The Franchise Strikes Back

At the time of writing this article, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has earned more than $1.6bn at the global box office and is the fourth highest grossing film of all time, set to surpass 2015’s Jurassic World at third within the coming days, and still to make an impact upon Asia, as a result of today’s (January 9) release in China.

Episode VII, much to the relief of moviegoers and JJ Abrams alike, has proven so far to be a universal success, resurrecting the essence of the original trilogy and reigniting the passion of fans so badly disappointed by inferior prequels. The Force Awakens has reacquainted fans with cherished characters, and introduced a new generation of stars who will no doubt capably guide George Lucas’ space opera into a bright future.

But with the franchise newly rejuvenated on an incredible high, Disney’s filmmakers face what could prove to be a series of insurmountable problems. To begin, the return of the franchise marked the first Star Wars film in a decade (and the first good one in 30 years), the nostalgia propagated by The Force Awakens is partially what drove it to such astronomical levels of success, and it this success that Episode VIII must not only level but surpass come 2017. Moreover, the release of the next instalment will be hot on the heels of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due for release this December.

Rogue One is the first in a series of standalone Star Wars films which will serve as prequels to the original trilogy. While such self-contained adventures are every fan’s dream, they also run the risk of over-saturating the audience as a result and thereby harming future instalments. One need only look at the growing disdain towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to the continued bi-annual release of films that slowly retread the same ground, a criticism that has already been levelled at The Force Awakens, and one that the following instalments will hopefully avoid.

When looking forward, the heavy use of nostalgia is troubling. Whilst by all accounts a thoroughly engaging and well-constructed film, The Force Awakens may be setting a dangerous precedent for the future. Episode VII performs what amounts to a clearance of the Lucasfilm cupboard. The revisiting of old tropes and familiar territory served a noble purpose; to set Star Wars back on track – objective achieved – but Disney’s creative minds must remain vigilant against the potential Sarlacc Pit of repetition and complacency in future films. The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered the best of the original trilogy precisely because it departed from A New Hope’s style, adopting a darker, more sinister tone. Future directors and writers could stand to learn a thing or two from this type of transition.

Nonetheless, at this point all worrying is conjecture; JJ Abrams has successfully avoided his now infamous Gungan epithet, and fan confidence has been restored in the beloved franchise. As Rogue One approaches, film fans worldwide wait in the hope that the new Star Wars cinematic universe is as complex and enthralling as we all hope it can be.

 

Image: Bago Games; Flickr.com

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