George Lucas is not a fan of the new Star Wars movie. In a bit of an embarrasing interview with USA Today he compares handing his franchise over to Disney as breaking up with a spouse and at some point even as selling his children to white slavers.
Shortly after the article was published he hasted to rectify that awkward metaphor, but obviously as a courtesy call. His deeper feelings about the whole matter are quite clear now. Lucas doesn’t like that he’s not on board anymore and that Disney snubbed his drafts for the new trilogy. He described The Force Awakens as “too retro”.
I won’t waste time elaborating on the white slavers alegory. People with better knowledge and more refined opinions than me already put George in his place. Let’s say that I assume that he, in his frustration, deliberately went for shock value. As a kneejerk reaction. When we are angry we say stupid things sometimes. It was smart of him to apologise.
But let’s examine the other curious comment he made. Star Wars The Force Awakens is too retro, according to the Jedi godfather. If it was up to him the sequels would be on different planets with different characters, new stories and new set-pieces, rather than the nostalgia card J.J. Abrahms played.
At first glance a lot of people would at least partially agree with Lucas here. Anyone who watched the movie can confirm that it indeed borrowed a lot from the original trilogy. Even the most positive reviews noted it: Episode 7 leans heavily on familiar plot elements and old characters. But there’s a glaring flaw in Lucas’ interpretation however. And it shows exactly what went wrong with the heavily critised prequels that he produced entirely by himself.
The Force Awakens is retro in a way it goes back to practical effects, shooting on location instead of a green screen, and a simple to the point sci-fi plot. It’s modern however in its pick of diverse characters, dialogue and comic relief. It feels relevant, fresh and funny and it’s both recognisable for older viewers and reletable for younger ones.
Rey is a fantastic female lead; strong and capable but not the ‘tough as nails’ stereotype, Finn the pragmatic but also adorkable rookie. Kylo Renn is complicated and tortured without being annoying like teenage Anakin, and Harrison Ford basically just plays himself as cranky old man Han Solo. Leia is so pure and sincere, and Poe Dameron could be a run of the mill tough guy if it wasn’t for his affectionate bromance with Finn. I could continue summing up the great personae in The Force Awakens, but it all comes down to the same. They’re fresh, modern and relatable. The way they talk, interact and their role in the story feels relevant to our time.
This is exactly where the prequel trilogy missed its mark. The movies were hypermodern in terms of technology. An overload of CGI, special effects and post-production editing. But the characters most of the time soulless and boring. The jokes immature and frumpy. They wanted to be modern with diners, sports bars and stylish condos; expand the universe by showing the Star Wars world as a consumer society just like ours. But in the end it came down to action scenes, angry white men, wooden faux-Shakespearian dialogue and predictable plot lines.
Where the prequels all bad? Not necessarily. Said action scenes were enjoyable, for the Star Wars nerd there’s lots of lore, memorable stories and detailed universe building to enjoy. But the core, the heart of the films just wasn’t there.
George Lucas accuses Disney of producing a retro movie that doesn’t innovate. Old wine in new bottles. But the truth is, Lucas only ever wanted better labels and let the wine turn sour. The Force Awakens is a fresh new flavour in a vintage bottle.