Can the New ‘Star Wars’ Films Bring Back This Disgruntled Ex-Fan?
People assume that I’m really into Star Wars. It’s an understandable mistake, I am a huge geek and it’s one of the biggest geek cross-over successes in history. The honest truth is I used to be a big fan. One of my fondest childhood memories was being allowed to stay up later than my parents to finish Empire Strikes Back on TV. I had action figures and video games and sticker books. I stood in line for hours to be first in to the midnight screening of Episode I. Then something happened.
Ok, so it’s not just that. Since the prequels and special editions turned up the entire franchise has been built on bullshit. The prequels were complete garbage with forgettable characters, sterile action and hokey dialogue. Animated spin-offs added to the crapfest. Rushed out video games cheapened the brand name. Merchandise went from neat collectables to an endless parade of poorly designed and overpriced trash. We have a whole page of these right here. All of my childhood toys have been auctioned off on ebay, the DVDs given away (except for the original theatrical versions) and the franchise is essentially dead to me. What really drove me away was the fervent defence of this rubbish by the fans. It’s hard to be part of a group so willing to be spoonfed shit and say thank you. I could spend a lot of time ranting about how Yoda waving a lightsaber defeats the purpose of the character, why the Lucas version of Vadar’s backstory is worse than everything we imagined for ourselves and why ‘not liking sand’ isn’t a character trait, but we have the opportunity to look forward. J.J. Abram’s is already filming a new entry in the series and we can expect to see it next year. What can this new entry to the canon do to restore my faith?
The fact that the director has been changed is one of biggest drawcards to these additions to the franchise. If we were to point a finger at one thing that has damaged the brand it would be George Lucas. The chinless wonder was kept on a short leash during the production of Star Wars in the 1970s. He was an unproven director helming an anticipated flop. His original cut of the film was so tedious and difficult to follow that the studio brought someone else in to re-edit the whole movie. That’s not even going into the changes the studio insisted on, or the ones that came about during production. Chewbacca didn’t have a fish head, Jedi didn’t scream when running into battle, the Death Star was redesigned to resemble a moon and Darth Vader was given his iconic helmet.
Many fans will be quick to point out that he did pluck the entire Star Wars mythology out of his head, but even that went through a long of convoluted process of change before it could be adapted into a movie. The submitted treatment, sporting the baffling title Journal of the Whills, was considered unreadable. Part of the problem was that it featured the entirety of the original movie jammed into one script. Much of the story concerned the complicated space economics and politics that turned the middle of The Phantom Menace into undecipherable, boring mush. The fat ten year Anakin Starkiller blows up his brother’s corpse (for reasons unexplained) before punching the Princess in the mouth. The bad guys were names Sith Knight Prince Valorum and Cos Dashit. Let’s not be hasty in calling him the genius of sci-fi.
More than two decades later when George Lucas decided to return to the Star Wars movie franchise is was no more experienced in film making as he was in the 70s. He’d never helmed another Star Wars cinematic release or even another success. He was also out of the studio system, meaning there was no-one to tell him when the movie wasn’t working. He was entirely out on his own, with no guidance or critical feedback. We wound up with a muddled story, reliance on CGI, non-existent character development and annoying ‘whacky’ supporting cast.
Taking someone who is experienced and can take a different angle on the material is easily the best thing for the series. I’m not convinced that J.J. Abrahms is the best choice, but he’s a damn sight better than Lucas. Abrahms has shown a good aptitude for sci-fi adventure with a reasonable dose of character work with his Star Trek adaptations, but his career has been hit and miss. With Disney overseeing the production the game plan will be to produce something that pleases the audience. This makes Abrahms more of a safe bet. Episode VII isn’t going to shake things up, but it should be fine.
What really gets my interest is the hiring of Rian Johnson as the director of Episode VIII. If Abrahms is the safe bet then Johnson is the one to re-invigorate the series. He’s a fresh voice in the movie industry. This is the movie that is most likely to upset the fans as it could mix-up the style a bit. Star Wars already has such a distinct style but any newcomer to the series has the ability to rework it. I consider this to be a good thing. The last thing we need is an eight movie looking the same.
So who was your favourite characters from the prequels? The bland mentor, the whining ‘chosen one’ or one of many gibbering idiots? These were not well thought out movies, with the emphasis on the spectacle rather than the human element. The return of aged Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia may be an odd decision for a new attempt at the flagging franchise, but I welcome these classics. The stalwart hero, sassy heroine and rough-and-tumble rogue are cliches but they are fun cliches. Star Wars didn’t challenge anyone’s expectations and that was just fine. Hopefully the new additions to the story will give us more personality than ‘I don’t like sand’.
We don’t need to get into the action and the effects work. The Star Wars series has always been forerunners in both fields and the incoming directors have experience in creating good action sequences. More importantly they’ve shown that they can tie the action and the emotional resonance of the narrative together instead of what we saw in the prequels. Even the ultimate showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan was yawn worthy. They yelled a lot, then they jumped around, vaguely and unemotionally swinging lightsabers at each other for 40 minutes, then they resumed yelling. Compare that to the sequence in Star Trek when the crew are trying to stop Vulcan being destroyed. Each character has a purpose, they always feel as though they’re in danger and they’re motivated to act by their emotions.
Rather than worry about action the effects team to look at their design work. Anyone who has watched the behind the scenes videos of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy will know that every single prop, every item of clothing, every accessory, was designed to help tell the story. Markings on Elven and Dwarf clothing reveals details of who they are and where they come from. Scars, tattoos and hair styles form the personal history of the characters. In the Star Wars prequels everything is random, possibly the result of doodles and heavy drinking. There’s an alien who walks on his hands. Why? No reason. Why does this eatery in the galaxy ‘long, long ago’ and ‘far, far away’ resemble a hokey 60s Diner? Possibly on the directors whim. Please think these things through.
I genuinely want this next entry to work out. It has been frustrating and depressing to see how much the once reliable brand has turned to garbage. The vibe has been one that the people behind the franchise is in it for the money, and that’s rough on the childhood. At this point…I’m giving it a ‘wait and see’ attitude.