Star Wars is Dead; Long Live Star Wars

When the phenomenon becomes commonplace, and the spectacular becomes standard.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024So, I saw the new Star Wars movie last weekend. If you’re one of the 17 people on earth who haven’t seen it yet but still plan on seeing it (meaning you’re either pinned under a fallen chandelier waiting for rescue, or the girl with the restraining order on you was at the same theater you wanted to go to), and you want a short, spoiler-free review, here you go: If you’re a long-time fan, like me, this movie won’t make you feel like your whole life was a sham, like some earlier, Jar-Jarier episodes might have. This installment respects the franchise and the fans.

It’s good. It’s worth going to see, especially if you get a chance to do it as a communal experience with friends who grew up in the Star Wars Era and survived the long march through the Prequel Desert. It’s a cool drink of water after all that mess. But… But.

There are people comparing The Force Awakens to the original trilogy and trying to decide where it ranks among the other films in the Star Wars canon. You can’t do that. Because there’s one fact that makes the new movie fundamentally different from the original: it exists in a world where there has already been a Star Wars.

star-wars-iv-a-new-hope-poster1I was six years old when I saw the first Star Wars. I had never seen anything like it. Never thought there could be anything like it. It was the first time I’d ever encountered anything that was almost as big as my imagination.

It broke the mold for science fiction/adventure/blockbuster movies, and in so doing, it created a new mold. Because Hollywood doesn’t really like to tell new, exciting stories. Hollywood likes to take something that’s already been successful and copy it over and over and over until they absolutely drive it into the ground.

Since Star Wars (and especially since Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi proved it wasn’t just a one-time fluke) our entertainment diet has been jam-packed with other works that play off the same notes. Simple stories of noble heroes and loathsome villains told with every whiz-bang state of the art thingamabob that movie making technology has to offer. In short, after Star Wars, Hollywood gave us a steady supply of Good vs. Evil, plus Explosions.

The Force Awakens isn’t a new kind of movie; it’s a Star Wars movie. It doesn’t break a mold; it fits a mold. It fits well. It certainly fits better than any of the prequels. But it can’t be revolutionary, because the Star Wars movie revolution already happened.

Can we be satisfied with a Star Wars movie that just apes Star Wars? Sure we can. We’d better be; if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience every time you walk into a movie theater, you are going to live a life of disappointment. And disappointment is the last thing I’d claim when the movie business has spent my lifetime trying so hard to recapture the magic of my all-time favorite movie. It’s like a whole industry is built around trying to make movies just for me.

But, the hundredth time you have french fries is different from the first time you have french fries. They’re still good. In fact, they taste exactly the same, technically. But the experience isn’t the same. I’m glad that so much of what I liked about Star Wars has become commonplace. I’m glad that Star Wars movies are becoming more commonplace. But there can only be one original.

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