Continuing on for Part 2 of this article are my closing arguments for no more Star Wars films. The first point elaborates on where I left off on Part 1 but goes more into a specific nature regarding the perceived scope of this franchise. So let’s start with this…
6. Star Wars Is Structurally Limited
Think about those words: STAR WARS. Even the title comes with certain expectations. We’re basically talking about a conflict among the stars, aren’t we? This carries a lot of baggage. It also immediately limits the stories you can tell. It wouldn’t be Star Wars without a war in outer space or a war of some sort.
Now think about these words: STAR TREK. I’m not trying to pit these two against each other but a trek among the stars means exploration. Going from one planet to the next. Maybe on some of those planets you run into armed conflict but if you don’t want that element in the story then it doesn’t have to be there. Trek means you have a lot of narrative room. That’s probably why there are 6 shows and 12 movies. It’s a wide open concept.
Now try and imagine this in a Star Wars movie. Imagine a ship of Jedi just exploring the galaxy and meeting new races where sometimes they just talk or learn something new about an alien culture. I’m pretty sure people would be asking themselves when those Jedi are going to whip out there lightsabers. It’s a given in this universe. It doesn’t matter how many movies Disney ends up making or what part of the timeline they take place in, the expectation is that it’s always going to come to blows at some point. This goes back to my earlier point and gives credence to the idea that Star Wars was designed to tell a SPECIFIC story about two generations of Skywalkers dealing with a galaxy wide conflict.
It’s interesting to me that the Star Wars concept can easily be folded into the Star Trek premise (as Deep Space Nine proved) but if you try to do the opposite, Star Wars would lose it’s identity. Again, not saying one is better than the other but by comparing the two, it’s pretty obvious that Star Wars is a very specific idea created for a singular purpose.
Star Trek and a lot of other science fiction films, television shows and books just seem to be more malleable. Star Wars is in a narrative straight jacket but not just structurally which brings me to the next point…
7. Star Wars Imagery Will Always Be Derivative
The first thing that struck me about both of The Force Awakens trailers was the lack of original imagery. Every vehicle, landscape and costume is just a variation on what has come before. Now compare this to The Empire Strikes Back and Phantom Menace trailers. The Empire trailer really blew me away the first time I saw it. The only thing I recognized from the first movie, were the actors. A snow planet, giant metal dinosaurs, a city in the clouds…all new. And even though the movie itself would disappoint, the visuals in The Phantom Menace trailer (Darth Maul, double bladed lightsaber, Naboo, pod racing) were mostly made up of new things.
I know most of you loved that shot of the Star Destroyer buried in the sand but consider this. What if it was an Imperial vessel you never saw before? The same design aesthetic but a previously unseen ship that existed at the same time as the original trilogy that our heroes simply never came across. Wouldn’t that have been even more exciting?
But I’m not even sure this kind of thing is even possible anymore. Since 1991, we’ve had 24 years of non-stop Star Wars merchandise and most of it in a visual form. Comic books, novels, video games and animated shows have relentlessly mined every variation of the Star Wars design. It took the guidance of Lucas himself to find new concepts that felt fresh but still connected to those original designs. But before that and after, it seems very hard for anyone to practice this. There’s just too much design baggage at this point. Even that crashed Star Destroyer I could have sworn I’ve seen before in a Dark Empire comic back in the day. The Chrome Trooper to me also feels like an obvious choice. Don’t even get me started on the Crossgaurd Lightsaber. Just because Lucas gave Maul a lightsaber variation doesn’t mean every new trilogy has to have a tricked out version of the weapon. It smacks of trying too hard.
That’s the real quandary here. I don’t blame JJ for this. I think any filmmaker tackling this Universe is going to face the same problem. Every design will either be derivative, obvious or smack of different for the sake of being different. But none of this would be an issue if not for my last point…
8. It’s All About The Money
Say what you want but I prefer to see films made for artistic reasons rather than monetary ones. Before you say “It’s not called Show Art. It’s called Show Business”, I’ll remind you it’s not called Business Profit either. I’m not naïve enough to think any film wasn’t made without the investors hoping to make a profit but these two elements need to be in balance. And yes, the artistic element should lead the cart.
