MORE POSTS 
 

In praise of Star Wars Rebels

I'm changing the name of this blog, and #WeWantLeia is why

I spoil it for Siri

Guest Post: How I came back to Star Wars action figures by YASWB

Beatrice and I watch Star Wars together

[Review] William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher 

Star Wars oil painting exhibit "Sandstorm" opens

Breakneck boredom: an old time Star Wars fan's thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

They put me on the news to talk about Star Wars

More from Steve Sansweet on Star Wars and gay marriage

Carmine Infantio has died

I can die happy: I've been interviewed by Dungeons & Dragons

Star Wars Episode 7: All My Children?

What JJ Abrams needs to really succeed with Star Wars 7

Star Wars: The Old Republic is gay--on one planet at least

Tongal and Pringles bring us DYI desecration of Star Wars

Reminiscences about West End Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game

Here's the biggest Star Wars news of 2012

Stephen Quinn interviews me about Star Wars on CBC Vancouver

Star Wars: modern myth or global franchise?

Parents turn child's 1st birthday into extended Lucasfilm/Hasbro advert

Me reading from A Long Time Ago

Highlights and lowlights of the upcoming Star Wars Celebration VI

Grown men (mostly) dressed up as Lando Calrissian

Beggar's Canyon Toys offer Star Wars toy "restoration" service

Blog's t-shirts banned by Zazzle

Will the real David Prowse please stand up?

LaserSaber: Unlicensed, dangerous and yours for only $99

Is this the future of Star Wars?

Is Star Wars link bait?

Dissent not tolerated at the Prequel Appreciation Society

TSOT discovers its nemesis

Comme des idiots: Star Wars teams up with poncy fashion house

US Christian activist attacks SWTOR for being gay

Yodaphone--the latest product pitch from Star Wars Inc.

Attention tortoise-fanciers: do you like Star Wars?

History of Star Wars as related by a bot

Is Star Wars a travesty of science fiction?

Luke Skywalker and company on the Muppet Show

Yoda now shilling instant soup in Japan

Commander who?

$6000 for a toy you can't even play with

Star Wars underwear

Retro Star Wars decor in my son's bedroom

Phantom Menace 3D: Now With Plot

Star Wars and disco: the forgotten love affair

Will Muschamp: What a guy!

Oi, fanboy: grow up! A reply to Darren Franich

 

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Entries in JJ Abrams (4)

Thursday
Sep262013

An open video letter to JJ Abrams

Nicely done video with four propositions about what made Star Wars great. It's full of subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the prequels.

You can also visit the web site and sign a petition in support of these sentiments. If they get one million signatures, the makers of this video plan to visit Disney HQ in Burbank (with camera crew) to hand deliver the petition to, er, the receptionist I guess.

Monday
May272013

Breakneck boredom: an old time Star Wars fan's thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

It's not often my wife and I go to the movies these days. As we sat in the SilverCity Metropolis theatre in Burnaby, BC last Saturday night, trying to have a conversation over the objections of a constant stream of advertisements, announcements and asinine celebrity trivia games emanating from the screen before the film started, we could not remember the last time we had been in a cinema together. It was probably before the birth of our first child. Who has time to go to the movies with small children at home? We did, last Saturday, thanks to my mother-in-law. So we opted for a film that would be more impressive on the big screen than streamed to our 28 inch TV through Netflix. We chose Star Trek Into Darkness (in 3D). 

My wife is not exactly a trekkie, but she was a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation back in the day. She's definitely more Star Trek than Star Wars. As for me, I appreciate Star Trek from afar. It certainly never caught a hold of me like Star Wars, and I'm not conversant in the storylines and characters. But I do enjoy the old episodes--I mean genuinely enjoy them for what they are, rather than for the smug, ironic, I-know-more-about-the-future-than-some-dead-guy-named-Gene-Roddenberry stance I might adopt while watching them if I was younger and more hip. I certainly do not feel any Star-Wars-fan hostility towards Star Trek. In truth, they've never seemed to me to be competing in the same space. One is science fiction, the other is fantasy. 

Now that director JJ Abrams is in charge of both Star Trek and the new Star Wars films, part of my motivation for seeing Star Trek Into Darkness was to get a sense of what Abrams might do with Episode VII. I have noticed, but not blogged about, a number of recent pieces online (such as this) complaining that the new Star Trek is not Star Trek at all, but Star Wars. Having now seen Star Trek Into Darkness, I can say this with confidence: whether it is truly Star Trek or not I'll leave to the trekkies, but it certainly is not Star Wars.

At lunch with my sister April and daughter Beatrice earlier on Saturday, my sister described my five-year-old girl as having one speed: full on. Star Trek Into Darkness is the same: nothing but action and movement. That may sounds like a winning formula for a Hollywood film. In fact it's just as tiring and wearing on a body as Beatrice can be at the worst of times. "Settle down", I wanted to tell this hyperactive child of a film, "just take it easy for a minute. Now, what is it you're trying to tell me?" 

