Review: Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

TFAAround the age of 8 or 9, I was experiencing Star Wars for the first time on a screen of 10 inches. I preferred watching movies in solitude, so I would set up our family’s box-sixed portable TV on one of the endtables in our living room, and insert one of three tapes – the edited-for-TV Special Edition of A New Hope taped off of PBS, the edited-for-TV Phantom Menace taped off Fox, or a rented copy of the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi (I’d deemed Empire to depressing for a rewatch). For the first time in my life I was part of a larger world, and a great love of film bloomed.

I’m like many with their own childhood Star Wars stories. The series holds a timeless, universal appeal that inspires the most passionate emotional attachment of any film franchise ever made. Perhaps that’s because of how Star Wars seems to blend every genre of film together in one big, beautiful mosaic. Star Wars practically IS film, and with its latest installment The Force Awakens, the vice versa can be true once again.

I’ve expressed my fears as Star Wars transferred hands from creator George Lucas, who’d pledged an end to the series on film, to the Disney corporation, who had instantly greenlit The Force Awakens and would surely whore it out tenfold. I expected, perhaps even wanted, to hate director J.J. Abrams and the Lucasfilm team for The Force Awakens being the one to drop the torch, to extinguish the light of the series for all time.

And that’s just me – Star Wars’ legacy spans nearly 40 years of films, TV, comic books, video games, merchandise, and more. The universe means so much to so many different generations with different takes on its many tales. Lucasfilm and Abrams have taken careful consideration of all this, and in an exhaustive effort to please everybody, The Force Awakens is actually a very likable, if familiar rebirth of the series.

Like its predecessors, the film is drawn in simple strokes – Luke Skywalker is missing. The Galactic Civil War rages on thirty years after Return of the Jedi, in the form of the New Order (bad guys) and the Resistance (good guys). Before being captured by the Empire on the planet Jakku, X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) gives droid BB-8 a secret map to Skywalker’s whereabouts. BB-8 then stumbles upon Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who traverses Jakku’s deserts for the remains of imperial machinery. There is also Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper horrified by war, who teams up with Rey to return the map to the Resistance. They are pursued by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a wannabe Darth Vader of the New Order wielding the power of the Dark Side. There are appearances from the older players of the saga as well, but I’ll leave those as nostalgic surprises for the viewer to discover, just as they are intended to be.

While watching The Force Awakens, I found myself internally berating its inane dialogue (“C’mon! We need a pilot!”) and hokey sentimentalism (“You came back for me?!”). But, I recalled, are these not qualities of the original Star Wars as well?

So I sat back, shut my mind up, and I let the movie work its magic. And I was whisked right back into that larger world.

If the original trilogy was George Lucas’ prize automobile, then J.J. Abrams has gone to Lucas’ old garage, studied the original blueprints, cosmetics of the machine, looked under the hood, memorized every detail of its design, and then built a pretty chewiewerehomedamn close replica. And it runs like a dream. I imagine a lot of that can be attributed to Abrams calling in all the old pit crew to put the vehicle together – we have Empire and Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan co-scribing, sound master Ben Burtt bringing back some familiar sounds from the series’ past, and John Williams rounding out with a rousing, triumphant score. Even Drew Struzan was enlisted to provide some poster art. And though Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is mugging at CGI monsters now, he’s still got that leading-man swagger that made him a star back in ‘77. And the new players are holding their own just as well amongst the veterans to boot.

Abrams is also one of those smart everyman directors who, like Lucas, puts you in the driver’s seat and gives you the full sensory experience of its speed. We nod. We like the way this engine sounds. We like the feel of it when it vrooms. And Abrams’ own tiny contributions feel like welcome twists on an old machine. The lightsaber duel, for one, is slower, more feral and akin to medieval fencing, a fresh perspective on the cartoonish acrobatics of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. Abrams understands through and through why these movies worked so well; The Force Awakens, like Hope, Empire, and Jedi, are about idealism, comradery, friendship, loyalty, and on a deeper level, life and legacy. Awakens retains the tone, the spirit, and the fun, rah-rah attitude of the originals. Credit Lucasfilm for that too – The Force Awakens can stand among the best of the company’s Expanded Universe stories as a natural complement to the Original Trilogy before it.

Yes, there’s a “but” coming.

You might recognize the film’s key plot points, the cute little droid carrying secret plans, the captured Rebel leader being tortured for the location of said plans, the mysterious masked villain, the shadowy evil figure behind him, the old man mentor, the cantina of bizarre creatures, the giant space station that can destroy planets…are all retreads of A New Hope. Sure, the series has always called back to and paralleled itself (“like poetry” says Lucas), but a beat-for-beat recreation of Hope feels too safe, a concession to fans lying in the wait with pitchforks for anything deviating from the series’ past, and a studio with a very large investment to protect.

