Thursday seemed eerily surreal in Anaheim, between “The Force Awakens” panel at Star Wars Celebration to the new “Tomorrowland” exhibit in Disneyland. It was like journeying through some inter-dimensional transport much like the one in “Tomorrowland.” And what was even stranger was discovering some striking similarities between J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars” reboot and Brad Bird’s fantasy/adventure.
Not surprisingly, Abrams admitted that seeing “Star Wars” for the first time as an 11-year-old was all about “A New Hope” for the future and that his goal for “The Force Awakens” was to leverage the spirit of the first trilogy and expand the “Star Wars” universe in a way that satisfies fans from multiple generations. In terms of design, the second teaser reveals a continuation of the same kind of “lived-in” world that George Lucas achieved, from the desert vista of the new planet Jakku (shot in Abu Dhabi), to the new rolling ball BB-8 droid (powered by Sphero), to the new Stormtroopers and X-Wings, which are familiar yet different.
Likewise, we learn from Bird in an audio/visual display that “Tomorrowland” is about recapturing the 20th-century notion of an optimistic future along with an idealistic spirit of invention. The future-retro look of Tomorrowland takes inspiration from Walt Disney’s participation in the New York World’s Fair of 1964, which introduced “A Small World,” the animatronic “Mr. Lincoln,” “The Carousel of Progress” and the PeopleMover ride system. In his movie, Bird apparently explores Tomorowland as both utopia and dystopia.
The new “Force Awakens” trailer confirms that it’s all about family and generational hand-off with its deja vu aura. Indeed, the sense of continuity is informed by both the inner child and adult Abrams: Luke (Mark Hamill) reprises his speech about the strength of the Force in his family, but now it’s aimed at his offspring; Oscar Isaac’s hot-shot X-Wing pilot recalls Luke’s reckless abandon and Daisy Ridley’s badass scavenger echoes the wild spirit of Leia (Carrie Fisher). A new evil Sith presence with its wanton destruction demands that the Force be turned over to the next generation, and there’s nothing more heart-warming than hearing Han (Harrison Ford) tell Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew): “We’re home.”
Likewise, there’s a warm, nostalgic sense of deja vu that informs “Tomorrowland.” The sneak peek footage opens with a young boy entering the ’64 World’s Fair as we hear “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” He’s invented a jetpack (which unfortunately doesn’t work yet), but is turned away by the overly pragmatic Hugh Laurie. Yet he still sneaks into “Tomorrowland” through a secret entrance in “Small World,” which sets up the tension between the old and the new, hope and despair. Inevitably, the inner child in Clooney’s would-be inventor gets reawakened when he meets the spirited teen played by Britt Robertson, a kindred spirit, and the two join forces to “save the future.”
Thus, more than anything, what we learned about “The Force Awakens” and “Tomorrowland” is how much Abrams was inspired by Lucas and Bird by Disney. And it’s that spirit of adventure and showmanship they are attempting to deliver to hungry moviegoers young and old alike.