A New Hope?: A Wish List For the Re-launch of Star Wars

All I want for Christmas is a good Star Wars Movie
Related Articles: What The Star Wars Prequels Should Have Been (But Weren't) & The Greatest Mistake The Force Awakens Makes

I have a friend with an incredibly dry sense of humor (he makes cool videos, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/user/NathanH83), who, about a month ago, came up to me in a coffee shop and said, "Hey, have you heard the news about Star Wars?"

I could only imagine what he was talking about. I had been reading article after article regarding different theories on the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens. Theories about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, theories about Leia's and Han Solo's children, theories about how now that Disney has the rights to them they will never stop making Star Wars films. So I answered my friend "Yes, I've probably heard the news, but what?"

With an entirely straight face he said "Well they're making a new one. It's called The Force Awakens. Isn't that great?"

My friend is hilarious. The whole world knows about the new Star Wars. In fact, the whole Christmas season, from the consumeristic present buying to preparing for the coming of Christ, is being taken over by Star Wars mania. Reminders of the second coming of Star Wars are everywhere. From the media blitz, to the everpresent merchandising, to my friends posting new articles with new theories every day (like what does George Lucas really think about the film!?), the Star Wars frenzy has risen unabated for months now.

And I truly have been preparing. A couple of months ago I watched the original films with my children for the first time (they have yet to see the prequels), and have since caught up on arguments about the order we should watch all the films in, most especially, the machete order. My family dressed as Star Wars characters for Halloween, my boys have bought Star Wars LEGO sets, and yes, they're getting plenty of Star Wars toys for Christmas.

All that is to say people really care about how good The Force Awakens will be. They are invested in this film and all the films that to follow. In fact, I would say the hype and expectations surrounding this film has exceeded The Phantom Menace's release in 1999. Something about this film, from J.JAbrams being at the helm, to the masterpiece of a trailer they released, to the building sense of community coming together across the U.S. and the world over this beloved fantasy universe, signals this is an important event, a significant moment in time.

In light of this moment, I would like to offer my hopes and expectations for The Force Awakens. Here is what I, an adult fan with young children of my own, would like to see in a new Star Wars film. The expectations can be categorized according to 1.) aspects of the original trilogy I would like to see returned to the new films, 2.) aspects of the prequel trilogy I hope are not repeated in the new films, and 3). aspects of all the Star Wars films I hope can be improved upon. It has been said J.J. Abrams has made his Star Wars film "for the fans." Here is what this fan in particular is hoping to see in the new film.

1. That it is allowed to take a slow pace.
Yep, an action movie can be exciting and engaging even
when it slows things down and has quiet scenes. Besides, 

I have always wanted to play that game!
Modern day action movies are so intense. They are jammed with so much action, quick dialogue, and frenzied editing, a person feels like they can hardly catch their breath, let alone get to know the characters or even understand what is happening in the plot.

If you go back and watch the original Star Wars films they are actually kind of slow. There are numerous moments where a shot lingers on a landscape (C3PO nervously shuffling through the sand dunes of Tatooine), there is lots of down time in between the action where characters are at ease and talking to each other, and there are plenty of quiet scenes that build the overall tension of the plot by what is going on between the characters.

My hope is the filmmakers of The Force Awakens will trust their audience enough and be skilled enough at storytelling that they will not be afraid to periodically slow the pace down and let the characters and plot breath a little. Action movies do not have to be a non-stop thrill ride. In fact, the tendency of more recent films to keep the pace in continual high gear is detriment to the art of filmmaking. I hope those in charge of the the new Star Wars films have the guts to find the beauty in slowing things down.

2. That the plot makes sense, that we are able to follow it, and that we actually care about it. 
It may sound elementary, but I hope the new trilogy has a story we all care about and a story that leaves us guessing until the end. One of the main complaints of the prequels was the deck was stack against it from the outset, as we already knew where everything was headed. If the new trilogy can leave us guessing, then we are certain to keep coming back to watch each new episode.

Related to this, if there is one thing I hate about action movies it is when there is so much going on and everything is moving so fast (see point #1 in this article) I have no idea what is happening. The Phantom Menace—which was not actually that fast—definitely did this. Another film series that is known for confusing plots is Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible. Sometimes a movie is confusing because it is smart and layered and it is worth sitting through multiple viewings in order to understand its deeper meanings. But sometimes a movie is just convoluted, overly complicated, and dull. So...when it came to The Phantom Menace not only did I not understand what was happening half the time, I was also pretty bored by it, except for the pod race scene and the epic duel at the end.

