Thursday, January 23, 2014

Star Wars Episode VII and "Groundedness"

 I watched Super 8 this week, encouraged by the idea that a movie billed as “J.J. Abrams makes a Spielberg film” might give me some thoughts about Star Wars Episode VII.  I’ve also been reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, and thinking about how some of his science fiction describes his childhood. Super 8 writer and director J. J. Abrams had this to say to Time Magazine near the film's release, an answer which I think could just as well apply to Star Wars Episode VII:  
"Super 8 was never intended as an homage to any films in particular. Before we were shooting I told our cinematographer, Larry Fong — who I met at 12 making Super-8 films — that I didn’t want the film to look like it was made in 1979, but I wanted it to look the way we remember films looking from 1979. That is to say, it needed to be its own thing, with visual and rhythmic motifs that allude to a different era of moviemaking, but made using tools and techniques of today. I sort of wanted to build a bridge between then and now. The story worked the same way: it needed to stand on its own, but with nods to its origins and conventions of the genre. But I never had a checklist of shout-outs that I wanted to make."
To an extent, fiction is all about navel-gazing. It’s all about people exploring their own mental landscapes. In the introduction to Dandelion Wine, Bradbury writes about a process in which he built stories by "word-association" and "rummaging" through his memories: "From the age of twenty-four to thirty-six hardly a day passed when I didn't stroll myself across a recollection of my grandparents'  northern Illinois grass..." Fiction is also somewhat measured by the degree to which the author can make that landscape accessible to other people – a story that is too personal becomes selfish, becomes, as I was discussing with @12MG12 on Twitter, pandering.

In all the talk about Star Wars canon and whether or not Episode VII will feature EU characters such as Jacen and Jaina Solo, I’ve been more interested in the tone of the movie. Star Wars was an expression of a young, racecar-loving George Lucas wanting to have an adventure as much as it was a science fiction story.

I’m not sure how it would manifest, but I’d like to see the new trilogy similarly comment on something real – subtly. Something about Lucas’ history or something about Abrams'.

(I noticed that everyone so far mentioned is male and from the United States. The idea of generational nostalgia with American men as its gatekeepers is a different topic, but it's also worth noting that as an American myself I have only one certain type of childhood to examine. Other perspectives, and how they do and do not connect to Star Wars, are welcomed. Is Star Wars distinctively a product of the United States? Discuss. The world-wide success of Star Wars is relevant,  and of course nothing about nostalgia or beauty or childhood are restricted to one culture.)

The fact remains that the introductory scenes of young Kirk in Star Trek (2009), like Bradbury's Green Town and American Graffiti, are set in the American midwest. Abrams doesn't have to sit down to make an autobiographical movie to imbue it with a tone like that, which feels dusty and retro without being kitsch. Maybe Episode VII will have scene transitions like the original trilogy. Maybe it will have some of the party atmosphere of American Graffiti, or the home-town feel of Super 8.

The prequels lacked such everyman characters as Han and Luke; instead, the heroes were warrior-monks. The boy from Tatooine was a star racer the first time he competed. My intent is not to hold the prequels up to the original trilogy and measure them - instead it is simply to note that with the exception of the podrace, the prequel trilogy felt less like authentically human stories.

Now, back to the Expanded Universe. I adore the Expanded Universe, but also feel that it has, like all things tend to do, tended to build on itself instead of on its original source. There is an Expanded Universe "feel" to the books, certain types of names and certain tropes - undead Sith, magical crystals - which I do not feel match the original trilogy as well as they match the Expanded Universe itself. This is not a criticism, even if it sounds like one - but Expanded Universe Luke is no longer at all the same person as original trilogy Luke.

I don't imagine that J. J. Abrams, Laurence Kasdan, or anyone else on the Episode VII team will read every Expanded Universe book in preparation for their new film. Even if they do, it might be wiser for them to remove those things from their minds and focus on the used look of the original trilogy, and match its tone without thirty years of new material, authors building one off of another like a game of transmedia telephone.

EU readers may think that Episode VII does not feel like Star Wars - until it feels like the original trilogy. It feels the way we remember it feeling in 1977. (Or whenever we first saw the movies.)

I love the Expanded Universe, and I do hope that the Story Group finds a way to reconcile movie canon and book canon so that they both still "exist."

However, I think the movie we all really want to see, the movie that will please audiences of all ages and all levels of familiarity with Star Wars, won't feel like the Expanded Universe.

I see the name 'Ezra Bridger' for a Rebels hero, as sketchily acquired from toy listings as it was, as proof that the new era of Star Wars at least leans in the Earthly direction. I wrote before about how the new trilogy would likely have everyman names to give it a similar tone to the original trilogy. A recent interview with Simon Kinberg said in Entertainment Weekly that "for the tone of the show we took our cues from the original movies, which had fun and adventure and swashbuckling with emotion and grounded human characters." 

I'm interested in the swashbuckling. But I also found it refreshing, within all the discussion of which characters might be in the movie, to focus on the part about it being grounded.


  1. Nemmmm~
    I always feel... silly? when replying to your blog entries. You have such an intelligent and seemingly effortless (I'm not saying you don't put effort into your posts, I'm just saying that the words seem to come naturally) way of writing, and I love reading your well-informed opinions and concepts and ideas. And I never know what to say to them. I never know how to reply. I feel like I don't know enough to be able to enter into an in-depth discussion with you, but I like observing from the sidelines. I feel what you are saying here, and I am very much of the same opinion with Star Wars. I am overwhelmed with excitement and curiosity about the new films! My heart leaps when I think of experiencing new Star Wars content, in the cinema, when it first comes out! Ahhh!! I wasn't around when the original Star Wars was first released, but now I have a chance to be there when the new Star Wars is. SW has been a part of my life for a long time, and it means a lot to me (even if I feel I don't know enough about it! I know that to be a fan you don't need to know everything, but it helps??) Anyway, sorry to rant at you. I loved your post, I always love your posts. <3

    1. Aw, don't worry, I feel like that about other people's writing too sometimes. Your comments are always appreciated! This "I wasn't around when the original Star Wars was first released, but now I have a chance to be there when the new Star Wars is." is how I feel too. It's a new beginning!

      I am looking for people from around the world to comment on whether Star Wars feels distinctly American and what that does or does not mean, so you're welcome to chime in on that.

    2. ;n; Thanks, Nem. You really are the best. <3 I love reading your work, be it original, fanfiction, blog posts... you write so well. eeeeee! STAR WARS. I JUST. sudhaiufhajwfkasjlfahiosfhoawf <3 <3 So exciting.

      ahaha, I would if I had a solid opinion! I'm not really sure at all. :P