by Nicolas Pinzon
By now, most fans have seen The Force Awakens and the jury is out: JJ Abrams’ incarnation of Star Wars perfectly embodies what we loved about the originals. Some would even argue, it embodies what we loved a bit too much. If you are a Star Wars fan like me, you probably spotted or have at least read about the similarities between the story in this new film and the original story in A New Hope. Abrams himself addressed these criticisms in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter; he acknowledged that the similarities were intentional and that it was important to “go backwards to go forwards.” And he might not be entirely wrong. In an era in which nostalgia is in much more demand than originality, in which we light up every time we see the preview for yet another childhood franchise getting a make over (such as Star Wars,) perhaps “going backwards” for the fans was the most responsible choice Abrams could have made.
There is no one to blame for that, not Abrams, and not the fans. We want what we want. Tomorrow we’ll want something different. But it does make me re-examine the value of George Lucas’ episodes I, II, and III. In his recent interview with Charlie Rose, Lucas described himself as an experimental filmmaker and said that as opposed to The Force Awakens, his Star Wars films were all experimental films. Strangely, this statement made me think about the letter from Oscar De La Hoya to fellow boxer Floyd Mayweather that Playboy magazine published when the latter boxer retired (yes, I’m connecting Playboy, boxing, and Star Wars.) In the incredibly amusing letter, De La Hoya backhandedly praised Mayweather for his 49 wins and zero defeats only to point out that Mayweather only stayed undefeated because he never took risks, he always chose the safer fight. De La Hoya then told Mayweather that a great fighter wasn’t measured by whether or not he had a perfect record, or by how much money he made, but by how much he was willing to risk and by the fights he chose to fight.
With that in mind, we’ve all seen Episode I: Phantom Menace; George Lucas’ Star Wars does not hold a perfect record. But can anyone question Lucas’ willingness to experiment and fight? Against everyone’s recommendations, Lucas chose to shoot Episode II with a digital camera instead of film. It was the first major studio movie to do this and many still argue that visually, his experiment failed. But in the name of the countless indie filmmakers that shoot on digital today because they can’t afford film, in the name of visual effects, in the name of basic human exploration, shouldn’t we be thankful he took on that fight? Some might say no. Some hate to see the things they grew up with, such as film, threatened – nostalgia is indeed a powerful force – but as I watch his prequels again, I am thankful for the risks he took. The three films explore different stories, mythologies, and emotional backbones. And today, that is rare. If you don’t believe me, compare the plot of Avatar to the plot of Pocahontas.
I thought The Force Awakens was really good, Mayweather was too. But they both remind me of the importance of risk takers like Lucas and De LA Hoya because, without them, things eventually get pretty boring. Having said all that, episodes II and III were pretty cool, but I still don’t like Phantom Menace, and a lot of people don’t either. Sometimes risks don’t pay off. And that should be okay.