Here’s another one draft, off the cuff construction. Maybe one day I’ll put real time into this blog instead of just writing in the midst of procrastination spells… (HAH!)
Most people who are familiar with criticisms of the Star Wars prequels, or at least the Mr. Plinkett reviews for them, are familiar with the old George Lucas quote from one of the behind the scenes clips for one of the prequel films (I’m nowhere near sure on specifics so links will be provided at the end) stating that the Star Wars prequels are “like poetry, [they] rhyme…” in regards to their relationship to the original trilogy (OT). I was thinking about this earlier, in conjunction with criticism I heard about Episode VII in a podcast I was listening to where the host asserted (to paraphrase) that The Force Awakens would have been a great movie if it weren’t for its need to start a new story, and to me that isn’t what holds the movie back from being great.
My feelings on Episode VII have been mixed for some time; I went to see it twice in cinemas like the fat nerd I am, adored it, and then slowly picked it apart in my brain until it was almost on par with Revenge of the Sith in my head because that’s what my brain does to me when I like something that’s simple, I guess. Nothing will ever live up to the versions of the OT that I watched in my childhood because I will most likely never be able to see those VHS versions of the films before they were edited to shit for DVD, and whilst I remember the films fondly and with nostalgia, my love for them is mostly because I will never be able to properly criticise what I viewed as a child simply by nature of it being on a dead format that I am not bothered to chase down. Ergo: the appreciation is irrational and unconditional, nothing will ever live up to it.
That being said I can
now that I’ve gotten my head out of my arse still acknowledge that The Force Awakens is a good film (and one of the 4 good Star Wars films), because it is. It has a solid plot and characters and its very good on a technical level.
That problem of criticising modern Star Wars in comparison to the OT aside, my main problem with VII will always be the rehashed plot. Yeah, I get it, “soft reboots” are a thing now but as someone who can barely get motivated to complete an assessment weighted 50% until 6 hours before its due, you know what I think a better name for them is? Lazy. So removing that angle, I also kind of want to accept the idea because of the whole ‘the series is meant to rhyme’ idea. The parallels between IV, I, and VII are obvious. There is a cadence to these films, a structure that is meant to (meant to) make them more appealing, and that’s interesting from an artistic standpoint. Except I would argue that VII doesn’t rhyme, or if it does it does so barely, but I will present the extreme of this argument as a means of drawing a better comparison.
I can sum up all the films with the phrase ‘desert dwelling super-powered child leaves home to join a mystic cult and blow up a space station,’ and whilst this is the central plot arc there are a few things to note about the idea of rhyming in VII and I that are important. One of the definitions of a rhyme on Dictionary.com is “a word agreeing with another in terminal sound: Find is a rhyme for mind and womankind.” Rhyming words are not repeated words. Ground rhymes with pound and mound but it doesn’t rhyme with ground. As the third definition states a rhyme is “verse or poetry having correspondence in the terminal sounds of the lines,” not having the same lines throughout. Where I’m going with this is that The Phantom Menace presents much a much more consistent rhyme with A New Hope than the Force Awakens because it restructures the narrative in such a way that there is substantial difference and nuance to the circumstances that lead to children in the desert and explosions in space.
Episode I changes the nature of the space station in question, it isn’t a super weapon its a hub station for a robot army and a bunch of arch-capitalist weirdos (who have very ethnic accents, no I am not going to leave the racist undertones of that movie alone) who want to do something with trade deals. Episode VII has a giant planet destroying weapon space station with a whole bunch of evil militaristic space Nazis with English accents on it for its space station. The core difference with Episode IV is not purpose but size, as the weird ice planet can now blow up a solar system and not just one planet. The present threat of Episode I is an army of cold and emotionless machines that kill anything in their way, whilst the present threat of Episode VII is an army of space Nazis in white plastic armor who are the left-overs of the previous group of space Nazis in white plastic armor (yet somehow there is a large enough force of space Nazis and money to build an even bigger and more expensive weapon???) I would love to do a research report on how scarcity factors economically into the Star Wars universe considering that mere moisture is something that can be farmed and sold for profit but there is enough raw materials in trade to construct three separate space stations, two the size of moons and one inside of a planet, with seemingly diminishing man power each time.
Back onto the subject of parallels, here’s the rest I can pull out of my head:
- The planet with that weird tiny alien with goggles and the bar on it in VII is basically aesthetically just Yavin 4 again and has the same ‘rogue character decides he’s in over his head and tries to ditch the team’ story beat occur as in Episode VI.
- Whilst Episode 1 goes to Tatooine to find its ‘chosen one’ again, they are a child, not an adolescent, and their motivation for leaving their home is not one of revenge and destitution with Luke’s parents having died, but one of hope in their power to help their family if developed, and one of mystery and wonder.
