Star Wars: How Much Is Too Much?
COW Library : Cinematography : Mike Cohen : Star Wars: How Much Is Too Much?
When Disney announced that they would be making a new Star Wars movie every year for at least 10 years I was both excited and a bit skeptical. Back in the 80s it took 3 years for the next SW movie to come out. After Star Wars IV the world waited eagerly for the next one. Empire is now considered the best one for many reasons, and Jedi was anticipated mainly to answer the big cliffhanger questions posed by Empire.
Aside from some Ewok movies the world though SW was done. Then came the Special Editions. Though ridiculed in hind-sight as ruining the originals, these versions were done primarily to test the waters of digital filmmaking, prior to Lucas making the Prequels. While the CGI space battles were cool, the CG Jabba the Hutt and ROTJ musical act were goofy. Lucas, however, reminds us that these are kids movies partially made for "adult kids."
Anyway, it was exciting to see SW in the movie theater again and we only had 2 years to wait for Episode I. For each of the prequels I went to the midnight showing and was blown away by all of them. I will argue that Jar Jar Binks was needed to prove that a full CG character could work, and we have had many better characters since. For movies that have been highly criticized, they are also highly quoted by SW fans, both the goofy lines ("let's try spinning, that's a good trick") and the more serious (the story of Darth Plagueis, democracy dying with thunderous applause). Lucas has tried to call attention to current political events through his 6 films. In 1975 studios were reluctant to make Apocalypse Now, so Lucas took some of its themes and wove them into Star Wars. Likewise the Trade Federation of the Phantom Menace somewhat reflected the post-Soviet Union and emerging economies of the EU, in a possible war caused by economic conflict and a hidden puppeteer controlling everything.
So the Prequels came and went. Then we were treated to a Clone Wars movie and TV series, followed by Rebels. Both of these animated shows were more kid-oriented. However there are some key episodes in both shows that really help to support Episode II and III by filling in some of the plot holes that could have been better explained but that would not fit into a 2-hour movie. The last season of Clone Wars really sets up events of the original trilogy.
So now we fast-forward to 2012 when Lucas sold his company to Disney for $4billion, including his outlines of Episodes VII, VIII and IX. Disney and Co. decided to discard these stories and start over, and also discarded the extended universe of comics and books that millions of SW fans had grown to love. Adding JJ Abrams to the mix was icing on the cake for SW fans who have become critical of SW. Lawrence Kasdan was the saving grace, who wrote a script for VII that the original actors could get behind.
While there were trailers and spoilers online if you were looking for them, they managed to keep the actual plot secret and many found The Force Awakens to be a satisfying reboot and continuation of the Star Wars and Skywalker story. I liked it, saw it in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX, and numerous times on Blu-Ray and HBO. Many comparisons were made to the original 1977 movie, but it seems the Empire does not have many original ideas. They spent a lot of money on the Death Star and kept trying the same strategy, assuming that the Rebellion was not a threat. But like the American Revolution and other historic rebellions, and Sparta, sometimes the little guy wins or at least they go the distance. Never tell me the odds!
In 2016 the movie-a-year started, and one year after TFA we got Rogue One. There was some confusion among newer SW fans when Rogue One did not continue the story of TFA. Perhaps Disney could have explained the standalone movies better for those who are not lifelong fans. Rogue One was a $300 million experiment - can a movie that is not part of the new trilogy be successful? They hired Gareth Edwards, a relatively unknown director (yes he did Godzilla which was a blockbuster movie, but not much of note before that). Like with the original SW they used mostly unknown actors, plus Forest Whitaker in a minor but important role, and they digitally resurrected Peter Cushing which caused a debate about bringing actors back to life in speaking roles. They also included non-American and non-British actors in major roles and created anew witty droid. The film was subject to re-writing and re-shooting possibly with a new director, though that issue has not been clearly resolved. Tony Gilroy has stated that the movie was a mess and he was hired to fix some things. I read that Edwards didn't think Disney would allow the ending to go in a certain direction, but that is precisely what the re-working did. As a result, many shots and dialogue seen in the trailers were not in the movie. While many movies build re-shoots into the schedule, this one seems to have been re-worked rather than just tweaked. Overall I thought Rogue One was fun and a great 1st standalone movie. I have probably watched it 30 times.
