Talking Forever About Star Wars

star-wars-christmas-special

LET’S JUMP ON THE BANDWAGON

THINK PIECES AND HOT TAKES FOR CLICKS

It’s Star Wars Trailer Day– the one cultural event that truly unites all of humanity– which prompted me to scratch out some rambling, slipshod thoughts about the franchise that I’ve been kicking around for the last few years. You know, take a different approach from how we usually do things around here.

First things first: am I a Star Wars fan? No. In fact I kind of resent the franchise because its fans just will not shut the fuck up about it. I’m not the sort of person who begrudges people their fandom– like what you like– but the extent to which Star Wars is held up as some kind of quasi-religion by people of a certain age and background grinds my gears. I think it’s the myopic assumption of universality that bothers me so much: a minute ago I made a joke about Star Wars bringing everyone on Earth together, but that is how a lot of Star Wars fans talk about the franchise. Everyone likes Star Wars. Everyone regards it as this background radiation cherished childhood experience.

And there’s that word: childhood. Nerds of all stripe have a bad tendency to put their childhood favourites on mile-high pedestals, clad in armour impervious to honest assessment, and I honestly think that if you erased everyone’s memories of these movies and screened them again today they wouldn’t have even one tenth the impact– and not just because they’ve aged (they’ve actually held up remarkably well in terms of visuals), but because so much of their reverence seems rooted in a particular time and cultural milieu. For a lot of people it’s as if Star Wars and a specific moment in their life have become so closely entwined that the two are impossible to separate or discuss apart from each other– the Golden Age of childhood is Star Wars, and Star Wars is the Golden Age.

I saw the first three movies as a kid, but quite a long time after their original release (at least one of them was the special edition re-release), and they made an impact on me in precisely one way: I was struck by how the story was very obviously Space Fantasy In Space rather than Space Science Fiction In Space. Obviously crossing the two genres like that wasn’t new then and is even less new now, but as someone who came to fantasy and SF long after they had been codified as separate ideas and hadn’t really encountered Science Fantasy, it was novel to see stock fantasy tropes like farmboys with grand destinies and wizards and Dark Lords and swords and magic (more on that in a sec) shunted into a far future setting.

Hell, maybe that’s why they had such an impact. Those hoary old fantasy tropes are obviously popular for a reason, and air-lifting them into a different setting freshens them up to the extent that they regain whatever impact they had originally. In that regard Star Wars probably exerts the same mysterious hold over people’s minds as Lord of The Rings.

(I really need to do a post on Lord of The Rings some time)

Before Star Wars fans come for my blood, I will grant you the following things:

  • As I said earlier, the original trilogy looks amazing even today. There’s some really great set design, art direction and cinematography
  • Darth Vader is legit a really cool and fascinating villain
  • I like the music?
  • Ummmmm

So let’s talk about the prequels!

Some time after the famous Mr.Plinkett reviews came out there was a surge in prequel-bashing and everyone suddenly decided that they hated all CG ever. In response to this, I’ve seen a lot of prequel apologia and revised opinions about how they’re not that bad, really.

No, they’re that bad.

eone1

I said before I have no reverence for this franchise. I went into the prequels with absolutely no expectations, and I still thought they were boring and confusing. Revisiting them today, I find them boring, confusing and fucking hideous to look at. It’s shocking how badly they’ve aged visually compared to the original movies, and not just because of the badly dated CG. And the acting is terrible. It’s terrible holy shit how did some of these line readings make it into the finished product? Did the people making it not notice? Were they asleep? Were they high?

The Star Wars prequels are a series of baffling creative decisions. Why is it directed in such a flat way with such little visual flare? Why is there so much boring, overly-complicated space politics? Why does everything look so ugly?  Why is the music so lifeless? What the fuck is this prophecy and where did it come from? Why is the romance so toothless and lacking in chemistry? Why do the characters spend so long sitting around talking about shit? Why is the acting so bad?

Why were these movie made? That’s the question that occurs to me every time I think about the prequels. It doesn’t feel as if anyone behind the camera cared or actually wanted to make these films. There are occasional moments of interest– the pod racing scene, the bits where Anakin acts evil, parts of the second half of Revenge of The Sith– but everything else is nothing but dull filler.

I’ve got a theory about all of this. Remember how I said that the original movies follow stock fantasy tropes so heavily? The prequels don’t. Losing the space-fantasy angle takes the bones out of the franchise and leaves it limp and formless. There’s no more plucky farmboy,so instead we get… space wizards on diplomatic missions. There’s no evil empire, so instead we get… a trade federation… being controlled by… evil space wizards. There’s no Dark Lord so instead we get… an evil politician trying to secure emergency powers, or fucking something.

