Tuesday, April 29, 2014

5 hopes I have for Star Wars: Episode VII

"We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."
This seems like an appropriate time to address it, I suppose, now that the cast has been announced. If you sense a certain... reluctance to my tone, it's because the new Star Wars movie is one of those stories that's unavoidable, something everyone will be talking about no matter who you are or what your tastes in movies are. It will be analyzed and over-analyzed long before it's released and everyone will be expected to have an opinion on it, so I might as well weigh in now. Why not? I want pageviews and hits as much as the next blogger.

I like Star Wars... or perhaps it's more appropriate to say that I like the idea of Star Wars: an outer space epic that embodies many of the tropes of sci-fi that we've come to know and love. In execution, however, even the diehardiest of diehard fans will admit that Star Wars has been less than perfect, to say the very least. 

By all means, give George Lucas credit for contributing to the revival of science fiction as a legitimate movie genre - not to mention an immensely profitable one for the studios. But I've always found it amusing how much Fandom Assembled has been willing to bend over backwards to excuse the more egregious flaws, nitpicks and outright sloppy storytelling directly attributable to Lucas throughout those six little movies (and yes, I know Trek is not exactly without its share of embarrassing storytelling moments, either). 

Now, though, we don't have Lucas to kick around anymore: the franchise has been taken out of his hands, and as a result, expectations are higher than ever. Of course, I want to see a great new series of Star Wars films. Who doesn't? But the fact is that the franchise has a great deal of baggage to overcome, especially given how much the sci-fi genre has evolved across all media in the decades since A New Hope came on the scene in 1977. The following is by no means a complete list of what I hope to see from Disney and JJ Abrams, but for me, they're the most important:

1. Greater racial diversityAttack the Block star John Boyega, as well as Inside Llewyn Davis' Oscar Isaac (apparently he's Latino; I didn't know that). Good start. An encouraging start. What kind of roles will they have? We'll have to wait and see, but they're clearly considered important cast members.

2. Greater gender diversity. On the other hand... it looks like there's only one female among the new cast, named Daisy Ridley. Never heard of her. Still, would it have killed Abrams to have included a few more women characters? (At one point Lupita Nyong'o was considered for a role.) In recent years, The Hunger Games and Frozen have conclusively proved that chicks in genre flicks doing stuff can make lotsa money too, if done right. Having a single new female role kinda smells like tokenism, even if her role turns out to be spectacular. Again, we'll have to wait and see whether or not there are more women.

UPDATE 4.30.14: Sure, enough, Abrams says they're not done casting.

3. If Luke, Han and Leia must be in Episode VII, let their roles be smaller. I might have taken this as a given - of course, they would want a transitional period between the old and new casts - but word on the street is that Harrison Ford's role as Han is big. This might be the biggest problem I have with the new movie. It's okay to recast Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew, but not the Big Three of Star Wars? Assuming it's them that the fans want most, Episode VII could've easily picked up from where Jedi left off without having such a huge time gap - and the characters would still be relatively young. I'm genuinely surprised Abrams didn't go in this direction. Still, my hope is that Episode VII will be a "passing of the baton" kind of movie that'll clear the way for the new cast in future films. We've already seen Abrams using "older generation" characters as a deus ex machina; we don't need to see that sort of crap again.

4. A bit of examination of the human condition. Abrams' first Trek movie was said to be more like Star Wars; well, why can't Episode VII have a touch of Trek to it? Revenge of the Sith probably came closest to examining the kind of moral dilemmas that made Trek famous, albeit in a heavy-handed and unsubtle way, and of course, Into Darkness tried to do the same, with similarly mediocre results, which is why I'm not holding out a lot of hope for this one. Still, there's no reason why space opera can't be mixed with some genuine gravitas.

5. More personal stakes and less saving-the-galaxy-type bollocks. In this superb article by HitFix's Drew McWeeny, he talks about how modern audiences have gotten used to computer-generated special effects to the point where nothing less than perfection will do. He also stresses, however, the need for filmmakers to expand their imagination beyond an over-reliance on end-of-the-world stakes, and while that's important for all Hollywood genre movies, I'd especially like to see it applied to Star Wars as well - at least for Episode VII. In an era in which many genre movies rely on such stakes to wring out faux-emotional moments, Star Wars needs to be different - in fact, I'd argue that Star Wars must be different, because it's no longer the trend-setter... and hasn't been for a long time. And while I have my doubts that Abrams is the one who can bring this to fruition, I'll be there on December 18, 2015, like the rest of the world, to find out one way or another.


Return of the Jedi
Does Lucas have the right to alter Star Wars?
The Disney/Lucas deal from a Trekkie's POV
5 times Trek and Wars have crossed paths

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