I used to be a pretty serious Star Wars fan. As a kid and a teenager, I had the video games, the novels, the reference books, and the movies themselves. I loved this world, its depth and complexity, and how much space there was in the world of Star Wars for so many amazing stories.
Then I saw the prequels, and I tired of the whole affair. Now, I’m quite pleased that there's a new Star Wars film out that's actually good. This is the limit of my excitement.
That excitement is still there for Doctor Who, as I was giddy all through this year’s Xmas special, The Husbands of River Song. Even if there’s a terrible era of Doctor Who in the future, it wouldn't turn me off the show altogether because it’s always open to new creative voices coming and going.
Any decline in Doctor Who’s quality I know would be temporary, and definitely not essential to the nature of the show. If Toby Whithouse turns Doctor Who into some grim male angst soap opera, I know it'll only last a few years, and that Doctor Who itself isn't ruined.
It wasn’t that way with the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas remained the supreme creative voice in the franchise. Even in the media where George himself had no creative input, his personality predominated because the novels and comics – let alone the Clone Wars television show – were designed with loyalty to his vision.
In a few words, the George Lucas aesthetic vision of Star Wars: Utterly earnest pulp adventure with the tone and gravitas of epic poetry in a fantastic sci-fi setting.
I haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, but I know what happens, and I've read enough reviews to know that it's good. It’s a solid action film with beautiful imagery and interesting ideas.
|Consider Natalie Portman. I actually
liked Padmé's character quite a lot in
The Phantom Menace and Attack of
the Clones. She was one of the only
entertaining parts of these films,
because she was such a powerful,
assertive, noble, heroic woman.
The film leaves enough suggestions and plot threads hanging to populate not just the current trilogy, but an entire universe of what I'm sure will be very lucrative franchise movies. In that way, it recaptures that feeling of how expansive the Star Wars world is.
And yes, this is basically a retread of the same basic story structure as A New Hope. But it's remixed for modern sensibilities. It puts a woman and a black man as the central heroes of the story, itself a new centre for the Star Wars story that offers wonderful new creative possibilities.
Most notably, this is a historic epoch for Star Wars because it’s the franchise’s first step out of George Lucas’ dominion. For almost 40 years, Star Wars has been the vision of one person.*
* What I love about Doctor Who: the show’s first primary vision ended after its first two years when producer Verity Lambert left. There are a lot of ways to slice it, but I divide Doctor Who into 20 distinct aesthetic visions of a primary creative personality. The incantation, everyone: Verity Lambert, John Wiles, Donald Tosh, David Whitaker, Innes Lloyd and Derrick Sherwin, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, Graham Williams (feat. Douglas Adams), Christopher Bidmead, John Nathan-Turner, JNT and Eric Saward, Andrew Cartmel, Peter Darvill-Evans, Rebecca Levene, Big Finish Audio, Lawrence Miles, Justin Richards, Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat with Matt Smith, and Steven Moffat with Peter Capaldi.
Now is the test to see if Star Wars can remain distinct without its one aesthetic vision. If the singularity of Star Wars can remain now that there can be more than one kind of Star Wars story.
The revival of Star Wars has caused a lot of prequel revisionism. No one is really saying that they were good. No one can ever say that. But people are reconsidering the prequels for redemptive readings at last.
We can take an attitude to the prequels that's more dispassionate than the hangover of our initial disgust at them. Redemptive readings of the prequels have taken them as noble failures. George was trying out interesting things, and so are valuable for their ambition and potential at least.
Probably the most powerful redemptive readings of George Lucas' prequels was this long essay, The Ring Theory of Star Wars.
Mike Klimo argues that George composed all six films as literally epic poetry, with narrative structure that was common in the ancient Greek epic. The ring. In short form, it’s literally composed as poetry, with repeating rhymes and phrases at different points. The meanings of each repeating phrase change with the context of each appearance: what surrounds it when it appears, the weight and legacy of the story that's come before.
Except instead of rhyming words and repeated phrases of language, Star Wars is an epic poem composed of rhyming and repeating images and narrative situations. Read the entire essay later – it's fascinating and brilliant. And, I think, actually true about what George intended.
The problem is that this ring narrative form is practically dead. It's disappeared from the literary and art works any human culture consumes and creates today. Nobody knows anymore how to recognize a ring structure when we see it, and engage with the story on its terms. We’ll mistake it for something else, look for more common narrative frameworks, and fault the work for their absence.
In the prequels’ case, we’ll look for character-based narratives, casually-spoken dialogue, maybe some ironic winks at the audience, and naturalistic acting. We’ll see none of this, and we’ll fault the movies for it.
Yet I can't fault George for having made a film series with such incredible ambition. But it’s also such an insular ambition. Composing a blockbuster film series with the same framework as ancient Greek epic poetry, but read as a series of images.
I wish I could remember where I first heard that all the Star Wars movies are better with all sound but the music removed. The problem is that so few people will be open to watching or understanding a film this way.
If they were, such few films as these which ever get made wouldn’t be nearly so remarkable.