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Article – Re-structuring “Star Wars”


Posted January 21, 2018 by

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Re-structuring “Star Wars”

Rian Johnson’s bold take on Star Wars with The Last Jedi has aimed to re-invent and re-invigorate cinema’s most famous franchise, but this has proved irksome to many, Johnson’s dissolution of the Jedi and the established tenants of past eras has divided many, and with a series with such a fiercely devoted fanbase, it is the viewers rather than the critics that have been polarised. Johnson’s efforts have been lauded and derided, hailed as the shake up Star Wars needs after eight entries and to bring it to a new generation, and also attacked for setting up the franchise as a Disney marketing machine, signalling a begging for an endless era of marketability. Either way Johnson’s aim to breathe new life in Star Wars on a thematic level has been a brave, high-risk move that was bound to alienate some, but perhaps there is an easier way to shake-up Star Wars, changing its structure.

Despite the breaking down of Star Wars lore, The Last Jedi still bears similarity to the original trilogy in the unfolding of its story, for five consecutive films (chronologically) the timeline structure has remained remarkably similar, with events taken place over a similarly short period of time. Each films seems to take place over the course of several days, no more than a week, with The Last Jedi being no exception, featuring perhaps the shortest amount of actual plot time despite having the longest running time of the franchise, Rey’s storyline covers a few days, whilst those in the resistance see less than twenty-four hours.

In addition to that, The Last Jedi also sees the least amount of time between films, the original trilogy saw a relatively short, if unspecified amount of time between each instalment, Episode VIII follows off straight from the end of Episode VII, literally in Rey’s case. This means that Rey – Star Wars new Skywalker figure – has seen her transformative journey into the galaxies new heroine cover no more than a week, for a franchise that is seen as one of cinemas most epic sagas, with such a rich ‘universe’ to exploit, not a lot has actually transpired onscreen, certainly in its latest iteration.

Star Wars continues in the blockbuster tradition, a tradition that the franchise in part started and that has become streamlined over the intervening years, where the quick unfolding of events – of both in-film time and onscreen time – dictates a brisk and involving pace necessary for films designated as ‘crowd-pleasers.’ But a slower unfolding of events does not means that the story has to slow down; films that expand their timeline do not necessarily have to sacrifice their pace, The Fugitive being a prime example, where the hunt for Richard Kimble grows no less entertaining the more drawn out it becomes.

Indeed Star Wars did realise this element at one point; unfortunately it came during the prequel trilogy, an era everyone wants to forget, these films featured longer timelines and represented a shift from the original structure, but George Lucas’s shortcomings as both writer and director saw them suffer as a consequence. What was intended as the development of Anakin Skywalker from young boy to the dark lord of the Sith became a showcase for soap-opera dialogue, melodrama and unintentional humour, a change in structure became lost under Lucas’s heavy-handedness, what film could survive the curse of Jar-Jar Binks, but Lucas did see that Star wars needed shaking up.

Though such has been the hatred towards the prequel trilogy, J.J. Abrams and co. looked back to A New Hope to try and dispel the memory of Lucas’s failure when the time came for a new revival. The Force Awakens did nothing but good for the Star Wars franchise, rebuilding from the ruins left by Lucas and inspiring fresh optimism for what had looked like a dead series (cinematically speaking) but it was a short term solution, a jump start. Much of its success came from seeing old faces again after so long, exploring and suggesting what had happened between the end of the original trilogy and current events, old making way for the new, but now that the old has made way, Johnson makes it very clear that the past must be left behind, Star Wars must forge a new path.

The franchise may have shown itself to be moving on in more obvious ways, the death of both Solo and Skywalker and indeed much of remnants of original trilogy era, with much of the galaxy seemingly destroyed by Starkiller base, and there is a more subjective visual approach, close-ups are much more frequent than the more omniscient approach of old, but the new era still bears an inescapable resemblance to the past. Episode VII bears large similarities to Episode IV – albeit knowingly – which became one of few teething problems with critics, and now Episode VIII draws parallels with episode V, with both films essentially being one long chase sequence, characters on-going attempts to escape and hide, with some Jedi training thrown in for good measure, which then sees the fledgling hero return to do battle.

Though unlike The Empire Strikes Back, where the films next immediate goal is made clear – rescuing Han – The Last Jedi feels far more uncertain, with futures left up in the air, Episode IX represents the best opportunity to expand the story rather than streamline. Rey’s current exploits are leading her dangerously close to being a carbon copy of Luke – without the family background? – accelerating her timeline would create greater development, time to grow into her character within the universe rather than off-screen. Perhaps letting a more significant amount of time pass before the start of Episode IX, and then telling a story that is more than just a long game of hide and seek is what is needed to show the fresh start for the resistance and whatever will become of those sensitive to the force now that they are no longer ‘Jedi,’ it may also provide a better way to handle the tragedy of Carrie Fisher.

Re-structuring "Star Wars"

Given that no one could have envisioned her untimely passing, Leia’s story is the star Wars galaxy – unlike Han and Luke – remains unresolved, with no seemingly tasteful way of doing so given Disney have rightfully decided to not digitally recreate her. Beginning Episode IX like The Last Jedi, on the coattails of the previous episode would leave her absence glaring, even if we do know the reason, passing time would allow a more reasonable in-universe explanation to arise for what would have to be an off-screen death. It may not be the way that Leia’s journey deserves to end, and may leave a bitter taste, much like Sarah Connor’s off-screen death in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, but there may be no other way to handle what is a tragic reality in good taste.

With so much up in the air for Episode IX, giving it ample time to not only explore they characters and their story but also the galaxy itself and how the recent films actions have affected it, given how little exploring the latest entries have attempted. The Force Awakens aimed to showcase new worlds, but destroyed more than it introduced, and The Last Jedi features even less, with the climactic location of Crait offering little of interest and Canto Blight being a more unfortunately Phantom Menace-like excursion. Episode XIII’s short timeline meant that the impact of the destruction of the republic had was not explored, and seeing how the galaxy copes without their order seems like an obvious choice to deal with, combined with the amount of diversity for new locations and characters that galactic exploration offers, keeping in line with Disney’s aim to create a widely diverse cast of characters in their projects.

Rogue One proved that Star Wars benefitted from a more expansive approach, that didn’t have to rely on the tropes of the previous entries, something the more canonical ‘Episodes’ have not fully achieved, in their case there is a fine line between homage and repetition. Their changes have carried greater risk, threatening to irk an extremely ardent fanbase, which has now come to a head, and Johnson’s boldness has not fully re-invented the series. Come Episode IX, structural changes would prove much less irksome, changes that are much more subconsciously registered by audiences, rather than the immediate shock of the destruction of all that has come before, changes that can unlock Star War’s galactic potential, expand upon character arcs which for now are relatively short-lived and give everything more room to just breathe.


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Written by:

Sam May
Freelance Contributor

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