Is Star Wars: Episode VII Really that Good?

Did anyone else see that new film? The HD re-release of that one we’ve seen before?

How many of us bought into the marketing hype for the biggest film of all time?

I saw the latest instalment of the Star Wars franchise at 12:15 am – it was an early screening.

To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement. I don’t know what I anticipated, and honestly, I can’t say that what I saw was terrible. It wasn’t. It just wasn’t anything new.

Instead it was a Star Wars bricolage, that referenced its own mythology, and existed more as an attraction, than as a filmic narrative. And it’s what I’ve come to expect from big budget Hollywood cinema.

We’re living in a time where cinema is merely a place for ideas to be repackaged, reused, and resold. Film is a medium for nostalgia, and it doesn’t tell new stories anymore. It’s backwards gazing, as if the past holds something that we lost, and instead of looking forwards, we’re happier retelling the stories that moved us when we were younger.

The Good Guys Always Win

Now, cinema seems designed to give us instant gratification, like a handful of popcorn, or a shitty blue slush puppie. There’s no substance. We don’t have to work for it, we don’t even have to think about it. We know the good guys will win, the bad guys will lose, there’ll be explosions, and spectacle, and the whole thing will end on a cliff hanger.

Then we’re primed for the next one, and we’ll watch it, because we’ve seen the rest of them. Film has become a spectator sport, driven by fans, rather than auteurs. We sold out the creatives in the industry, and let marketing departments take over.

Star Wars is now a franchise. Just like McDonalds, Burger King, or Subway, it can change hands, but it’ll still be exactly the same. It’s homogenised storytelling, commodifying and narrowing down the scope of cinema into an easily distilled and replicated format.

The new Star Wars movie is merely a rehash of the six films that came before. It certainly comes in a prettier package, and the special effects are excellent. But with a budget like the one Star Wars has, it was always going to look outstanding.

Big Budget Buddies

For me, the funniest thing about the whole experience were the three trailers I watched before the film screened. There was the new Captain America film, the reboot of Batman, and the latest Star Trek – each film is interchangeable, the characters might be distinct, but the stories remain exactly the same.

Have a look at the trailers (play them all at the same time for a truly homogenised experience).

We’ve seen it all before, and Star Wars is no exception.

We’ve reached peak hype.

I’m not saying that these are bad films (I’ve not seen them yet), but they’re not anything new, either. They play around with the format, but each movie hits the same familiar narrative beats.

I wouldn’t be surprised if each film used the exact same narrative arc – I’m sure someone could do an effective supercut.

Stick to your Branding

Star Wars slots right into this narrative formula, and it doesn’t veer from it. Many people will be happy with that. They want the franchise to stick to its branding, and that’s understandable. People are emotionally invested in this ride. But what is there under the digitally rendered veneer? What’s behind the mask?

We’re in a marketer’s dream. These global cinematic franchises already exist, and all they have to do is generate consistent content. The audience is primed and ready, and we’ll watch these new films simply because of their branding. What distinguishes the latest Star Wars release from a new Apple product? The queues are just as long, and the anticipation just as high.

And what does this say about cinematic creativity? I know there are excellent screenwriters working in Hollywood, and in the global film industry in general. But they don’t get to tell their own stories, they have to rework existing ones. Now, TV has the best auteurs, but their budgets are minuscule, and so are the audiences, when compared to film franchises like Star Wars.

Falling Out of Love at 24FPS

It was great to see how busy my local cinema was. Three screens, packed out, at 12:15am early on a Thursday morning. But they weren’t there because of a love of film, the audience was there to see a Star Wars instalment. It was event cinema with costumes, and applause.

What strikes me is the fact that, ironically enough, this highlights just how out of love we are with film. It takes a reboot, shrouded in secrecy, to take us away from Netflix, and head out on a cold December morning to watch a film at the cinema.

If you’ve watched Star Wars before, you’ve seen this instalment. There’s no emotional connection to the narrative, instead it’s Joseph Campbell’s narrative theories in action. For me, it was unimaginative, it wasn’t anything special, and I’m not making an exception because it was Star Wars.

A good Happy Meal is still a McDonalds.

I know that most people will embrace the new Star Wars film because of its legacy. But think on this: What makes it different to any other big budget blockbuster release?

The characters?

The story?

The explosive final act?

It’s a tried and true format, and although there’s a lot to enjoy in the latest film, it didn’t truly resonate with me.

Good Performances, Explosive Set Pieces

I enjoyed seeing Oscar Isaac in the film, but I was struck by the fact that another notable actor has joined the franchise ‘club.’ The Coen Brothers lent him critical credibility, and now Abrams has given him a Hollywood big budget stamp of approval. He’s a good actor, and he does well in Star Wars, but it seems that this is now the pinnacle of actorly success – the franchise film.

