Sunday, May 17, 2015

Built-in disappointment with the next Star Wars

Star Wars had quite an effect on a generation. My wife and I wanted to see it the first weekend it was shown in theaters in 1977.  At the one theater in Salt Lake City showing the movie, we turned away at the sight of the lines around the block. We were more successful getting seats a week or two later. We were immediately taken by the story and the characters. It was very fresh, and it transformed the movie industry for the decades following its release. The main thing we got out of it was fun. I liked the special effects, but what Sally and I most enjoyed were the characters and their interactions.

“Star Wars Reboots,” in the June, 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, is an article on how the creative team came together for the latest movie in the franchise, Star Wars Episode VII—The Force Awakens. I found the article interesting, and also noticed that for the most part, the team has been involved with Star Wars either as moviegoers, or as movie makers, for a long time. The team decided they wanted to get back to what made the original movie successful, so they have hired some of the original actors, and have done a more retro-styled motion picture.

Another thing that struck me was the reverence with which the project was approached. It reminded me of statements by Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, when describing their Bible mini-series. Star Wars, in some minds, approaches the level of being a religious experience.

I have seen the sequels and prequels, but I never enjoyed them like the first movie. Using the Law of Diminishing Returns as a guide, I think we got less of the effect as each sequel progressed the storyline. The prequels, for me, are boring, despite a lot of gloss and CGI. Even though I have seen them, I cannot remember anything about any of the movies released since 1999. My feelings about them are not disappointment. Disinterest might be a better word.

Unlike hardcore Star Wars fans, caught up in mythology, I saw them without major expectations. A documentary, The People Vs. George Lucas, goes into great detail describing fan disappointments at these later films, pinning the blame for their disappointment on Lucas. They should blame themselves for not observing another “law”: “Expectation is greater than realization.” What fans had done in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was released was to build it up in their minds; they personalized it, but the film makers were not able to get in the heads of the fans, each of whom had his own vision. Then they actually saw the movie. Instant letdown. One fan described going back to see the movie several times, trying to convince himself it was as good as he wanted it to be. That is a good example of a true believer, akin to someone who believes in the Bible, but suddenly finds the foundation of his faith is showing cracks. He tries to heal those cracks. When I watched the documentary on Netflix I hollered at the screen a couple of times at fan revelations like that. It's only a movie, people!

Despite the fact that Lucas is now gone (he sold his company and the rights to all intellectual property to Disney for four billion dollars), and the onus is off him for the success or failure of the reboot, how can it not disappoint those fans who have built up the mythology of Star Wars into something that can only succeed in their own heads? People who hyperventilate over advance trailers or whose palms grow sweaty just thinking about taking their seat on opening day of a new Star Wars movie have already run the movie, or a movie of their own passions and fantasies,  dozens of times in their heads. Nothing can match up to that experience inside one’s self.

I am sure that what I am describing is already known to psychologists and mental health professionals, because it isn’t just to movies like Star Wars (or Star Trek, or Indiana Jones) that this phenomenon occurs. It also extends to other areas of a human being’s life: relationships, religion, politics, even conspiracy theories.

I doubt I’ll be filling a seat in my local cineplex when Star Wars Episode VII—The Force Awakens opens. I’ll listen to what others have to say about it, and a year from then I may watch it on Starz or HBO. Unlike those with unrealistic expectations I have none at all. In my personal, cynical view, I see it as less of a story than a major marketing tool to gain back the $4B Disney paid to have the rights to make it. And if any of the true believers ever stop their fantasiziing to consider that, then they will be truly disappointed.

Here is where some of my cynicism comes from. The director/co-writer is J. J. Abrams, who took the television series, Lost, and its interesting premise, and by the end of the series had alienated his viewers before driving the series over the cliff with a bad, contrived ending. That is the guy Star Wars fans are pinning their dreams on.


DEMiller said...

I am from a different school. In the 70s my friends and I pretty much rejected the big film productions, being more in favor of independent or foreign films. I guess we were snobs. I saw the first Star Wars film thinking it would not be as much as I had heard about. Instead, I walked away being very impressed. I thought it had heart and humor. I cared about the characters. Something the sequels and prequels lacked. I saw the second one and instantly lost interest.

Postino said...

Dave, this is all just my personal opinion, so take it for what it is worth: in some ways I think it would have been better to have just quit after the first Star Wars film, and for Lucas to have moved onto something else. Once it was realized what a marketing juggernaut he had created of course the sequels had to be made. And it made Lucasfilm and Lucas himself wealthy. It was the same with the Indiana Jones franchise, which I admit I like better than Star Wars.

I admit also that after almost 40 years since seeing the original Star Wars I have seen so much I feel totally takes a lot to move me, nowadays, and I find a more personal story, without the pyrotechnics of modern filmmaking, is more likely to get a thumbs up from me.

DEMiller said...

I think the first Star Wars film stands on its own. It was a wise business decision to keep making them, but imagine sequels to The Wizard of Oz, or Gone with the Wind or Casa Blanca. Hollywood has learned that name recognition guarantees more ticket sales, so that has become the standard practice. To me it is just double dipping.

Postino said...

I believe there have been some sequels that might have topped the original, and the Godfather Part II comes to mind, but they are few and far between.

I like the part where you call in Casablanca, Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. I had not thought about it, but the financial wisdom of today transferred back to 1940 would be to crank up the sequels.

Which reminds me, Jurassic World is in theaters in a couple of weeks. How many sequels down the line from Jurassic Park is that? Four?