And that's the chief difference between Star Trek Into Darkness and the original three Star Wars films. Think back to those films. There are long stretches of them that have little "action" at all, where by "action" I mean the current Hollywood definition of the word, which generally involves two superhumans pummelling each other relentlessly, yet largely inconsequentially, on some sort of fast-moving platform while time (in one way or another) runs out.

Compare the original Star Wars films: Threepio and Artoo wander through the Tatooine wastes; Luke learns the ways of the Force from an unlikely mentor; Luke surrenders to Vader and struggles to control his rage as the Emperor taunts him with the imminent destruction of the Rebellion. None of these scenes from the original trilogy involves "action" in the things-blowing-up sense of that word. But there is another, older sense of that word. It means plot. It means anything that happens in a story to advance it, irrespective of the pace at which the advancement occurs. Each of these scenes is replete with action in that sense. 

There is little advance-the-story action in Star Trek Into Darkness. There is rather little story at all. In its place is a long list of pretexts for destroying numerous things in rapid succession. Even the dialogue is fast. The actors deliver their lines quickly, one speaking immediately after the other as if they all know they must speak fast or be drowned out by the sound of the next explosion. The result is a film that is at once exhausting and boring. After the first hour or so of amusement-park velocity, you give up trying to keep up and allow yourself to be dragged along for the ride.

The original three Star Wars films were not like this. The pace they had was effective because it punctuated the story. An exclamation point was truly exclamatory. The narrative lilted from slow to fast and back to slow, and it was the rhythm that generated the excitement. Abrams' Star Trek hardly has rhythm at all. It starts in a panic, shifts into another panic, followed by several more, then panics its way to the finish. 

There is a second profound difference between Star Trek Into Darkness and the old-time Star Wars, namely that the Star Trek characters are all superhuman. I am not referring here to the villain "John Harrison" who is, after all, supposed to be a superman. I mean Kirk and Spock and even lesser figures like Scotty. These characters, in Abrams' hands, are constantly diving from terrible heights, suffering horrendous beatings and accomplishing improbable things, such that they bear more resemblance to deathless videogame avatars than actual people.

Again, this was not so in Star Wars. Recall Luke and Leia's Death Star chasm swing. Compared to the CGI-abetted feats constantly trotted out before filmgoers today, this act was utterly unremarkable. What made it exciting was not that it was superheroic, but merely that it was brave. Had Luke and Leia accomplished seven other death-defying feats in the previous 60 minutes of the film by that point, as have the leads in Star Trek Into Darkness, there would have been nothing climactic about it. Ironically, even as Luke Skywalker becomes semi-magical in the later films through his mastery of the Force, his heroism never tips into superheroism. He never becomes too big to fail. Indeed, his ultimate success is not accomplished by physical force at all. 

Even with my only general knowledge of Star Trek, I can appreciate that this film was not much in keeping with the franchise's character. Matt Zoller Seitz put it well on RogerEbert.com:

Less a classic "Star Trek" adventure than a "Star Trek"-flavored action flick, shot in the frenzied, handheld, cut-cut-cut style that’s become Hollywood’s norm, director J.J. Abrams’ latest could have been titled "The Bourne Federation."

But that sort of criticism is not the same as saying that there is too much Star Wars in Abrams' new Star Trek. To the contrary, there is not enough. I left Star Trek Into Darkness feeling little confidence that Episode VII would feel like Star Wars. Unless Abrams departs radically from the formula that is bringing him and his studio financial--if not critical--success, the new Star Wars will feel like the latest Star Trek: two hours of breakneck boredom. 

Thursday
Jan312013

NY Times columnist asks, Did Star Wars need Ben Affleck?

Ross Douthat of the New York Times wonders if Disney made the right choice. From the piece:

But fans of the original “Star Wars” trilogy should realize that the director of the next installment faces a bigger challenge than just serving as a capable custodian of a popular franchise, or enlivening a stale formula with some lens flares and sex appeal. That’s because the next movie will be released in the shadow of the epic, franchise-altering disaster of George Lucas’s prequels — a case, rare in the annals of pop culture, where a beloved story was ruthlessly and comprehensively torched, not by hackish studios chasing easy money, but by the very man who created it in the first place.

Thanks to Lucas, half of the official Star Wars story is unsalvageable dreck — but it’s canonical dreck, which means it can’t simply be shunted into an alternative timeline in the style of Abrams’ “Star Trek,” or dropped down the memory hole the way say, Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” movies were when Christopher Nolan set about making “Batman Begins.” Instead, the prequels have to be somehow formally accepted as part of the “Star Wars” story and artistically repudiated at the same time. That’s a much harder task than making a “Star Wars” sequel would have been back in 1995, before Lucas took a flamethrower to his legacy. And I can’t help thinking it might have been easier for a director who came to the project free of fanboy baggage, and who could cast a more dispassionate eye on a pop cultural mythology that too many people (myself included, before I was introduced to Jar Jar Binks) invested with far more significance than its creator’s talents could ultimately bear.