"Your mom's a trade dispute!"
You see (and again this sounds elementary), filmgoers only care about a plot in so much as they actually care about what is happening to a film's characters and in so much as they understand what is happening. In other words, if we are deeply invested in the characters but are having trouble following the plot, we will stick it out for love of the characters. On the opposite end, even if we do not know how much we care about the characters, if the plot is firmly holding our interest we will stick it out for love of where the story is going. However, if neither plot nor characters are compelling, what reason do we have to stick around? This was The Phantom Menace's fatal flaw: there were a number of characters we either did not care that much about or did not understand enough what was motivating them or happening to them.

So, with The Force Awakens my hope is that the plot is relatively easy to follow, even if it (hopefully) keeps us guessing throughout. My hope is also that we become easily invested in the characters. If the trailers and TV spots are any indication, it would seem they have done their job entirely, as I and many other have already fallen in love with Finn and Rey. How the plotting will go is yet to be determined.

3. That the world feels real again and is not so CGI-heavy
80's graphics are cooler than you think.
Everyone pretty much unanimously agrees George Lucas went overboard with the CGI effects on both the prequels and the Special Editions of episodes 4-6. Actually, one of my biggest complaints of the prequels is there is too much going on in each frame. The way Lucas composes his shots it is as if he intentionally tried to cram as much CGI noise into every scene, as if the advent of computer animation is the sole reason we wanted to go see Star Wars movies. Quite frankly, I was entirely unimpressed with all the animation of the prequels as well as most everything that was added to the original trilogy. To me it all just screamed of on one hand trying too hard to impress and on the other hand overusing and misusing a fancy schmancy new tool.

Uh...that's a lot of air traffic. Who is the air traffic 
controller on Coruscant? And could I see some air 
collision statistics? 
The world of the original trilogy felt lived in. The sets felt like actual spaceships. The consoles and the screens used to prepare for battles looked workable in the real world. The prequels though often felt like they existed in one giant green screen sound stage. The backgrounds were too busy, cluttered with unnecessary CGI extravagance. Their world simply did not feel real. And with new character after new character George Lucas relied on B+ computer graphics instead of A- minus puppetry. Honestly, it is a bit sad that Lucas forgot about how he tricked us into believing in his characters and spaceships the first time with simple puppetry and miniature models, as if computer graphics by default would be more believable. On top of that, I am still especially sad about a purely CGI Yoda. That might be the worst thing of all. Let me put it this way: there is something oddly life-like in the simplest of Muppet characters and something oddly lifeless about even the most extravagant CGI placed in a live action film. 

"Ack! There's so much going on in the background
I can't focus on this riveting love story!"
My hope is the filmmakers of The Force Awakens realized that simpler is better and real-er is better. An audience should feel like if they leaped in and touched the world of the film it would feel like a real world. Culturally, we are at the point of CGI over-saturation. It simply is not all that impressive anymore. If the filmmakers get back to character and plot and authentic world building, they cannot help but have an instant classic on their hands. But if the filmmakers think a Star Wars film will work if it has all the cinematic bells and whistles (and as many of them as possible!), we will have a over-stimulating visual feast with a plot no one cares about.

4. That the story remains "family" or "kid" friendly 
Over the past decade and a half of movies and television, all the cool kids are going dark and anti-hero in their leanings. This is something I documented in my article "Let's Go On An Anti-Hero Television Cleanse." Simply put, characters are now neither simply white or black in their morality, but instead are all gray. They are morally ambivalent and existentially conflicted at every turn. 

Here is the assumption: as a society we have moved past seeing our heroes as morally pure and uncorrupted. We cannot see ourselves in sinless all-powerful superheroes. In the real world we no longer believe in leaders who care about our best interests and the truly Good. We have become cynical and jaded. As a result our stories have gotten darker and more twisted. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was praised for its grittiness and even Superman murders in The Man of Steel.

But wait. All of the first six Star Wars films were already dark, already contained conflicted heroes and pure anti-heroes, and they did so within a mostly PG rated world. Some might even argue Dark Vader/Anakin Skywalker is the greatest anti-hero of all time. How much more dark and gritty and in the end heroic can it get. Similarly, I had trouble seeing Luke actually turn toward the Dark Side throughout Empire and Jedi. That's not possible! Or so I thought. But as an adult I see the true conflict going on inside Luke. I see that he almost gave in to his anger, or as some argue, he actually did give in at the end of Return to the Jedi. 
"So...that's how it happened...
maybe I didn't want to know..."

