Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Force Awakens

I've seen two trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A few meandering thoughts:

i) I saw Star Wars in 1977, when I was 17. That's a nostalgic time of life. That's the right age to see it.

Lucas is not a storyteller. He had one story in him, and he said it all in the first installment. Even then, he was stretching the material. 

At the time, I was aware of the fact that it had a very thin story. But it worked on its own level. A very enjoyable film of its kind, despite the painfully corny attempts at humor. 

ii) The Empire Strikes Back was a great film of its kind. Had a truly epic feel. It was so good because Lucas delegated the story to gifted screenwriters.

Mind you, it still has its limitations. Yoda is the cliche Tibetan monk who mentors a young protege in Kung Fu wisdom. 

But it was easily the best film of the franchise. 

iii) Return of the Jedi was filler to pad out the trilogy. Like a string of outtakes.

The prequels were hopeless because Lucas reprised the role of screenwriter. He's not a storyteller. He misses on nearly all counts: plot, dialogue, characterization, ideas.  

The only thing he's good at is setting. He has a very creative imagination for exotic settings. But he has nothing to put in his settings.

It would be nice to see that visual talent devoted to good material, like Dante's Inferno, The Martian Chronicles, or some Cordwainer-Smith stories. 

It would also work for Lewis's The Space Trilogy, although nudity in Perelandra would be distracting and unavoidable. 

iv) Except for the first two original Star Wars movies, it wouldn't be hard for Abrams to top Lucas. However, the rebooted series has a mostly British cast. That will give it a very different vibe than the original.

Of course, the first had Alex Guinness and Peter Cushing. But they had a different type of role. Guinness was the éminence grise while Cushing as the classy villain. 

But the action roles, representing youthful idealism and youthful exuberance, were played by Americans. Recasting those roles with Brits changes it. It ceases to be a space Western that exemplifies the American mythos. 

I've read that due to the rapidly expanding Chinese market for films, American films are increasingly cast with international actors. Mind you, during the "golden age" of Hollywood, many American films had British or European actors. So that's nothing new. 

v) There's been some discussion about a black actor in the lead. That depends on whether he's a token minority or an actor with real charisma. We will have to wait and see. 

To judge by the trailers, the lead actress is an ingenue fashion model miscast as a superheroine. There are actresses who can be quite convincing as tough female characters. But nowadays we're usually treated to a girlish token female in a traditional male action role. It's annoying. 

In fairness, it's not as if Mark Hamill was Laurence Olivier. He was passable. Had a youthful gee-whiz quality that made him adequate for the role. But he never had the starpower to parlay his newfound fame into a career. Likewise, Carrie Fisher was another mediocrity.

There are films that carry the actor and actors that carry the film. Clearly, Hamill was in the former category. 

Harrison Ford was the only young actor with the chops to have a successful career in film, although that basically stalled after The Fugitive

Of the original cast, Guinness is irreplaceable, although he had a fairly brief role in the pilot film, and was marginalized in this two sequels. I'm sorry he died so soon in the first film.


  1. People hail George Lucas as if he's some sort of great, visionary filmmaker. I think you nailed it here, he's more like a one-hit wonder who continually tweaks and re-adjusts the beat and tempo of his song.

    Just remixes of remixes. But he's savvy and smart enough to milk his cash cow for all it's worth.

  2. "But it was easily the best film of the franchise."

    Nailed it!

    Oh, yeah, the supporting thoughts were good too... ;)

    I was 6 back in '77 when I saw Episode IV in the theaters with my parents - first real movie I ever went to. And, being 6, I was instantly hooked. The whole series has a special place in my heart, and I'd rank them like this:

    1) Empire Strikes Back
    2) A New Hope
    3) Revenge of the Sith
    4) Return of the Jedi
    5) Attack of the Clones

    Hmmm...I must be forgetting one, I could have sworn there were 6 movies... :)

    1. That list looks about right; Sith is easily the best of the prequels, but given it covers the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader and has the legendary battle on the volcanic planet (much discussed for years before realized on film) it would be hard to mess up, not that Lucas couldn't have if he'd put his mind to it. I give him credit for creating some really classy villains, though, and casting them well. Count Dooku may be a stupid name, but Christopher Lee made that role. And Ian McDiarmid made a great chancellor/emperor.