Chris Pratt experienced something similar with Jurassic World.

Harrison Ford clearly enjoyed revisiting Han Solo, and there was great fun to be had in his story. I don’t have any complaints with his performance, and I enjoyed seeing him on the big screen again.

Some of the set pieces were exciting, and the action was well choreographed. And overall there’s little to complain about in terms of the film itself – it’s fine. But shouldn’t we want more than that?

Gentrified Cinema

There was no heart to the narrative. It was gentrified cinema, unblemished, polished, and ultimately soulless. But my words won’t affect the franchise. Star Wars is here to stay. Disney plans to release a new movie every year…forever.

It’ll outlive the lot of us. Eventually they’ll just use holograms, and actors will live on as digital replicas. They won’t age. That’s where the money is.

It feels like we’ve fallen into the bad timeline, the place where Back to the Future visited, where Donald Trump lives in a towering building, and poor people fight for scraps. And cinema exists to placate; it doesn’t challenge us anymore.

A purgatory where Jaws 19 is on at the cinema.

How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars?

If it’s done with little imagination, and no creativity, and if it’s full of excellent visuals, but lacking a compelling story, then we’ve forgotten what film can do, and we’re doing the medium a disservice.

We don’t have to play it safe.

Film is capable of artistry. Star Wars Ep VII wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything more than any other big budget action movie. Yes, the franchise has familiar characters, and it’s novel to see people reprise performances from over thirty years ago.

But does that warrant this near sycophantic praise?

No. The new Star Wars film is fine. It’s good. But it’s not excellent.  94% on Rotten Tomatoes is simply too high for what’s essentially an Iron Man/Captain America/Batman/Star Trek hybrid.

What big budget movies have you seen recently that aren’t part of a franchise? Are we not tired of indestructible good guys winning out consistently?

I know I am (and I’m not the only one).

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5 thoughts on “Is Star Wars: Episode VII Really that Good?

  1. Honestly, this is the most accurate piece I’ve read so far and I congratulate you (Bill Hicks was the cherry on top). I’ve just returned from seeing Star Wars, and am still picking my brains as to what wasn’t right (or, wasn’t good).

    Though, I both agree and disagree with you on this: “Film is a medium for nostalgia, and it doesn’t tell new stories anymore. It’s backwards gazing, as if the past holds something that we lost, and instead of looking forwards, we’re happier retelling the stories that moved us when we were younger.”

    I believe it was necessary and perfectly just for Abram’s to look to the past for inspiration, to respect its roots. After the prequels, it was a breath of fresh air to hear the direction he was taking Star Wars in. To shoot on 35mm and use practical effects was enough to make me listen. It was at least an indication that he was to veer from the CGI-laden-action-blockbuster that oversaturates cinema.

    That said, it’s one thing to take inspiration from and pay homage to something (in any medium), and it’s another thing to re-hash and re-sell something. The Force Awakens took too much and gave too little. There were points where I was removed from the narrative due to glaring similarities with A New Hope (mainly the Starkiller base and the attack on it). It was like some horrid parody, “This is the size of the Death Star, and THIS is the size of Starkiller!”

    Both the directing and the story was messy. There were too many cuts and too much camera movement, I didn’t know where I was half the time. There was rarely a moment to catch your breath; the story didn’t allow it, the camera barely stayed still, and there weren’t many instances without the score present.

    The important action scenes suffered from this and were devalued in the process. The choreography posed no real tension or threat to the characters (if it did on set it wasn’t there in the cut). We all knew the outcome. After seeing Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais (choreographers and actors in the Raid films) in the scene where the two clans confront Han, in the end I couldn’t help but think how much the film would have benefited from their talent and a patient, observant camera.

    The dialogue went from corny jokes to description, with hardly any time for character development. It all went so fast. That said, the characters did have life and chemistry, and were well cast (minus the General of the First Order). Unfortunately, it was lost in a collage of action, description, and references to the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that Abram’s needed to look backwards in order to capture the essence of Star Wars, but he didn’t have to do it so literally. The Death Star/Starkiller scene you mentioned veered so overtly towards parody it was laughable.

      I liked the scene with Han, and the two clans. It was vintage Star Wars in the right way, and it built from what had come before, rather than borrowed.

      For me though, the biggest issues were the thin story that seemed to exist only as a context for the action sequences, and the lack of character development.

      Which is a shame, because there was still a lot to like in the film. But as you pointed out, it was lost among nods to the past, and a desire to satiate the fans.

      This is my main contention with franchise cinema. It has to stick to its branding. There’s no room for creativity. And each franchise follows the same narrative formula.

      It doesn’t help that Disney owns both Marvel and Star Wars. Looks like it will be a profitable year for them.

      Like

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