Keeping it Reel : Can Star Wars regain it’s force in Episode VII?

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38 years ago a film was released that surpassed all expectations and sparked off one of the largest franchises to ever exist. Since 1977 the Star Wars franchise has inspired millions of people around the world with it’s story (in the original trilogy) of an ambitious farm-boy who rises unexpectedly to bring down an evil empire and save the galaxy and eventually his father, who turned out to be one of the key figures in that empire.

An entire generation grew up with Star Wars and it became a phenomenon. There is no doubt that Star Wars has had an impact on society that no-one could have predicted, even creator George Lucas. With a franchise that includes six live action films, several spin-off films, countless items of literature (official, unofficial and fan-faction), 178 games across various platforms (including DLC and Expansion Packs – Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Wars_video_games) and even people that list “Jedi” as their religion on electoral registers. Anyone who thinks that Star Wars hasn’t had an impact on society is kidding themselves.

It wasn’t until the prequel trilogy started in 1999 that questions started to surface about the future of the franchise. The prequel trilogy was not well received for many reasons;

  • Darth Vader is widely considered to be one of the greatest villains in the history of cinema. In the original trilogy he has a presence and commands every scene that he is in. Because of the mask, you never get an inkling what he is feeling. They made you afraid of him, then the prequels came along. In Phantom Menace he was a kid so you can cut them some slack on that one, but in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith he is portrayed a whiny, obnoxious brat. Even taking out the aspect of the poor acting of Hayden Christensen, they near enough wiped out Vader’s reputation. The very fact you find his grief when he finds out that Padme has died funny says it all about what it has done for the fear factor.

  • A forced love story between two very wooden characters. Portman and Christensen had no chemistry whatsoever.
  • Poor CGI
  • The tragically under-developed Darth Maul. This guy looked the part and although he wasn’t on the levels of Darth Vader, you felt this guy could be a genuine threat. He barely speaks in the Phantom Menace and despite killing Qui-Gon, is relatively easily defeated by Obi-Wan within a matter of seconds. One of the best/only people that the Sith could throw at the Jedi at the time gets killed within seconds of a start of a fight against a relatively rookie Jedi.
  • The main antagonist of Attack of the Clones isn’t introduced until well into the second half of the film. He doesn’t really do a lot before he is then killed off within minutes of Revenge of the Sith beginning.
  • Worse special effects that the original trilogy.
  • Long drawn out scenes, especially in Attack of the Clones, where nothing happens.
  • Turning Yoda into a bouncing green-ball with a light sabre.
  • Jar Jar Binks. I don’t even need to expand on that.
  • An exceptionally poor script….here is an exact extract from one of the scripts and you will see exactly what I mean.
    • Anakin : “You Look Beautiful.”
    • Padme : “I only look beautiful because I’m so in love…”
    • Anakin : “No, you look beautiful because I’m so in love with you!”
    • Padme : “So love has blinded you?”

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It’s safe to say that I could continue with that list for quite some time, but there are only so many hours in the day. The question that I think perfectly sums up how bad the prequel trilogy is that if they had released in episode order, rather than 4-6 and then 1-3, would they have even reached the sixth film?

Had Phantom Menace come out first then it’s very unlikely that Attack of the Clones would have made as much as it did, and after that snorefest, they might not have even gotten the greenlight for Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Many of the iconic moments from later on in the saga would have become meaningless. Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he is his father is one of the most recognisable scenes in movie history because of the jaw-dropping shock of it. Had the films been released in order then the audience wouldn’t care and no jaws would drop for the simple reason that we would have already known by that point.

I feel that is the reason that George Lucas released 4-6 before 1-3. 4-6 is a stronger trilogy in near enough every single way, but had they released 1-3 first then I seriously doubt that there would have been a 4-6.

So based on the prequel trilogy sucking and an entire generation of film fans growing up with their first experience of the Star Wars franchise being those three below average movies, will the seventh instalment, The Force Awakens, return Star Wars to it’s former glories or will it fail to be the success that it was in the past?

Well to look at that I’m going to start right off by saying something that I think will shock many people. I am a self-confessed nerd but I am not actually a fan of the Star Wars franchise and never have been. Without trying to sound controversial, it is one of the most over-rated franchises that I have ever seen and whilst it’s not awful by any stretch, I personally don’t think it was good enough to warrant what has happened in the 38 years since the original film’s release.