      Had it been up to me, I would have dispensed with much of the nonsense that stands in for plot in Phantom Menace, especially introducing Anakin as a child. The great tragedies have always been about heroes with fatal flaws, not innocent kids or whiny adolescents. And skip the silly midichlorians--what did that concept really add to the story, anyway? Lucas was far better off keeping the mysticism of the original trilogy and not trying to come up a biological explanation for it.

    2. My problem with Lee in Star Wars is that he was pretty elderly by then to play a swordsman. As I watch him I can't help thinking to myself, isn't he 80 or so?

    3. Some directors cast classy British actors in mediocre roles to mask the mediocrity of the role.

    4. 1. I'm not sure how good of a villain Count Dooku was. He didn't have much of a character arc for starters.

      Dooku was supposed to have been a faithful Jedi for most of his life. Indeed, a Jedi Master. An old school Jedi Master such as in his sense of honor, in how he carried himself, etc.

      However, he fell after the events of the Battle of Galidraan. Yet I don't recall this mentioned in his backstory in the prequels, though maybe I missed it.

      He had some backstory and moments contributing to the narrative in Attack of the Clones. But he was quickly dispatched at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith. Just when things had gotten really interesting with him.

      I think Lucas could've made Count Dooku into a much more tragic figure than is evidenced in the movies. So perhaps we could say Count Dooku was an intriguing villain, but in the end it seems to me Lucas promised more than he delivered. (Same with General Grievious.)

      2. I think the emperor actually detracted from Darth Vader as a villain. It made Vader less intimidating. It neutered Vader to some degree. But maybe that was unavoidable given Lucas' tale.

  3. "He misses on nearly all counts: plot, dialogue, characterization, ideas. "

    For the most part, yes and he bungled the most important part and point of the PT in the first place - the fall of Anakin, but I still say the PT does have some solid ideas. The slow and sustained machinations of Palpatine to orchestrate his rise of power and the associated fall of the Republic/Jedi by playing both sides of a conflict he engineered was interesting but gets overlooked with a lot of people complaining about the "boring" politics. Sure, a better screenwriter could've made those scenes more engaging and not so talky but the idea was interesting. He was also smart in only showing the start and end of the Clone Wars, leaving it to the TV series and authors to explore facets and effects of the conflict far more in-depth than a single movie could.

    Also I give Lucas credit for making the Jedi relatively few in number and only peacekeepers - I think everyone thought leading up to the prequels Jedi would be everywhere and awesomely strong - it was a bold move to make their role pretty low-key even in their hey-day and have the Sith rule of only 2.

    " The only thing he's good at is setting. He has a very creative imagination for exotic settings. But he has nothing to put in his settings."

    True - he excels at world building which SW is an exemplar of in scifi but I wouldn't limit it to just setting - he did have to sign off on pretty much everything the designers proposed (creature designs, vehicles, costumes, etc) as you can see in documentaries and art of star wars books. And Ralph McQuarrie should get much of the credit as well for the OT settings and visuals (whose concept art was still referred to during PT production - such as for Coruscant - as well as in Abrams production) - as Lucas said upon his death "His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'do it like this'."

  4. Ian McDiarmid was great as Palpatine / Emperor - especially in Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith.
    He should have gotten some kind of academy award.

    Jedi was a good film, even with the E-woks.

    The prequels were not THAT bad - except Jar Jar and Christiansen Hayden acting was bad sometimes. But sometimes he did pretty good when he got angry.

    Liam Neeson was great, IMO.

    Revenge of the Sith was excellent and enthralling. (IMO)