Star Wars: Attack of the Film Industry

 

 

Warning: This post will without a doubt contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I advise you to jump to lightspeed and get the hell out of here.

 

Some of us have been waiting for a new Star Wars film for a long time. If we ignore the prequels, there will be some who have been waiting since 1983. It’s hard not to get excited when you see the familiar faces of Han, Chewy or Princess (now General) Leia, not to mention the old, worn face of Luke (even if only for 20 seconds) but many left their cinema with broken hearts and a feeling of utter disappointment. I didn’t hate the film (far from it) but I did see it as the perfect example of what is currently wrong with the film industry.

One thing that seems to be a trend within the film industry today is unnecessary sequels that are almost always worse than their predecessors. The main objective of these films isn’t to provide fans with a much needed second dose of their favourite characters; no…the main objective is to make more money. The film industry is an area of business like any other and I’m not complaining that people are trying to make money. Instead, I am complaining that people are trying to make money while ignoring the fan base and the love and emotion that these fans attach to these fictional universes. Lazy writing has led to some horrendous sequels over the last couple of years: Ted 2, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Horrible Bosses 2, Sinister 2, Anchorman 2, Bad Neighbors 2, Grown Ups 2 are all examples of films where the sequel is almost exactly the same as the original. All of the comedies in this list use the exact same jokes; some of them literally the same (Ted 2!). I’m not claiming by any stretch of the imagination that the first films were strokes of creative genius but most of them were entertaining at least a little bit and isn’t that all we need really in comedies? I mean look at Hot Tub Time Machine. Even though I enjoy the film, I know it’s far from great. It falls into a certain category of comedy that strongly resembles the recycling bin located on your desktop. Of course this is just my opinion, I know many people who actually enjoyed these sequels…for me however, they caused my brain to numb. The initial films were a success so the people behind them clearly thought “If it ain’t broke…” and proceeded to copy and paste the script along with what was usually an awful storyline that puts the term “grasping at straws” onto the big screen. In relation to the comedies mentioned, it became a case of doing the exact same thing again but with more famous people, more celebrities appearing for minor roles in order for the advertising campaign to include their name on the side of buses or in the trailer (if you aren’t thinking Mark Hamill in the Force Awakens, you should be).That’s not to say that this idea doesn’t sometimes work and add to the comedic value of the film, for example, seeing Harrison Ford in Anchorman 2 was certainly entertaining. This does become an issue when the cast is the only positive part of the film. We need to leave this idea that celebrity cameos are needed to make films funny or entertaining. Just look at The Force Awakens as an example, Daisy Ridley was completely new to us, yet she delivered an incredible performance creating a new Star Wars character who we can rejoice at existing. Of course there are things worse than bringing out one awful or at least disappointing sequel…bringing out three, four or seven of them.

There are films that should have just stopped after (or in some cases before) the first film: Paranormal Activity, Jaws, Fast and Furious, Taken, Transformers, The Hangover Trilogy, The Expendables, Meet the Parents. I mean what about the Rocky films? How many times can you watch someone train for a boxing match? Long enough for them to bring one out where Rocky trains one of his opponent’s kids? Seems like it. There are times when a trilogy has ended and it seems like the story has been told…but sometimes, that just isn’t enough and we need more films (or so we are told).  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys, Bourne Legacy. The more worrying aspect of these films is that more films are planned. That’s right; expect to see more increasingly less exciting adventures from Jack Sparrow that won’t live up to the first three. Want to see a 5th instalment to the Indiana Jones films? Well you’re getting one anyway and even worse, we won’t see Harrison Ford playing the role. Just to prove my point, if Terminator Salvation and Genisys weren’t enough to make you hate the franchise, more are on the way. Are they being made for the fans? No. Are they being made because some original story ideas came to mind and everyone will love them? No. The reason these next few films (including Genisys) are being rapidly thrown out over the next few years is because the rights for the films return to James Cameron in 2019, meaning that Megan Ellison, Paramount  and Skydance have a termination date.

I am of course not suggesting that there shouldn’t be times when films go past the point of doing one film or one trilogy. I mean Star Wars might not be the best example given the hate felt towards the prequels but the universe overall is still loved by many. There are however times where decisions were made that perhaps…well…shouldn’t have been. Films like The Hobbit trilogy, for example, where two films would have done the job but instead we were shown a 2 and a half hour long battle scene in the final film (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) or the new trend that shows us the final film in a series being split into two parts. I won’t deny that this makes sense with some films: Harry Potter for example, where the Deathly Hallows as one film just wouldn’t have worked. Unfortunately this isn’t true for all cases: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay did not need to be split into two parts. Part 1 was the most boring of the series and was blatantly dragged out for financial gain rather than improving the story. Fans of the Twilight saga were unfortunate enough to have their final part separated into two films. The Divergent Series is also suffering the same fate, from what I’ve seen so far this is another money-making move. Finally, the third instalment of The Avengers (Infinity War) will also be broken up into two films along with the Justice League films. Luckily for me, the Justice League is not something I ever plan on rushing to the cinema to see. You could argue that this is a great way of providing more content for fans before their favourite fictional worlds come to a close but if it was really the fans that were the driving thought behind this idea, I’d imagine many would vote against it. I recently watched The Maze Runner along with its sequel The Scorch Trials and came to the horrible realisation that I’d no doubt have to wait for two more films before I got to enjoy the conclusion. I was relieved to discover that this hopefully won’t be the case as Wes Ball, the director of the films commented on the matter in a way I wish all directors thought, saying:

“I think three is the number; beginning, middle, end, that’s it. Four? I think there’s something off about four. For me, if I have any say in it, there’s three movies basically… We’re not going to [split a book in two], no way. I think three movies is the right number. Star Wars!”

Why is it that the film industry seems to be becoming more and more like what we see on the television? It’s like we are getting 2 hour long episodes of films years apart from each other. I mentioned The Avengers briefly there and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the perfect example of this. I love the Marvel films! Watching as the heroes progress both in their individual storylines as well as the larger one has kept me entertained for years. When I first saw the trailer for Age of Ultron, I couldn’t wait. My anticipation for it was even higher than it was with Star Wars. This anticipation and expectation ended up being cut short when I finally got to see Age of Ultron at the cinema. Rather than blowing my mind with the interesting character and story that was suggested to us in the trailer, fans were given a film very similar to the first Avengers (Avengers Assemble). Sure there were some massive differences and I did still enjoy it as a film, just not as much as I had hoped. Watching the Avengers once again swat away opponents who were more difficult to fight earlier on in the film, as well as Captain America and Iron Man having their all too common falling out (despite the Civil War trailer painting them as best friends). I remember on the run up to the release of Age of Ultron, hearing interviews with the cast and crew where we were continuously being told about how it was the end for an Avenger. While I didn’t want any of my favourite characters to die, I did think it was about time that they didn’t win so easily. Who would it be? I wondered: The Hulk? Black Widow? Hawkeye? Due to the release of future film plans, we knew that Captain America, Ironman and Thor were all safe. Sadly, the term “Avenger” was being used by people who knew the plot of the film and the person we lost was none other than Quicksilver, who had been an Avenger for all of two minutes of film time. As I mentioned already I enjoy the Marvel films and I know plenty of people who enjoy never ending film worlds like Fast and Furious…but does this mean that we have to witness the same story unfold each time? I was going to ask how long it would be before Harry Potter made a comeback but then I remembered that they are releasing that ridiculous film classed as “not a prequel” that “invites you back to the wizarding world” yet this story has no real impact, no real storyline and is only happening because they know you’ll go to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter books and films, even the games as well but wasn’t one of the big lesson we learn from the series that eventually, everything has to die? Much like Voldermort’s soul, it seems J.K Rowling is dividing her world up into different parts in order to make it live longer than it should.

It’s no surprise that the film industry is slowly turning into the McDonalds of entertainment. We pay closer and closer to £10 a ticket in order to sit through 30 minutes of adverts (exactly 30 minutes) before getting one, sometimes two trailers. Back in the day, it used to be £3, maybe £4 to sit through 20 minutes of enjoyable trailers. Why is it that the pre-film adverts are getting longer as the cinema ticket prices get higher? Shouldn’t it be one or the other?

So before I turn this into one long rant, let me get back onto topic: Star Wars. How does Star Wars show us how bad the film industry has become? Well Star Wars is one of the few films series that spans decades, appealing to multiple generations, most of whom have grown up seeing at least one film, if not an entire trilogy in the cinema. The films involve a mix of more practical effects (original trilogy) and special effects using CGI (prequel trilogy) as well as having one of the biggest fan bases in the entire world. There has been such a huge, diverse range of inputs from so many different people that these films should reflect that…sadly, they don’t. Ask almost any Star Wars fan whether they prefer the original trilogy or the prequels, chances are the originals will be picked 9 times out of 10. My answer would be the same, I enjoyed aspects of the prequel trilogy but I certainly found them less enjoyable to watch and I don’t feel they added much to the Star Wars universe. I mean if the Eewoks had been left out of the story, I would have enjoyed Return of the Jedi a great deal more but at least we didn’t have to put up with a stroppy, tantrum-throwing Anakin Skywalker.

