FEATURE: New Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer Released | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Today the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released onto the internet, bursting out of the churning cloud of speculation and anticipation like the Millennium Falcon from the bowels of the second Death Star, exploding from within after Lando Calrissean has fired two Arakyd Industries ST2 concussion missiles into its central reactor core. Or something.

Each new Star Wars release seems like the most highly anticipated cinema event of its time. Back in 1998, trailers for The Phantom Menace landed in cinemas, attached to the Brad Pitt/Anthony Hopkins rom-com, Meet Joe Black. Of course, in this pre-YouTube time, movie theatres were the only place to see trailers. Reports started circulating of Meet Joe Black screenings selling-out to capacity (mostly with men aged 18-45), only to empty entirely after the raucously received Phantom Menace trailer had played.

If you look hard enough there’s a certain irony here. Joe Black, Brad Pitt’s character in that film, is a personification of ‘Death’. The tagline to Meet Joe Black is “Sooner or Later Everyone Does”. The film (which is completely awful, by the way, and the relationship between Brad Pitt’s character and Claire Forlani’s character is deeply and bizarrely problematic re: consent – don’t waste your time with it, says this humble observer, except maybe to watch the opening scene where Pitt gets hit by two cars which is actually really funny) is a tongue-in-cheek but totally direct look at the inevitability of death. Offsetting this with the booming and, let’s be totally honest, phallic, anticipation of the Star Wars fans is notable. Star Wars is such pure fantasy, pure escapism: such intricate and enormous and well-conceived man-childery. So it’s a nice little illustrative vignette, hearing of all these men paying to watch a trailer, then leaving promptly and ignoring a film that sees Anthony Hopkins’ character forced to confront his prostate cancer, and therefore mortality (was it prostate cancer he had? I don’t know. I can’t remember. And I’ll be absolutely damned to a Brad-Pitt-as-devil Hell if I’m going to watch Meet Joe Black again to find out).

Except Star Wars is so entirely ingrained into Western culture that it often becomes a surreal form of anti-escapism, accidentally commenting on and acting out some of our tightest neuroses. And, because its universe and its media-machine are so wrapped up in a yearning future-nostalgia, looking forward and back at the same time, fans desperately anticipating the next journey back to a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far-Far-Away (not to mention the whole ‘prequel’ structure), Star Wars often seems, with hindsight, weirdly prescient. Let’s consider The Phantom Menace.

The climactic battle scenes of the film include an assault on the Trade Federation Control ship, orbiting the planet of Naboo. The young Anakin Skywalker accidentally flies a Starfighter into the battle and becomes dangerously embroiled in it, only to eventually have the decisive input, destroying the enemy control ship and thereby de-activating the Droid invasion-army down on the planet.

Here are the important bits to remember. The enemy control ship is the headquarters of the Trade Federation. The Trade Federation is essentially a capitalist lobbying group with far-reaching Galactic-political influence. The ship consists of two twin arms, grey and functional but massively imposing, lined with blinking windows. A monument of economic and bureaucratic power. Our hero Anakin destroys it by flying a tiny craft into it and exploding it from inside.

The Phantom Menace was released in 1999. Two years later, the grey, functional, monumental twin towers of the World Trade Centre exploded from within and collapsed after two aircraft flew into them. For certain of us watching those horrifying images, the visual echoes were impossible to ignore. The ideological ones were left to percolate. In our current climate, threatened as we are by imminent nuclear war, it was equally deeply unsettling to see, in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a mushroom-cloud explosion destroy a whole planet, killing Diego Luna’s and Felicity Ward’s endearing protagonist-characters in the process.

The whole “freedom-fighter-underdog vs. Empire” dynamic central to the Star Wars legend, alongside the essentially religious fundamentalism of the Jedi, has meant that the most successful blockbuster movie franchise of all time has always had a strange and nuanced relationship with terrorism and real-world global conflict. A complexity belied by the supposedly simple Good vs. Evil story arc. The fact that we side with anti-establishment figures like Luke, Leia, Anakin, Han Solo – who let’s be honest would be branded ‘terrorists’ by the Galactic Empire – is potentially a mainstream playing-out of a profound and difficult kind of empathy-complex within the consciousness of the Western world, a deeply human understanding of figures and beliefs that are relentlessly ‘Othered’ by the mainstream news-media.

Can popular art be the zone for this kind of difficult self-analysis, even whilst it also functions as an enormous and problematic money-making machine? Let’s hope so. Will Rogue One’s nuclear-style explosive climax prove as tragically prescient as The Phantom Menace’s weird 9/11 parallels? Let’s hope not. Will The Last Jedi be any good? I don’t know. Does it matter?

Whilst watching footage of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies and then his inauguration, I was continually reminded of Padme Amidala’s line in The Revenge of the Sith when the despotic Palpatine is elected to office: “So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause”. Now, in a scary and increasingly polarised world, I keep thinking of Shmi Skywalker’s last few words to her son Anakin as he leaves her forever: “You can’t stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting”. Looking forward and back at the same time, to whatever comes next, I suppose we’ve got to keep in mind the single word uttered by a CGI-regenerated Carrie Fisher at the end of Rogue One: “Hope”.

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