Apart from Revenge of the Sith (which contained the violent, bloodied origin story of how Anakin became Vader) the Star Wars universe remained PG (NOTE: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi might have been given a PG-13 rating but came out before the rating was instituted by the MPAA), although all of them were pretty dark and violent. The Force Awakens has noteworthily been rated PG-13 and my fear is the filmmakers have given in to the temptation to "go dark" because that is where they think audiences are at nowadays. If it were possible, I would like to remind them Star Wars is dark enough already (no pun intended) and they managed to do so by making the films accessible to younger viewers (nearly naked sex slaves of Jabba the Hut and bloodied limbless Vader notwithstanding).

5. That it is "weird" again, that the world feels strange and contains mysterious characters we never learn much about.
Watching my kids see Jabba the Hut for the first time was an absolute delight. I love how bizarre and jarring it was to them. As much as I hope the film is "safe for the whole family" I hope it is also a little "out there" in terms of new characters and worlds. The prequels fell flat in this area for me (though I really liked Watto, the flying bug-elephant who owned Anakin's mother). I loved the characters who remained a mystery, Boba Fett being the best example. I loved the characters who were devious or simply bizarre, like that pig-nosed guy who said "I don't like you either!" to Luke Skywalker or any of Jabba the Hut's off-putting sycophantic henchmen. 

I have high hopes The Force Awakens will offer plenty of weirdness when it comes to its peripheral characters.
"I don't know if I trust this guy..."

"Di wanna wanga?"
—Bib Fortuna, haunting my dreams 
since I was six years old.

6. That the dialogue is not clunky.
"Do you want to go to the Tosche Station and pick up some
power converters...M'lady?"
One general aspect I think could use a lot of improvement when looking at all the prior Star Wars films is the dialogue. Of course many lines throughout the saga are now iconic, cultural touchstones that permeate our every day speech. At the same time, the Star Wars films have offered us numerous cringe-worthy lines deserving of much derision, as this article and this article points out. Shakespeare this is not, and that is just fine. Star Wars is for the masses and its dialogue should be accessible to everyone. Still, we can all hope the quality of the dialogue gets some overall improvement.

To me and many others, it is a good sign that they brought on Lawrence Kasdan to help write the new film, as he was responsible for writing the near universally agreed upon best Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. Honestly, some of the Star Wars dialogue is so atrocious it would not take much to improve on them. 

7. That it remains true to George Lucas' vision as a "soap opera" about "family problems"
Finally, in a recent interview George Lucas recounted his part in the process in the making of The Force Awakens, which is essentially: 1.) they bought all my stuff for lots of money, 2.) they asked me what kind of potential stories I had for future Star Warseses, 3.) they told me they didn't like my stories, so I was all like 4.) "We're breaking up!" In what might be a hint at what direction the new film will take Lucas said the space saga has never been about "spaceships" but is instead something of a family soap opera. It is about the tensions and conflicts within a family.
It took forever to get the pose right.

I happen to agree with Lucas. The family stuff is exactly what Star Wars is about. The spaceships are an incredible amount of fun, but we care about these movies so much because of who is in those spaceships.

Except.......I would argue Lucas lost his own plot with the prequels. Yes, there was plenty of family stuff, between Anakin losing his mother two separate times, to Anakin dealing with serious rebellion toward his adoptive father Obi Wan, to the ill-fated forbidden love between Anakin and Padme, to the constant concerns of Grandpa Yoda and Grandpa Palpatine over Anakin in particular and the Republic in general. And yet, the trilogies are mired in so many distracting bureaucratic chess moves which Lucas for some reason thought we would find interesting. (Oh, yeah, he also though we would find that love story interesting too...). In other words, my opinion is Lucas himself did not stick with his original intentions for Star Wars, or if he tried to, he did not do a very good job.

Honestly, I have trouble believing the new film will not be a powerful family soap opera. From the brief looks we have gotten it would seem like a new non-traditional family will be formed between Finn, Rey, Poe Dameron, and whatever conflicts they have with Kylo Ren. And did I mention Han Solo, Leia, and Luke will all be there too? If the new film misses out on the family tensions the filmmakers will only have themselves to blame.

Next Article: What The Star Wars Prequels Should Have Been (But Weren't)
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