- By contrast Episode VII may have a different planet but the chosen one is ambiguously aged in both behavior and appearance, whilst clearly still being a young adult, which I took to be a method of comparing her, Rey, to Luke, and also occurs at the same point structurally and meets similar plot beats to the Tatooine segments in Episode IV. Episode I’s Tatooine segments occur at an entirely different point in the movie, and serve an entirely different purpose in rounding out the plot. Anakin is not the focus of the movie from the start, for better or for worse.
- Jaku is so similar to Tatooine that it may as well have been called Tatooine, and has no reason to be a different planet structurally. In fact, it kind of ruins my suspension of disbelief that we now have three desert planets in this universe that seem nearly aesthetically identical in Tatooine, Jaku, and Jedha, with two having similar names, and there being no substantial reasons for these to be different places. Granted at least Jedha was interesting with its rocky mountain-esque formations but why the hell do all of the protagonists in this series’ films spend most of their childhood on shitty desert worlds? Its really fucking lazy.
- Old wise man Obi Wan/Ben who introduces Luke to the Force; old wise man Han Solo who introduces Rey to the Force; substantially younger Jedi master Quigon Jin and his padawan, an inexperienced Obi Wan who introduce Anakin to the force.
- All three films have plots about inter-galactic politics, but IV and VII centre on blowing up planets (ITS A METAPHOR FOR NUKES, DID YOU GET IT??) and fighting expansionist totalitarian militarism (Nazis), whilst Episode I has a plot based in the rampant expansion of a neo-liberal space conglomerate which is taking power out of a democratic republic and forcing said republic to consider a less representative but more effective form of intergalactic governance (ITS A METAPHOR FOR AMERICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY, DID YOU GET IT??).
- Side note: Its weird that the Nazi imagery is even less subtle with the First Order than it is with the original Empire, even though its been a damned long time since World War II and it was pretty on the nose the first time around.
Because it needed to ’emulate’ (read: outright copy) Episode IVFor some reason, in Episode VII the established intergalactic government is still using Yavin 4, some piddly moon, as a base of operations, and is for some reason still woefully undermanned and under-gunned to fight A LITERAL BROKEN FRACTION of the former Empire that somehow still has the resources, finances, and labour power to construct A LARGER super weapon than ever before, despite the new intergalactic government having no established complications with its politics. To explain this away they blow up some city planet that looks like Coruscant, which if they did is a shame because that is probably the most interesting planet in the series. Needless to say the military set up and government functionality are entirely different for Episode I because they actually bothered to make the plot differentfor some reason.
- Princess Leia Organa and Princess Padme Amidala serve different purposes in the plot in spite of being similar archetypes. General Organa and Mon Mothma at large do not. This is actually a big criticism I have, Leia should have been much more of a character in VII as opposed to just kind of being there so that we could have Kylo Ren and Han Solo have an arc together without it feeling weird, but hey I guess that’s just like, my opinion maaaaaaaan.
- Captain Phasma. Like dude I mean come on I don’t even need to explain that one.
Shit, I’m sure I missed a whole bunch in there too. The point that I’m getting at is that whilst Episode IV and Episode I rhyme, Episode VII repeats. And repetition is a fine tool in poetry but I’m yet to read the work of a poet who can repeat the first three paragraphs of a nine paragraph poem and make that seem both creative and impactful. This has become my worry going into Episode VIII and the rest of the oncoming films, that repetition will out-shine rhyme, and it makes me fear for the quality of a movie series that I have a lot of personal attachment to (I’m writing this as I wistfully looking at my table filled with Star Wars LEGO).
This isn’t an apology for the prequels, especially not The Phantom Menace, those movies are really bad and incoherent structurally. This is to say, however, that the virtue of the prequels was their creativity, with Phantom Menace being a good example in the context of the rhyme structure that Lucas saw his series fitting into. Lucas was also a shit writer and an arguably equally bad director so his execution was incredibly poor in its articulation of this creativity, but if talented writers and talented directors could combine both the ingenious concepts intended for the series’ structure with amazing execution then Star Wars could stand to be a series where most of its art can be critically evaluated as definitive examples of their genre and potentially the medium of film as a whole, as opposed to the current 50/50 split between quality films (OT + VII) and shit only complete shills and super-fans that are blind to imperfection will care about (Prequels + Rogue One).
Holy Christ this was supposed to be like 500 words….
What do you think? Do you disagree with me? Agree with me? Hate me? Love me? Want to punch me in the teeth? Think I’m the reborn messiah? Tell me, I’d like to hear! Any constructive criticism is also useful as per usual, it might help me get to a point where I do these things more frequently and to a higher standard, which is my end goal here.
George Lucas Quote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxU2eqZtYmc
Dictionary.com definition: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/rhyme