I have really good memories of the first Star Wars, back in 1977, and the latest installment made me rethink them. What genuinely thrilled me in the first movie was that it was like nothing else out there — it was strange, it was original, it was an odd mashup of a fantasy novel and a space opera, it was…creative. It was also epic and heroic and all those good things.
But here’s the problem with that: you can’t get that enthralling sense of newness and surprise if you keep going back to the same material again and again. At the same time, the corporations running the game don’t want to gamble, they want to milk the same cow ten thousand times. You can walk into this new Star Wars movie and enjoy yourself because it is comfortable and familiar and rehashes the old tropes yet again, and that’s fine — it’s just like that new Scorsese movie, The Irishman, because it is like every other gangster movie that’s been released in the last 40 years. Great, if that’s what you want.
If what drew you to Star Wars in the first place was the novelty and creativity, though, it’s not here. This movie has the Hero-Discovers-They-Had-Royal-Blood-All-Along. It has the Villain-Who-Is-Redeemed. It has the Overwhelming-Evil-Force-With-One-Itty-Bitty-Weak-Spot. It has the Battle-In-The-Throne-Room, while Space-Battle-Seems-To-Be-Doomed going on at the same time. It has Porgs…and Ewoks! It is McDonalds and KFC and Burger King, the old reliables that produce the same thing everywhere and everytime, but will never ever astonish you. It’s been commoditized.
I was actually getting pissed off and disappointed during this movie, because it totally lacks any creativity or unexpected shocks. It’s as if JJ Abrams went through all the old entries in the Star Wars universe, picked out all the memorable themes, dumped them into a blender, and poured the resultant slurry out on a tray and served it up to the audience confident that they’d recognize the scraps of the old flavor and love it. And he’s right. People will eat it up and make the corporation lots of money. I shouldn’t be disappointed, because this movie wasn’t made for me. Sometimes people want formulaic nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Except…there is reason to be worried. The dominant forces in science fiction entertainment are Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel Superhero movies, pure comfort food that provide little intellectual stimulation. We have to hope the flood of money pouring in for the predictable and familiar encourages them to take an occasional gamble on some weird one-off like Annihilation or Arrival or Watchmen.
We also have to hope the good ones don’t get coopted into long-running mega-franchises, because all that can happen with that is that they’ll be run into the ground and turn into deep furrows that limit originality. In art, death is good, opening the doors of change and inspiring new ideas, so let these series die. I fear, though, that now that the Evil Empire of Disney has seized control, Zombie Star Wars is going to be revived and walk the earth forevermore.