Written By: Dan Geer
So, after three years of waiting (or three decades for many), Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens is finally hitting theaters this December. EPISODE VII!!!!! The SEQUEL to Return of the Jedi! The expectations surrounding this film are unprecedented. Not since the hype leading up to Episode I back in the late 90s has Star Wars fandom been at this level of excitement. For many, The Force Awakens means that they may finally get everything they ever wanted in a new Star Wars film after not having gotten their wish with the prequels. For others, it simply means they’re getting yet another movie (followed by many more) in a franchise they’ve never stopped loving.
Whatever the case, while the hype machine has been toned down drastically compared to that of The Phantom Menace in terms of marketing (I think Lucasfilm learned their lesson there), the expectations are still at a fever pitch. There really needs to be some damage control ahead of time if we’re to appreciate The Force Awakens as a Star Wars film, as well as on its own merits.
Let’s call ourselves what we are: Star Wars fans are insane. Loveable, to be sure, but insane nonetheless. We need to take a few steps back and keep this insanity in check. It all starts and ends with expectation.
– High expectations almost certainly bring disappointment.
Expectations can ruin anything one is looking forward to – especially when it comes to Star Wars. Back in 1999, fans from the original trilogy generation expected something similar from the prequels. What they got was something almost completely different that did not appeal to many of them (it did appeal to younger generations since it was their first experience with Star Wars, and not every older fan hated them – just to set the record straight). If they didn’t have those expectations beforehand of what they thought the films should be, who knows how they would’ve received those films? Would there still be this ridiculous level of hatred towards them? Would Jar Jar have become one of the most hated characters in the history of cinema?
It’s interesting to see how people perceive the prequels who had never seen the original movies beforehand. Imagine if the prequels were the first Star Wars films you had ever seen. You had never even heard of, or grown up with Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke, Leia, the Millennium Falcon, the Droids, lightsabers, Stormtroopers, the Death Star, the famous Cantina scene, Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back‘s startling revelation, etc. If you didn’t have all that baggage going into the prequels, judging them on their OWN merits, would you then think they’re terrible movies?
You’re expectations you had beforehand are what determined your overall opinion of the prequels. If you are one of the people that hated them, I know you don’t believe me. Your hatred has blinded you and you’ve gone over to the dark side. It’s probably too late for you. But if you’re honest with yourself, and embrace the light, you would realize that if you had no preconceived notions as to what Star Wars should be when you went to go see The Phantom Menace, you would not have the opinions of the prequels that you have now. I’m willing to bet that at least 90% of your criticisms really stem from comparing them to the original trilogy, and not so much from the films themselves.
Keep your expectations in check in the next month leading up to The Force Awakens. Evaluate it on its OWN merits before comparing them to what has come before. Try to imagine if this was the first Star Wars movie you have ever seen. That right there is key.
– This is not YOUR movie.
Let’s just get this out of the way: No matter how great this movie is, it’ll never recapture your childhood. It will not be exactly what you want. Whether you’re a fan of the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, or both, it will NOT be what you grew up with. It will not be what you envisioned in you head all these years of what Star Wars Episode VII could, or should be. It’ll also not be what you read in the expanded universe novels. This is an all-new story, not based on anything but what we’ve already seen in the previous six films – particularly the original trilogy.
Now, re-read what you just read about 10,000 more times just so that you get the point. I’ll wait…
…Okay, finished? Good. By now you have come to accept the fact that this is not your story. It’s J.J. Abrams’ and Lawrence Kasdan’s story, based on George Lucas’ original outline for the film (from what I understand, it’ll actually have very little to do with Lucas’ original story). Kasdan wrote for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and didn’t grow up with the movies. But he loves the characters as much as you do, and came back after all these years because he loves these characters. J.J. Abrams is a hardcore fan – just like you. Star Wars is the reason he makes movies. So understand that he is making this film as a die-hard fan himself, developing what he always wanted to see as a fan. This may or may not be what you want to see, and you have to be okay with that to have any chance of enjoying this movie. The only way to get the perfect movie that you want is to make it yourself. Don’t like those odds, Han? Well, then don’t go see the movie.