Which is the key problem with Awakens…it fails to innovate, to push the technological envelope in the same way its predecessors did. All stormtroopersthe planets look like rehashes of the original trilogy’s – desert planet, forest planet, and ice planet. The World War II symbolism of the originals also feels conspicuously foregrounded, not to mention dated. Abrams claims the New Order are like if the Nazis all fled to Argentina and reformed, and obviously fans would not object to bringing back such iconic enemies. I would’ve liked, however, to have seen Abrams do something a little ballsier to parallel more modern warfare…what if instead of Nazis, the bad guys were stand-ins for the Russians during the Cold War?

Abrams also struggles to find the visual comedy of the series. Awakens has some chuckle-worthy moments but nothing like the campy humor of the originals, which while occasionally cringe-worthy, provided a cutesy way of breaking up the action. Add to that some lingering continuity issues with the series as a whole, and Awakens isn’t quite as satisfying as it could’ve been.

My past posts have suggested a great distaste for Disney corporatizing the series. With The Force Awakens, I felt just as pumped up as I did watching the originals as a kid. And I think I’ve made peace with those anti-Disney sentiments now. The simple truth is, Star Wars isn’t mine anymore. It is being passed to a new generation. Episodes I-VI will always hold special places in my heart, and the series will continue to be a great influence on me as an artist and as a person. But when you love something, you let it go. Rather than selfishly denounce all future Star Wars material, I want the kids of today to see The Force Awakens and get as wide-eyed, as uplifted, and as inspired I was was watching the originals.

Though hopefully on a slightly bigger size screen.

7.5/10

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Images: themarysue, dolimg.com, images.smh.com

Review: Ant-Man

640_antman_antfriendIn Robert Altman’s 1992 Hollywood satire The Player, a writer pitches a studio executive a story about a wrongly-accused woman who dies tragically in the gas chamber just before she can be saved. When the executive questions the downer ending, the writer argues it has to end that way, because “that’s reality.”

By the end of the film, we witness the final production – Julia Roberts plays the woman accused, and just before the gas engulfs her, Bruce Willis bursts into the chamber and carries her away in his arms. Gone is the pathos of the writer’s vision, thanks to the corporate overlords presiding over the studio.

I’d say that’s a pretty accurate descriptor of what’s become of Ant-Man, originally scribed by the brilliant Shaun of the Dead writer/director Edgar Wright. Wright was slated to direct Ant-Man too, shepherding the project for a full eight years before finally parting ways with Disney/Marvel over creative differences. The studio has since reworked the film into perhaps the pinnacle of its shamelessly banal, same-y superhero adaptations, sucking out any and all chance it may have had at being special.

During the Cold War, S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) developed a suit which could shrink its wearer down to the size of an ant, and could even command an army of ants themselves. After a tragic incident, Pym retires the Ant-Man, until years later rouge mentee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) takes over Pym’s company and begins attempting to replicate the shrinking tech for military use. To stop him, Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) take in a new Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a reformed burglar just looking to have a normal life with his young daughter Cassie (adorable newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson).

Based on the classic “To Steal an Ant-Man” from the pages of Marvel Premiere, there is a very cool premise buried in Ant-Man. This idea of a highly stylized, cool-as-ice heist with tiny people, a morally ambiguous criminal element, and superheroes passing their mantle down to a new generation. But after the Mouse’s grubby mitts wiped Wright’s original script clean of its edge, we’ve lost all sense of style and uniqueness. Lang is now a reluctant thief, his comrades all racial stereotypes played for comedic relief (!), and with all embarking on a very generic quest for redemption. What we’re left with is not so much a heist movie as it is Disney’s fluffed-up idea of one.

Replacing Wright in the director’s chair is Bring it On’s Peyton Reed, who adds nothing of value to the material other than bowing to the studio’s desire to cut the balls off the film. One scene sees Lang try on the suit and shrink down, only to have him run from gushing bathtub water, a dance floor of stomping partiers, and finally be swept through the air on a winged ant. It’s the kind of chaotic action Wright would’ve directed brilliantly, but Reed isn’t nearly as skilled, forcing Lang on a clusterfuck of screwball pratfalling that’s neither funny nor engaging.

