Posted by: ckckred | April 18, 2015

Thoughts on The Force Awakens (and Star Wars in general)

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A few days ago, the first full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released and promptly caused the Internet to go insane.  Chances are if you’re reading this you’ve already seen the video several times as well as scrutinized the ad nauseam of press about its release.  The frenzied hype behind the trailer (much of it do to featuring a brief clip of Han Solo and Chewbaca) has pretty much already secured The Force Awakens as the biggest release of 2015, and possibly the decade so far.

It’s no surprise that the teaser has already been swamped with overwhelming approval from Star Wars fans, with John William’s booming score and allusions to the original trilogy being the major highlights.  The Force Awakens notes George Lucas’ relinquishment of the series, handing the reigns over to Disney for an insane profit (though he serves as a creative consultant to the picture).  It would seem that the new Star Wars movie will define yet another generation from the massive response it’s already received and set new box office records.

Before I go any further, let me just tell you about my own connection with Star Wars.  Like just about everyone else on the world, I grew up watching and worshipping the original trilogy.  From ages 4 to 6, my brothers and I spent almost every day after school seeing the first three movies on VHS (back then, my favorite was Return of the Jedi, mainly for the rousing finale).  Even now that I’m older, snootier, and recognize the flaws of the trilogy (the corniness of the story, the acting), I find it difficult to forget all the happy memories I’ve had from Star Wars, be it from watching the sheer thrills of the pictures or the constant merchandise that inhabited my room.

Then came the prequels.  I saw The Phantom Menace at a young, unimpressionable age, only seeing it once in theaters and not remembering anything it for what would become the biggest disappointing blockbuster of the century, but when I watched Attack of the Clones, I realized something: Star Wars had turned boring.  Gone were the team of ragtag heroes fighting an ominous threat, replaced by extended fictional political debates about the Republic and the Sith and an uninteresting plot involving characters I didn’t care about or completely hated.  Revenge of the Sith was more warmly received by fans, but it honestly wasn’t that much better than its predecessors.  Trust me, if it had been released in 1984, the fan reception would have been as bitter as Menace‘s release, mainly serving as a way to tie up loose ends leading up to A New Hope.

My point is that Star Wars franchised ceased being a creative entity a long time ago, and is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise that’s as big and threatening as the villainous Empire depicted within the series.  The second A New Hope became a surprise hit, George Lucas turned from a filmmaker into a businessman, using the movies as a way for massive financial gain.  That’s not meant to be a slight on the quality of The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, but on how Lucas became more concerned on the series’ marketing and product potential.  Think The Phantom Menace was made to reward longtime fans?  No, it was an excuse for Lucas to renew interest in the series so he could make more money.  And despite the widespread hatred for the prequels, just about everyone saw them and continued to buy Star Wars products.  Lucas may be the most hated man in Hollywood but he’s also the richest.

My overall feelings for Star Wars are best summed up by my bud Stu over at Popcorn Nights: “…I love and hate its legacy, what it has done to cinema… to the detriment of a certain type of filmmaking… but watching it after all these years is as reassuring as flicking through an old family photo album.”  I’m still nostalgic about the movies, but part of me is angered its impact on film, ushering in a studio-mandated Hollywood where creative leadership by directors was practically stripped away.  Unless your name is either Martin Scorsese or David Fincher, no major studio is going to lend you $70 million to run your film the way you want it now.  The best creative ingenuity typically comes from independent and foreign cinema, but those barely impact the overall film market at all.  Today, only films that are big and loud seem to dominate the multiplexes for mainstream audiences.  That doesn’t mean every blockbuster is soulless but for every Christopher Nolan there’s a million Michael Bays and Roland Emmerichs.

Disney’s intentions are no different than Lucas’.  The Force Awakens will be a big hit, regardless if the reviews are poisonous enough to make Menace look like Empire.  It will probably make over a billion dollars and even more in merchandising.  I fully admit that that I’ll be sitting in the theater this December to see J. J. Abrams’ take, and it may even be great.  But don’t kid yourselves into believing that The Force Awakens is a heroic and creatively embolden picture.

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Responses

  1. Great piece – I really enjoyed reading. I completely accept and understand what you are saying. However, I think taking the story forward again, and with Lucas out of the picture, there IS an emphasis back on creativity in the Star Wars universe. The director’s hired to do the sequels/spin-offs (Rian Johnson, Gareth Edwards) have an indie-movie sensibility and from Rian Johnson’s leaked phone conversation with Terry Gilliam about his experiences of Disney and Kathy Kennedy – it seems there is a lot of creative freedom for these guys to bring their vision into the Star Wars arena. All this said, this IS business model, albeit the most exciting and potentially rewarding one ever to have been devised. Hoping for greatness.

    • Thanks. There certainly are talented people working on the upcoming films (I particularly enjoyed Edwards’ take on Godzilla) and I’m not ruling out the movies could be good. But you can’t forget the hype was overall the same for The Phantom Menace as well as Indy 4. And we both know how those turned out.

      • I hear you, but I genuinely think this will be different. Lucas was heavily responsible for both the prequels and the Crystal Skull. Tonally, and with the cast and long list of creative talent involved – this feels VERY different.

  2. I haven’t seen it yet.

  3. Nice read, and thanks very much for the shout-out. I can’t help but feel excited about the new film, despite those prequels, and that’s partly because I think Abrams did a good job with the two recent Star Trek films (and I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, it was always Star Wars for me). I keep telling myself that the huge profits that blockbusters make (whether we’re talking A New Hope or the modern day carpet bombing of superhero films) means that some filmmakers somewhere get a slice from the studio and are able to make a smaller, personal movie as a result, but I know that’s somewhat idealistic. Plus, like you say, there’s more evidence each year to show that directors aren’t being trusted with money except for a few established names, unless they’re making a big budget special effects-heavy movie. (In actual fact most of the profits from Avengers movies and the like is probably pocketed by shareholders, but I’m always trying to stay positive when we move into blockbuster season!)

    Ultimately I find it difficult to really hate Lucas for anything he did in the 1990s/2000s, as he definitely enhanced my childhood.

    • Thanks man. It is disappointing that so few directors today really have the opportunity to make the films free of studio control that’s really destroying creative originality in cinema. Lucas may not have intended to do so, but he had inadvertently killed New Hollywood in the 70s.

  4. Excellent article and you are no doubt right that it’s a shameless moneymaker–but I hope you are wrong. I hope ‘The Force Awakens’ my childhood nostalgia and satisfies my adult sensibilities.

    • Thanks. As I said in my article, I do think there’s a chance that The Force Awakens could be good, but Disney doesn’t care about the overall quality of the movies but how much money they could make.

      • You’ve grown cynical in your old age 😉

  5. Well I’m kinda blase about Star Wars even though I grew up w/ two brothers who LOVED the first three films. I’m somewhat looking fwd to this new one because of Oscar Isaac casting.

    • To be honest, I don’t think much of the Star Wars movies anymore. As I said I still treasure the memories I have of the original trilogy, but I wouldn’t evaluate them as cinematic masterpieces (though they are undeniably cultural touchstones).


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