Even thirty years ago when I saw “Return of the Jedi” I thought “This concept is played out”. Yet another Death Star? Yet more walker battles? Endless scenes of hapless guys in useless white armor getting zapped? Another light saber battle over an abyss? What’s with the Empire and safety railings anyway?
But Hollywood looked at that and thought “Let’s not mess with success.” So now in “The Force Awakens” we have still another Death Star, another cantina, another young person with lost parents, another wizened old sage, lots more dogfights in space, another father-son conflict, and another dramatic climax over an abyss. Landspeeders! A cute robot! A hideous overlord! Desert dune scenes! It’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake.
I can appreciate this. Innovation is expensive, and prone to failure. Once you make something work, stop screwing with it. Look at Lucas’ own attempts to broaden the world of Star Wars in the prequels. He tried to bring in actual politics, actual romance, and to show that Star Wars existed in a wider world. There were lots of other Jedi, of many races, and lots of planets that cared nothing for the trials of the Skywalker family. He put in a huge amount of visual invention in the prequels too, much more than is seen in this movie. The visual invention was mainly snazzy new spaceships, and his politics and romance weren’t all that good, but at least he was trying.
Well, forget that. After spending $4B for the rights to Star Wars, Disney wasn’t going to take any chances. They decided to give the fans exactly what they said they wanted. And they were right! It looks like they’ll make half that on this first movie alone, and there are lots more to come.
They did make some cosmetic changes. In 2015 you can’t have all the characters be white, and almost all be male. Even the First Order now has female officers, although British accents are still signs of villainy. They’ll probably evolve things slowly over the next several movies. Even the die-hard fans won’t put up with too many more clones.
But it’s mainly the same old, same old. This has been an awful year for original science fiction and fantasy movies. “Tomorrowland” was a disaster in spite of having great people behind it. I really didn’t care for “Ex Machina” as an AI story, especially compared to “Her”, but maybe it works as a parable of gender relations. A parable, perhaps, for someone who has been through a such bitter divorce that they think robots become real women when they learn how to lie. “Jupiter Ascending”, “Vice” and “Chappie” got drubbed critically, and I passed too because life is short. These failures and the huge financial success of this Star Wars reboot means that we’ll see even fewer original stories in the future.