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?
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.
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.
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.