Poor Paul Rudd, who’s admirably pressing through the motions of this subgenre, like the forced romance with Evangeline Lilly’s character, despite the two having zero chemistry and literally sharing nothing more than interested glances with one another. You’d think Rudd’s brand of dry, self-aware humor would at least prove a draw, in addition to the fact that he himself took part in the rewrites with his Anchorman director Adam McKay. But Rudd’s Lang just comes off as unfunny, and an odd contrast to the solemn gravity of Michael Douglas’ monologues. I’m reminded very much of Green Lantern, another comic book adaptation brimming with potential and starring a very capable comedic male lead, whose talents are utterly wasted in a movie butchered by the studio. At least now Ryan Reynolds can redeem himself with Deadpool; no doubt that Rudd has the chops to do the same eventually.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a generous helping of commercials for its other properties. Ant-Man is another class offender, inundating its first act with S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos and double entendre about giant hammers and iron suits. I bring it up again, however, because the film actually does do something right in all its commercialism – a sequence when Lang has to go toe-to-toe with an Avenger. I’m fondly reminded of some of the charmingly gimmicky Marvel Team-Up books of old, when heroes would fight each other following a misunderstanding, later to reconcile and acknowledge each other’s strengths. For that brief moment, Ant-Man inadvertently channels the Marvel feeling that’s been sorely missing from these movies lately.

It’s little relief. Ant-Man embodies the entirety of my issues with Marvel Studios, and stands as neither an effective superhero movie, nor a particularly good heist movie. Which is a damn shame, because Ant-Man is the type of niche character that has huge potential to make a big splash in the right, or should I say Wright, pair of hands.

 

4.5/10

 

IMAGE: ETonline

Micro-Managing: Edgar Wright’s ‘Ant-Man’ and the Arrogance of Disney/Marvel

Comic-Con-Marvel-Panel-AntMan-Edgar-WrightWithin mere weeks, the long-gestating comic book adaptation Ant-Man has gone from one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2015 to a buzzword for crushing disappointment and the ugliness of Hollywood’s corporate sector. The film was my most anticipated Marvel venture to date; an original superhero property, a great story outline, the writer/director of some fantastic action-comedies helming, and a stellar cast, all promising to comprise the studio’s most exciting film in years.

No longer.

As announced last month, Edgar Wright has departed Ant-Man after Disney and Marvel, taking issue with his script, reportedly sanctioned rewrites without Wright’s knowledge. The rewrites, said to be, “poorer, homogenized, and not Edgar’s vision,” were apparently commissioned from Disney, who had concerns with the “morality of the piece.” Could Scott Lang, a thief who steals the Ant-Man tech to save his daughter’s life, have been written too morally complex a character for the kid-friendly Disney to get behind?

I’ve followed Ant-Man’s development pretty closely over its 8-year (!) development period. I remember thinking how lucky Marvel was to have found a filmmaker whose talent is only equaled by his passion, and for a C-lister like Ant-Man no less. I remember when, after years of uncertainty, Wright finally showed up at Comic-Con 2012, his treasured copy of Marvel Premiere #47 in hand, to announce the film’s impending production, and even screen some test footage he’d shot that Spring to showcase the film’s action sequences.

Ant-Man is a project that has taken a great deal of time and care to get this far. It’s also a project that would be on absolutely no one’s radar if it weren’t for Wright’sant.man name being attached, and the lengthy development period has only served to build fan hype. For Disney to throw that investment to the wind, to disrespect the one director who made Ant-Man, of all characters, a hot property…well, there’s definitely something to be said about both creative and professional integrity there.

I refrained from commenting in full on my Twitter when the news of Wright’s departure first broke, just until I could get the full story. Now that we appear to have it, the verdict is practically unanimous. No matter which way you paint it, Disney and Marvel are completely at fault.

The debacle presents a growing issue I have with Marvel Studios – big money precedes big talent. Back in 2009, Disney seemed content to stay out of Marvel’s business, yet now, it seems Marvel chief Kevin Feige reportedly, “went to bat for Wright and lost,” meaning now it’s Disney’s shareholders dictating the major creative decisions of Marvel’s films. Like it or not, the company is now fully part of the Disney machine, which will spell the death knell for its creative properties.

In the beginning, Marvel were consciously hiring A-list directors for their films – Kenneth Branagh on Thor, Jon Favreau on Iron Man, and Joss Whedon on The Avengers. Those films proved the company was willing to work with directors to make solid, creatively sound films. Yet since the Disney acquisition and the colossal success of Avengers, that mentality seems to 15742Marvel_Disney_logo-mdhave shifted from hiring big talent to hiring cheap talent, replacing director’s visions with the stink of corporate synergy and cohesive universe-building. Marvel knows it’s making billions on every movie anyway; instead of hiring someone like Edgar Wright, whom they’ll pay top dollar for and who’ll, if need be, fight them for what he believes is right for the film, why not hire “yes” men, nobody directors to direct quick-and-dirty crowd pleasers? Why take chances, make mistakes, and potentially create something big and bold and wonderful, when you can continue making safe, proven moneymakers?

