What Happened to Star Wars?
Watching the first makes you realize all the faults of the recent iterations.
American Film Institute’s Ranking: #15/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for ten winning seven.
If you had ask me half a year ago which top 100 list I would finish first, it was going to be movies by a long shot. It makes sense: a movie is only about a two hour commitment while games and books expect much more. It’s still leading the pack, but I’ve really slowed down reviewing only 2 movies in three months. Here it goes!
Everything seems wholesome while watching because it is. Overt political messaging is absent in the narrative. The story is high Hollywood fare with plots, twists, and tension There isn’t CGI to bloat the aesthetics. Then you layer on top the unique universe of Star Wars fully rounded out with the classic motifs of good vs. evil and you end up with a purely enjoyable experience.
We’ve done an injustice to ourselves by changing our buying habits. The way we purchase entertainment has reduced the chances people are willing to take. Music is a great example: no one buys albums or songs anymore. You have to hit safe homeruns while reducing diversity and risk. The most popular movies for years now have been reboots, reruns, and rehashes. Look no further than the last five Star War films.
The Empire attacks a convoy to get back the schematics that details their latest weapon of mass destruction: the Death Star. A droid containing the plans evacuates via an escape pod to the nearest planet Tatooine where it runs into Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammil), a simple farmer and mechanic on his Uncle’s farm. He helps the droid reach its owner, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) who is revealed to be a Jedi Knight, an ancient class of warriors who can use the “force.” Obi-Wan and Luke team up together to return the schematics of the Death Star to the rebellion so this new weapon can be destroyed.
Let’s review what the original does so well and where the reboots fail.
Entertainment is Now Political.
I don’t think it is mandatory that a book, movie, or song should apolitical. I wantonly meander straight into works that are purely political: one of my favorite movies is The Sea Inside, a difficult and wrenching movie about whether someone should have the right to end their life and what it means to live with a progressive disease. Milk, The Last King of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, and Malcolm X are all politically-motivated movies that I enjoy.
I think it comes down to the idea of telos, an Aristotelean ideal. Telos is purpose or aim. So, the telos of a knife is to cut, and thus we judge how good a knife is by how well it cuts. The telos of a political movie is to present a political viewpoint and challenge ideas and norms. Since the entire film is dedicated to that concept, there is plenty of space to espouse viewpoints, respond to counter arguments, and flesh out ideas.
The telos of a movie like Star Wars is closer to entertainment, story-telling, and being immersive. When it tries to get political, such as the sequence in The Last Jedi with Finn and Rose on a planet where the nefarious and wealthy 1% hold everyone else in abject poverty while mistreating animals for entertainment, it seems more like PR for Occupy Wall Street and PETA. It becomes a parody; the film doesn’t have time beyond a cursory look because it has to juggle its true telos of being entertainment.
The original trilogy does have some political messaging, and Lucas has not been shy about saying that Nixon and the Vietnam war were inspirations for his idea of the Empire. However, you have to go looking for it: at no point did Lucas think the political message was so important that he needed to write specific scenes espousing it. This happens in the current movies. Instead of focusing on narration, it gets bogged down with a political agenda.
Episode IV: A New Hope pushes the story forward even with having the burden of introducing everyone. Luke successfully comes in contact with the force. Han Solo isn’t a complete asshole. The rebellion lives to fight for another day. Obi-Wan completes his transformation into mentor. You are able to plot everyone’s trajectory and get a sense of who’s ascending or descending.
The George Lucas prequels struggle with storytelling which is odd because the story was already written — the original trilogy tells you what happens. All he had to do was flesh it out. The story is bloated with bad acting, even worse lines, and complete chaos of a narrative. Here is a segment of the classic Youtube review by Red Letter Media on Episode I: A Phantom Menace:
The sequels have the opposite problem: instead of trying to be grandiose and bold, they just rehash everything from the originals. I get that there are only seven or so plots and everything is just a redressing. I mean look at this tongue in cheek comparison between Harry Potter and Star Wars:
But, the sequels are just direct copies. The Force Awakens was Return of the Jedi all over again with a giant Death Star (now called Star Killer Base) that could only be destroyed by specific means while needing someone to take down protective shields. BB-8 holds the secret map to finding Luke Skywalker’s location which is essential to the rebels success, just like R2-D2 holding the precious schematics of the death star in A New Hope.
Reality Balanced By Special Effects.
The things that made the original trilogy more enjoyable was the use of on-site filming. It’s odd to think that a sci-fi flick of distant galaxies being more immersive when using real locations on Earth, but there is only so much CGI can do. Take the location of the Rebel’s base on Yavin:
Those are actually Mayan temples in Guatemala that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in person. Within the context of the movie, however, it does feel like this is some distant rebel base because it feels real. Compare that to anything in the prequels:
Everything is fake in the background…INCLUDING THE HALLWAYS. THEY DIDN’T EVEN USE REAL HALLWAYS. I wonder if the acting would have been better if people were actually a part of organic sets instead of having to operate inside four green-colored walls.
One of the best movies of all time.
Other People’s Takes:
- Drew’s Movies Review: “Star Wars: A New Hope is great for so many reasons. It gave cinema one of its best villains in Darth Vader, as well as its best duo in C-3PO and R2-D2.”
- Hammy Reviews: “Each character develops naturally, fulfilling a specific purpose in relation to the plot. Simply put, it is a classic film.”
- The Corvid Review: “1977: The year the first Star Wars film came out. No cinema audience had seen anything like it, and it’s all thanks to the man that made it happen: George Lucas.”