Now I know that some, especially those that put Jedi as their religion will be asking “well if you’re not a fan how can you give a balanced view?” Whilst I appreciate that that is a very valid question, it’s because I’m not a fan that I think that I can be balanced, certainly more than someone who puts Jedi as their religion as it’s obvious what their standpoint would be.

I think the reason for this is that I somehow managed to go through my entire childhood without seeing any of the films. The first time I saw A New Hope was in 1997 as they were re-releasing the films with new footage and added bits, basically a cash-grab on the 20th anniversary. In 1997 I turned 13 and unlike most kids my age, I didn’t grow up with the films and therefore never grew that affinity with the franchise. Most people of my age didn’t connect with Star Wars during their youth and I believe that that is one of the reasons why this film will ultimately not prove to be a resurgence of the Star Wars film franchise.

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Once you get into the heart of a child with a film, you’ve got them for life. They love that film for their lives and that’s why people from my generation tend to love Star Wars, but we’ve now got one generation of kids (10-20 year olds) that grew up with only a poor Star Wars trilogy coming out at the cinema at the same time as the far more memorable Lord of the Rings trilogy, and another generation (anyone under 10) that has yet to experience Star Wars at the cinema and their limited cinema experience has been with low quality films such as Frozen (the Disney one, not the decent thriller film)

With any movie that is likely to be made available for all ages (I’m still amazed that the Star Wars films have a rating of universal), the real money is securing the hearts of those children, but the children of today are far different to what they were even ten years ago. Children today don’t have the patience for films such as the original Star Wars trilogy because they’re a slow build. A New Hope is a very slow film when you think about it, and children aren’t likely to stay interested in a film where there’s not something happening all the time.  As poor as films such as Frozen are, there is at least something that is happening all of the time.

Through the last 38 years the style of entertainment that children require has vastly changed. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a time where although I could easily go and play on the Amiga, Atari or Megadrive, I was more interested in going down to the local park and playing football with my friends and we would have to fight (not literally of course) for space and we would stay out until long after the sun had set, or our parent’s called us in for dinner. We would stay and play in the baking sun or the pouring rain, that was our entertainment in the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. If anything staying indoors felt more like a punishment. Today it’s very different.

I’m going to use my nephew as an example. My nephew is eleven years old and he stays around at my parents house on a regular basis. He barely takes his eyes off of his iPad or whatever game system my brother has bought him. He actively tries to avoid going outside and whenever he does, again he rarely takes his eyes off of his eye-pad. The kids of today have grown up in a time when technology was already there, they don’t truly appreciate it like people on my generation do because we grew up in a time where these things were getting introduced gradually and weren’t just there waiting for us.

My point is that children of today are less likely to have the patience for something that looks inferior in terms of look, technology and other aesthetic factors compared to franchises of the modern day, such as the aforementioned Lord of the Rings franchise and the Marvel Universe. The Marvel Universe is very much the Star Wars of the modern day, appealing to people of all ages through a mixed variety of characters, settings and even transcending genres. The Marvel Universe gets it right on so many levels, even more so in my opinion that Star Wars, because even though the villains, other than Loki, are generally poor and you’re never convinced that they are going to win, they are fun.

The Marvel Universe knows how to draw in the public because it is everything that you could want in a film and the best example of that is the Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of anti-heroes that team together for a great cause, and the only real anti-hero that Star Wars has is Han Solo. As I mentioned earlier I am not a fan of Star Wars, I don’t mind it but I wouldn’t class myself as a fan, but the one character that people can relate to in the original trilogy is Han Solo. Solo is very enjoyable, not because he is a clean-cut good guy, but because he is someone you can genuinely relate to. He develops more than any other character in the original trilogy and he is arguably my favourite.

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That being said, are we really ready for an aged Han Solo? It is unclear how large the role of Han Solo will be in the film but when you take into account Harrison Ford’s age of 72, you know it’s not likely to be an action packed role. Whilst he no doubt still has the acting ability, it was clear in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that he isn’t really suited to doing action anymore, and I really don’t mean that in a negative way. Whether we’re ready for an aged Han Solo is one question, but arguably a more important question is is he just being put in so that the fans of the original trilogy have a bit of nostalgia and feel the film is better than it might be.