Take Thor: the Dark World, a film entirely reliant on Kenneth Branagh’s infinitely superior 2011 original to tell its Asgard-based story. The film didn’t work nearly as well as it should have, largely because director Alan Taylor was hired to execute a pre-plotted, studio-bred story arc. Director and studio clashed behind the scenes over last-minute rewrites and reshoots, leading Taylor to diplomatically bow out of contention to direct the eventual threequel. It’s that increasingly creator-unfriendly atmosphere (coupled with Marvel’s growing history of snubbing talent from the get-go…Edward Norton, Jon Favreau, and Patty Jenkins say ‘hi’) that robs Marvel of even a chance at telling genuine, ballsy stories in favor of safe, formulaic ones which increasingly threaten audience indifference.

Even Captain America: the Winter Soldier, a success by most standards, felt largely a studio effort lacking any sort of directorial vision or identity. Its script was more or less completed long before directors Anthony and Joe Russo entered the picture, with the ready-made, Marvel-approved direction changing very little on its way to the silver screen. This is Marvel re-appropriating their comic book publishing mentality to for the silver screen – its publishing division has an even greater history of estranged writers and artists who’ve left the company over unreasonable editorial mandates. And it won’t end with Wright and Ant-Man – now there’s Scott Derrickson, hired to direct Dr. Strange. Though Derrickson directed Sinister, easily one of the finest horror films in years, he also helmed the Day The Earth Stood Still remake, one of Fox’s corporate ventures when the company was still under the director-unfriendly reign of Tom Rothman. Will Derrickson prove another Marvel “yes” man, or will the director’s penchant for dark, occult-ish mythology channeled so brilliantly in Sinister win out?

(Speaking of Fox, interesting to note how that company and Marvel appear to have switched places. Over the last decade, the former was infamous for taking movies out of its directors’ hands and robbing them of their creative vision. With the departure of Rothman, the company now seems content to let their top directors, among them Bryan Singer and James Mangold on X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Wolverine respectively, largely tell their own stories. In contrast, the entirely of Marvel’s Phase 2 seems to have been dictated entirely by corporate higher-ups.)

So what does this mean? After a frantic search for a replacement director to keep their coveted July 2015 release date, Marvel hired Yes Man director Peyton Reed to helm, with Anchorman’s Adam McKay helping out with the script, likely as a favor to actor Paul Rudd. Yet let’s examine this – the film is still fully on schedule, so Wright’s contributions to the project must’ve been significant enough to where scripting, pre-Marvel_Premiere_047_p02visualization, costume design, nearly everything about the film thus far has his signature all over it. With Reed shamelessly picking up where Wright left off, that leaves two things:

A. Where Wright’s style deftly balances action and comedy, Reed’s light, insubstantial style and background largely in comedy lacks that same kind of demanding, stylized prowess that the project calls for based on Wright’s contributions, and

B. Reed is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a Marvel “yes” man, directing what is essentially an abandoned Edgar Wright film. To our knowledge, and as is likely the case, he doesn’t bear even an ounce of the passion and investment Wright felt for the Ant-Man mythology. For superhero movies especially, genuine devotion to the material makes all the difference – compare the genuine, heartfelt approach of Kenneth Branagh on Thor to the mechanical, distant direction of Alan Taylor on its sequel.

At best, Ant-Man will retain enough of Wright’s vision to stand out amidst a growing mass of generic, lackluster Marvel films banking on undying audience loyalty rather than bothering to bring that audience something unexpected and, dare I say it, brilliant. Last year, I wrote in my Thor: the Dark World review that I’d rather sit through another Ang Lee Hulk, a film which takes big risks and fails miserably, than yet another “meh” Marvel movie playing it close to the chest. I have a nasty feeling Wright’s tenure on Ant-Man will be a cautionary tale for other auteurs, who will choose to stay far away from a company unwelcoming to risk, and one which threatens to fiercely stamp out their creativity.

Comic-Con will soon be upon us. I can only hope the company panel’s yearly theatrics don’t distract fans and journalists from voicing their disgust. Maybe a public crucifixion for those involved is the only way these studio bigwigs will learn not to make their directors feel small.

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A Bad Feeling About This: Why Disney’s Lucasfilm Acquisition Spells True Doom for ‘Star Wars’

 

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If there are two things I’ve learned in the seven-and-a-half years since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, it’s that women are impossible, and Star Wars is dead. Kaput. Expired. Regardless of what the prequels yielded, George Lucas and his company were finished making live-action movies. So whenever discussion of a potential Star Wars 7 arose in casual conversation among friends, I would chuckle warmly and perhaps reference one of the many parodies surrounding the title. The series had endured enough damage, I thought. It was time to settle back and enjoy a lifetime of pleasant memories and warm nostalgia, maybe re-watch the Original Trilogy with my kids someday and share with them something that had long ago inspired me to do what I do. And maybe, just maybe, in that time, George Lucas’ recently-announced retirement would bring about the long-awaited restoration of the original release versions of the trilogy. Either way, I saw no Gungans or re-edits in my future, and I was all the happier for it.

