clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers have a secret weapon, thanks to Steven Spielberg

It's called "The Spielberg Face"

Steven Spielberg is one of the most influential storytellers America has ever produced, and one of his enduring legacies is a shot that's often referred to as the "Spielberg Face."

Here's a video explaining it.

"Eyes open, staring in wordless wonder in a moment where time stands still," the video states. "But above all, a child-like surrender in the act of watching, both theirs and ours. It’s as if their total submission to what they are seeing mirrors our own."

The Star Wars trailers, especially shots focusing on Daisy Ridley's Rey, are obsessed with the Spielberg face. You can watch an example below.

rey face first

Here's another.

rey face

And another.

rey face 2

And... one more.

rey face 3

I could keep going.

rey and finn face

Even Han Solo gets one.

solo face

The Spielberg Face is about manipulation. It's not about showing us something amazing. It's about showing us the fact that someone else is seeing something amazing, and then being shown how to react. We read the emotions in the face and then mirror them with our own, and we don't have to see whatever wondrous thing the character is seeing to feel what they're feeling. It's description via reaction.

There are a few things going on here, and J.J. Abrams' desire to become the sort of iconic storyteller Spielberg has become is part of it. I don't think the repetition of this shot can be done to this degree without some knowledge on the part of the filmmaker, if not the individual editing the trailers.

The second aspect of this is that Daisy Ridley just has an amazing face, and Abrams is reacting to her reactions. Watch her reactions to the trailer itself: Ridley seems almost incapable of holding the emotions back. She makes the Spielberg Face at herself making the Spielberg Face.

I'm in no way trying to mock her expressions here; the sort of open, emotional reaction to what's being put in front of her is why she's so effective in these shots.

While the Spielberg Face may be used to manipulate the audience using pure human reaction, its use in the marketing materials here almost seems like a calculated move on the part of Abrams to take the legacy of Star Wars back from the prequels. Those films were completely defined by their technology, and that makes them feel cold and sterile. The prequel trilogy feels touched more by machine than human hands.

But by using, if not abusing, the Spielberg Face so often in these trailers Abrams is putting the focus back on the human beings. Daisy Ridley's face is one of her most powerful weapons as an actor, and Abrams stays locked on her eyes in these shots. She's the audience proxy in these moments, reacting to what she's seeing, showing us how to feel, but also mirroring the sort of wonder and hope we've longed for when it comes to Star Wars.

It becomes a sort of Spielberg Face Ouroboros, where Rey is showing us how to feel by showing us feeling how we hope to feel, and thus making us feel it while we make the same face. We're mirrors for each other, which is why Ridley's reaction video is so endearing.

We want to see something amazing, and by God, so far we're getting it.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon