Saturday, May 3, 2014

Star Wars Episode VII: Here We Go Again

It’s been nine years since the final installment of George Lucas’ tripartite ruination of one of the most storied franchises in cinematic history, and now we, the faithful admirers of the original Star Wars trilogy, must brace ourselves for Episode VII, currently under production and slated for a December 18th, 2015 release.

Quite a lot has changed in the minds of adoring fans since the first time we all experienced the phenomenon of a new Star Wars film. Before the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, there was decidedly more excitement than trepidation, and understandably so – George Lucas was at the helm, with complete creative control of the project, nearly limitless resources, and the latest and greatest digital technology. It’s difficult to imagine a film which was ever more highly anticipated before its release, or more bitterly disappointing after. The Phantom Menace was so categorically awful that it almost seemed like a joke. A New Hope, the original film, is basically a classic story of the hero’s journey set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Phantom Menace, the first of the prequel trilogy, is a boring, convoluted, uninspired hodgepodge of people we don’t care about swinging lightsabers around for 2 hours.

Here's a fairly nauseating sight for most Star Wars fans

The Phantom Menace was followed by Attack of the Clones in 2002 and finally Revenge of the Sith in 2005, by which time most people realized that George Lucas had no idea what the hell he was doing and was simply trying to make another bazillion dollars from the franchise. It’s clear from the prequel trilogy that George Lucas has absolutely no understanding whatsoever of what made the original films so magical and iconic – the characters and the story. Instead, he devoted all of his time and energy to producing cutting-edge CGI renderings devoid of all human emotion and realism so that he could shoot entire films in an air-conditioned sound stage rather than have to go somewhere interesting and build actual sets. The result is a series of poorly-written films, the plots of which are nonsensical and the characters of which are forgettable.

As a result of having suffered the acute disappointment of three of most underwhelming films I’ve ever seen, I’m extremely hesitant to get excited about Episode VII, even as more and more seemingly promising information is released about it.  Here’s what we know so far:

  • J.J. Abrams is directing and contributing to the screenplay.
  • Lots of original cast members are returning to reprise their original roles, including Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker (C-3PO and R2-D2), Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
  • The film is a sequel to Return of the Jedi, taking place 30 years later.
  • The story is entirely new, not making use of any of the “extended universe.”
  • George Lucas is a “creative consultant” and is not directly involved in the production of the film.

I think it’s safe to assume that this latest film simply cannot compare favorably with the original trilogy – it’s been too long, it’ll be too different – so the best it can hope for is to be less of a disaster than the prequels. Here’s why it could well go in either direction:

Episode VII will be better than the prequels, because…
  • George Lucas won’t be able to ruin it from start to finish.
  • Luke, Leia, and Han are back, and fans love these characters way more than Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi, who appeared in the prequels.
  • Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter for Empire and Jedi, is sharing screenwriting duties on the new film. He wasn’t involved in screenwriting for the prequel trilogy.
  • J.J. Abrams is a competent director who won’t simply sit in a green screen studio for 6 months and then finish the movie on a computer.
  • The prequels were such a disaster that it’s likely the new director will try to distance his work from them on purpose, hopefully steering things in a better direction.
Harrison Ford is 71, you guys. 71.

Episode VII will be even worse than the prequels, because…
  • George Lucas still came up with the plot for this film, as well as the next two which follow it, so it could still have an unsalvageable concept at heart.
  • Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are all really old – Fisher is the youngest of them at 57 – and will probably play quite different characters from the Han, Leia, and Luke we all love. The stakes are much higher with these characters – ruining them in a bad Star Wars movie will be unforgivable.
  • The events are set so far after the end of Jedi that there will be little connection to any established canon, which will make it feel like less of a Star Wars movie, and thus a strange setting for the familiar characters. The ending of Jedi was rather final; Vader and the Emperor died and the second Death Star was destroyed, effectively ending the reign of the Empire, so an entirely new conflict will need to be created, along with a new villain, and there’s a lot of room for that to go wrong.
  • J.J. Abrams’ work on the last Star Trek movie received lukewarm reviews from fans, and I can’t help but feel that doing Episode VII is just another project for him – he’s also producing Mission: Impossible 5 and yet another new Star Trek movie in the near future.

Ultimately I have to admit that I’m at least extremely curious to see what happens with Episode VII. With the prequels, we all had the vague sense that they were going to be about a young Anakin Skywalker and his journey to becoming Darth Vader, so it all revolved around something we knew, something connected to the original trilogy. With the newest Star Wars films, we really have no idea whatsoever what the general plot will be, so VII is going to be a complete surprise. Bringing back some of the original actors after such a long time is a massive gamble as well; I suspect the success of the entire film will hinge upon giving Han, Luke, and Leia a proper, believable treatment.

Speaking more generally, I think sequel making for such an iconic series of films like Star Wars is simply an exercise in futility. Everything about the original trilogy is sacred; just look at the uproar when Lucas released the Special Edition of the original films, filled with cartoonish CGI nonsense which clashed jarringly with the familiar scenes we already knew and loved. What fans really want in a sequel is simply more of exactly the same thing that they already love. The time to make another Star Wars movie was in the early 1980’s, when the main actors were younger and technology hadn’t made massive forward strides in the digital realm. This is why the prequels don’t feel like Star Wars movies. They’re markedly different in every way that matters, which is apparently something that Lucas himself can’t even understand. A CGI Yoda comically bouncing off of walls in a frantic sword fight is not Star Wars. 

The original trilogy was filmed in actual locations, using actual sets and actors and models. That’s the only way to make a Star Wars movie. That is almost certainly not how Episode VII is going to be made, and for that reason alone I know it won’t be worthy of the name. At best, Abrams can only hope to do a better job with the new film than Lucas did with the prequel trilogy. He’ll accomplish that meager feat simply by not having Jar-Jar fucking Binks in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment