Disney's D23 event featured a ton of massive reveals, from the first trailer for A Wrinkle in Time, to the casting of Will Smith as the Genie in Guy Ritchie's live-action remake of Aladdin, to say nothing of the first look at Thanos's Black Order in Avengers: Infinity War. Still, no matter how amazing all these projects may seem, none of them can hold a candle to Star Wars, and the footage shown at D23 this year simply brought the house down. It's not a trailer, but a behind-the-scenes look at some of the sets and practical effects, the actors in-character and out, and brief soundbites from the creative team behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Star Wars remains a cultural cornerstone like nothing else in popular fiction, uniting fans all over the world with its fantasy adventure take on science fiction aesthetics and a timeless "Good vs Evil" story. However, if the footage we saw is any indication, writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) is keen to turn the franchise on its head and go in the opposite direction from what fans might be expecting.
Rian Johnson: Mover and Shaper
When Star Wars was brought back from the dead, audiences were psyched, but skeptical. While the franchise had never truly gone away, with the divisive Prequel Trilogy, the fantastic Clone Wars cartoon series, and an endless spigot of novels, comics, and video games, the announcement of Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens was nothing short of a game changer.
If longtime Star Wars fanatics had one central complaint with Episode VII, it's that, in its admirable effort to return the series to its roots and remind audiences why they first fell in love with the franchise all those years ago, it wound up feeling like too much of a rehash/remake of the original film, A New Hope.
This backstage look at The Last Jedi seems deliberately constructed to lay to rest any fears that Episode VIII will similarly follow the path of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; in the footage, Daisy Ridley (Rey) says "Rian has written a story that's unexpected," and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) says that the film "throws things at me I never could have imagined." John Boyega (Finn) hammers home the point, and says: "Everything is being shifted in the opposite way to what the audience expected after VII. Rian's made Star Wars fresh and new."
Indeed, after both The Force Awakens and Rogue One leaned heavily on A New Hope for inspiration, it will be interesting to see if The Last Jedi truly manages to strike out on its own, forge its own path and give the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy its own identity beyond being a nostalgic and entertaining echo of the past.
One thing which is being carried over from J.J. Abrams's beloved – if safe – franchise revival is its usage of practical effects. Like The Force Awakens, there will be plenty of CGI movie magic (including Lupita N'yongo returning as Maz Kanata), but only after establishing a baseline with physical sets, animatronic critters, and real world locations.
Some of the sets on display look massive, and the clip opens with a brief look at an expansive cave, a makeshift village with stone houses, and a life-sized version of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, Han Solo's legendary Millennium Falcon. Some underwater action is shown, though the context isn't clear. Perhaps Rey will be exploring a cave on Ahch-To?
Spaceships like Poe Dameron's X-Wing are also full-sized props, and it truly looks capable of flight... Too bad the sleek snubfighter isn't going to survive the film... Elsewhere, the fleeting glimpses of pleasure planet Canto Bight look like a fully-realized casino, even without whatever CGI elements are surely going to be present in the finished film.
One of the must stunning visual effects in the sizzle reel, and what really sells the physicality of Episode VIII, is a short clip of a camera operator shooting a scene, set on Crait, the planet rich in that dazzling red mineral shown in a single shot of The Last Jedi's first trailer. The operator is wearing a hoodie, their camera protected by a plastic covering, and a veritable hailstorm of that mysterious red substance just smashes down upon the scene, completely covering them.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019