The BBC posted an article the other day by Nicholas Barber entitled “Why Star Wars should have stopped at just one film.” This story made its way onto the mass media forum of Twitter, which is where I picked it up. I read it, I digested it, and for the most part I agreed with it, but in wanting to respond I found 140 characters just insufficient. So, I’ve added a few more and posted here.
When Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977 there was a revolution in movie making and story telling. Suddenly audiences were thrust into the world of the blockbuster, films of almost complete sensory overload, and we loved it. Not only this, but merchandising began to be purposefully targeted at the cinematic blockbuster experience. The marketing of toys, clothing, posters, soundtracks and all manner of other paraphernalia, all hooked into the movie going experience.
You could now not only watch the movie, you could own the music, listen at home while playing with your collection of scaled action figures acting out the scenes of the movie and making up new adventures of your own for these rebels, scoundrels and villains.
Then there was a second movie to ride the wave of the first, arguably better cinematically and more engaging, drawing you deeper into the universe and mysticism of the first. And even though it would never have the face slapping uniqueness that the first movie had, The Empire Strikes Back stands above Star Wars by expanding the rebels fight into a more precarious future.
Return of the Jedi was a fluffy Ewok from start to finish and for many wasn’t gritty enough. Whenever I talk to others about the original movies there is broad consensus on the fact Lucas didn’t go far enough and that there should have been Wookies tearing limbs off the bad guys to complete the trilogy.
However, when looking at the movies in a round you have to think, who are the movies for? Are they for the children and teens, or are they for the adults?
The original trilogy was undoubtedly for the kids and teenagers among us. There are some parts which make you jump and some creatures which may have given you the odd restless night, but overall, they are kids movies made in the old black and white Saturday morning cinema style. Wind forward twenty years and the kids have grown up and are confronted with the prequels. Full of excitement these adults go along and are disappointed by the unpicking of all the mysticism and horrified by Jar Jar. But, you ask any twenty year old and they love the prequels, because they were kids at the time watching movies aimed at kids.
I would argue that the first Star Wars franchise movie specifically made with adults in mind has been Rogue One. This film uses adult themes and moves the story into shades of grey, which the now adult audience recognise.
Coming up to the release of Star Wars VIII, why don’t I believe there are too many? There are a few reasons, and not all of them cinematic. Like Star Trek, like Alien, there are many franchises which have made a range of movies with a range of success. It’s entertainment, to be entertained watch the ones you enjoy. Personally, I can’t watch the Star Wars prequels as they are over indulgent and shiny, with a CGI budget which could have kept a small country going for a decade. Also, they have Jar Jar and various ridiculous scenes which the pedant in me can’t handle, like why is R2-D2 able to fly in the prequels and yet forgets for all subsequent episodes? From a purely movie going point of view, stick to the ones you like. Once the studios get past a certain number of movies, for the viewer it becomes a pick-n-mix affair.
Is it even about that original movie any more? Go to a Sci-Fi convention or two, to a Star Wars Celebration and you will see the evidence of the legacy of Star Wars, it’s no longer just about the movies. It’s about the community, it’s about the kids and their wide eyed excitement and fascination with the characters and people involved. They love the stories, watching and reading them over and over again.
Would you have got the same cultural coming together of people with a single movie? Star Wars has become a phenomenon because of the range of movies and the expanded universe within the books and cartoon spin-offs. And I think to see the beaming smile on my kids face, I’ll overlook having to stick a number on the end of the words ‘Star Wars’, and I’ll forgive the fact that I may have seen this particular plot recycled a million times. But hey, I love a good Dambusters-in-space movie.