I often wonder how people felt when the prequels were first announced and released. Did people queue up at their cinema to see the start of the path that leads to Darth Vader? Knowing that one day he would turn to the dark side but also destroy the Emperor? How gutting must it have been watching as one film after another, your favourite villain manages to go from a child, to a stroppy, baby-like adult before suddenly becoming the infamous Darth Vader? I grew up with the prequels being in cinema and I actually saw episode 1 and 2 before even realising that previous Star Wars films already existed. “They’re old so they’re probably boring” I remember replying when informed of their existence. Perhaps that is one of the biggest flaws of the prequels: being aimed at a younger audience. While the content of them may seem more violent, we live in a society where violent films are normal and many children grow up completely desensitised to it. Yet the themes in the original trilogy seem more mature. Once again, I am managing to wander completely off-topic. Long story short, the prequels just didn’t live up to the expectations that the original trilogy put into motion. Now I wouldn’t argue that the sole purpose of the prequels was to make money, I mean they had the potential to tell an incredibly interesting story. I mean you have the clone wars, the eradication of the Jedi, the rise of the Empire and the re-birth of Darth Vader which just on its own sounds pretty impressive. The issue with the prequels was the decision to make it more visually appealing rather than focussing on the story elements and the development of characters. I means sure we got the whole “love interest” (cue vomiting) which aided the conversion of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader but other than that, the film lacked depth. Personally, I think this reflects what George Lucas believed that audiences wanted: crazy special effects and visuals, a soppy love story and a horrible, horrible explanation as to why some people can use the force (damn you, midichlorians). I guess once the prequel trilogy was finished, any film that came after it had a new expected level to reach: better than the prequels but still not as good as the original trilogy.

Which brings us at last to The Force Awakens, the film that looked like the light at the end of the tunnel, the chosen one prophesised to bring balance to the Star Wars universe and eradicate the memory of the prequels from our minds (the bad parts anyway).  For many this new Star Wars film might have lived up to their every expectation. I however, will have to wait until I have seen the other two before I judge how successful or unsuccessful this trilogy will be in comparison to the previous ones. So far, it’s exactly where I expected it to be (between the original and prequel trilogies in terms of awesomeness). The Force Awakens however, fell into the same horrible pit that I’ve mentioned already. If you think the story is original, let us briefly run through it. The story begins with a droid being given sensitive information before fleeing from a masked villain wearing all black with a red lightsabre who proceeds to torture the last person known to have the information. The droid is forced to travel across a desert planet in search of its owner. Instead, it finds a young adult who lives on the planet. When Stormtroopers arrive and start killing people in search of the droid, the young adult and their new companion are forced to flee the planet in the Millennium Falcon, only just managing to escape.  While in the Millennium Falcon, the oldest male of the group explains the nature of the force in an attempt to convince the rest of the group of its existence. We then see the masked villain discussing plans with a projection of his master, who is an old and deformed male, who proceeds to advise the masked villain on how to proceed. We also see a rivalry of sorts between the masked villain and a high ranking military official who seems to be at a similar level in the hierarchy despite the masked villain’s force capabilities. A superweapon is used to destroy a planet loyal to the group opposing the military regime. One of the members of the team loses faith but later has a change of conscience and returns to help save the day. A plan is put into place to destroy the superweapon which involves blowing the device up from the inside with an x-wing. BOOM! The Force Awakens or A New Hope? There are more similarities but I chose the ones that relate to the same structure as Episode 4.

Of course this is a vague comparison; I mean I’m sure it’s possible to do this with many films. The point is that if the next two films follow The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, then Star Wars fans are probably going to be pretty disappointed: Especially if we have to witness the destruction of yet another version of the Death Star. We were promised a new film, not a remake. What I fail to understand is that there were an infinite number of story possibilities so why follow such a similar structure? Did we really need a third version of the Death Star? Did we have to have a follow-on from the Galactic Empire? Films could be about anything, they could have the most insane characters and locations and storylines and it doesn’t matter because they are films. So why are we limited to seeing remakes and sequels and prequels and the such? Could this Star Wars film not have started an entirely new story? Sure use some of the old characters but could we not have delved deeper into the force? I mean I liked the idea of having Kylo Ren as a Vader fan-boy, it was an interesting concept but we barely saw anything about it. I mean how did they end up with the helmet? Does Ren know he is the grandson of Vader? Hopefully these will be brought up in the next two films and hopefully he becomes a bit more powerful before his next encounter with Rey.