Follow the link for the full piece.

New York Times: Did "Star Wars" Need Ben Affleck?

Monday
Jan282013

What JJ Abrams needs to really succeed with Star Wars 7

If you're reading this blog you likely know by now that JJ Abrams has agreed to direct the new Star Wars sequel, scheduled for release by Disney Lucasfilm in 2015. On this blog I haven't been covering any of the speculation surrounding who might write the film, who might direct it or who might star in it. That's partly because the internet really doesn't need me chiming in on the topic (I know nothing). Mainly, though, I keep quiet about that stuff because, as I struggled to explain to my wife the other day, I don't really consider This Sort of Thing to be a movie blog. It's about Star Wars--a phenomenon that started as a film but hasn't been just a film in a very long time. I frankly don't really care about movie stars or the movie business. I'm certainly not a movie buff. But I am interested in culture and fanaticism and storytelling and fatherhood--all of which are themes Star Wars has come to encompass. 

Reaction to the choice of Abrams as director has been overwhelmingly positive. Observers have pointed out that Abrams grew up with Star Wars (he's 46) and is a self-proclaimed fan. I liked Ben Childs' take in The Guardian:

It is, frankly, a thing of wonder that there is anything left of this once-proud franchise to be revived after George Lucas spent the past 15 years systematically destroying all goodwill towards him with dodgy CGI retrofits of the original trilogy and a lifeless, prosaic second triptych of films. Yet, miraculously, there is still a lot of love out there for Star Wars, and Abrams would have been at the top of most fans' lists to take charge of Episode VII and its two proposed sequels. On past evidence, we can expect a movie that holds true to the spirit of its predecessors but delivers a fresh and imaginative take on well-worn themes.

I've been skeptical about the prospects of launching successful new Star Wars films. But in the last few days the excitement surrounding Abrams started to rub off on me. I allowed myself to contemplate the possibility of a really good new Star Wars film in 2015. It wouldn't really be for me anymore. I'd see it, of course, but however good it might be it would likely just be another fantasy flick--fun but inconsequential. However, my son Zach will be four-and-a-half in May 2015--the age I was when I saw Star Wars in 1977. The idea of taking Zach to see Star Wars 7, and him really enjoying it, and me then sharing the original three films with him--that's what has now got me guardedly excited about the prospect of a successful revival of Star Wars. 

As I indulged further in this middle-aged-dad fantasy, the corrective potential of really good new Star Wars films occurred to me. Since 1999 I have viewed the prequels as a stain on Star Wars that couldn't be removed, a case of vandalism beyond restoration. But if Star Wars 7 were great, and if Star Wars 8 and 9 were great, too, the contamination of the prequels would be significantly diluted. Instead of three of six Star Wars films being drivel, only three of nine would be. Convincing Zach to never mind the bollocks and stick to the good Star Wars films would be much easier with such a high volume of quality material on offer. 

What, then, does Abrams need to do to make my daydream of sharing a rejuvenated Star Wars with my little boy come true? Lucasfilm seems to be off to a good start by recruiting talented people. But the key, for me, is for Abrams and everyone else involved in the Star Wars sequels to understand the significance, to 30- and 40-something Star Wars fans like me, of what they are being asked to do. 

The task is not just to make an entertaining, successful film. The challenge is to understand the phenomenon that Star Wars has been for our generation--the infatuation, the mystery, the frustration and disappointment--and to respond with a story that respects that while also speaking to the rest of the audience and saying something new. The benchmark are, of course, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Both of those films have an epic, mythic quality that run-of-the-mill action-adventure films do not. By "epic" and "mythic" I don't mean just mean Joseph Campbell mumbo-jumbo, though that is part of it. What I mean is that for the story being told to live up to the Star Wars franchise at its best, it cannot simply be exciting or fast-paced or visually impressive. It must be grand. There has got to be a grandeur about the next Star Wars for it to truly succeed. 

Grandeur, by the way, can not be manufactured through visually-impressive shots and scenes. Special effects were undoubtedly part of the magic of the original trilogy. But technological advances have made striking, even outlandish visuals so commonplace that they hardly matter anymore. If there is one thing the prequels emphatically taught us, it is that CGI, or any other form of special effect, must not be allowed to drive--or even influence--the story. We seem to have got to the point in filmmaking where we can show on a screen anything we want to show. All the more reason, then, to be judicious in the storytelling. I hope Abrams knows how to keep his effects people working in the service of the story, and not the other way round. I hope he builds a few sets instead of bluescreens. I hope he builds a few models instead of CGI.

It's a daunting task Abrams has taken on. You've got to admire his courage in daring to tackle it. I'll be rooting for him, and for the writers, too.