Stars drift in the void. A steady light illuminates the negative space to reveal… a nebula? A planet surface? A rock- WHOA! What's up with Rey?
By now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably dissected the teaser for “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” so thoroughly that there’s nothing left but the marrow within the bones that hold this overwhelmingly gorgeous thing together. How cool are those ships kicking up red dust along the salt flats of Crait? I hope Captain Phasma is actually a badass this time! What do you mean it’s time for the Jedi to end?! So many questions, and so many days until they are finally answered. I’m just as eager to find out what comes next in the sequel trilogy as you are, but more than anything, there is only one reason I cannot stop gushing about this film.
Two words: RIAN. JOHNSON.
When the man was announced as the writer and director of "Episode VIII" a year-and-a-half before the release of "Episode VII - The Force Awakens,” I almost dropped my excitement for J.J. Abrams’s film in favor of Johnson’s. Abrams - a filmmaker as inspired as they come today - proved his worth as the trilogy’s kick-starter with four splendid blockbusters (“Mission: Impossible III” / “Star Trek” / “Super 8” / “Star Trek Into Darkness”) that balanced their mighty spectacle with taut characterizations and emotional sincerity. All of them, including “Episode VII,” stand tall in the annals of cinematic pop art. Johnson is of an entirely different species of filmmaker. With only three smaller films under his belt (“Brick” / “The Brothers Bloom” / “Looper”), Johnson's attachment to the new trilogy is far more intriguing when you consider his lack of experience with large tentpole productions. Oh, and if you’ve seen “Breaking Bad,” and you agree that “Ozymandias” is one of television’s finest episodes, you have only Johnson to thank.
However, when you consider quality over quantity, Johnson’s previous work cements him as the most ideal filmmaker to take the “Star Wars” saga to the next level. His ability to wring nearly unbearable tension and darkness out of dramatic moments is almost otherworldly. What’s more is that his impeccable eye for storytelling bears little resemblance to filmmakers before him. Whereas Abrams remixes Lucas and Spielberg’s Greatest Hits through his work, Johnson’s influences are not so clear. Nevertheless, he is a director of immense capability, distinguished not so much by restraint, but by sheer confidence in discovering powerful emotion through visual simplicity.
If that skill wasn’t already clear in his earlier work, it damn sure is in the long-awaited teaser for “The Last Jedi.” Other than taking fans back to Nostalgiaville with shots of Luke, Leia, R2-D2, TIE Fighters and X-wings, Johnson nails a number of aspects within just two minutes. Every image has a painterly precision that floods the trailer with wonder and gloom, implicating the deep dives our heroes will surely take. Thick contrasts and careful uses of negative space make for the most mesmerizing images the trailer has to offer. There’s something about Luke observing Rey brush up her saber skills from miles away that is way more captivating than Kylo Ren lunging at Finn for a split second in the final trailer for “The Force Awakens.” Then again, it’s also an unparalleled joy to see hero and villain wield their elegant weapons in marvelous close-up. (I completely lost it at the sight of Ren’s menacing, Gothic stare.)
From the look of this teaser, Johnson seems to have elevated the “Star Wars” iconography from pop art to high art through his intensely controlled aesthetic. The silhouettes of Rey and Luke, each of them framed by rocky terrain, suggest an inescapable darkness that could consume them. Floating pebbles around Rey’s hand gently recalls Luke’s practice with levitation in “Episode V.” A thick cloud of smoke from which Phasma eerily emerges in the distance ensures the death and destruction by her hand that was sorely missing in the last film. There’s even a yin-and-yang element to that wide shot of Rey and Luke I mentioned earlier; a subtle allusion to the central theme of George Lucas’s galactic odyssey. There is no light without darkness, and there is no good without evil. And if it is time for the Jedi to end, what will become of that balance?
Look at any image in the teaser and you’re likely to find something beyond the overwhelming nostalgia they hold. Watch the whole thing repeatedly and realize that Rian Johnson may have created a new cinematic treasure that has the potential to become a classic all its own. Wake me up when November ends!