There's a lot to get excited about in the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but nothing in those 88 seconds sums up my hope for this new film as well as the rolling ball droid. With its familiar astromech-shaped head but all new body design, this droid is the symbol of what I want from Star Wars: The Force Awakens - something identifiably Star Wars but not beholden to a nostalgic do-over of the past. I want to see things that are familiar yet new, like a street on which you grew up that now has a couple of cool new stores and restaurants. It's the hardest thing to pull off: make it the same but different.
More than that this droid, in just a few moments of screentime, immediately gets across the same sense of fun that R2D2 and C3PO did a generation ago; it's no mistake that the droids are the only characters who get intros in the 1976 Star Wars teaser trailer. They're the audience identification characters, the fun characters, the silly characters who attract the younger audience. They're cute without being cutesy, and I think the ball droid accomplishes this as well. There's a spunk to the ball droid that's already exciting; the way the head bops along is wonderful, and the general speed of the droid is a nice change from the terribly slow droid duo of the previous films. This droid can get in and out of the action faster than anyone else.
Of course there are some people who don't like the new droid at all - any change in Star Wars will raise the hackles of fanboys who approach these movies not as art but as a security blanket (see the people who were upset at the idea that Han, Luke and Leia didn't just have thirty years of fun adventures together after the events of Return of the Jedi) - but this is the exact right kind of change, one rooted in what we've already seen but approached with fresh eyes. And it's working - there are already ball droid image memes and fanmade Legos hitting the internet. People have taken to this little guy.
Or is he a guy? I was talking to someone close to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens production the day the trailer hit and this person said something interesting about the ball droid: "She's a lot of fun." She. Is the ball droid a female? Not that droids have genders, but we've always looked at R2 and 3PO as male droids - could this ball droid be the first leading female-identified droid in the Star Wars films? That would be pretty cool.
For a delightfully nerdy look at how the ball droid might work, check out this Jalopnik article.