This was also the first SW movie to have a new composer. While the original John Williams themes will always be used, they actually went through two composers on Rogue One. I believe the soundtrack fits with the feeling of Star Wars.
Without much time to digest RO, we next got in 2017 The Last Jedi (TLJ) directed by Rian Johnson. Many people were excited given Johnson's edgy indy movies Brick and Looper, and his Breaking Bad episodes. However going from JJ Abrams to Johnson was again a risk. They managed to keep most of the details hidden, but once the movie opened the legions of SW fans tore apart the plot holes and filler characters and declared TLJ the worst SW movie yet. I of course saw it opening weekend and felt that it was uneven and even boring in places, but it did its job of continuing the story. However TLJ did not end with a cliffhanger like many expected it to. It did show that the First Order has not yet come up with a new plan, and it further established the conflict between the two new main characters Rey and Kylo Ren. The whole thing with Finn and Rose and the space horses seemed like filler just to give Finn something to do. His story sort of ended in TFA. Luke finally got to speak and we saw him do some interesting things.
So now we are done until 2019.
No, actually less than 6 months after TLJ we get the next standalone movie, Solo. I am of mixed opinions on movies that focus on one character's story. Part of the allure of Han Solo, Boba Fett and Yoda is that they are mysterious and we don't know too much about them. Han is a smuggler who owes money to a gangster, takes a charter and gets caught up in the rebellion, and becomes a reluctant hero in the process, gets some new friends and a girlfriend/wife. His back story is not that important. We now know that Chewbacca participated in the Clone Wars and had some interactions with the Jedi, but we didn't know this in 1977. That being said, Godfather II was a great movie and gave us backstory on Don Corleone that we did not really need but it was enjoyable to watch and helped build the world. Also Coppola was suddenly a big deal and could make any movie he wanted. Not coincidentally Coppola and Lucas had co-founded a production company and supported each other and other new 1970s directors on new films. One of those films was American Graffiti. One of the stars of that movie was Ron Howard, who came to the rescue as the replacement director of Solo: A Star Wars Story. As someone once said "the circle is now complete - when I left you I was the learner - now I am the Master."
So we got the backstory of Han Solo, which opened May 25, 2018. Apparently the movie is not making the money Disney hoped for, but the movie comes a few weeks after Avengers: Infinity War. While AIW is the 18th film in the Marvel universe it set records at the box office. Perhaps the time for a Han Solo movie would have been in the 1980s when Harrison Ford could play the role. Solo the movie has new younger actors playing Solo and Lando and even a new 7' tall actor playing Chewbacca, plus Woody Harrelson and Danarys Targarean playing alt-Leia. I didn't know what to expect from Solo and I tried to stay away from spoilers and reviews. Overall I liked it a lot. It did its job establishing Han as a criminal who in fact fights other criminals but in the end he has a heart. He just doesn't know it yet. Interestingly we get a look at Lando's backstory also and see a different character than the guy we met on Cloud City. I would be interested in more of Don Glover's version of Lando. Maybe we'll see him the Star Wars Underworld tv series if that ever happens.
How much extra money did it take to re-shoot parts of Solo after the Lego movie directors were let go? Probably a lot. I will be curious to see some of the unused footage from the original directors. Apparently they did not comply with the tone of the movie set forth by Disney and Kennedy. Why they hired the directors of 21 Jump Street is a mystery. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller got Executive Producer credits on Solo - must have been some contractual thing.
So back to the headline, How Much Star Wars is Too Much? I think we may have learned that a SW movie every 6 months might be too frequent. The quality has thus far been high, but the audience perhaps does not have as ravenous an appetite as Bob Iger and Kathy Kennedy thought it to be. We now have 18 months until Episode IX: The Other Last Jedi. They do have a few big questions to answer and I hope JJ is up to the task. As for more standalone movies, the fans seem to want an Obi-Wan movie starring Ewan McGregor, but we might get a Boba Fett or Yoda movie, or none at all. And the Star Wars lands at Disney World and Disneyland are under construction as well as a SW hotel and probably some secret things we don't know about yet.
I will be at the theater on day one no matter what they make. For me, no amount of Star Wars is too much!