There’s been a lot said about the new Star Wars movie. (Sidenote: Star Wars: TFA originally stood for Totally Fargoing Awesome) And, by the way, it’s been out in the ecosystem chomping down lesser films and records and pooping out money for almost three weeks, so, here’s your SPOILER ALERT: Go see the movie. There are spoilers below. Not big ones. But they exist. Seriously. See the movie.
I will happily place myself in the “loved it” category along with the millions of people out there who don’t have sticks up their butts about movies. Hell, I often have sticks (plural) up my butts (plural) about movies, and I still loved the movie. But, man oh man, the criticisms keep coming. And then the whiners. And then the haters. Even George Lucas has said he felt like he sold the film to “white slavers,” in a WTF moment that seriously just makes me want to sit down and wonder when the man was visited with an involuntary lobotomy. (The comment, of course, indicates that he does not approve of the new direction of SW7, which is fine, except that the mouth speaking the words is the mouth that gave us Jar-Jar, and … yep, sitting down.)
And look, critique is okay. It’s fine. Opinions are like funny uncles and all that. You’re entitled to dislike the movie! Rey’s too capable, too quickly. Poe isn’t featured enough. Starkiller Base is lame. Kylo Ren is too whiny. All this is fine, and maybe valid.
So much of the critique, however, takes on a different flavor than simple pro/con. Many critiques look far beyond what the film is and venture into the murky waters and unexplored jungles of what it could or should be. The plot is too derivative; it should have been more original. Star Wars has already shown us this father/son conflict, it needs to show us some totally new conflict instead. SW7 feels like a remake; we were expecting a sequel.
To any and all critiques in this vein, I say BOLLOCKS.
All thoughts in this vein share something in common: that is, they bring to bear the viewer’s expectations for the thing, and not just the thing itself. They presuppose that Star Wars, as a film franchise, as a part of their childhood experience, as a story in any shape whatsoever, OWES them something.
But Star Wars owes us nothing. It does not belong to us.
Sure, our experience with it belongs to us. My eight-year-old self, having just seen Empire, wanting an AT-AT walker of his very own to stomp across the neighborhood in was all well and good for me, but it doesn’t mean that George Lucas couldn’t, in Episode VI, drop an AT-AT into the middle of the forest for no goldfingered logical reason at all, just because he felt like doing so. (Seriously. How does that thing deal with trees at all? it corners slower than the Titanic.)
The creators of story are in no way beholden to their readers. We like to think they are, because stories matter to us. Stories which affected us, and especially stories which have aged with us, matter to us all the more. And sure, on some level, there’s a trust established between creator and audience; certain things are off-limits, whether due to constraints of the universe of the story, or out of fear of losing the audience. (We can all, after all, simply stop buying books and going to see Star Wars films.)
In short, the owners of Star Wars (and that’s now Disney, for better or for worse — though I’ll argue, especially with the prequels fading into distant memory, that it’s for the better) are free to do with it what they want.
Now, Disney wants to make money. It plans to achieve that goal through making media that draws people in, media that we want to consume over and over again and own tiny little pieces of. Well, just look at their box-office earnings: MISSION BLOODY ACCOMPLISHED.
But look a little deeper. Disney wasn’t in this just to make a film (or films — there will be two more, you know) to scratch the itch that fans have been picking at for thirty years. Why make a film just for the over-thirty crowd? They wanted to hook new viewers, too, while also keeping those older fans on the hook for a new series. Does it rehash old ideas, familiar tropes, well-visited themes of the original trilogy? No doubt. But it does so in a way that I found fresh and compelling, and that (and here I really apologize to any die-hard fan of the original trilogy) makes for a better film than ANY of the originals.
Seriously. Show any teenager Episode IV, and then show them Episode VII. We don’t even have to talk about which one they would enjoy more. Now, I’m not saying that a teenager is the best judge of a film’s quality (though, if you want to make money, teenagers are the ones to target). But a teenager is able to do something you and I can’t do: namely, view the original film(s) without the rose-colored rearview mirror of nostalgia.
I challenge you: go back and watch Episode IV, having recently seen Episode VII. (I did this when I posted about the similarities between the two films.) Cut the predecessor some slack for technology available at the time (notwithstanding the edits made in the 90s), and then — and this is the hard part! — strip out as much of your nostalgia as you can. What you’re left with is a very pretty action film about a whiny kid who goes on a space adventure. It starts off pretty good, but then the pacing drops out and doesn’t really get going again for about thirty or forty minutes. Then it’s fargoing excellent again until the ending, which features a repetitive and entirely-too-protracted battle in space and an abrupt-as-hell ending. On the other hand, you have Episode VII, which features two protagonists, both of whom have compelling backstories right from the gun (and they’re not white dudes, bonus for that), flung into a story which is paced like a chipmunk that’s been greased up and lit on fire. Sure, there’s a lame samey bit with a planet-sized space base that can blow up other planets. And maybe the last shot with Luke leaves a funny taste in your mouth. But there are multiple simultaneous plotlines. There’s a better, more deliberate sense of mystery. Even the villain is more relateable, whether you find him overly whiny or not — he shows weakness, he shows vulnerability, he has depth (and yeah, sure Vader has depth, but not in Episode IV).
I’ll argue that if you complete that exercise faithfully, you’ll find that SW7 is a better all-around movie than the original.
In my mind, the folks arguing about what SW7 should’ve or could’ve been are not so different from the blowhards railing against gay marriage (even after the book has been closed on it). You’ve got this nebulous thing which means something to you and which you probably feel strongly about, but the true meaning of which is flexing and adapting to fit the world we actually live in. The tide is inevitable. Star Wars owes you nothing, just as the institution of marriage owes you nothing. These things are just changing to stay viable for the times we live in. You can either go along for the ride or get trampled by the literal hordes of people getting on the ride without you.
Personally, I’m on board with the new Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us … even if we’ve been there before.