So like many, the news of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm came as a complete shock. The George Lucas once demanding full control over any and all aspect of his property was now lamenting the fact that he was the only one who never got to be a fan and happy that the prospect would finally come. Still, the deal made sense in a way – Disney and Lucas have been longtime partners, namely teaming up to bring about the many Indiana Jones and Star Wars-themed events and attractions at the company’s theme parks. You’d think that, given how protective Lucasfilm was over its franchises, that the company would be allotted complete creative control over its output. You’d think that maybe Lucasfilm would finally be allowed to reclaim some of its former glory after Lucas’ departure, given the many talented people still working there with likely several bold new ideas of where to take the franchise next.

Right. Then I woke up.

With the announcement of Disney’s acquisition also came the incredibly presumptuous news that the company had set a target 2015 release date for a seventh Star Wars film to be set after Return of the Jedi. I stared at my computer screen dumbfounded. I bitched. I cussed. A friend called me up and we bitched and cussed together. Overreaction? Perhaps, but I know I’m not the only one. This series has touched so many people, and I know there are others just as disgusted and horrified at the larger implications of this news as me. Really, you’d think by this point, the ongoing reputation of Star Wars hitting rock bottom wouldn’t be so repulsing, but I suppose to ever expect the series to finally bottom out would be wishful thinking. Where Lucas dug deeper and deeper to lower the bar before finally hitting a rock and giving up, Disney came in to toss away the shovel and start drilling. You think Lucas was beating a dead horse? Now he’s got the Mouse Machine beating it for him.

But why, you might ask, if this such a bad thing for whatever modicum of dignity this series has left? Glad you asked.

Let’s start with the fact that Lucasfilm is seemingly no longer in direct control of its properties. From the looks of it, this isn’t the same situation as when Disney acquired Marvel some years ago, where the company has since been essentially left to its own means. Lucas himself assigned producer Kathleen Kennedy as head of the company, and now she reports to Alan Horn, head of Walt Disney Studios. We’re talking about all new management here, which, while certainly there may be some good things that come with Lucas’ departure, on the whole, it’s going to be Disney calling the shots from now on.

Really, for all their faults, Lucasfilm under George Lucas did have the good sense to quit making live action movies for a time. While I won’t argue that Star Wars was whored out immensely under his regime, the company was also independent and with limited resources, with just a single man at the helm. Now, with a major multi-million dollar corporation calling the shots, the potential for abuse is practically unlimited. How about a Jar-Jar themed attraction at Disney World? A Disney Channel cartoon starring a young Luke Skywalker and his buddies on Tatooine? An ABC sitcom featuring everyone’s favorite whistle-blower Garindan? In the pantheon of bad ideas, Lucas’ misdeeds are petty compared to what’s been made of Star Wars without his involvement. Really, we could be looking at several decades worth of material rivaling the Holiday Special in terms of awful. Just let that sink in for a minute.

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Under Lucas, there was at least a familiarity to the mediocrity. Now, it’s a whole new ball game. And it’s not just Star Wars – once the distribution rights to Indiana Jones are sorted out with Paramount, it and seemingly every other Lucasfilm property will all be going to Disney. Remember that Shia LeBouf-centric Indiana Jones 5 batted around for a time after the fourth film? And remember how Disney basically launched Shia LeBouf’s career with Even Stevens? You see where I’m going with this, let us speak no more of it. And what happens with Harrison Ford once he’s hung up the fedora for good? Even Lucas and Spielberg understood that Ford was Indy and to recast the role would be blasphemous. You think Disney shares that sensibility when there’s money to be made? If you do, you’ve more faith in them than I.

Not to mention, Disney has a long, storied history of abusing its new acquisitions. Think of how the company has whored out the Muppets over the past several years. For last year’s release of Jason Segel’s The Muppets (a solid movie in its own right, to be clear), the familiar Jim Henson characters were everywhere, making appearances on talk shows, interviewing celebrities for the red-carper premieres of other Disney movies…the company completely took away the fantasy of the Muppet world. A rag-tag group of mischief makers had been turned into squeaky-clean kids toys, marketing tools pandering to children and plastered all over the media. Hell, what was Mickey Mouse originally but a mischievous cartoon character? Now you see aging mothers wearing his likeness on t-shirts. Say what you will about Lucasfilm, but for all the merchandising and perceived selling-out, the fantasy of that world, the edge of that universe, was still more or less preserved. Disney is going to scrub away whatever’s left of it.

I mean, look at this (credit goes to Bleeding Cool):

And even this, long before the acquisition:

Good god, can you miss the point any more? If you’re going to completely sterilize Star Wars and take the punch out of everything it once stood for, then this is a pretty damn good start. And this is what Disney is already doing to Lucas’ beloved characters. Now picture that on a massive, widespread scale.

