For some time now, I’ve been wondering what has been the definitive line splitting the old Star Wars and the Disney ones for yours truly. Outside the whole thing that their quality is questionable at best, outright offensively idiotic at worst, the one thing that ultimately stood out was how things were filmed, and ultimately written. This will be largely personal musings without any writer’s approach I usually employ.
Lucas’ directing and camerawork is not suited for big budget movies, as we saw during the Prequel films. Nevertheless we saw evolution of both during those three movies, where characters gained more meat on them as people who trained the actors in acting and effectively pre-directed them were brought in. The scripts, however, were more questionable in quality, but their tone, intention and motions were almost always on-point the same; as if it were real things happening.
This is largely how Lucas has always worked with his films, from building the sets to how he writes them and directs. Filming too, if he can help it. The world as it would be if these things were real. While the movies have the familiar structures to them and certain beats are made, the documentarian approach Lucas used is largely absent from Disney’s Star Wars movies. This approach was costly to him in terms of budget, as special effects, practical effects, the sets and the actors all had to blend in one shot together seamlessly and naturally. For example, in Episode IV after Death Star blows up Alderaan, we get a wide shot from inside of Millennium Falcon, showing the insides of the ship, Chewbacca playing games with the droids and Luke training with Obi-Wan. This shot could have been done cheaper by tightly focused shots that excludes the background, but the way things were filmed, as if they were real rather than a movie, doesn’t allow such budget conscious choices.
Furthermore, levity or jokes come from events and situations naturally. For example, C-3PO in Episode V often works as someone who brings some levity to the events and situation without breaking the tone. It comes through his natural being and interaction, unforced by external factors. For example, when 3PO breaks between Han’s and Leia’s tender moment within the Falcon, the audience doesn’t consider this as a forced joke. Rather, it is 3PO’s nature not to consider such things in his excitement. We saw some of this in Episode IV as well, but how trusty he is with others to large degree when he has not foreknowledge. However, we should also consider him a strong diplomat, which 3PO shows rather well with the Ewoks in Episode VI. Sure, Lucas didn’t direct Episode V, or have much to do it with it creatively, but this just shows that Star Wars can be done right when in right hands. Nevertheless, the core story was still his.
The Disney Star Wars movies feel like they’ve been scripted and filmed like movies. The best example of this really is the start of The Last Jedi, where you have Your momma jokes shoved into a very deadly serious moment, breaking the tone of the scene and the whole sequence, especially when slapstick Force jokes are then put on the show when General Hux gets dragged on the floor in order to humiliate him. It doesn’t look natural, it doesn’t feel like what these characters would do if the movie was shot if it was real.
While we can always argue that the Disney movies are well made, that there is large effort to have the best look there is to them, the same can be said and argued for all the previous movies. It is easier and cheaper to make a movie look absolutely terrific, beautiful even, than what it was during making of Star Wars or Episode I. None of the modern CGI fests wouldn’t exists in their modern form if Lucas had not pushed the envelope in making his movies, something which ILM opened doors to other production to be lifted to new heights visually and technically, like Jurassic Park. The whole of Marvel movies would not just be possible without Lucas’ way to push technical limitations on the side, and at times it mostly seemed like Lucas was making movies to have something to edit or to try new tricks out. Digital filming broke its first grounds properly with the Prequels, for better or worse, but none of that really exists in Disney films. They’re rather safe to the point a fault. They are movies by the numbers, always using whatever trends currently are about, which is especially clear how Disney Star Wars and Marvel movies largely share the similar forced comedic, and the forced messages that are less than subtle. Outside plastering Yoda’s face on a box of grapes, I can’t really think of any other way Disney has pushed Star Wars or film making onward. Sure, Lucas did franchise Star Wars like no other as well, but his was nothing compared to what Disney did. Well, maybe making Star Wars toys shelfwarmers should be considered some kind of achievement.
Remember when Star Wars somewhat subtle? Somehow I can’t help but think how Jar Jar’s comedy would be extremely fitting for Disney movies, seeing all the characters want to either act like a wall or a clown.
You could say that making Star Wars as by-the-books film should be enough, but it seems all the people who have been in the leading roles during Disney’s unwatchful eye, it’s a thing hard to actually pull off properly. Some would argue Lucas couldn’t with the Prequels, and with the media turning their tails on The Last Jedi, now calling it controversial instead of arguing how subverting it is, Star Wars is something that can be easily fucked up badly. Subverting expectations also have to lead into something of quality, something that would end in a positive net gain, which sorely is lacking with most stories that try to fail consumer expectations with some twist or another. Conventions and cliches exist for a reason. Denying them as sort of trash from the get-go is not only unproductive, but stupid. Not even a master storyteller can make a grand tale if all he does is fail the expectations of the audience. This doesn’t mean that the teller has to capitulate telling the tales and events the audience wants, but that he strikes with something even better, something that works even better than what they imagined. Unlike this blog.
Perhaps all this is really why Disney Star Wars feels so much like fan fiction. Not only are the new, original characters of the writers better than the original, they’re also eclipsing their roles altogether and failing to have any interesting developments and movements without the originals. Hell, I once argued that recasting all the characters with new actors should have been considered to continue their story after Episode VI, but if the rumours of Disney still paying royalties to Lucas due to him being original creator of most of these characters, it’s very easy to understand why they’d choose to opt killing the old cast in favour of their own. Also the reason why they excised the Expanded Universe, no need to pay any of the previous people anything when you can just push your own stuff. Just trickle an old character here and there as fanservice, that’ll keep the nerds happy. Now that Bob Iger’s autobio is out, we can see him throwing Lucas under the bus, as it states that George Lucas hates Star Wars. He isn’t the only one nowadays. Iger going on about how he didn’t appreciate Disney’s hard work on the new films and how Lucas didn’t like how all of his ideas were ignored reads like a hit piece. No matter how much hard work and effort you put into something, it can just a well amount to nothing. Well, in Star Wars case it has effectively become a tainted franchise thanks to Iger and the rest of the people from whoever that new Lucasfilm head was to J.J. You can’t blame Lucas for you own massive failures. They wanted to take the movies in their own direction, and that direction led to dropping revenues title by title. I can completely understand why Lucas would dislike Disney’s Star Wars, it’s really dumb after all. Most of the audiences seem to think the same way.
Well, can’t say I was there to begin with. The aforementioned Yoda branded grapes and the first initial shots and trailers we saw of The Force Awakens put me off a lot. It didn’t look right, the atmosphere was off, there was something in the back of my head saying this won’t end up well. That little voice of experience has saved me loads of money and headache, and I can honestly say that was the point when I bailed the ship. I wasn’t the only one, but lately we’ve seen more and more news about fans “quitting” Star Wars and kids being lost to other franchises. The franchise in itself is not at fault, but the way it has been managed, the way stories have been written, the goods and services that have been put out, are. I guess Star Wars is like a zombie of a long-past friend now, with some still flocking around for whatever reason, but the rest are just veering off due to the reeking, festering dead flesh.