Cue the Imperial March

Will the new Star Wars suck?

The Force Awakens has already broken records. When tickets sales began online, the sheer volume of transaction crashed the ticket sites for the largest three movie theater chains in the US. “Real” fans are contemplating flying to France to see the film two full days before it is released in the US. For those of us that are nowhere near that committed, we’ll have to settle with seeing on whatever day and in whatever theaters aren’t already sold out.

With that said, the real question that is on everyone’s mind is, will this movie suck? How much will it suck? Will it suck as bad as the prequels?

About the prequels…

Let’s address the elephant in the room. I think the prequels were generally bad. The original trilogy produced two of the top 20 movies of all time (and another in the top 100) and left the saga in good health. The original trilogy practically rewrote the book on modern film making and their influence can not even remotely be calculated.

The prequels destroyed all the vibrancy of the originals. I think Revenge of the Sith did a reasonably good job of tying everything back to the original trilogy and is the most defensible movie out of the bunch. However, that’s not saying much when this is the best acting that Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones produced:

The prequels have now been cannon fodder for Star Wars nerds everywhere for the last ten years. Some nerds have produced feature-length commentaries disparaging them in their entirety, some have valiantly attempted to re-write them to flow better with the tone and feel of the original trilogy, and some have compared their experience watching them to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War:

Nerds need to calm down

Enough has been written about the prequels, so I won’t go into too much depth about them. Here is what I consider to be their biggest flaws:

  1. Heavy reliance on special effects
  2. Lack of accountability over the director and his decision-making
  3. Over-emphasis on commercialization, aka, the Jar Jar Conundrum

Why The Force Awakens won’t suck

J.J. Abrams, the Master of Lens Flare

We all know that J.J. Abrams direction of the rebooted Star Trek franchise was simply a tryout for the Star Wars movie, and Disney has decided to give him the keys to the kingdom. I support this choice. I am thankful that George Lucas knew, at least this time around, that he should allow some new talent to take the reigns. Abrams has had success in both directing and producing movies that have a large, demanding fan base. Making a Star Trek film that appeals to both nerds and a mainstream audience is hard to do, yet Abrams pulled it off brilliantly!

Tasteful combination of practical and special effects

Based on footage from production, as well as some of the clips used in the trailer, I’m fairly confident in The Force Awakens (limited) use of special effects. One of the major problems with special-effect-driven films is that instead of creating moments where we learn about and develop interest in a character, we instead are assaulted with crazy visuals and lightspeed cuts.

While special effects are cool, for a movie to be good the audience must care what happens to a character. It’s hard for me to care about a bunch of possibly racist water rabbits fighting inept vacuum cleaners.

The prequels lost sight of something. In the original trilogy, character development was never sacrificed in order to throw more crap on the screen or sell more children’s toys. Looking at you, Jar Jar.

The original trilogy was gritty. George Lucas was still a young, hungry (pun intended) filmmaker that was held accountable by the creative people around him. In the prequels, everything became sterile and boring because of the over reliance on special effects.

“It’s so dense… every single image has so many things going on.” — Producer Rick McCallum on the special effects in The Phantom Menace

Every thing I have read about The Force Awakens suggests a healthy use of practical effects, which I believe will result in a more compelling movie with characters that we will care about. A return to more traditional film making is always a good sign in my book.

Why it could suck

Inclusion of old characters and, by extension, old ideas

With Han, Leia, and Luke (?) all slated to make appearances, this is undoubtedly the thing that I am most concerned about. The Star Wars saga is in need of new ideas, and the inclusion of these characters suggests a continuation of a formula that didn’t work in the prequels: inserting familiar characters in lieu of developing new ones. I’m reminded of a quote that Lucas said in some of the behind-the-scenes footage from the prequel trilogy:

“You see the echo of where it’s all gonna go… It’s like poetry, sort of. They rhyme.”

The prequels frequently recycled characters, events, and even entire scenes and sequences. That’s just lazy storytelling. At the end of the day, the prequels were a cash grab. Don’t get me wrong, money is the reason that Star Wars is being resurrected, but I firmly believe that it is possible to continue a franchise without ripping out its soul.

With the inclusion of the aforementioned characters, I worry that Disney/Lucas/Abrams will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes that the prequels made.

Unrealistic expectations

The last two movies I saw at midnight were Quantum of Solace and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Needless to say, with that kind of track record, I swore off midnight premieres. Both were sequels to movies that I really enjoyed, and neither lived up to the greatness of the original. I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty of buying into the hype, of expecting too much. And I fear that there are hordes of Star Wars fans, as there were for the prequels, that have set their sights too high.

There’s a lot at stake with this movie. It needs to set the tone for two subsequent sequels. It needs to re-introduce a universe that hasn’t been seen on the big screen in over a decade. I hope that the prequels have brought everybody’s expectations down to a healthy level, but I still think that expectations are precariously high.

Parting thoughts

At this point, I would say that I’m the quintessential disenfranchised fan. The sting of recent letdowns still burns sharply at the forefront of my mind. Yet I am strangely optimistic about the future, perhaps undeservedly so. Maybe new talent and a fresh start is all this franchise needs. Let’s just hope that Jar Jar Binks doesn’t make a guest appearance.