Do you realize what I’m saying here? I’m saying these movies should have been more formulaic. I’m saying they would have been better if they just regurgitated genre tropes and called it a day.

Jesus Christ.

But! Now we’ve got three more movies coming out. I don’t know if they’re going to be good, but I’ll tell you this: whoever is in charge of the marketing and trailers for The Force Awakens should get, like, all of the raises, because they’ve been knocking it out of the park. Much has been made of how they’re expertly tweaking the nostalgia organs of fans, but speaking as a non-fan they’ve gotten to me as well, and I’ll tell you why.

Blockbusters have gotten increasingly formulaic over the last fifteen years or so, to the point where even the trailers feel like they’re rolling off an assembly line. You know what I’m talking about– you go to see a movie and it’s like five trailers full of Inception horns and DUN DUN DUN DUNDUNDUNDUN WOOOOOAAHH DUN. The Force Awakens trailers have noticeably avoided doing this. They feel hand-crafted and as if the people behind them actually give a shit about making a real movie instead of pushing something out the door to hold onto a copyright or balance a budget sheet or leverage brand awareness or whatever the fuck.

And that could all be smoke and mirrors! This could be another Prometheus, where the trailers are great and the movie itself is a big jumble of nonsensical horseshit. But what I can say right now is that the marketing is promising.

JJ Abrams’ infamous mystery box thing is on full display even though it was outlawed by a UN resolution after Star Trek Into Darkness, but there are a few things that are obvious just from the trailers, notably that the movie is going back to the space fantasy thing. We’ve got another starry-eyed protagonist from a backwater (but this time she’s a self-sufficient scavenger instead of a whiny little jackass) getting dragged into a struggle beyond her comprehension, we’ve got a dude who (maybe?) has magic powers but doesn’t realize he has magic powers, the plot seems to be trading on the idea (introduced by Lord of The Rings and taken up by Harry Potter, as well as a butt-load of other things) of the Return Of The Dark Lord, in that the defeated villain is returning to menace the world once more. At least, in spirit. I’m assuming Darth Vader isn’t literally going to come back to life. He better not, because that would be stupid as all hell.

The trailer that came out yesterday seems to introduce another intriguing idea: that the events of the original movies aren’t generally known and have passed into the realm of hearsay, with stories of the dark side of the Force and the Jedi being passed around as something akin to urban legend or mythology. It’s kind of an interesting direction to take with a sequel, and it makes me hopeful that the new trilogy won’t just be a retread of what came before.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Talking Forever About Star Wars

  1. Alvaro

    Abrams is much more suited to the themes SW than ST, because he’s obsessed with good and evil. A criticism I’ve heard from many ST fans about the new films is that he tries to force what is basically a story about science and the perils and progress of mutual communication into that Manichean framework.

    The thing about Lucas is that when it comes to visual storytelling, he is the least disciplined he could possibly be. The defining visual feature of all three prequels is simply FAR TOO MUCH STUFF on screen. In another era, that was reined in by technological limitations. The visual sensibility of the first films is the ultimate example of a work succeeding because of its technical constraints.

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    I haven’t seen Star Wars and this post pretty much sums up why – I feel I have probably missed the boat on being able to watch and enjoy them. I would like to read your take on lotr though!

    Reply
  3. Elisabeth

    One time in college, I got into a massive argument with my asshole then-boyfriend about Star Wars vs. fantasy. He made a snarky remark that fantasy is silly and for children (because I liked fantasy), and he preferred science-fiction because it was more sophisticated. I snarked back at him that he didn’t actually read or watch science-fiction, because Star Wars is really fantasy in a space setting, and simplistic fantasy at that, not any deeper or sophisticated than Harry Potter. Seriously, the ONLY science-fiction he liked was Star Wars. He read the novels, but no other science-fiction writers. This wasn’t to say that Star Wars is bad ( I like the first two movies). But it’s not really science-fiction. The story, morals, and themes are clear-cut and simplistic. Again, this doesn’t make the movies bad, but everyone has different tastes, and not everyone thinks Star Wars is the best thing ever.

    It shouldn’t be regarded as blasphemy to not like the films. But there’s a reason why if you type “Star Wars fans are” into Google, you get “are whiny” and “are annoying”. Star Wars has one of the most fanatical and rigid fanbases out there – a two-second shot of a lightsaber produces thousands of people screaming about the lightsaber design and saying the movie is ruined forever.

    Reply
    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      A friend of mine once made a quote from Star Wars, “Never tell me the odds” or one of those other really well known ones and a fan who overheard him assumed that he wanted to talk about nothing but Star Wars and tried to talk to him about it endlessly. Not the worst fan experience but it speaks to the level of obsession so many people have with the franchise. What could have been a shared joke everyone got became an annoying misunderstanding.

