So Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars universe is complete, with the first of the next trilogy due for release in 2015. We’re told that movies will follow every 2 to 3 years, stretching into the distance like the iconic exposition crawl at the start of each film so far.
What are we to make of all this? Like all of the best opinionated schizophrenics, RBT has two voices to put forward a case for those for, and against, this fundamental shift of power. It’s time to pick a side, which will you choose?
THE DEFENCE (Why this is a good thing):
I love Star Wars. I was raised on it. I don’t recall seeing A New Hope in the cinema at the age of two, but have heard the tales recounted by my parents of how I sat open-mouthed at the spectacle for the entire duration without making a peep. Much like everyone else at the time.
For a reminder of the magic, Exhibit A (the original trailer from 1977):
But hang on a minute – I need to qualify this statement a little. I loved growing up with Star Wars, and it was such a fundamental part of my youth that I recognise the propensity to overstate the franchise’s greatness through nostalgia. So, let me make this clear. I love the original Star Wars Trilogy, which contains 2 truly great films (New Hope & Empire), and 1 good film (Jedi). I cannot imagine how many times I have watched them in my life, and can quote scenes over and over again, with unhealthy levels of detail. The imagination behind them, and scale of universe around them is staggering. But I do recognise that they are essentially big screen popcorn fodder, with corny scripts and some occasionally dodgy acting.
But in 1999, when The Phantom Menace was released, everything started to go wrong. George Lucas, was beginning to resemble a human version of Jabba, and his ego had become just as swollen – and fans of the original trilogy should have seen the warning signs when he began insisting on retaining pretty much exclusive control of the new trilogy as Director, Writer, Producer, Costume Designer (he personally designed Natalie Portman’s bust enhancing dresses inAttack of the Clones?!).
Lucas wisely gave away Directing responsibility on Empire and Jedi, citing the stress of directing the first movie. The on-set tales of his clashes with Irvin Kershner, who picked up the reigns for Empire Strikes Back are well known, but Kershner held out, and his vision remains by far the strongest, not to mention darkest of the 6 films so far – and is the most successful in introducing some of the more epic elements into the mix too. Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi) is rumoured not to have been so lucky. By this time, Lucas was all over the production like a rash, always on set, and dictating what should and shouldn’t happen in every shot. Marquand had a subsequent nervous breakdown as a result. (I still love to dwell on the thought that David Lynch was 1st on the list to direct Return of the Jedi!)
The first sign that Lucas was capable of getting it wrong. Yep, I liked Ewoks when I was a kid, but their place in the original trilogy is mis-placed and comical. I still want the Stormtroopers to kick their furry butts in a sliding doors universe.
You get my point.
So when the prequel trilogy was released, Lucas had become Jabba, and the series was plunged into the kind of dystopian, dictatorial society that Emperor Sidious would have approved of. It also showed how dangerous Lucas could be without other voices in the mix. Old Georgie was hardly an actor’s director, rarely giving them guidance with performances (his favourite direction?: “do it again, but slower… and better”), means he gets a lot of credit for their consequently wooden performances. He was also involved in some atrocious casting decisions (Jake Lloyd, anyone?), and bogging the prequels down with endless ‘Trade Federation’ guff, whilst trying to appeal to kids with an annoyingly zany, patronising, and borderline racist character in Jar-Jar Binks. What we’re trying to say here, is that it would have been best to take George away from the trilogy sooner.
THE PROSECUTION (why this is a bad thing):
OK, so with all the positive feeling flying around about this takeover, this feels about as welcome as a bacon salesmen at a Bar-Mitzvah, but this must be heard!
Yes, George Lucas no longer having the reins of Star Wars is reason to celebrate, and yes there is potential there (particularly if there’s any truth to the rumours of Matthew Vaughn and/or Joss Whedon’s involvement), but just because it’s different, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be better.
Isn’t it time we stopped dabbling with the classics? The original trilogy is beloved of so many, and the fan culture that grew up with it, alongside the more film-based appreciation is unmatched, despite the prequel trilogy. The prequel trilogy, however, is exactly why this should stop, and stop now. Whenever I now watch the original Star Wars trilogy, I still get the old thrill, and can’t help but enjoy them. This thrill, is tainted though, by the knowledge, and memory of, what was to come. With largely forgettable animated TV series to accompany the flat, lifeless, unimaginative prequels, we have enough content out there that is unworthy of the Star Wars name. Do we need any more? What if they make another film, get Michael Bay to direct it, with Ashton Kutcher starring, Miley Cyrus alongside him, and Charlie Sheen as the villain? It would suck, right?
What if Disney’s takeover of Pixar has resulted in their recent undeniable downswing in quality (Brave and Cars 2 weren’t terrible, per se, but do they match the transcendant beauty of Wall-E whilst also somehow still being children’s films? No). What if the impact of the takeover Disney of Marvel has not yet been felt? Cars 2 felt like an exercise in merchandise selling (a strongpoint of the Cars franchise, but also of Disney’s), and Brave felt more Disney than Pixar. What if Disney’s desire to sell merchandise means any film is geared towards toys rather than characters? Marketing and Mouseketeers rather than plot and characters? What if they make the franchise skew even younger, and thus move it further away from that magic mix of the adult and the child-like? Will they add MORE CGI?
I’ll leave you with one final thought:
The Mouse House already have Pixar, ABC, ESPN, Marvel, The Muppets Studio, and Touchstone Pictures under their remit. With Lucasfilm and THX representing such a huge chunk of the movie industry and popular culture in general, does the fact that they are reportedly even in talks to take over Hasbro not worry you? One message? One voice? One huge, supposedly nice and family-friendly company owning everything, and one day coming for us?
Why, it’s enough to make me want to join some kind of rebel alliance, and if that ever happens, we certainly will need A New Hope.
NP and TA