Another issue is how pathetic the villains have become: In the original trilogy we had Darth Vader who seemed menacing and dark. I mean sure he ends up turning back away from the dark side but for the first two ¾ films, he was a pretty bad-ass villain. The emperor while seeming pretty intelligent and manipulative is a different sort of villain. We see him working his way up to being The Emperor and yet he only uses his dark side abilities twice I think? At least that you see on screen. Then the prequels show up and we meet Darth Maul: He looks insane and evil, has an awesome lightsabre, kills one of the heroes…and then gets cut in half after having about 6 words to say in the entire film. In Attack of the Clones, we are first introduced to Count Dooku who was once a jedi. Not just any jedi either, he was Qui Gon Jinn’s master. Dooku plays a more meaningful role in this film than Darth Maul did in the previous one and actually, he is one of the better users of the dark side that we encounter. Sadly, he gets beheaded in the opening scene of Revenge of the Sith which leads to us being introduced to General Grievous, a cyborg with many, many lightsabres and many arms to use them with. Also an interesting character who again, gets killed pretty quickly without us seeing a great deal. I think the issue is that in most cases, these villains just sort of appear, die and then another one replaces them on screen before also being killed and likewise replaced. We don’t get a huge amount of depth with these villains which would have been an interesting focus of The Force Awakens. Instead, we are shown the same set of circumstances: A master who has recruited a new villain. To be fair to the film, Kylo Ren has more backstory than the rest of the villains (I’m excluding Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader from this as the entire universe essentially follows his life) and while the similarities to the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader changeover are quite noticeable, there is one fact that changes that: Where Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side but still had good in him (which we see when he defends Luke from the Emperor) Kylo Ren seems to have turned the other way (which we see in him killing his father, Han Solo) so perhaps there are bright things in young Mr Ren’s future (dark things would perhaps be a more accurate description) as there might be a chance that he is now beyond help.

I’m going to finish this rant off by saying one last thing: Perhaps it’s time we stopped viewing films as films as they have now transcended into the world of franchises which means that we can expect a lot of our favourite stories to be buried by disappointing sequels, remakes, prequels and god-awful spin-offs. Sometimes, you won’t even know the difference. “Look at this sequel” they’ll tell you as they lure you into a remake of the original (I’m looking at you Jurassic World, your genetically modified dinosaur isn’t fooling anyone). I won’t call it a bad film until I see it but if Rogue One isn’t a pile of unentertaining drivel that adds nothing to the overall story, I will be very surprised. Perhaps they’ll use it to add some background to Snoke? Who knows. I often hear people criticise “film pirates” by pointing out how they’re not supporting the film industry by doing that. Personally, I fail to see why that is a bad thing? I mean look where that money goes: we pay actors/actresses tons of money, like unbelievably high amounts for them to work like everybody else. Yet the rest of the people involved don’t earn millions. Is having worldwide fame really a reason to pay someone seven figures for one film? Of course some actors/actresses just love acting and love bringing people happiness and enjoyment from their films and while they don’t do it for free, it doesn’t seem like money is their biggest motivator e.g. Bill Murray. I don’t see why we should continue to support an industry that takes our enjoyment for films as an excuse to rip us off and treat us like idiots. “But if they stop making money, they’ll stop making films?” Is that such a bad thing? If the film industry really needs an incentive to stop spewing out garbage, then I’m happy to give them one.

Perhaps we need a new way of deciding the fate of films: Rather than money being the driving force: we should have a panel made up of fans from every genre, from all over the world who approve or deny film ideas based on the impact it would have to the already existing world. You want to make a 16th Fast and Furious move where they race modified cars on water which leads to a pirate incident? Well it has to get past our panel of fans. It wouldn’t be as simple as a yes or no, much like an editor, this panel would raise queries regarding the film that had to be addressed before release: “So there’s going to be a third death star and you’re going to use an x-wing to blow it up from the inside?” would be a good question to raise at such a panel. Instead of money being poured into films, money would be invested into ‘film choosers’ (more professional title pending) who decide where investor/producer money goes based on their passion for films rather than a passion to make money. How long is it before we have adverts during the film? Will we soon have gift shops set up in the cinema that allow you to buy film-themed junk before and after the film? Maybe films will start having different endings, where you go to see one ending and then when it stops being shown in cinema, the same film with a slightly different ending is shown. Will “VIP” seats soon take up the entire back half of the cinema? Forcing us to pay even more money for half-decent seats? I dread to see where the film industry leads us to next. Perhaps Back to the Future 2 wasn’t far off with its Jaws 19 advertisement.

 

 

Side note: It’s probably worth mentioning that this post may give the impression that I didn’t enjoy the new Star Wars or the prequels. Just to clarify, I did enjoy The Force Awakens, I just think that it could have been significantly better if it hadn’t been so similar to previous Star Wars films. There were scenes within this one that were my favourite from the whole Saga so my criticism is just based on my expectations. Similarly, there were many aspects that I thoroughly enjoyed about the prequels. Obi-Wan is without a doubt my favourite character, for example (although Rey could take over depending on the next two films). Not to mention that Dual of Fates from The Phantom Menace is one of my favourite pieces of music. My purpose in writing this post was merely to rant about how Star Wars and the film industry in general seem to have fallen into a rut where creative juices just don’t seem to flow. We need some original ideas otherwise what’s the point? As I mentioned previously, this is almost entirely opinion based so i’m not saying everyone should hate everything that the film industry is doing. I’m merely expressing my annoyance on the matter.

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