– There WILL be tons of CGI.
There has been a major misunderstanding about the use of practical effects in The Force Awakens. This is understandable, because they’ve practically bombarded us with the fact that they’re utilizing practical effects to help make this film. So okay, yes, they do not want to rely so heavily on CGI like the prequels did. HOWEVER, people seem to have gotten the idea that the movie will only use practical effects. This is completely untrue. The film will indeed have thousands of CGI effects incorporated into the film – including digital characters and locations – as well as practical effects like real puppets, sets, costumes, etc.
The difference between the prequels and this movie is that J.J. Abrams is really attempting to only use CGI where absolutely necessary, which is exactly how it should be. George Lucas is a great imagineer and storyteller (yes, he is), but we all have to admit that he liked taking the easy approach when it came to special effects. He still appreciates model work, costumes, puppetry, real sets, etc. (the prequels DO have those things in abundance if you actually get off your high horse and LOOK), but he heavily enjoyed the development of new technology and new ways of telling a story to a fault. If something went wrong on set, many times he’d have it fixed digitally in post-production. He hated wire work, so much of the stunt work you see in the prequels was digital. He loved green screen because of the amount of control he had over each and every shot and could imagine whatever he wanted. And can you blame him? You can do anything these days with a computer. Anything you can imagine can be done. Everything George Lucas always imagined for decades he could finally put to screen.
J.J. Abrams loves and appreciates this same technology as well, but he at least appears to understand that it’s a tool, not a toy, and won’t turn to it for every fix needed. He also understands that no matter how good you can make something look in the digital world, it’s always better if you can actually film the effect, even if it’s not as perfect. Sometimes the beauty in a special effect lies in its imperfections and limitations. It forces the storyteller to be more creative. Think of just how different and less of a film Jaws would have been if the shark actually worked as intended, and we saw the shark as much as Spielberg originally envisioned. It’s exactly these kinds of circumstances Abrams seems to embrace, and for that we should be as excited as we are for The Force Awakens.
Nevertheless, there WILL be tons of CGI in this film. DON’T FORGET THAT. But I do think it’ll be used a little more wisely this time around. In this aspect, I think we can expect a better balance.
– The film will focus more on character, less on story.
Now, I have no proof that the story won’t be the greatest Star Wars story ever told. But what I do know is that the stories J.J. Abrams has told through his previous films aren’t groundbreaking. They’re great fun, above average and definitely have their moments and elements of surprise. But his stories are more about the characters than the plot. While this can be a good thing, we should not expect the story to take our breath away. It’s the characters that will be the driving focus of this film.
Abrams has always had a knack for working well with actors and creating characters we walk out of the theater loving and wanting to hang out with. So we can only imagine what he could accomplish with characters we already love like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia! But again, we have to lower our expectations just a few notches, because in the end, these are not the same characters you know. They’re 30 years older, leaving room for TONS of change for Han, Luke and Leia, and you can bet that Abrams will embrace that opportunity. It may even feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly where Abrams should go. Who knows how they’ve ended up all these years later? That youthful energy they all had will most likely be gone as well.
But, I think we can expect that youthful energy from the young actors joining this universe, especially with John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. Abrams loves having fun on set, and I’m pretty sure he’ll have fun with these new characters he and Kasdan created to drive the story. It would not surprise me if their chemistry will mirror the energy between Hamill, Ford and Fisher in the original trilogy. Not sure if we’ll get great banter like Princess Leia’s “walking carpet” comment from A New Hope, but I bet this film will be a return to one of the main things that made Star Wars fun in the first place – the characters. Kids that grow up on the sequel trilogy will be talking about Rey, Finn and Poe for decades to come like we did with Luke, Han and Leia – if Abrams pulls this off.