      Reply
  4. reveen

    Now, I’m a Star Wars fan. But I consistently find it hard to be particularly excited about being a Star Wars fan due to a combination between the nonsense that goes on in the fandom and the reams of complete bullshit that has been produced under the Star Wars label.

    I do hope the new movies are good. The trailers have given me a positive impression that they’re actually movies made by a human being who set out to make a movie. I’m also kind of superstitious about karmic balance so I figure that the state of the prequels mean that these should be at least decent. But again, that’s just superstition.

    By the by, the reveal of Ridley and Boyega as the outright protagonists is pretty awesome. But also fucking hilarious due to the shit I’ve seen Star Wars nerds online say about the idea of diversity and the problem the franchise itself had with it. I don’t know when and where it happened, but there was this panel with some of the writers of the EU who got asked about diversity, and the Editor in Chief (I think) tried to claim they were diverse because one of their characters was a weird space lizard.

    Reply
  5. Elspeth Grey

    I agree with Signatus’s comment that the whole “wizards on diplomacy missions” definitely reflects a strain of popular fantasy. One that Lucas’s style is completely unsuited for.

    Random side notes:

    -The thing that got me about the trailers was 90% the music. (The other 10% was the seeming return to the original mythic tone.) The musical themes for Star Wars are just SO GOOD and can instantly tap the depths of any emotions you’ve had about the series. (And I’ll admit, I’m one of those for whom the original trilogy was a very formative experience, though I haven’t seen any of the movies in well over a decade.)

    -I remember when The Phantom Menace came out reading a few middle grade tie in books that were done in the style of journals and thinking they were actually pretty good, particularly the one for Padme. I don’t know if they actually were, but at the time I definitely thought they were a marked improvement on the movie, probably because there was a sense of caring about and depth to the characters. Also, less Jar-Jar Binks.

    I never could motivate myself to watch the second two.

    -Have you read Alec Guinness’s letters from the set of A New Hope they’re excellent – http://io9.com/5974242/alec-guinness-thought-star-wars-was-fairytale-rubbish-and-harrison-fords-first-name-was-tennyson

    Reply
  6. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    I once read that the success of Star Wars was in part a response to the end of the Vietnam War, that it’s simplistic moral tale of good triumphing over a clearly defined evil made America feel like it could feel good about itself again, much like Ronald “The Antichrist” Reagan did. I wonder if this trilogy will strike a similar chord over Iraq & Afghanistan.

    I loved Star Wars as a kid, read many of the Expanded Universe books etc. but once I was in my teens Star Wars wasn’t a big deal for me any more. Here’s hoping these movies live up to the #whitegenocide hype.

    Oh and last I heard there were going to be an additional three spin off movies that will come out too, alternating years with the new numbered installments.

    Reply
  7. dbrvnk

    I’ve never watched Star Wars actually—pretty much everything I know about the series I learned from (a) people talking about them on the internet and (b) a web comic that reimagined the series as a role-playing game or something, with a different plot (I suppose the kind of endeavour that by rights only should appeal to a fan of the series, but I still read through the first 3 films or whatever for some reason, though I can’t remember much about it now)

    Interesting idea about stock fantasy tropes, though. I have no idea what it is about them that make them so satisfying to audiences—I suppose because of the presentation of an orderly world that works the way we think real life should work; a world where virtue is rewarded, social mobility is possible and heroes enrich their community. It seems lots of popular fantasy is mostly ‘carried’ by its tropes (the Patrick Rothfuss books this blog has dissected in the past, whose titles I actually can’t remember lmao; or like, Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Eragon or whatever) and retains popularity and lasting appeal despite being criticised on the internet for being too tropey (either in a generic way or in a self-referential way).

    Reply
  8. Signatus

    First, I was never impressed by Star Wars. Really, I wasn’t. A lot of the people I know are completely over the top about this movies and when I did get to see them (well into my twenties) I thought they were the longest, most cliched and boring movies I had seen in a while. Maybe the fact I practically knew everything that was going to happen didn’t help either. If I’d gone into them completely oblivious, I might have been a little bit surprised and interested by the development of the film.

    Funny thing tho, I do think the prequels are following into the footsteps of fantasy today. Let’s not forget Game of Thrones was written in the mid nineties, and it is one of the many “subversions” we have in our hands today where the team of adventurers, the chosen one and his friends or the farmboy goes out to fight the evil wizard, evil drow matron, evil inmortal and uber powerful godess (cough*Takishis*cough*), or the evil of evils of your choice, get substituted by overly complicated politics the authors don’t understand, court conspiracies and nonsensical bullshit.

    I kind of miss the old “adventurers go fight the giant dragon”.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s