The Star Wars Celebration in Europe this past weekend was kind of a bust. We found out John Williams would be back to score Episode VII, but that’s about it. We haven’t even found out the title of the movie, which is coming out in less than two years.
What we did hear was a series of reassurances from producer Kathleen Kennedy that boiled down to one thing: this won’t be the Prequels again. ‘We have an amazing team at ILM, who can create fantastic effects, but if we don’t have a great story and characters, the effects mean nothing,’ Kennedy said. Of course story and characters weren’t exactly the problem with the Prequels - the movies were loaded with (bad) story and (boring) characters. But still, many point to the film’s reliance on green screens and CG characters as indicative of what went wrong with Star Wars. And Kennedy is definitely nodding to those people.
‘Looking at all the Star Wars movies and getting a feel for what even some of the early films did, combining real locations and special effects – that’s something we’re looking very seriously at... ‘It’s using model makers; it’s using real droids; it’s taking advantage of artwork that you actually can touch and feel,’ she said. ‘And we want to do that in combination with CG effects. We figure that’s what will make it real.’
Those are the right things to say; a perfect modern special effects movie has practical FX aided by CGI - a puppet monster head whose body is filled out in post, or a set that is extended far beyond the walls using green screen. These are all the right words.
It’s a little weird that they’re just looking into this stuff though, isn’t it? The movie starts shooting in a couple of months; you’d think they would be so knee-deep in pre-production that these decisions would have already been made. I know that Lucasfilm keeps saying they’re hitting a 2015 date, but...
Anyway, I’m fascinated by what Kennedy had to say. It’s fairly positive in that it speaks to Lucasfilm understanding some of what went wrong with the Prequels. Those movies made a bunch of money and, for whatever sick reason, have their own fans, so they can’t really shit on them (a popular pastime in the modern era, where filmmakers promoting their new sequel shit on the previous entry they made in the franchise) but she can use codewords to let us know that they’re course correcting back to classic Star Wars.
This, I think, is going to be how the new film is sold, as a return to the original trilogy. Everybody’s going to smile and say that the Prequels were surely their own neat thing, but now we’re getting back to the classics. Does that mean we’re getting back to good Star Wars? Models and practical locations and FX are always a step in the right direction for any movie, but it wasn’t the sands of Tunisia that made Star Wars special. And while Star Wars was, in many ways, a throwback to an earlier kind of entertainment it wasn’t the aping of Flash Gordon serials that made it work. Star Wars was a new thing born out of an older tradition, a previously unseen spin on breathless, imaginative storytelling.
I’ve heard that Abrams is doing tests to try and recapture the exact grain of the film in the original trilogy, to make his movie aesthetically in line with those. That’s impressive, but like the return of models and locations it doesn’t make Star Wars. It’ll make something that looks a lot like the classic Star Wars we all grew up on, but warmed over visuals weren’t what smashed into the pop culture landscape like an asteroid in 1977. Hopefully Abrams and Lucasfilm are spending just as much time trying to make something fresh and new as they are trying to recapture the look of something old.