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Ante Up? – A #FilthyCasual’s Reflections on The Force Awakens

kylo-rey-finn

Before I get into any depth about my (certain) point of view here, let me first say that I LOVE The Force Awakens. Every moment of it. And as some of you might have previously read in my interview with Mike Cooper, I went in 100% unspoiled. I knew nothing, was ready for anything. And I loved everything.

The feel of the movie was delightfully familiar, in the best possible way. The story didn’t feel as much an echo of Episode IV — as I have so often since seen discussed — as it feels like a rhyme, which is precisely what made it seem so very Star Wars to me. All of the previous Episodes distinctly rhyme with one other, hearkening back to different notes and colors of the same concerns, unfurling a history both doomed and destined to repeat over and over in subtle variations of the lessons.

The grander arc feels sewn together on the same cloth, and not just tacked onto it — as I’d feared it might be, following my views of the former Expanded Universe. And, instead of the fantasy ending of celebration and fireworks with Force ghosts nodding in assent as the final word, the galaxy suddenly feels all the more realistic. We see the real ramifications, the unintended consequences of good intentions and all the mess that’s left at what we arbitrarily entitle “the end”. Rey and company have their work cut out for them, not because they’re just individuals who happen to bump into familiar people and places, but as true, logical extensions of a grander theme that began A Long Time Ago, and that never ends.

With that said, my affection for post-Return of the Jedi stuff has not always been as enthusiastic. Back in the day, I gave a fair reading to the Zahn novels as they came out when I was in high school, and I’ve frequently asked Mike (in depth) about EU-related topics — which became his series The EU Explains. But, as much as there was never a shortage of new Star Wars material, I could never get past the sense that it all felt… well, detached.

The Star Wars Story, for me, was already complete. Anything I came across felt like a random spin-off for squeezing more fantastical stories out of something that already came full circle and wrapped up pretty neatly. In my opinion Jedi didn’t leave any unnerving loose ends that were indicative of a forever sequel machine (see: Marvel).  Nothing felt particularly unsaid about the Big Three, and since they continued to be the focus characters in so much of the old EU, it just felt like continuing to pump gas into a car that stopped running back in 1983.

While the prequels were informative to what was revealed in IV-VI, the revelations after Jedi all seemed redundant/unnecessary to the story that was already done. For me, the old EU read like a dictionary definition of run-on, fan fiction.

*ducking and dodging rotten fruit*

So as much as I have always loved Star Wars, every time I caught wind of what was going on in the ol’ EU, it grew harder for me to not roll my eyes at it all. Mostly, it seemed to be a perpetual upping the ante of weapons and villains and wars without end: Luke, Han and Leia off on a new, nail-biting, galaxy-at-stake adventure. Again. These extensions had the effect of making the movies (and the events within those timeframes) feel less meaningful. The Emperor is back? Great. Lightsabers out of your elbows? Really. Superweapons upon superweapons that make the Death Star seem like a bath toy?

I gladly take the blame for telling her about Nyax. - Mike
I gladly take the blame for her knowing
about Lord Nyax – Mike

Well, so much for A New Hope being a particularly significant event in time. This trend in the EU storylines made the original tale feel like a more primitive sample from an endless escalation of conflict as usual.

Enter my initial apprehension about Episode VII…

Now again — I love every moment of the new movie, and the story has really got me speculating about the Galaxy Far, Far Away like I haven’t in years. But, in the aftermath of the initial glow, I now have that familiar creeping worry that we are all headed towards a similar scenario where we could quickly run out of cards to put down. The characters and stories are great, but all of this isn’t just taking place in the Star Wars universe — the direction is taking place in modern day Hollywood, too, the world of outrageous 3D, theme parks and sequels and spinoffs without end.

We already blew our load with a star-sucking planet. Where is left to go? Black Hole Generator? Big Bang Emulator? Universe Destroyer? Then what? How much stock is going to be put into endlessly bigger threats? Where does the need for Wow Factor wane so that an incredible story can carry us without exponential explosions? If we’re to expect a constant stream of new Star Wars movies for the rest of our lives, whose Disney digit is to remain poised over the integrity button? This vehicle could quickly spin out of control. If the trend is escalation, then the path eventually leads to absurdity (see: Michael Bay).

