Star Wars 7 and Hollywood’s Great Stagnation

Still from "The Force Awakens" trailer.
Still from “The Force Awakens” trailer.

In my February defense of the Oscars’ culture of “elitism,” I argued that, if nothing else, the Academy’s film snobbery was a break from the nauseating domination of sequels, comic book films, and franchises in mainstream Hollywood. “A healthy dose of film snobbery is welcome,” I wrote,  “if it even slightly punctures the asphyxiating creative stagnation that characterizes Hollywood right now.”

Hollywood’s creative stagnation is undeniable. As I pointed out in February, an incredible percentage of the decade’s biggest films were franchises and sequels. Look at this list from Box Office Mojo of the top films from 2013. Only “Frozen” and “Gravity” were neither sequels nor reboots. Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 12.24.27 PM

Of course, like many of you, I stopped to have a minor freak out over the new trailer for J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII. What can I say? I’ve watched Star Wars since before I knew what exactly a movie was. I have countless items of memorabilia, extant and otherwise. Star Wars was every bit as much part of my childhood as my own back yard. I’d have to be droid to not be excited about the new film.

And yet, I do wonder: Is the fact that American culture still stops its work week over a Star Wars movie really good news? Should we be proud that the seventh installment in a 40 year movie franchise is virtually guaranteed record breaking profits and fandom? Don’t misunderstand. The problem isn’t Star Wars. There’s nothing wrong with loving a well-told story that delights the imagination. The problem, at least where I see it, is that for a generation that is supposedly as innovative and dynamic as ours, we can’t do anything better than the same characters and worlds that we’ve been watching for an entire generation.

Rather than a sense that we have genuinely creative storytellers in today’s cinema, we seem to be surrounded (and content with) by technological wizards who can make the stories of yesterday come to life in bigger and more expensive ways. The franchise, the umpteenth sequel, the reboot–these are the relics of a culture that is better at Photoshop than photography.

Where are the Spielbergs and Lucases of our time? Are they languishing in obscurity because no Hollywood studio will green-light their risky and un-market researched project? Imagine if the Hollywood that Steven Spielberg tried to break into in the 1970s told him to go home and focus on making a sequel to “2001” or “Planet of the Apes,” something that would be a sure opening weekend moneymaker.

I’m excited about The Force Awakens. I’ll see it as quickly as adulthood will allow. But I do yearn for a fresher vision, another narrative that takes me beyond the galaxies I traveled so well as a child. I hope I get to experience that again.

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3 thoughts on “Star Wars 7 and Hollywood’s Great Stagnation

  1. I totally agree! Star Wars is a great Franchise, story, narrative and adventure. But we need fresh storytellers. We need a new story. Nolan with Interstellar and Inception might be the closest we have to a fresh story and narrative. But he also built his popularity on the Batman trilogy. Would anyone have taken a real interest in Inception or Interstellar if Nolan had not redone (very well I might add!) Batman? I have my doubts.

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  2. I see your point and agree with the GENERAL sentiment of it, but I want to offer up a slightly different angle. While all of the top-grossing films are franchises or sequels, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of good old-fashioned middle-ground movies that being made. Is it fewer, percentage-wise, being made by the studios? Absolutely. But there are probably more films being made now than ever before. The director of Star Wars 8 is Rian Johnson, a guy who made some tiny, well-regarded movies before exploding onto the scene. His “Looper” is an amazing original concept. The director of Episode 9 is Colin Trevorrow, who rose to fame making an itsy-bitsy, but brilliant film called “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Those directors are still out there, they just immediately jump to bigger fare almost right away.

    But even deeper, I’ll argue that the art of visual narrative storytelling is stronger than it’s EVER been. By a mile. It’s just that these masterworks are now on TV, rather than at the multiplex. Fargo, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, The Affair, Leftovers, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Manhattan, Togetherness, Last Man on Earth, Louie, Master of None, Transparent, Daredevil, The Americans, Vikings, Sherlock, True Detective (season one only), The Expanse, and on and on and on. These are all prestige presentations, ranging all across the board.

    Now, an argument can be made on what the value of pure CINEMA is, meaning something that needs to be seen in a theater, vs something that is seen on a 70″ TV. Is there a difference? Is a “movie” more precious than a TV series? Honestly, I think that snobbery ship has sailed. I don’t care what form something takes, so long as it’s good. Fargo (season two especially) is a masterpiece. It’s cinematic. It’s got name-band A-list actors. It’s got visuals rivaling any studio film, and certainly any independent film. But it’s on TV. Does that make it less?

    We have great, fresh new storytellers, you just need to know where to look for them.

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