The irony of Star Wars

Some days ago, the latest Mr. Plinkett review came out. It discusses the latest Star Wars instalment, The Force Awakens. However, perhaps more interesting than the movie itself, the state of the industry is discussed in detail. Mr. Plinkett, for those who don’t know, is a creation of Mike Stoklasa and others at RedLetterMedia. A cranky old psychopath murderer hermit who seems to have no other purpose but to carefully deconstruct movies. The review is excellent and addresses numerous points about the Star Wars films and the industry around it. For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.

The classic trilogy

Let’s start with the first Star Wars film, back then titled simply Star Wars. When corrected for inflation, it’s still the third highest-grossing movies of all time. This in a time when scifi was considered an obscure art form and adventure stories were out of fashion. The merchandise toys were so incredibly popular they were constantly sold out and people even bought empty boxes containing a voucher.
It wasn’t just the merchandise though. Star Wars had an enormous influence in the world of cinema, spawning a large number of adventure films and making science fiction a popular medium overnight. Previously, films were serious business, an art form to be appreciated by a cultivated intellect. Star Wars showed how movies could be made to evoke childhood fantasies of adventuring in strange and far-off places. The archetypical story of an ordinary kid running off to become a powerful warrior was a thing of the past no more.
Suddenly, movies were fun, aimed more at kids and young people, and were designed with merchandise in the back of the mind. This was the first major innovation, ushering in the age of blockbuster movies.

The prequels

Near the end of the millennium, Lucas decided that he’d give it another shot. He’d convinced others, and possibly himself, that he still hadn’t told the entire story yet. What happened next is very well chronicled in Mr. Plinkett’s Phantom Menace review. Never was there a more anticipated film and never was the let-down bigger. People would buy cinema tickets to random movies just to see the trailer to the Phantom Menace, only to be disappointed by the movie itself.
Nevertheless, the film was a huge financial success and paved the way forward for Lucas to make and launch the rest of the prequel trilogy. The other two prequel films, although again great financial successes, turned out to be not much better. Ultimately, they proved just as flawed and ultimately boring. If they weren’t Star Wars movies, they wouldn’t be remembered.
Here, the movie industry seemed to draw a lesson from the Star Wars prequels: nostalgia is a powerful drug. Remakes, reboots or late sequels/prequels are big business. Throughout the years, the number of such movies has steadily increased. By now, it seems that not a single big budget movie is produced unless it has some pre-established content.

Disney’s Star Wars

So there it is. Star Wars has managed to cause a revolution in the movie industry twice. The first time Hollywood realised there was a lot of money in kids and young adults. This spawned adventure movies aimed at younger people, exciting science fiction stories and tons of merchandise.
The second time, the industry saw how lucrative it was to blow new life into old content. This caused a trend of remaking, re-imagining, (soft) reboots, late sequels and/or basing movies on pre-existing intellectual property such as comic books.
And then there’s one more aspect. In ye olden days, more or less the only way a studio could determine whether or not a movie was liked by the crowd was the box office success. If the movie made money, it was good. However, nowadays there’s the internet. People can voice their opinions to much bigger communities, for instance by a careful analysis on youtube. It is even pointed out in mr. Plinkett’s latest review how George Lucas blames “the Internet” into bullying him into selling off Star Wars. And, of course, he points out how his first review opened the door for others to loudly criticise movies on YouTube and the Internet at large.
Needless to say, Hollywood is not blind to such things. Not wanting to offend people by deviating too much from old content has led to stricter control by the studios. And now Star Wars has been remade by these principles. Yes, the old characters are there and new characters are introduced, but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s so many resemblances one could hardly call it a new story.

To conclude…

Star Wars, after thirty years of pushing the envelope, has created an atmosphere of endless remakes. Due to the internet, and perhaps specifically RedLetterMedia’s mr. Plinkett, studios have become so afraid of disappointing the audience that original ideas have become almost a taboo in Hollywood. Finally, after Lucas has sold the rights to Disney, Star Wars has succumbed to the environment it has contributed in creating. The latest entry is a skilfully made film that hits all the right beats, displays awesome visuals, has witty and fun characters, but shies away from any semblance of an original story.

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