With the arrival of the first teaser trailer for the new STAR WARS film (not due out till December 2015), I am reminded of just how little faith I have in both big-budget Hollywood cinema and the STAR WARS franchise itself.
Truth be told, on its face, there’s nothing in the teaser trailer that should make me immediately concerned. It looks cool. It’s a teaser. There’s not much to go on except that it feels like it has a chance of at least being better than George Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy. But of course, there’s too little to tell for sure. The good thing is that George Lucas did not write or direct this version, so perhaps it won’t be god-awful.
Here’s a peek at the trailer for those who haven’t seen it yet:
If you know anything about me, then you know I have very little respect for the choices George Lucas made in the second half of his career. Whoever George Lucas was in the 70’s, that filmmaker died and was replaced by something else entirely by the 90’s. The Prequels were some of the worst-written, worst-executed films I’ve ever seen. Consumed by his love of technology, Lucas single-handedly stripped the STAR WARS universe of any semblance of actual life. Great actors giving wooden performances against an endless sea of green-screen and truly uninspired dialogue and plot manipulations. The films felt like an exercise in how to avoid everything that allowed the Original Trilogy to touch such a social and cinematic nerve.
But for me, the greatest travesty was Lucas’ insistent manipulation of the Original Trilogy. Not because the films were great films, but because they are a part of our culture, our social landscape; they are a bookmark and a window into life and art and technology in America at that time. They are films that strongly affected a lot of people and had a lasting impact on our culture. They not only act as a historical signpost, however, they are the stories we pass down from generation to generation. When someone creates a work of art, a work of storytelling, and the time and placement is just right that it strikes a resonant chord — in this case across the globe — I’d like to think that holds some value. In a culture known for tearing down the old to make way for the new, it is far too easy to lose sight of the importance of the past, of history.
Honoring and recognizing the value of such things is not impeding progress, but acknowledging where we come from, our roots, and therefore, our selves. We as people feel the need to return to and share those artistic, creative experiences that move us, that remind us of our shared humanity. Whether it’s listening once again to a favorite piece of music, looking even more deeply into a beloved photograph or painting, re-reading a favorite book or re-experiencing the emotional, visceral journey of a film. We also have a need to share those experiences with the people in our world who know us, who mean something to us, and in so doing, we offer them something of who we are, something that can not be translated into words.
As I’ve discussed in the past, Lucas’ desire to alter these films is not unique and not in-and-of-itself a bad thing, but his desire to rid the world of the Original Cuts is because it eliminates the past and alters not only our ability to revisit and share those precious human moments, but strips us of our opportunity to gain perspective and insight from them.
I’ve been attacked before for being too “precious” about art, but I’m afraid cinema is an important art for me and I do believe that art is, yes, precious. Anytime I sense it being devalued — and in the U.S. it is consistently trivialized — I feel the need to speak out as these attitudes reflect a cultural and political direction that I believe warrants some serious attention. I believe our art holds value beyond just being entertaining in the moment. I think anytime we attempt to rewrite history, as Lucas has tried to do with the Original Trilogy, we risk losing something of great value and importance.
I’ve had folks argue with me that what Lucas did was no worse, no more egregious an act than putting out a picture of the Mona Lisa with a mustache on her. The point being that art is not so precious that it cannot be mocked or altered to make another statement entirely. And I do agree with that sentiment. The difference for me is that you are altering a copy of the Mona Lisa. The original, thank the heavens, is still on display for anyone to take in at the Louvre in Paris. Sans mustache. If Lucas gets his way, the Original Trilogy, as it was seen by millions upon its initial release, would be wiped from the face of the earth for all time. No, it’s true, civilizations won’t fall as a result, but something would be lost nonetheless. And a message would be sent to future generations that technology and means usurps art and artistic inspiration. It is the “imperfections” in our art that also reflect us back at ourselves as much as the intentional aspects of those creations.
For more on Lucas and his self-obsessive desires, check out my earlier post SELF-PROCLAIMED BARBARIAN: THE ALTERING OF OUR CULTURAL & ARTISTIC HERITAGE.
But for the moment, back to the new STAR WARS film.
I have far less concern for what director JJ Abrams does with the next installment of films. They will, I’m certain, reflect our current cultural and social upheavals right back at us. They, like the Originals, will be a signpost. Whether or not I personally like the films is, of course, irrelevant to the bigger picture. After all, I’m one of the folks that was NOT impressed with what Abrams did to the STAR TREK franchise. Sure, some of the action scenes were intense and the concept was a pretty decent slight-of-hand for opening up the STAR TREK universe to new stories via the Original Series’ characters, but the films played more like any other contemporary action film and less like STAR TREK. The characters and stories had been homogenized. Only the names remained the same.
Now it’s true that Abrams was never a STAR TREK fan so he allowed himself some freedom to reimagine these characters and their world from a “fresh” perspective. And perhaps if his STAR TREK films actually felt “fresh,” I would have gone along for the ride without so many criticisms. But the problem was, for me, that the films felt like a recycling of other more recent films. Both in plot and execution.
Luckily, I have read that, unlike STAR TREK, Abrams WAS a fan of the Original Trilogy of STAR WARS films. So maybe he will be more able to maintain the “feel” of that universe, to stay true to its core nature. Assuming he wants to do so. And it would not be horrible if he wanted to change it, put his own stamp on it, re-imagine it. But if it feels just like one of his STAR TREK movies only with the names changed from Captain Kirk to Luke Skywalker, then I will be bowing out. And I’m certain no one will miss me at the ticket-counter. The films will do blockbuster business regardless of my feelings or reaction.
But my fear is that Abrams will not so much introduce a new generation to these characters and to this world, but that he will strip that world bare and offer something far less “human” to that new audience. Something more manufactured, something that undermines the creative exploration behind storytelling, the subconscious, the heart.