ago in a (non-Disney) galaxy far, far away. A new generation of filmmakers has taken over the ship, and if The Force Awakens is even half as much fun as the fervor that is growing in anticipation of it, the Force may truly be with us.

Till then, as Skot Christopherson has so eloquently put it:

“Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer Star Wars Trailer

Star Wars Trailer!!!”

Ask David if the force is with him at [email protected]

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