Both were driven by nostalgia to a large degree. We always used to go and see the new Bond film at the cinema ... I particularly recall seeing Moonraker, but I think The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was the first. But just six months later my life would change, because that is when I went to see Star Wars (at The ABC in Tunbridge Wells, now sadly flattened).
Up until then it was war - comics, toys, models and films - that were my main preoccupation, but I mostly dropped that after Star Wars, and science fiction and adventure became my new obsession.
It was a great time to be a young kid. After Star Wars came Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, Time Bandits, Clash of the Titans, E.T, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, Tron, The Dark Crystal, War Games, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, and Return of the Jedi, to name a few that have stood the test of time.
And it's nostalgia that is at the heart of The Force Awakens - an aspect that is partly responsible for its huge success, but which has also been one of the main points of criticism of the film.
I enjoyed it immensely, but then perhaps the film was rather aimed at me and those like me, and it pushed all the right buttons. I liked it so much that I started 2016 by going to see it again, and was not disappointed with a second viewing and with the hype somewhat cooled.
It's nice seeing the old faces again, but the best thing about the film is the new faces: Rey is an intriguing and positive main character, Fin is entertaining and hugely likeable, and the dark side offers up a very interesting personality in the guise of Kylo Ren.
Unlike some critics, I didn't mind the plot parallels with the original Star Wars. I think it's a trait of the series (or perhaps the Force) that patterns repeat, and I'm not surprised, after the reception that greeted episodes I-III, that the writers and producers wanted to play it safe to get the new franchise off the ground.
My worry is that the creative team behind episode VIII, slated for late 2017, will give too much attention to the voices of the fans when they come to map out future instalments. While, as I said, I loved every minute of The Force Awakens, it has also, actually, given me a greater appreciation of the originality and vision of George Lucas's prequels.
I re-watched them over the past couple of weeks, for the first time in a long time (in fact, in the case of episode III, for the first time since seeing it just once at the cinema) and was pleasantly surprised. Jar-Jar Binks wasn't as annoying as I, perhaps, mis-remembered, and I even found young 'Anni' likeable and somewhat sympathetic. Certainly the over-baked scenes with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are a bit difficult to watch, but I got a better sense of Anakin's path to the dark side by seeing all three in sequence. I surprised myself by really enjoying the last of the three, even Darth Vader's "Noooooooo!" didn't seem half as bad as I recalled.
The setting of the prequels is a feast for the eyes, and I think the story just about works - especially if you immerse yourself fully into the fantasy. This isn't science-fiction, after all, it's pure space fairy-tale!
Was Lucas largely criticised for being original? For telling the story he wanted to tell, and not the one his films' keenest fans wanted (ie. a more Star Wars-y Star Wars). Are those who are criticising The Force Awakens for being too much like A New Hope the same people who criticised The Phantom Menace for not being 'Star Wars' enough?
I'm not saying the prequels were perfect films, not one bit. I do wonder if, because of what they are, they are put under a great deal more scrutiny than would ever be directed at the original trilogy. Episodes I-III are world-building, background, nerd-notes. I shed myself of some of the internet stigma that has built up around them, and found I enjoyed them more than I thought I would.
We've had our nostalgia moment with The Force Awakens, and that's brilliant. Now let's hope we move forward into new territory, where quality storytelling will prevail over commercial interests and fan pressure. I want to see the new characters grow, and I'd love to see Luke Skywalker - the kid that started it all - used intelligently, with new aspects revealed, giving impetus to the new series, so that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, has a bright, absorbing, and exciting future.
|I don't think the prequels were bad because they weren't Star Wars enough, it's because, to my mind, they were badly written, poorly plotted, poorly acted and over-reliant on showing off CGI technology. The story, especially in Phantom Menace, was such an unmitigated mess, with no real sense of a protagonist, or sense of a linear story. I'm not keen on the idea of somehow only enjoying films purely based on nostalgia, I think if this were true, the Prequels would have been far better received. I believe people are smart enough to enjoy films on their own merits, One only needs to look at the last Indiana Jones film - all the right elements were there, but it is rightly reviled due to it's terrible story and again, over-use of awful, soon-outdated CGI. No amount of nostalgia can gloss over that travesty. I honestly believe George Lucas has forgotten how to tell a story or make a good film. His tinkering with the original trilogy with pointless 'comedy' cgi robots crowding out every shot, terrible Jabba reconstruction, modernised songs and extra Darth Vader screams of "NOOOOO!" show him to up to be a film maker way past his prime. So with The Force Awakens, I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was, a great cinematic romp. I watched it twice and never felt it was a blatant re-run. It felt fresh, exciting, with enough nods to the previous films (which, don't forget, are greatly entangled in this film!), to satisfy my inner and outer nerd.|
|Thanks for your comment, Gary! I agree there's no central protagonist and the story's a bit all over the place in the prequels, but I see it more as world-building, and I enjoyed it for that. Perhaps it ends up being more the story of Palpatine, and it is very political (which is complicated - I had to look up a couple of aspects online to understand them, which isn't a good thing with a film). I didn't even mind much of the CGI-splurge, mostly ... what's wrong with me!? :-) There is an element of "George Lucas ruined my childhood" to some criticism, as if Star Wars was a public service. Re-watching the prequels, I was impressed with more than I remembered. Some bits I would rather gloss over though!|
|I think one big difference between the original trilogy and the prequels is that, in the original trilogy, a story in the past (the story of Luke's parentage, the rise of the Empire, etc.) was being uncovered at the same time as the present-time action story was moving forward. This gave an interesting (and more emotional) strand to play out while the pure action went on. The trouble with the prequels is they went back to telling that actual story-in-the-past, and so had no second strand, no undertone to the current events. One good thing about the new episode is that, by taking a leap forward, we have a new story-in-the-past: what happened to Luke, who Rey is, etc.|
|Thanks, Murray - that's a good point about the way the different series tell their story. Show not tell, indeed!|
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