A shadow of the past haunts the full trailer to Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings

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Robert Aramayo as Elrond
Robert Aramayo as Elrond

The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power is the year’s biggest show. Before July 21, you needed an accountant to tell you that. But watching the new, full trailer for Amazon’s lavish new series, it’s all on display. No expense appears spared in J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay’s vision of Tolkien’s mythos.

Unlike Peter Jackson’s adaptation, Amazon’s The Rings Of Power takes place in the Second Age, essentially a generation before The Fellowship Of The Ring. The Second Age is mainly the story of Sauron, his devious rise to power, and the set-up for the Lord Of The Rings we all know and love. The “Second Age” ends where Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings begins, with Sauron’s fall and Isildur’s turn. The trailer, in its design, narrative, and very Jackson-esque Balrog stinger, promises a familiar Middle Earth that leads us right into Jackson’s movies.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power - SDCC Trailer

Many of the characters we know from Jackson’s trilogy also appear here. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), Elrond (Robert Aramayo), and Isildur (Maxim Baldry) all return for what is the actual telling of their story. In addition, there are new characters, like Arondir (played by Ismael Cruz Córdova), who meets a smoky end in the trailer.

And, of course, there’s that mysterious comet, which might be debris from the time the Dark Lord Melkor attacked the moon, or as mundane as new minerals from the smithing of weapons (maybe rings?). All we basically know is that Sauron’s coming to power and that the war against him leaves Middle Earth’s population of elves, dwarves, and men divided.

Rings Of Power remains an intriguing series, primarily because it’s hard to anticipate what the hell this show will be. It’s called Lord Of The Rings, but the series drops viewers into one of the strangest parts of Tolkien’s work, taken primarily from the book’s appendices. These characters have complete histories but not a straightforward narrative in the way that, say, Frodo has. We know that Sauron tricks the Elvish smiths into forging the rings of power and that the elf Celebrimbor crafts rings for the elves in secret, but we don’t know much about, say, Celebrimbor’s character. And yet Peter Jackson’s storytelling (and his aesthetic) still looms large, as the new series seems to circumnavigate Tolkien mythos not tackled in either the Lord Of The Rings or Hobbit trilogies.

The new Rings Of Power trailer is no doubt impressive. This show cost a lot, and it’s all on screen, made with the greatest care. But as of yet, it has not delivered an entirely new version of Tolkien’s mythos. Rivendell, the Dwarves, the Balrog, feel way more indebted to Jackson’s work than any of us anticipated.

This reaction might be one of the downsides of our marketing-obsessed culture—the drive to react to something based on teases and commercials. Maybe Amazon is only showing us these things because they are the most familiar. Perhaps it is trying to hook people into the most esoteric era of Middle Earth with something recognizable. That makes sound business sense. However, news that Howard Shore, the composer behind the first two Tolkien trilogies, is returning to score Amazon’s series puts this show very much in conversation with Jackson’s epics. There’s simply no escaping the word prequel instead of, say, reboot.

But if we’re making a show called “The Lord Of The Rings,” one must assume that eventually, there will be a season about the book The Lord Of The Rings. We get that the title in both cases refers to Sauron, but it’s probably first and foremost recognized as the title of a popular book series. And if the aesthetic of Peter Jackson is the prevailing one, what’s the point? It’s been more than 20 years since The Fellowship Of The Ring, and in a few years, it may be interesting to see a ‌new take on it, one built off the elements unexplored by Jackson’s work. Maybe one that could include Tom Bombadil, for example, or a Scouring of the Shire. Of course, these would be years off. But leading with such a Jackson-forward aesthetic makes the road that goes ever on and on look a little too well-paved.