Some might argue that, like Marvel before it, Disney may very well leave Lucasfilm alone. Bullshit. Marvel has committed people at their company determined to keep its properties all on the right track and keeping to a consistent image/vision. Lucasfilm had George Lucas there to give the final word on everything as far as integrity to the property was concerned, and now that he’s gone, who’s going to be the visionary now? Horn and his cronies, that’s who, and unlike Lucas’ largely one-man operation, they’ve got the means to keep this kind of thing going on for an eternity.

Let’s not forget also that even Disney employees themselves have admitted their live-action output is garbage, focused more on visual flair than narrative. What makes people think a future seventh episode will be any different? “Oh, but they hired an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and he’s using George Lucas’ old story treatments!” some might counter (writings which Lucas denied the existence of for years, but that’s another matter entirely). Really, who cares? They could resurrect Shakespeare for all I care. In Disney’s hands, Star Wars won’t be Star Wars.

Besides, it’s widely know that whatever treatments Lucas may have been plotting weren’t extensive enough to be translated to film without being heavily rewritten, as was the case with the prequels before them. And that’s even ignoring the fact that much of what Lucas planned for those films was used in Return of the Jedi to wrap everything up when he thought he was done with the series for good (see The Secret History of Star Wars for details). So what we’re looking at, in a sense, is a company with a shitty live-action division hiring people other than those who made Star Wars Star Wars to make Star Wars. Even as a Lucas dissenter, that just makes me feel dirty.

So then, what people made Star Wars the legacy it is today in the first place? People like Ben Burtt, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Irvin Kershner, Stuart Freeborn, and countless other names, not the least of which Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. I don’t see any of these guys returning to their respective positions, regardless of what’s already been making headlines in recent weeks. Look past the PR bullshit and you’ll see a group of people that have long moved on, a people with far too much going on right now and with too much pride to return, under new management no less, to what will likely be a soulless imitation of what came before. If they do, I will lose a great deal of respect for them.

Even from a basic screenwriting perspective, George Lucas had a very distinct way of telling his stories. And even the prequels, essentially the filmmaker’s one-man show, had tbilderaces of good stuff amidst their visual indulgence. Lucas’ dialogue, while bad, had an idealistic, otherworldly quality to it that made the Star Wars universe feel so unique. Such unnatural, yet endlessly-quotable lines like “I have a bad feeling about this” have become iconic over the years…who could try to replicate that? Really, the highest one could hope to shoot for is to ape Segel’s Muppets and just make the best fan film possible. But even then, it’s not really Star Wars, just someone else’s interpretation. So as much as internet fanboys are ready to rally behind movie-of-the-week names like Jon Favreau and J.J. Abrams, nothing Disney could do would convince me a seventh episode would ever truly be a worthy follow-up.

What it all comes down to is, too much time has passed. These films have been engrained in our cultural heritage for generations; people are too familiar with the saga and its classic status to accept anything less than what came before. Really, another time and place and I would’ve been thrilled at this news. Back in 1978, Lucas himself wanted the series to become something of an anthology series, with his friends Spielberg, Coppola, De Palma, and more each getting to direct an episode. The approach could’ve worked, except when Star Wars exploded into a major franchise, Lucas claimed direct ownership and kept the property largely to himself. In the time since then, the remaining story threads Lucas planned for future episodes were all tied up with Return of the Jedi, having only left room to go backward and make the prequels if he ever desired to. Then those happened, and pretty much cemented the fact that the series should’ve stayed dead.

I’ve actually seen several online forum dwellers celebrate the fact that the franchise is no longer in Lucas’ hands. Sure, that’s all well and good, but at what cost? Lucas should’ve left the company to its own means and its own decisions. Lucasfilm could’ve once again been a visionary company employing visionary people with great ideas to share. If there are any such people working there now, it looks as though they’ll never be heard in the way their predecessors, Ben Burtt, Joe Johnston, etc. were. Now, Disney’s corporate hand will be there to continue to stifle their ideas, a reality made especially clear by the fact that the studio is setting a release date on another episode before they’ve even entered pre-production.

I’ve also seen people celebrate the idea of more Star Wars movies in generalFOCStarWars_jpg_627x325_crop_upscale_q85. May I ask why? Because of how much time has passed, I’ve always failed to see the point of Star Wars without its principle players from the OT present. What is Star Wars without Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke, 3P0, R2, Vader, etc.? Character is an integral part of what makes this series so special. Could I buy into a new set of characters and a new time period? Maybe, but you’d think in all the time the Expanded Universe had been around, someone would’ve been able to make something better or on par with the OT. If even that’s not possible, then what’s the point?

