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Categories: Features

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the most hotly anticipated film of 2017, and will almost certainly end up being the highest grossing, but are we setting ourselves up for a bit of a letdown?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens did a pretty good job of not just satisfying fans but of also setting up a new franchise storyline with a slew of new questions to answer, but is Star Wars: The Last Jedi really prepared to answer them and, if it is, are we prepared to hear the answers? We look at three potential speed bumps on the film’s road to acceptance.

The Empire Strikes Back Effect

It’s undeniably one of the most satisfying sequels in film history and its influence can be seen in hundreds of creative decisions made since its enormous success. But it’s become somewhat of a curse. Star Wars may not be the oldest fandom in geek culture, or even the most devout, but it is colossal in size and very aggressive. It ensured Empire’s legacy as “the greatest sequel of all time” decades ago and has elevated it to the yardstick by which all sequels are judged, and part two’s that are measured against it are almost always found wanting. The problem being that, when you deify something, nothing else will ever be sufficient. It’s like an addiction, Star Wars fans have fed this cultural idea that one day there will be this moment when all good things will return home and the entire world will be able to share in this one glorious experience as they once did. But, like Rey’s parents, they have to know deep down in their hearts that it’s never coming back.

There will never be another Empire Strikes Back, just like there was nothing quite like it before. There will be things of equal value, and almost definitely greater. But it will not be the same. Attempting to recapture former glory is perhaps the swiftest route to disaster and it is a route that Star Wars: The Last Jedi has doomed itself to walk. Even if the production knows that it will end up sharing no plot beats with Empire (and judging from the success of The Force Awakens’ dedicated retread of A New Hope it almost certainly will) the marketing prospect will be too much for anyone to resist. The only way out of that situation is through, but then what? Will people really be happy with the same thing again? A retelling of a film that at least half of the audience has already seen? Sooner or later people are going to get sick of having their nostalgia buttons pushed so readily and that moment will come sooner rather than later. A problem that Star Wars wouldn’t be in so much danger of if it wasn’t for their new owner.

 

Disney

Disney are having a great time, financially speaking, right now. In 2016 they held every spot in the coveted Top Five Highest Grossing list. It’s very impressive. But it’s a success built off the back of some astounding failures in recent years and most of Disney’s high profile failures have resulted from one thing: high concept sci-fi and adventure films. Particularly ones which tried to do something new. If their treatment of their other recent, very expensive, acquisition, Marvel Studios, is anything to go by then they’ll be doubling down on playing it safe. Star Wars fans will take any opportunity to talk about how Empire Strikes Back began the trend of “darker sequels” with “dark endings” and the practice of subverting expectation, especially in service of a large-scale plot twist. These qualities are undoubtedly great and they’re what makes Empire so much fun to watch but they’re risks and risks are exactly what Disney will be looking to minimise.

One of the biggest risks that they’ll be looking to avoid is political controversy. The original Star Wars’ game-changing financial success has often been attributed to its proximity to the Vietnam war and the negative mood that it fostered. Star Wars is the king of cinematic escapism but, due to strong thematic elements and the origin of the props used in the first films, Star Wars has always
been strongly connected with fighting fascism and recent events and social concerns have given the series’ political undertones a new lease of life. There was a mild degree of furore over screenwriter Chris Weitz’s comments regarding these themes being prevalent in
Rogue One’s script, particularly in reference to Donald Trump, and, considering that Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has close ties to the administration and has publicly expressed his disagreement with the politicisation of Star Wars, anyone hoping for some old fashioned anti-fascist Star Wars sentiment may be left very wanting. Can Disney really influence the film like that? Well, it depends on who’s leading the project….

 

Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson is a very good director, maybe even great, and he’s directed three deservingly beloved feature films. But the cold, hard, truth is that he’s never made anything close to the gargantuan scale of The Last Jedi. “But that’s a good thing, right? He’ll focus on the smaller stuff that will make the film really unique” I hear you say. Well, that may very well be true. But directing isn’t all about vision. It’s mostly about actually directing. Physically ordering members of a team around. Making decisions, keeping an eye on things. Gareth Edwards had one fewer films under his belt by the time he came to Rogue One but they were very effects heavy films and JJ Abrams had two Star Trek films under his belt along with everything else. They were great for those jobs because they were used to dealing with a production that has all the extra moving parts of detailed CGI being blended in with practical effects and live-action performances. Johnson doesn’t have that level of experience. This doesn’t mean the effects will be worse, he has Disney’s entire infrastructure backing him up, but it does mean that it could take up a lot more of his time. Abrams and Edwards were used to it, they were more confident in their knowledge of what a functioning effects department looked like. If Johnson finds himself a little overwhelmed by the managerial needs that the effects require then this means committees and board members can micromanage other aspects of the production more easily; and this rarely benefits a film.

Big league, franchise, Hollywood filmmaking in is in a bit of a bind at the moment. It wants big, accomplished, names heading the creative side, drawing in other big names, but it also wants to retain as much control as possible at a corporate level. This has resulted in recent upsets such as Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, Josh Trank’s meltdown with Fox over Fantastic Four and David Ayer’s treatment by Warner Brothers regarding Suicide Squad. When looking back at some of 2015’s biggest films you have to wonder if Colin Trevorrow and James Wan were given directing gigs on the year’s highest earners because studios thought they’d bring something unique to the table or because it was assumed that they’d be too busy to fight back against oversight. Like those films, and Suicide Squad, it can be a financially beneficial way of doing things. But most people would agree that it doesn’t make better films. There’s no doubt that The Last Jedi will be a financial hit, none whatsoever, but whether or not it’s a good film is reliant on a host of factors, most of which, seem to be working against the film’s artistic creativity.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is scheduled to be released on December 15th 2017

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Mar 6, 2017

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