– The film will cater to fans of the original trilogy first.
The biggest appeal about The Force Awakens is that the original cast is returning 32 years later, in age-appropriate roles. But if we’re being honest, these characters don’t typically mean as much to younger generations of fans that grew up on the prequels, or The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Like it or not, the prequel era is Star Wars to so many people around the world who probably weren’t born yet when the original trilogy was first released. Yes, they’ve probably seen the originals by now, and perhaps even enjoy them. But their first experience with Star Wars was probably not the original trilogy. Believe it or not, many times I have found that they think the originals are too slow or feel dated, especially the original Star Wars (I know, it’s crazy)! It really all comes down to what you experienced first, and that sets your expectations for everything that follows.
But I do think that since this is still being made in modern times by a modern film director, it’ll probably not only appeal to the older generation, but the younger generations as well. It’s just that the original trilogy characters probably won’t carry as much weight with younger audiences as they will with the older. It’ll be the young new characters that they’ll end up liking more, I think. Meanwhile, us older fans will be balling our eyes out when we finally get to see Luke Skywalker again.
– Luke Skywalker is the most important story element.
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy persuaded J.J. Abrams to direct Episode VII by asking him one question: “Who is Luke Skywalker?” There’s a reason we have not seen Luke Skywalker in the trailers, posters, or any other promotions for The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams wants the reveal of Luke Skywalker to be the most special moment of the film, and in order to preserve that, we are not allowed to see him before seeing the movie.
I’m not so sure we should say he’s the most important character, but his on-screen debut is probably the most important moment in the story. Honestly, I really hope Abrams isn’t setting us up for failure here, so we should probably calm down a bit. He’s really making it so that we expect something totally awesome by keeping Luke inside that famous “mystery box.” I really hope it is a great moment. But older fans have been waiting to see how Luke turned out for over 30 years, and now it’ll all finally be revealed. Is he still following the ways of the Jedi? Did he end up turning evil? Is he still troubled by the fact that his outer space crush ended up being his sister?! We want to find out SO bad, so my gut feeling is that we’ll probably be let down by it, since his appearance is the most hyped aspect of the film that we haven’t even caught a glimpse of. How can this moment possibly live up to what’s been obviously, albeit indirectly presented as the greatest moment in the movie? We have to except the fact beforehand that the J.J. Abrams’ mystery box may not live up to the hype here. We just want too much from this moment because of how much Abrams has held back Luke Skywalker from the public.
– This is not the film to end all films.
I know this is kind of related to the first point I made, but it really needs to be emphasized. Yes, Star Wars has touched the lives of generations of fans since the 70s. It means a lot to some people. It means everything to others (you know, the people that need to get a life). The point is that while Star Wars is the biggest franchise out there, has touched the lives of many all around the world for generations, has had a huge impact on pop culture and changed film-making forever – it’s still just a movie.
Yes that’s right, it’s just a movie. It may be the BIGGEST movie of all time, but still a movie nonetheless. One we’re all more excited to see than probably any other movie out there. But be real, people. There are much more important things out there in life than this movie. So if it’s good, then great! If it’s not, quit whining like you have been since 1999 and move on. It’s not like someone took away your house that’s been in your family for generations or something.
I think much of why the prequel whining has gone on for as long as it has stems from the fact that we thought those films were it – that there would be no more Star Wars movies to make up for it. Well, now that we are getting more – MUCH more – we will almost always have the next one to look forward to. So there’s no reason to be all up in arms if The Force Awakens actually ends up being The Force Falls Asleep.
So please people, keep your expectations in check. Yes, we have plenty of reasons to look forward to The Force Awakens. But, as Master Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, “We must be cautious.” Let’s not lose our heads here just because a new Star Wars movie is coming out. I know it’s hard, but we can do it. It’s going to be okay folks.
Roll on December 18th!
Update: Click here for my spoiler-free review!