‘What’s the best scene you’ve ever seen in a movie?’
‘The opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”? High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, hunted by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and – ‘
‘Whoa! Enough already! And the worst?’
‘The opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. The taxation of trade routes? Huh? Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“. Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.’
‘How about the new Star Wars 7? “The Force Awakens”?’
‘Well… my head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining. But my heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.’
‘Are you an idiot? Or a congenital optimist?’
‘These franchises trade on humankind’s incurable optimism bias. Check out my blog about James Bond.’
Yes. Christmas is coming, and with it a new Star Wars movie. For all the reasons set out in my James Bond blog, the chances of Star Wars 7 being in the same league as Star Wars (1977); The Empire Strikes Back (1980); or Return of the Jedi (1983) are pitiful. In fact, you’re less likely to find the new movie entertaining than to win the lottery while being struck by lightning and savaged by a black swan. But let’s give it a chance.
After studying the trailers, I see five reasons to be optimistic:
(i) Harrison Ford is in it. Could he inject a degree of self-awareness?
(ii) there’s a new kind of beach-ball droid, reminiscent of the beach-ball alien in 1974’s magnificent sci-fi classic Dark Star (allegedly the first movie to refer to an extra-terrestrial being as an “Alien”);
(iii) the action plays tricks with scale – eg having a spaceship turn out to be infinitesimally tiny compared with the hulking wreck of another… hang on, isn’t that the same trick they used in the first 15 seconds of the original Star Wars? In fact, it’s the same spaceship, except now it’s wrecked;
(iv) for the first time ever, the films are in order. Episode 7 is actually the 7th movie in the series. That should make things a lot clearer;
(v) er… let me watch the trailers again. Nope. That’s it.
The following points from the trailers make me less optimistic:
(i) technology seems to have frozen. Back in 1977, I enjoyed the dogfights between the rebels’ X-wing fighters and the generically hopeless and confusingly-named TIE fighters (from Bangkok, I wondered?) flown by the bad guys off their laughably vulnerable Death Star. The trailers show identical dogfights continuing, 38 years later;
(ii) everything else looks the same, too. The bad guy is another bloke in a black helmet with troublesome sinuses. A key good guy is sitting in an X-wing fighter – again. People brandishing light-sabres wander around rainy heaths and snowy forests as if they’ve accidentally stumbled onto the set of Game of Thrones;
(iii) there are explosions and people looking shocked – always a substitute for a plot;
(iv) trailers usually show the best bits of the movie. Those are the best bits? Half the time in the trailer above, the screen is dark. What are they hiding?
(v) even dud films (step forward Prometheus) can have inspiring trailers. Maybe the dreary Star Wars trailers mean the film is awesome? Nope, that’s clutching at straws.
So how likely is it that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be worth watching?
For: desperate optimism that it surely, surely must be better than Episodes 1-3;
Against: the trailers reveal zero point zero evidence of this.
Despite all this, I’ll still go and watch the movie, for reasons set out in my above-mentioned Bond blog. Please, please, please can I be pleasantly surprised?