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Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

December 3, 2014 10 comments

Everyone else is talking about the Star Wars trailer, so I might as well put in my two cents. Not so much about the trailer itself, since you can’t tell much from a teaser trailer, but about the reactions I’ve been seeing.

First off: Okay, the crossbeam lightsaber is a bit hard to justify rationally, but let’s face it, lightsabers are not a plausible weapon to begin with. A beam of energy acting as a solid blade? How’s that supposed to work? It’s magic. Here’s the thing a lot of people don’t seem to get: Star Wars is not science fiction. Lucas has never claimed that it is. His own term for it is “space fantasy.” The reason he created it is because he couldn’t get the movie rights to Flash Gordon. The opening line of every movie, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is telling us up front that it’s a fairy tale. It’s not supposed to be a plausible universe, it’s supposed to be a wild adventure fantasy in the vein of the movie serials Lucas enjoyed as a child.

But fortunately the new movie isn’t just looking backward. No more all-white casts like in the bad old days. Our first look at the new generation of Star Wars establishes it as a diverse generation. Who cares if one of them is (at least dressed as) a Stormtrooper? What matters is that they’re there. Inclusion is a good thing, and still far too lacking in feature films.

The other main thread of complaint I keep hearing is about the fact that J.J. Abrams is directing, co-writing, and co-producing. A lot of people are expecting this to be like his Star Trek movies. Here’s why that doesn’t follow:

On Star Trek, Paramount gave Abrams and Bad Robot free rein to recreate the franchise however they wished. They’re making it on behalf of Paramount, but the “Supreme Court” of Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have had pretty much total control over it, and Abrams is the top man. Even though he’s not directing the third film, he’s still producing it, and that means the buck stops with him. But on Star Wars, Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy is the one in charge. Abrams is hired talent working for her, for Lucasfilm. He’s only directing this one movie, while Kennedy is producing the whole series, including Episodes VIII & IX (slated to be written and directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson) and some standalone spinoffs (the first two of which are slated to be directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle‘s Josh Trank).  And he’s been hired, not to reinvent the universe his way, but to make a new installment that’s true to the existing universe, a universe that Kennedy is now in charge of maintaining and advancing. Kennedy, by the way, is the woman who’s produced most of Steven Spielberg’s films and the Back to the Future trilogy, among plenty of others. Think about that. Star Wars is now in the hands of Spielberg’s closest collaborator.

Also, Abrams made his Trek films along with the “Supreme Court” members listed above. But he’s co-written The Force Awakens along with Lawrence Kasdan, and he and Burk are producing it along with Kennedy and Kasdan. Just to be clear, that’s Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly I’m amazed I’m not hearing more chatter about that from Star Wars fans. The guy who wrote the best movie in the franchise is back. How is that not exciting?

So yes, of course, The Force Awakens is going to be an Abrams film with his voice and sensibilities, but only insofar as it meshes with Kennedy’s vision. Think of what happened to Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. He spent years developing that film, but when he couldn’t come to terms with how the Marvel Studios executives envisioned the film, he was let go. The same would’ve happened to Abrams if he’d tried to make a Star Wars film in a way that Lucasfilm and Kennedy were unhappy with. After all, this film is the foundation of a whole new series of films that Kennedy is responsible for developing and producing, and that Abrams will have no hand in beyond how he sets the stage in TFA. That tips the balance of power more toward Kennedy.

Anyway, I don’t understand the opinion some people have that Abrams’s sensibilities are inappropriate for Star Wars. His approach has always been to blend big, extravagant fantasy action with relatable, character-based drama. To me, that seems perfect for Star Wars. The problem with the prequel trilogy, with Lucas writing and directing the films himself, was that Lucas never really cared about characters. Abrams always puts characters and emotions at the center of everything, even in the midst of the big flashy action. If anything, the main problem with his series Alias was that it was too tightly focused on characters and relationships, so that all the big worldshaking spy schemes and master plans all ultimately revolved around the family lives of a few core characters to a degree that would’ve made Charles Dickens say “Okay, that’s a bit contrived.” But that’s perfect for Star Wars, a franchise where the big bad turned out to be the hero’s long-lost father and it was their family bond that ultimately saved the galaxy, and, oh, the leading lady is the hero’s sister too. SW is big, broad melodrama and has never pretended to be anything else, just as it’s never pretended to be naturalistic or scientifically plausible.

If anything, Abrams’s main shortcoming as a Star Trek director was that, while he handled the character side well enough to make the stories feel grounded, he treated the universe and its rules too fancifully. Star Trek has always at least nominally tried to be a naturalistic, plausible universe, though it’s often fallen short on the plausibility side. But Abrams has treated it more like a fantasy universe where physics works in whatever way is convenient to the plot and where starships can hop across the galaxy in seconds. In other words, he’s treated Star Trek like it was Star Wars. But now he’s doing Star Wars, and that seems like a natural fit to me.

Of course, there’s no sense in judging a movie good or bad based on its teaser trailer. But it seems to me that fandom today is dominated by voices that look for excuses to criticize and carp, and usually those excuses don’t hold up to analysis. And that’s frustrating. Fandom is supposed to be about enjoying stuff and being excited by stuff. Fandom is love, and love should be optimistic. Even when you’ve been burned by love in the past, even when you’re afraid to take a chance on love again, it’s still important to let it give you hope.

Granted, I myself only like Star Wars rather than loving it. But I love Star Trek, and that love makes me want to see the best in it, even when it disappoints me. Because forgiveness is part of love too. I wish more fans would remember that.

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