Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Saga Fan's Approach to Episode VII

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

Even though this column is primarily dedicated to I-III advocacy, some of you may notice I’ve made little or no mention of the goings on with the developing Episode VII and beyond. As I’ve been hinting, there’s a reason for that, and this article will finally tell you.

The truth is, not only have I not been following Episode VII news, I’ve been actively avoiding as much as I can. I want absolutely nothing getting in my way of judging the film on its own merits.

With the internet has come a culture of finding every single detail of a film well before its release, to the point where people have already read every draft of every screenplay a thousand times and already pre-judged every single filmmaking decision before the finished film arrives at the theatres. I’ve always tried to avoid that with mixed success.

With Star Wars, especially THIS Star Wars, it’s all the more important.

You see, spending the last several years as a full-on champion for the Republic-era films has left me battered, bruised, and jaded by the level of hatred and bullying that exists. Even though I know, empirically, these folks are a minority, they are an extremely vocal minority with mainstream media as its megaphone. I’ve gotten to a point where it’s difficult for me to just sit down and enjoy the movies – any of the six – without thinking of how unfair the so-called “fandom” is towards them. This in turn has fostered a Dark Side cycle that the mere mention of my beloved Wars causes me to knee-jerk.

It starts with the overarching fear that George Lucas is no longer in control of his own creation and now others can come in and rewrite history if they choose. This feeds an anger at the haters and bullies over the years that have lead us to this point, which then feeds a hatred of the entire situation and now I suffer.

And I know that the Star Wars Story Team has, thankfully, made it very clear that George’s vision of the original six films is untouchable, but there has already been news of people being involved in the process of moving Star Wars forward who do not have the level of respect the Saga deserves.

How does this ramble relate to why I feel it’s so important for me to avoid Episode VII news?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once penned an observation that has been quoted and misquoted for years. Aside from being oddly relevant to both Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s character arcs, it perfectly describes exactly what I want to evade here:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

The last thing I want to become is the kind of person who would dismiss Episodes VII-IX on sheer principle before enough of it is ready to show the public. That would be tantamount to me being sealed in the black armor and standing by the evil I once fought against.

I don’t know if Episodes VII-IX will be good films. I don’t know if they will be faithful to the Star Wars Saga or just some people’s inaccurate memories of IV-VI. But for the sake of my soul and sanity I want to give it every chance in the world. I want to like it. I want it to be worthy.

I already know that the chances of me having the same feelings with these films as I did seeing the rest from 1997-2005 are slim to nil. I’m in a very different place in my life, there’s too much bad blood all around, and I can accept that. I also know that no matter how this turns out, the movies will further fracture the Star Wars fanbase. It’s unavoidable. But I want to stay as far above it as possible. Even if I end up not liking it, I want to be able to be fair, and see all sides of the thing. I probably won’t even write a review until I’ve seen it a few times.

As I do with IV-VI on occasion, once VII-IX are released I will periodically discuss them in this space as they relate to the Saga as a whole. But not until I’ve seen them, or at least until the official merchandise starts to come out (if it follows Star Wars tradition, and it should, this is probably the only place we’ll learn some of the main characters’ names).

Now, sadly, I haven’t been kept completely in the dark. With our culture the way it is, one picks things up whether one wants to or not. So, as my final word on Episode VII until the film is near release, I’ll let you know what I know and ask you not to tell me anything else.

1. The general cast. Yes, I did look at the cast announcement, and it’s the first thing in this whole process that I actually really love. It’s a bunch of mostly unknown up-and-comers with a few established veterans, just like New Hope and Phantom Menace before them. Add to that the veterans in question being Max Von Sydow and Andy Serkis, both of whom I’m fond of, and I know there’s something I can look forward to.

2. Lucasfilm’s “practical effects” showoff and implicit denouncement of the digital technology they themselves pioneered. I addressed in my last article the hypocrisy and deceptiveness of this, so I won’t bore you by repeating it.

3. Harrison’s accident with the Millennium Falcon door. Get well soon, Harrison.

Other than that, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know until it’s ready. May the Force be with you all.


  1. I honestly think that the whole practical effects thing has been ridiculously overblown by the hateboys, to the point where they are honestly lying to themselves when they think this film will have the same effects of the Originals. Let's face it: Many of those practical effects simply are no longer cost effective, not to mention that Andy Serkis in the cast pretty much guarantees a CGI character, and the fact that we live in the year 2014 and the masses like CGI.

