The first long-awaited teaser for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is here. But while this tantalizing two minutes of footage has finally given fans the first glimpse of the upcoming sequel, it’s as deliberately vague as the various teasers for The Force Awakens were. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful. The flashes of Rey’s training are intriguing, and the few brief seconds of space battles are thrilling, but there’s almost no context for anything that happens in it.
The Star Wars franchise as a whole seems to have undergone a dramatic shift in its most recent incarnation. It’s become one of the film industry’s most secretive franchises, a move that especially stands out in today’s spoiler-hungry culture. And I think the reasoning for that secrecy is simple: for the first time in more than 30 years, Star Wars fans know it’s worth being excited, but still don’t know what’s coming next.
Younger fans who missed the theatrical release of the original Star Wars trilogy have never really had the chance to be surprised by Star Wars. From the moment Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were revealed as part of The Phantom Menace, anyone who’d followed the movies already knew where their story would end up. That’s the nature of prequels: it’s hard to build dramatic mysteries when you’ve already revealed the endgame. Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are all backstory, a direct path from Anakin Skywalker’s childhood to the moment where he becomes Darth Vader. Director Gareth Edwards and his team put huge efforts into keeping the events of Rogue One under wraps, but it was ultimately a wasted effort. Anyone who’s seen A New Hope already knows the Death Star plans were successfully stolen. So while it was exciting to spend time with Jyn, K-2S0, Cassian, and the rest of the gang, it was always clear that they weren’t doing anything significant after the Death Star plan heist, because we’d already seen those stories, too.
With The Force Awakens, things were different
With The Force Awakens, the situation changed. New characters emerged, along with new canon. There were new stories that fans could only guess at in advance. But given that those stories were starting from a blank slate, the secrecy was around simple but crucial questions like “Who are these people?” and “What is the state of the galaxy far, far away 40 years after its inception?” I spent the year leading up to Force Awakens’ release watching the three major trailers dozens of times over, but there was barely any information to be gleaned, given the lack of context for the characters glimpsed in the footage.
Even so, fans (myself included) took to extreme measures to avoid even the merest hint of plot spoilers, with Chrome extensions and Twitter mutes limiting the possibility for leakage. Now, for The Last Jedi, we have context for the film’s mysteries. We have a foundation for speculation and analysis. We know about these characters and their potential plotlines, which makes it harder to avoiding internalizing spoilers. Consider it this way: if I described the ending of a book you’d never heard of, it’d have far less impact than if I gave away the ending of the latest book in one of your favorite series.
Of course, there will always be fans who take the opposite approach, and dive eagerly into speculation and spoiler culture. Some people can’t wait to have their questions answered, and will delve into drone footage and leaked set photos to try and puzzle together any hints of what will happen. (And yes, the worst of them will still be determined to weaponize spoilers and ruin everyone’s fun.) It’s an interesting balance in fan engagement between those who want to know everything now, and those who prefer to remain in the dark.
In the newfound Star Wars, secrecy reigns supreme
That said, the newfound anathema to spoilers seems to be winning out when it comes to Lucasfilm’s marketing strategy. Back when Revenge of the Sith came out, I walked into the theater with my family on premiere day, already knowing practically everything there was to know about the film. Story beats, whole scenes of dialogue, small action-scene flourishes — all of it had already made its way into the world in a marketing onslaught of teasers, trailers, TV spots, games, and novels. But in the newfound Star Wars, secrecy reigns supreme, with the entirety of the lead-up to the film meant to string audiences along right up until the moment the lights go down in the theater. Of course, this kind of strategy could only work for something like Star Wars — a franchise that’s possibly unique as a cultural juggernaut, in that Lucasfilm could probably release absolutely no advance marketing, and still have audiences show up at theaters in droves for the next series installment.
But in a world where movie trailers are unfortunately spelling out the entirety of the film months before films hit theaters, it’s nice to know that there’s still a little mystery in the universe. I, for one, can’t wait to walk into a theater in December and find out what happens next.