Don’t think it’s possible? Then I point you to the films of the 30’s, especially MGM films. That studio turned out more moneymakers than anyone else at the time. Louis B Mayer and Irving Thalberg knew how to make a profit yet the Latin words that appear on the MGM logo over Leo the Lion translate as “Art For Arts’ Sake”. That studio represented the phrase “Show Business” perfectly. Thalberg was the show and Mayer was the business. It was a formula that worked amazingly well and lead to MGM being even more successful than Disney is today. It fell apart as soon as the artistic element of that formula was lost when Irving Thalberg died of a weak heart at the age of 37.
That was long ago though and we know live with a studio system that ONLY looks at money. Story and originality be damned. Ain’t nobody got time for that. That’s great for short-term profits and big opening weekends but then there’s that huge drop off the next week after word’s spread about how bland that big tent pole film is. Transformers 4 and Star Trek Into Darkness were two recent examples of this cynical trend. Yet, when the artistic and monetary concerns are balanced evenly; we get Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight. It may be harder to do but starting with a true desire to tell a story can result in a hell of a lot more of the profit these studios laud as all important.
That’s the problem with Star Wars now. No longer are these films being made with a burning desire to tell a tale but only for that profit margin. In short, Transformers money. From the beginning that’s what these new films have been about.
Apparently (and I think this is true), Lucas started to develop the Sequel Trilogy before the sale to Disney but why? He had already concluded this story as I’ve already detailed. So why force a continuation? For the same reason Disney is. There’s more profit to be squeezed out of this idea. Lucas may have been a starving artist in 1975 when he first started to write The Star Wars but those days have long been over. He runs a company now and in case you haven’t noticed he stopped being an artist 32 years ago and became a businessman. He has a huge company to run and companies run on profit. What makes better profit than another round of Star Wars? Someone more cynical would even claim that he already planned on selling this property off and quickly outlined a new trilogy to increase sales potential.
So, forget everything I’ve pointed out above. There’s money to be made here. Lucas got his 4 billion and Disney will start making that back and then some starting in December 2015. If anyone doubts Disney’s true intentions then I point you to there over saturation plans for this property. I can almost picture dollar signs rolling over a Disney Execs’ eyeballs as he says the words “At least one Star Wars film every year”.
This is a problem that goes far beyond movies in today’s world. Nothing wrong with profit but when it’s to the exclusion of all else, it creates a situation where the voice of the people is ignored and innovation is stifled. Endless sequels, comic book movies and remakes is how this economic tyranny expresses itself in entertainment but I could easily point out a lot of the same flaws if we were talking about politics, religion or scientific research. New ideas are simply now unprofitable. The old guard in every industry has put all it’s chips on old ideas that require the least amount of effort on there part whether it be oil over alternative forms of energy or 40 year old franchises instead of original, new stories. And just like oil, constantly regurgitated movie ideas that are almost a half-century old are an unsustainable resource. Sooner or later you’re going to run out of established properties to exploit.
I’ve always been stimulated by new ideas, new stories which is why when Hollywood started turning it’s back on originality; I started looking for a way to feed my high concept fix. I did and now my bookshelf is filled with science fiction novels that are way more interesting to me now than most of what Hollywood calls science fiction. If Hollywood started a franchise based on Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space novels, I’m pretty sure they would blow people away.
It’s certainly worked in television. After Return of the King, none of the Harry Potter or Narnia movies grabbed my interest. On screen, they felt like retreads of Jackson’s films and were too tame for my taste. That’s when someone introduced me to a series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire. They blew me away and had all of the story innovation I was looking for. Over a decade later, the majority of the public had the same reaction I did reading it when HBO aired A Game of Thrones.
There’s no reason why the big screen can’t do the same. In the end, my not wanting anymore Star Wars films (or Star Trek for that matter) isn’t about rejection but a desire for something new, realizing that these properties were beautiful for there time and gave me a lot of joy but that was because they were so fresh and innovative for the time they were created in. The time we live in now should be able to create new visions of fantastic worlds and beloved characters that belong to NOW. I sometimes have to smile when someone in a chat room meets my criticism with the accusation that I’m just too old and like to complain about what everyone else is excited about right now. I just think to myself “Yeah but you’re the one defending a 40 year old property so who’s really living in the past here”? In the end, I guess what I’m trying to say is Star Wars was amazing to experience in the summer of 1977 but it hasn’t been 1977 for a very long time.
Please let me know in the comments below what you agree with and don’t about my general thesis. Again, I’m not trying to derail anyone’s enthusiasm for Star Wars but simply trying to preserve it. Keep that in mind.