In short, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a new episode in the hands of Disney, who will no doubt continue moving the property further and further away from what made the Original Trilogy so great in the first place. I’m saddened to think that the greatness of those films may one day be so diluted by Disney’s corporate prostitution that even the simple sense of child-like wonder I felt while watching the OT as a kid will begin to fade away. The ubiquitous reach of the Disney Corporation is so wide, there’ll be little chance of staying completely away from their version of the Star Wars universe. I worry that myself and new fans will never again be able to see the old movies the way they should be seen.

As for Lucas himself, the filmmaker has become all but blameless for whatever happens to the franchise. I’d bet that’s probably part of why he sold it all off in the first place, tired of being a constant pariah for what he’s done. So instead of pointing my finger back at Lucas yet again for such a disastrous decision for the fate of Star Wars, I’m pointing it squarely at fans and general audiences. Where we go from here, ladies and gentlemen, is up to you. The responsibility has fallen to you. It’s your fault if this thing isn’t allowed to be put out of its misery like it should be. It’s your fault if you continue buying tickets and complain about it afterwards. It’s your fault if you continue to blindly support an even larger Empire sure to criminally exploit Star Wars into oblivion.

Me, I’ll be continuing to swear off anything further to do with the property outside of the Original Trilogy. I suggest anyone with the good taste to understand what I’m saying to do the same. Ignore the widespread media attention and endless rumors to come. It’s time to move on from this dead, buried, unearthed, raped corpse of a franchise.

George-Lucas-at-Disney-World-235343105

One of the central themes of Star Wars is the underdog/nature vs. the machine, a metaphor for Lucas’ ardent criticism of the studio system and his fight to maintain the integrity of his work. How ironic that for everything he sacrificed along the way, his greatest creation is now a part of that machine.

Edgy, Enchanted, and Expendable: San Diego Comic-Con 2012 (Day One)

 

con08-logo-250Welcome to Heraldic Criticism’s first annual second-hand Comic-Con coverage! Unlike E3, I don’t have the good fortune of watching the various panels and such live online, and videos only show up on YouTube several weeks after the fact, so my coverage won’t be so much a recap of everything as it will be my own commentary on the news that matters most to me. Those interested can obviously find the various liveblogs and other coverage on other news sites as well. That said, enjoy!

PREVIEW NIGHT

For the internet follower, there’s usually not much to get excited about on Preview Night, but this year, two particular live action adaptations of interest were screened: CW’s Arrow pilot and Pete Travis’ Dredd. I purposefully glossed over the details so as not to negatively influence my future reviews, but it seems the overall reaction to both is pretty positive. I’ve been on board for Dredd since the first trailer came out, and Arrow has of course been on my radar since its inception. The news has definitely solidified my plans to check out both. Arrow premieres Wednesday, October 10th at 8 pm EST, and Dredd will be in theaters September 21st.

THURSDAY

As a compulsive advance planner, I like to have a good idea of what to expect in terms of what I’m following at Comic-Con each year. Since last year, it seems to be an increasingly popular trend for news sites to refrain from posting what panels they’ll be liveblogging at until ten minutes before it actually starts. I don’t know if it’s the growing number of people lining up at Hall H, and the bloggers aren’t sure if they’ll even make it into the room or not, but it’s irritating for someone like me who now has to rush around at the very last minute finding a liveblog to follow. Still, it beats waiting in line for hours on end.

I followed liveblogs from ComingSoon.net, Comic Book Resources, and DC’s The Source blog, so all information collected hereafter is taken from those sources.

DC Comics: Tales from The Dark and The Edge

I wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in any panel featuring Rob Liefeld, but I wanted to check this one out to see All-Star Western co-author Jimmy Palmiotti talk about where the book would be headed in the future. DC seems to be really primping their zero issue event in September and subsequent #13 issues to hook more readers, as there are plenty of new events coming up in all their books. Palmiotti mentioned that All-Star Western #0 would retell Hex’s origins, and with the way All-Star Western has been going, I’m completely on board.

The incredibly lax liveblog I followed also added, “More fan questions about Jonah Hex, Frankenstein and other characters from fans being answered by Palmiotti, Lemire, Fialkov and the rest of the panel here.” Wow, thanks for that incredibly descriptive tidbit, DC! Don’t bother typing out the questions and answers or anything, I really just wanted to hear that there were questions being asked and answers being given. Your “Con Away from Con” coverage certainly is living up to its namesake!

I found a much more satisfactory summation of what went down at the panel here for those interested.

DC Comics: Batman: Beyond the Night of Owls

After hearing that big things were happening with Scott Snyder’s Batman book this September, I made a point to check out this panel to see what was up. Turns out it wasn’t much I didn’t already know – the author hyped the series’ #0 issue, which will apparently contain a retcon of Frank Miller’s classic Year One origin and “will show a very different Bruce Wayne”. Not sure I like the sound of that, but I may check it out nonetheless.