We saw shades of this cinematic dark side in the prequels: double ended lightsaber [!] leads to two lightsabers at once [!!] into wielding four lightsabers at the same time [!!!]. Every planet introduced  a new, ramped-up intensity, over-the-top ILM’ing, the pace of wars and the race of battles evolving exponentially. I want to believe we won’t have to play this game forever. (Let me state for the record now: if I start seeing lightsabers coming out of people’s knees, I’m tapping out)

Star Wars, in my opinion, is at its best when the effects and IMAX-iness aren’t in the front. We’ve seen a positive shift back to reality (i.e.: practical effect, shooting on actual film) with The Force Awakens, so with all of my effort I will stay cautiously hopeful and not let my worries overwhelm the future. I want to believe this new era will always remember not only where it came from, but what it is still connected to.

9 thoughts to “Ante Up? – A #FilthyCasual’s Reflections on The Force Awakens”

  1. Your insights about the EU are spot on — it’s at it’s best when it just shows slices of continuing life in a galaxy far, far away – and at it’s very worse when it becomes Superweapon one-upsmanship.

    Elbows. Lightsaber Elbows.

    1. There’s a solid premise in where they’re going. I want to believe they won’t need to keep our attention by blowing us away all the time. I want to get sucked in, not blown apart.

  2. Oh come on, the double saber reveal moment in TPM was one of the best moments of the entire PT! That and the duel that followed. In contrast Anakin’s double saber wielding was criminally short. Greivous? Yeah, I’d have to agree that was nuts and not in a good way.

    I’m curious on one point – you say you didn’t like the tendency of Legends to have a load of superweapons that were even worse than the Death Star, so how is it the Starkiller works for you where those others failed?

    Finally, so certain are you that you can tell what is or isn’t CGI? Filmakers have become very cunning over the last few years in how they cloak CGI to stop the audience spotting it as easily. I think rather the SFX comments are a strategy to de-fang the really bad rep the PT CGI acquired and, in that respect, I think it’s been very successful.

    1. Criminally short?!?!?! Count Dooku was well within his legal rights to defend himself… or is that not what you meant ? See, you said short… and well… um…

      1. Heheheh – very good, but surely you can do better? 😉

        I had in mind the fight sequence, it was this one exchange of strikes and that was it.

    2. I didn’t so much think of Starkiller Base “working for me”. To be completely honest, I think it was because I really wasn’t paying much attention to it. In comparison to the exciting/intriguing new characters and notion of this new story arc, a freakin’ planet-sized weapon seems kind of like an after thought for me (which I suppose is saying alot). It reinforced my feelings that (for me) these big “wow-factors” are totally unnecessary.

      And you are correct in the fact I certainly cannot spot every element of CGI in the movies, but it seems the creative forces behind TFA have gone out of their way to take steps back to real sets and practical effects in the spirit of making it, which evokes more of a positive intentional-thing, as opposed to it being a matter of visuals, if that makes any sense. It makes me hopeful that their ‘getting practical with it’ was in any way important. George jumped that ship a long time ago and the prequels suffered because of it.

      The big take away for me: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

      1. Oh, I’d certainly agree CGI should be a SFX tool rather than the tool, that’s certainly the impression the PT became known for – though I think they did use a fair amount of older methods too.

        (Although the entire CGI in film debates do seem to rely upon this notion that someone punches a button and boom, instant effect and everything I’ve seen on how CGI is done says it’s a lot more work than that! I could imagine in 2001, Lucas does an interview saying Ep 2 will do this and that and this as digital and there’s a load of SFX techs watching it going: “1000, 2000, 3000 – OK, that’ll be 5000 EFX shots, many months of work and they’ll be far harder than he thinks!”)

        Similarly, ‘just because you can…’ – if only more people heeded that one-liner.

      2. The fact that CGI takes time and work to accomplish has no bearing on my view. And I’m not a flat out CGI hater either. It’s simply the notion that TFA didn’t just keep going down the path of “how nuts can we get with this SFX shit” that makes it a good sign. They actually wrote a real story, which I feel Marvel often forgets to do.

      3. I can agree with that, though I’ll have to get back to you on the story point in, oh, say 2020? (Going to blitz watch Eps 7-9 in one go)

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