For 38 years, George Lucas’s Star Wars has proved itself a bonafide pop culture phenomenon. Ten years has passed since the prequel trilogy wrapped up with Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and audiences around the world are shouting “shut up and take my money” as they wait to find out what happened to the characters from the original “Holy Trilogy” 30 years on from the events of of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. As the seventh film in the Star Wars cinematic universe, The Force Awakens will no doubt make a bucket load of money, with rave reviews (the film is currently ranked 81/100 from Metacric) and strong fan nostalgia leading the charge. Yet as a film, is it actually worthy of your time?
It’s clear that we’re living in the age of the blockbuster, with companies like Marvel and DC grinding out franchises and integrating them into their cinematic universe like no tomorrow. Sony Pictures is so timorous of the rights to “your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” reverting back to Marvel, in just 15 years three different actors across three different trilogies will have played the web-slinger. 20th Century Fox is clinging onto the rights to the X-Men franchise to the point of including a clause which prevents the word “mutant” unable to be uttered in any Marvel film.
If cinematic greats of the 70’s like John Cassavetes, Hal Ashby, and Bob Fosse were alive today, all would struggle to get films made. Heavyweight of the era Francis Ford Coppola, responsible for The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979), made the following comment at the Marrakech International Film Festival: “You try to go to a producer today and say you want to make a film that hasn’t been made before; they will throw you out because they want the same film that works, that makes money. That tells me that although the cinema in the next 100 years is going to change a lot, it will slow down because they don’t want you to risk anymore.”
And he’s right. When Gus Van Sant released his shot-for-shot-remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho in 1998, it was both commercially and critically reviled for the sheer pointlessness of it all. Yet here we are, with dozens of reboots, remakes and even what director Tim Burton cited as a “reimagination” with his 2001 dud Planet Of The Apes.
In fact since 2001, critical thinking in film appears to have gone the way of the dodo.
The Fast and Furious franchise has generated huge dollars. This year its latest instalment Furious 7 became the first film to make over $1 billion in only 17 days worldwide (until just six weeks later Jurassic World began breaking box office records) making it the highest grossing movie in Universal Studios history and green-lit Furious 8 for a 2017 release.
Torture porn franchise Saw (2004-2010) somehow managed to pump out seven films; despite being based on a toy line, four Transformers (2007-2014) films grossed just under $4 billion globally (a fifth film is expected to hit theatres in 2017); and while proving that even the dumbest idea can put bums on seats, Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean (2003-2017) franchise pulled in over $3.7 billion across four films based on a theme park ride that opened in 1967, with a fifth instalment due for release in 2017.
Literary source material Harry Potter generated almost $8 billion across eight films giving it the coveted position of being the second highest grossing film series of all time (since the release of 2008’s Iron Man Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has grossed more than $8.69 billion worldwide placing it firmly on top). Of course while Harry Potter’s story has ended, Warner Bros, still have the rights to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which will grant the film series another shot of box office income. The Hunger Games (2012-2015) has brought in $2.8+ billion over four films, and let’s not go into how much money was wasted on the Twilight Saga.
Which brings me back to The Force Awakens and its ready made audience. Whether it’s the chance to rid themselves of the memories of the truly awful prequel trilogy, be reunited with beloved characters, or engage with their kids by introducing them to this galaxy far faraway, Star Wars is license to print money.
Despite more inspired casting than George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, J.J. Abrams (having already violated the Star Trek franchise with his reboots) proceeds to make one of the laziest films I’ve ever seen. The by the numbers tick-a-box checklist that’s on display here is exactly why the art of cinema is doomed for future generations. There is not one original thought for the duration of the film, *Spoiler* (the MacGuffin has not evolved past the 1977 model).
As someone who loves cinema, I refuse to let nostalgia blind me to having just viewed total crap. 1988’s sci-fi buddy cop flick Alien Nation saw its primary characters driving past a cinema playing Rambo 6 (thankfully we’ve been saved this fate, although with Sly threatening Rambo 5 still – it could happen).
Event cinema is here to stay, though long gone are the days of master film-makers like David Lean. Unfortunately much of the cinema going public doesn’t seem to mind one bit, meaning wholly original films by directors such as David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, John Waters, Alexander Payne and Todd Solondz could soon become a thing of the past. With independent cinema already facing its death knell, more than ever is it important for audiences to be discerning.
Don’t let your own love of nostalgia betray your better judgment, don’t be fooled by the gloss or the hype. You really don’t need any more Star Wars in your life, no matter how much Disney tries to convince you. There’s nothing new to see here.