Star Wars: The Force Awakens is arguably the most anticipated release of this year. It’s hard not to hear about the franchise if you’ve been anywhere near the Internet these last few months, putting that much more pressure on the film to top its most recent predecessors. All the while, the new canon continues to build in the form of recently released novels, the Star Wars: Rebels cartoon series, and the Marvel comic book series.
The Force Awakens will mark the first installment in the series that doesn’t feature at least the input of creator George Lucas. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan are solely responsibility on the writing side now, with Abrams taking over as director, a choice that could have wide-ranging effects on the entire franchise. With that, there are as many ways it could go wrong as right. So what exactly can Abrams do to steer the ship in the right direction?
1. More practical effects, less CGI and blue screen
Already we’ve seen a pointed promise from everyone involved that The Force Awakens will focus heavily on practical effects. In the original trilogy, virtually everything was rooted in models and on-location sets. But Episodes 1 through 3 took a step away from this, shooting almost entirely in front of blue screens. It showed in the very heart and soul of the movies, making all the action and even dialogue seem stilted and emotionless. It’s hard to genuinely feel a scene as an actor when you’re in a sterile blue room with a bunch of camera equipment and few (if any) other people to actually act with.
The move to practical effects will in many ways restore the heart of the franchise, while giving their cast actual set pieces and locations to exist in outside of single-tone screens. In the end, The Force Awakens will live or die on its ability to recapture this magic.
2. Ditching the heavy-handedness of George Lucas
Part of what turned people off so profoundly following the new trilogy was that suddenly, Star Wars was taking itself way too seriously. Sure, the original movies had their share of heavy moments, but at their respective cores they were light-hearted space romps. That’s what had audiences falling in love from that iconic first scene all the way through Return of the Jedi. But then along came The Phantom Menace, and things became about trade disputes, blockades, and Senate hearings.
Lucas has us diving deep into the politics of Star Wars rather than the things that originally made it appealing, making things decidedly more serious and far less fun. The narrative darkened, and the spirit of the franchise was lost in the process. Early returns from teaser trailers though tell us Abrams will be reversing that trend, so all hope is not lost.
3. A return to filmmaking
If there’s one thing that was lacking in the new trilogy, it was a lack of skilled filmmaking. Cinematography was lazy at best, depending on flat, static shots to establish characters, and generally feeling like it could have been executed by just about any director halfway worth their salt. The original trilogy carried with it an iconic style, with frames we still look at and recognize today.
We all remember the moment we saw Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker silhouetted and dueling for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back. Or the wide shot of Luke on Tatooine during the sun(s)set. Frames that alone could act as paintings based on their composition defined the original trilogy, something that was almost entirely abandoned once Lucas wrested complete control away for Episodes 1 through 3.
4. Moving on to new characters
Part of what bogged us down throughout Lucas’s new trilogy was that it became the “Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.” Despite slight focuses on other aspects of the story, things always came back to the inevitable fall of Anakin into the dark side, and his subsequent to becoming Darth Vader. Unfortunately, it was never unclear at any point how we’d get from “point A” to “point B.” A predictable ending punctuated by a story with familiar beats took away just about all the suspense.
Now though, it looks like the new canon belongs to the next generation of characters, despite clear appearances from mainstays like Han, Chewie, and Luke. For the most part, The Force Awakens will (thankfully) hone in on an updated narrative that moves on from the Anakin/Darth Vader story.
5. Just enough fan service
Even with Abrams moving past Lucas’s newer trilogy, a certain amount of harkening back to older characters will still be necessary. As long as it’s used sparingly, it could be used as a great device that could both entertain fans and not compromise our story. We’re talking less “Yoda uses a lightsaber” and more “Han Solo is old and cranky but still around.” Leave the fighting and main story arc to our new leads, but still it’s important to pay homage to a franchise with roots that run deeper than any other fandom. Abrams did a beautiful job playing with this balancing act for both his Star Trek movies, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t be similarly effective this time around.
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