Friday, November 28, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Be Excited About Star Wars Episode VII

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge Star Wars fan. Don't get me wrong, I've seen all six films multiple times, albeit not in a few years. That being said, I don't care about it a great deal. I think Return of the Jedi is the best one, whatever that means, purely for the scenes between Luke and Darth Vader. I respect the 'Original Trilogy.' Technically, they're very impressive in terms of effects, they're well-designed, Darth Vader is a well-realised character and the twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is a classic film moment. I don't hate the Prequels. I was a little kid in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out so I still have some affection for it. I thought Darth Maul was cool and never found Jar Jar sufficiently annoying to be worth worrying about. That being said, I do think the Prequels are nothing more than mediocre action films. I definitely don't like Revenge of the Sith, which I found narratively disappointing. The only decent bit is when Yoda fights the Emperor. [Update: What was I thinking when I wrote that? Yoda vs the Emperor is one of the stupidest bits in Episode III] Grievous was stupid. Anyway, my point is I'm neither here nor there when it comes to Star Wars. I get that people like them but at the same time I think they're limited.

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm and has J.J. Abrams making a new Star Wars film a lot of people have been, I think, optimistic, because they're bringing back the original cast and because Abrams' Star Trek films show that he has a greater aptitude for space-opera action than he does for insightful sci-fi. But now the teaser is out and everyone's carrying on like it's the Second Coming. Beyond the fact that all we saw was some desert, some stormtroopers, some X-Wings and a new silly lightsaber design, all fairly calculated signifiers of what "Star Wars" is in the popular unconscious, it's ridiculous the amount of anticipation this has generated. I wish to interrogate this in the style of a hypothetical conversation with someone who is getting really hyped about this project.

Frankly, I thought it just looked like a collection of random postmodern signifiers of what people think Star Wars is: a silly hovering vehicle, the desert, a funny droid, stormtroopers, X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon. All that tells me is that the people making this are trying to cash in on people's nostalgia and expectations rather than trying to make a good film.

So because you see a bunch of digital recreations of stuff from thirty years ago, that makes you excited? Why?

True, I'm no great Star Wars fan. But I'd be curious to know how big a Star Wars fan you are as well. And if you are such a big fan, why do you care about new films made by someone else? Sure, some of the actors are the same, and George Lucas had a little involvement, but do you get this excited about fan fiction? These are sequels, they're not the same thing. They could be crap for all you know - unless of course you convince yourself that they're not crap before you even see it, which is no different to, say, writing it off as garbage before you even see it (as I'm doing). The original films were successful for their engagement with theory (especially Campbell's Monomyth) and their technical achievements. By the Prequels, that wasn't possible anymore. Bringing back Hamill, Ford and Fisher isn't going to change that.

As I've discussed elsewhere surely 'entertainment' means different things to different people. Besides, as I said in my article on the Avengers 2 teaser, there's nothing noble or admirable about wanting 'just entertainment,' about not wanting to think. These corporations want you to not think so that you'll give them more money. Hollywood is about profit, and profit is about the bottom line: what's the least we can do to make the most? And if that means tricking people into seeing a 'continuation of the beloved original films' by using a bunch of meaningless signifiers (like the original cast) then that's what they'll do. You're not a hero for wanting to shut off your brain. That's a fatuous declaration that you want greedy businesses, who, and I must emphasise this, do not know or care about you at all, to manipulate you, exploit you and treat you with utter contempt in return for a few charlatan tricks to make you think you're consuming something you aren't.

Hollywood is the McDonald's of culture. Sure, the film might be good. I doubt it very, very much, but it might be. But as I said with Avengers, these films are pieces of product, and they don't deserve your enthusiasm. Or maybe I'm just a curmudgeon with a chip on his shoulder. But I still think you ought to calm down, show a little self-respect and not give these people exactly what they want.

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