Following that, in October Snyder will begin a new story arc featuring the Joker, which he described as his “Killing Joke”. I’m interested, if only to see if he can live up to those standards, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t impressed with what I’ve read from his run so far. Batman is one of those rare characters that has had so many impressive, iconic story arcs, that for me, anything less just sort of pales in comparison. It’s a high standard that I’d like to see Snyder live up to, even if I’m doubtful he will.

I must say though, I love the recently released promo image for the Joker’s return:

For those unfamiliar, last September, at the very end of author Tony Daniel’s mediocre Detective Comics #1, a new villain called the Dollmaker physically cut the Joker’s face off and hung it on the wall, and we haven’t seen the Clown Prince of Crime in comics since. I criticized the shock ending, citing the relatively young age of the book’s target audience, but I do think the above image is pretty cool, if only because it reminds me of Face/Off.

Walt Disney Studios: Frankenweenie, Oz The Great and Powerful, and Wreck-it Ralph

I admire Disney for coming to Comic-Con each year. They could easily stop attending in order to get more people to attend their own D23 convention in August, but they still stick it out every year for the nerd crowd. Props. And after an hour-long delay, their panel finally kicked off with a brief look at Frankenweenie, the new stop-motion film from Tim Burton. I’ve never been a fan of the kind of stop-motion popularize by Burton and director Henry Selnick, so I largely zoned out for the duration of this segment.

Next came Oz The Great and Powerful, a story of how the wizard got to Oz directed by Spider-Man trilogy helmer Sam Raimi. ComingSoon noted the parallels to the original film and how the footage shown begins in black and white and fullscreen, before changing to full color and widescreen when the wizard gets to Oz. A trailer was released soon after the panel concluded:

The film looks interesting, but I’m not convinced. A lot of it looks strikingly similar to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, making the overall design look far from original, or indeed anything special. Raimi’s signature touch is present through and through, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep this movie from falling into the same trappings as the latter film.

Lastly came Wreck-It Ralph, a film whose trailer pleasantly surprised me. It really captures the spirit of classic video games, in no short part due to many of the actual characters being present in the film, including Bowser, Dr. Robotnik, and M. Bison. It’s like the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of video games, and it makes me smile.

Disney also gave attendees a surprise look at The Lone Ranger, which I’m cautiously anticipating. From the buzz, I gathered that the reaction was positive overall. Only Deadline’s comments proved to be a big red flag: “yes, it looks like Pirates Of The Caribbean in the old west, and yes, the clip was scored to heavy metal rather than the William Tell Overture.” The first could be a good or bad thing, but the second is undoubtedly bad. I abhor period pieces that flaunt rock guitar soundtracks and the like. It completely eradicates the illusion of being in that period, and you’re reminded that you’re watching a movie. A movie with a terrible, unfitting soundtrack. We’ll see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney’s latest big live-action blockbuster struck out.

The Expendables 2

Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and more of the cast of the Expendables sequel took the stage to answer questions and show off footage from the new movie coming this August. Stallone said he thinks it’s better than the first film, and it’s certainly looking that way – Con Air director Simon West, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme will all be joining the returning cast of the first.

“I’m Back” says Arnold Schwarzenegger arriving onstage to thunderous applause. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the former Mr. Universe kick some ass again on film for the first time in years. Schwarzenegger and Stallone will also be starring in next year’s The Tomb together, a prison break thriller which was mentioned at the panel.

I’ll be actively searching YouTube for a video of the panel, which had a lot of standout humorous  moments. It’s the kind of thing that you really have to see live to appreciate, with all that talent in one room and joking around together, and it seems like it’ll all translate to the movie as well. Arnold even shouted, “It’s naht a toomah!” to the audience after being asked about his comedy films and a potential sequel to Twins. Awesome, but…let’s just go ahead and not make a sequel to Twins.

 

I also had the opportunity to read a recap of the Blu-ray Producers 2012 panel. Seemed like a pretty interesting panel, from someone very interested in the restoration process and how films are developed for home viewing. Also interesting to note is how a lot of old 50s movies originally filmed in 3D are now being re-released in the added dimension on Blu-Ray for the first time since their release, including Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dial M for Murder. That’s almost three generations that couldn’t experience these films in their native format until now. I’m very eager to check them out in 3D.

Whew! That’s all for today, and I’m already exhausted…in the past three years I’ve been following the Con, I’ve never had to actively switch between so many different panels all going on at once, something I’ll also have to do for each of the remaining three days of the event. Why are all the cool panels taking place at the same time? Why not push some of the big-name festivities into the relatively empty Sunday schedule?

Regardless, the best is yet to come…my commentary on The Hobbit, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and more soon!

This is from 2010. It will never get old.