    Other than that, I've tried to take that approach as of recent especially after seeing some rather nasty rumors which I hope aren't even true. Or else, I run the risk of hating the film before it's even released, and I don't want that. Besides, I have no idea how I will be capable of moving on from fandom if I feel that the sequels aren't faithful to the Saga as a whole. And that haunts my soul.

    1. "the masses like CGI."

      I almost guarantee you the 'masses' wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

      Seriously, though, I always find the argument of practical vs. CGI interesting because it drives at a larger issue, which is the difference between special effects and visual effects. See, we tend to conflate the two terms but in the actual film world they mean two different things- special effects are anything done on set during production, and visual effects are anything done in post. So like, taking the original Star Wars, all the models and creatures and all that would've been 'special effects', since they were completed during production and an actual part of the shooting, whereas stuff like the chroma-key for the space scenes or that matte shot at the end would be 'visual effects', since they had to be done after shooting had commenced.

      CGI, then, is a 'visual effect', and the natural progression of stuff like chromakey/CSO, matte paintings, split-screen effects, etc. And seriously, computers are probably the greatest thing to happen to the editing room just because of how much easier it is to do what used to be very complex effects now- it takes me seconds to complete a basic visual effect that would've taken hours in analog systems.

      Where the controversy starts, then, is when CGI is used to replace what would've just been special effects, like models, sets, costumes, etc., thus increasing the amount of visual effects in a film. And this can work beautifully- films like TRON or Jurassic Park benefit *greatly* from the use of computer effects- and it can also work poorly (there are a number of films that try to replace sets with elaborate CG backgrounds, and it rarely works- though to be fair this was a problem with CSO and chroma-key as well- just look at the old Doctor Who episode "Underworld" for proof). It's of course not nearly as black-and-white as some like to paint it, but in a lot of cases I do feel CGI can be limiting to the ingenuity and creativity of effects artists, which can make it a shame when it's used in place of things like puppetry or stop-motion and the like.

      Really, though, by this point I've grown inured to it (I prefer practical, but by this point effects movies in general leave me a bit numb- I'm not sure its possible to wow me with an effects shot anymore, though I'm willing to be proven wrong on that one), though I always appreciate a good bit of puppetry or the like in a film. It'd be interesting, though, to look at this as part of a larger debate on analog vs. digital, comparing it to the discussions on CGI animation vs. cel, digital vs. 35mm film, etc. I think a lot of these arguments stem from the fear of our transition to a digital society, and while I agree far too many people are aggressively knee-jerk about the whole thing, it's also not a fear I feel is entirely unjustified.

    2. It is a discussion worth having, so long as the parties involved can keep it to just that - a discussion. Not an argument, not a condemnation.

      For my money, I'd say all those formats/techniques have their place depending on what you're trying to achieve. It's only natural if newer techniques get used more often if only because moviegoers are harder to fool than ever.

      The only part where I feel that's a problem is CG animation vs Cel, and that's more to do with the fact that there's an unfair stigma against Cel that prevents companies seeing it as viable.

    3. 'It's only natural if newer techniques get used more often if only because moviegoers are harder to fool than ever."

      I don't find that's usually the case, actually- except in extreme cases of bad effects we tend to only complain about effects in hindsight, or else usually because of deeper problems in the film. In terms of "fooling" people (which is IMO a weak way of describing the purpose of effects) most techniques from the 30s still do fine when employed today.

      Agreed on CG vs. cel, though- mainstream animation has been really limiting itself with its mediums the past decade, and its doing real harm to the medium as a whole (which is a shame, since both CG and cel can do some extraordinary things- it just doesn't feel like we're taking advantage of that).

    4. They don't use cels with "cel animation" anymore. With Disney's Prinecess and the Frog, they hand animated on tablets rather than with pencil and paper. Before that they have been inking and painting animation drawings in computers for a couple of decades instead of copying them onto cels. I think a better term is hand drwan animation instead of cel animation since cels have not been in widespread use for hand drwan animation for quite some time..

    5. That's really interesting. I did not know that.

  2. Looking it up some more, Disney used both tablets and paper and pencil for Princess and the Frog, but the paper drawings were scanned into computers for digital ink and paint. The Little Mermaid was Disney's last film to be hand inked and painted using cels. After that film Disney began using their CAPS system that was created by Pixar, begining with the Rescurers Down Under, and Disney's last film to use CAPS was Home on the Range. By the time Princess and the Frog was in production CAPS had become outdated and so Disney used Toon Boom Harmony software and Adobe After Effects software.

    1. I do love those vivid colors.

      On the whole, however digitally it's spiced up, I prefer hand-drawn and wish that general audiences didn't automatically write it off as "just for kids".