Hopes And Fears For The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015

Since literally everybody is talking about The Force Awakens in the run up to its launch I guess I should put down something about it. I never really wanted to because I don’t consider myself a good judge of films — I don’t watch enough of them, but watching Star Wars A New Hope again reminded me of some things. Specifically, it reminded me of what was appealing about Star Wars in the first place and what I hope Force Awakens doesn’t forget. All the hype and trailers have me optimistic I’ll get an enjoyable movie, but still cautious wondering what we’ll get beyond that.

Basically, I have two main fears concerning Force Awakens: 1) That it will spend too much time reminiscing about the original trilogy. 2) That it will end up feeling like just another blockbuster movie simply calling itself Star Wars, even if it ends up being an okay one or a pretty good one.

As soon as George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and Disney announced it was planning annual Star Wars movies I’ve been afraid of the franchise turning into just another movie series. In my opinion Star Wars continues to stand apart from how other blockbuster movies are made and presented. Looking back today, The Empire Strikes Back does not look like a movie that was made in 1980. It didn’t do the same things other movies did in 1980. I don’t want to look back on Force Awakens and see it as just another 2015 movie.

I get it. The fanbase has lost all confidence in Lucas’s unique touch. After the prequels people want something that feels like Star Wars again, and the trailers are providing that in spades, but it still needs a unique touch. The trailers are hyping everything everyone remembers about the original trilogy while JJ promises to keep everything looking “real” (despite the fact that the prequels used more practical effects than most people realize). My potential issue with this is that it seems to be getting caught up in the recent trend of nostalgia movies — movies designed to sell people memories. A perfect case might be Jurassic World which spent a lot of time hyping up imagery people remember from 20 years ago. I haven’t seen Terminator Genisys so I can’t talk about it.

The thing is, a lot of these franchises that are getting revisited became hits in the first place because they felt new at the time, Star Wars possibly most of all. It pretty much birthed the current era of event-driven cinema with an approach to world building that I assume was a bit out of left field in its day (I wasn’t alive in 1977). New Hope not only combines fantasy storytelling with a science fiction setting, but immediately makes its world feel dense without over-explaining anything which just makes it even more tantalizing. Dropping lines about the first scene’s potential ramifications in the imperial senate or mentions of who the Jedi were made New Hope a very mysterious movie when I first saw it. Not only that, but all three original trilogy movies kept going to new places. Ideas like the setting of Tattooine followed by the Death Star felt new to me — like a proper fantasy journey, only to be followed-up by a fighter pilot climax. Then things remained fresh with Hoth, an industrial city in the clouds, and Endor (however goofy you think the Ewoks are). Even The Phantom Menace accomplished this much.

This is even why I think movies like Mad Max: Fury Road are highly acclaimed. Fury Road has a very fresh look and feel to it compared to everything else that’s been coming out recently. Those tend to be the movies that really leave their mark from what I can tell. That is what Force Awakens needs to do. It needs to feel like a constant odyssey to new places, not a retracing of old ones.

The inherent sense of mystery to this sequel trilogy is the question “what happened to everything now that the empire is gone?” How have the characters and places grown and changed in the 30 years since? How different is this new galaxy from the old one? How the new movies reference the events of the original trilogy presents an interesting opportunity too. It’s easy to expect Force Awakens will approach everything expecting the entire audience to know what it’s talking about, but it would be great if it name drops those old events the same way New Hope name dropped its backstory — as a way to deepen the universe instead of just placate fans.

A good sign will be if someone can thoroughly enjoy and understand Force Awakens without having previously seen any Star Wars movie, if it can make newcomers interested in the setting.

BULLETS:

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