However, the biggest worry for me comes from one of the main reactions to the trailer. Now, before I start this section, I apologise in advance if anyone is offended by the terminology I use in this, it’s not intended whatsoever. Anyway, the reaction that worried me about the film was the outage from various quarters to a black man wearing a stormtrooper uniform. The original trilogy came out at a very different time when racism was a big problem in major parts of the world and the only character of a black origin in the original trilogy was Lando Calrissian, a character who in essence doesn’t actually do a lot in either The Empire Strikers Back or Return of the Jedi. Whilst racism is seemingly less of an issue these days, the lack of open-mindedness from people about a person of black origin being a stormtrooper is very worrying.

We’re not even entirely sure at this point if the character in question, Finn, is a good guy or a bad guy, but the outright rejection of him before we know anything about him is very worrying. Some people are arguing that there were never any members of the stormtroopers of black origins. Firstly, they’re wearing helmets so how do you know if you’re looking at one of the original clones or simply someone who joined the Empire and wanted to fight for them? I can hear the outrage of the Star Wars fans reading this, almost as if it’s impossible for anyone other than the original clones to be stormtroopers, even though the timeframe along suggests that it would be almost impossible for new people not to join due to deaths of the original troopers.

It was clearly established in Attack of the Clones that the origin of the stormtroopers is that they are all clones of the father of Boba Fett. Now, given that film is set about 30 years after the events of the Return of the Jedi, which itself is set 26 years after the events of Attack of the Clones (source : http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_canon_media), it means that there is a gap of 56 years there in which the chances are that races other than the original source of the stormtroopers could join the Empire.

For me these people who have objected to the character of Finn in a stormtrooper before they even know anything about him shows me that the mindset of some of the people from the generation that saw it at the cinema hasn’t changed.

So after all the relative negativity, is there anything that I feel can mean the Star Wars has a good chance of being a success on all levels? For me there is only one reason to get excited ahead of the new Star Wars film and that is a set of four syllables, JJ Abrams. Abrams is one of my favourite directors after the immense TV show Lost, and more importantly, the re-imagining of the Star Trek Universe. Whilst I may not be much of a Star Wars fan, I am definitely into Star Trek and I would class the 2009 film by Abrams to be one of the best reboots in history. He got it right on so many levels that it meant that I was hooked from the first minute.

I never watched the original series of Star Trek but fell in love with the characters in the 2009, and even in the trailers it looked incredibly. Star Trek is the only film I have seen at the cinema three times (although to be fair two of those were at the cinema I worked at so got them for free) and it is a film I watch on a semi-regular basis. Into Darkness, whilst not quite as enjoyable as the first film, was still a very enjoyable adventure.

Abrams knows how to make something worth watching. His visual style is unique in Hollywood and whilst you can point out his heavy use of lens flares in the aforementioned Star Trek reboot, that is one of the few things that you can actually criticise.

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Summary

Will the new Star Wars trilogy be a success? If it returns to what made the original trilogy exceptionally watchable and tweek it a bit to reflect modern day attitudes then I think it will be a success, but that’s a big if. The biggest challenge it has is the stigma that was put on the franchise through the prequel trilogy as now people know that it is highly possible to release new Star Wars films that aren’t good. The majority of people under 31 will have never seen a good Star Wars film at the cinema for the first time, and that is the first barrier that they need to get over.

To stand a chance it needs to appeal to not only the long term fans, the ones who saw the films at the cinema in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but also find a way to bring in those that haven’t grown up with the Star Wars franchise. This however also presents it’s own difficulties because already confirming that the major characters from the original trilogy will be in the new films is more than likely just a nostalgia thing rather than adding sufficiently to the title. If there’s one thing that we learnt from the Hobbit trilogy, you can’t simply throw in as many references to anything it is prequeling and expect people to bite, it needs more than that.

Either way I will go and watch it at some point and have an open mind.

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3 thoughts on “Keeping it Reel : Can Star Wars regain it’s force in Episode VII?

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