Does Star Wars: Episode VII Have To Advance Filmmaking Technology To Be A Good Movie?
In October 2012, the Walt Disney Company announced that they would acquire Lucasfilm and the Star Wars film franchise for $4.4 billion with the promise that the first movie in a new sequel trilogy would be released in 2015. Production on Star Wars: Episode VII officially began with the search for a new director, as George Lucas decided to retire after the purchase. Lucas had plenty of treatments and concept designs for a new Star Wars movie, but the production was not tied down to his vision.
J.J. Abrams was hired to direct with Michael Arndt hired to pen the new screenplay. As the months rolled on, Arndt left the project, leaving Abrams to co-write the script with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. Star Wars: Episode VII was looking more and more like a throwback to the original trilogy, something that the vast majority of fans had hoped for since the announcement was made.
Ever since 1999, with the release of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas has pushed the boundaries of CGI technology with his companies at Lucasfilm, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial, Light & Magic. Say what you will about the prequels, they were at the cutting edge of filmmaking technology, as The Phantom Menace introduced the first fully CGI character in Jar-Jar Binks, and the prequel trilogy as a whole ultimately demonstrated what could be done with Chroma Key visual effects. Almost every set and shot in the latter two prequels, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, featured and showcased an advanced CGI special effect. In fact, the opening battle sequence in Revenge of the Sith was a complete visual feast of effects, not to mention the Jedi raid on Geonosis at the end of Attack of the Clones.
For better or worse, the Star Wars prequel trilogy was the benchmark for visual effects in Hollywood, as more and more blockbusters tried to ape George Lucas's creation. The same could be said for the original trilogy as well. So the question is: does Star Wars: Episode VII have to push the envelope of filmmaking technology to be a good movie?
The answer lies in the franchise's proud legacy.
If the filmmakers hope to emulate what past entries into the Star Wars Saga, then yes, Episode VII should aim to push the boundaries of what is technologically possible. Back in 1977, George Lucas influenced the shape of science fiction with the original Star Wars. The film seamlessly melded miniatures, costumes, and makeup to transport audiences to "a galaxy far, far away." With its sequels, Lucasfilm also pushed the envelope with the breathtaking Hoth invasion, Millennium Falcon escape, and assault on the Death Star. Star Wars has always been a leader in special effects, with every film becoming more advanced in filmmaking technology.
Of course, Star Wars: Episode VII is about a year-and-a-half out from release, so we haven't seen a single frame of the movie. However, J.J. Abrams seems to be doing everything in his power to use practical effects, costumes and puppet work, along with real-life locations and sets. It's almost taken for granted that Episode VII will only use CGI when effects cannot be done practically, which would give the film an organic feel, rather than the lifeless and artificial look George Lucas created in the prequels. It also seems that Abrams isn't interested in pushing the boundaries of filmmaking technology, but rather is more concerned with telling a good story with interesting characters and an engaging narrative. Who could blame him after the prequel trilogy? But it seems that Episode VII needs some sort of cutting-edge filmmaking technology in order to follow in the footsteps of the other Star Wars movies.
While the cast for Episode VII is extremely impressive, there was one appointment that stood out and directly points to Disney and Lucasfilm efforts to follow in the Star Wars saga's cinematic legacy. Andy Serkis is a master of motion capture acting. His work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson's King Kong, and the Planet of the Apes reboot series has shone a light on the filmmaking technique and elevated it to a brilliant art form. And while it's unclear whom anyone would play in Episode VII, it's almost certain that Serkis will once again be donning a motion-capture suit. The limitless potential that the Star Wars universe offers means that whoever (or whatever) Serkis is playing, could be as revolutionary as his performances of Gollum, Kong, and Caesar. If Serkis is given a major role, then Star Wars: Episode VII may not be pushing the boundaries of technology, but rather trying to refine it.
After three very lackluster entries into the Star Wars Saga, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy are trying to restore the franchise to prominence, while at the same time, introduce a new audience to Star Wars. While Abrams and Kennedy aren't trying to do the exact same thing George Lucas would do with the new saga, they seem to be trying to strike a balance between engaging storytelling that is sympathetic to the Star Wars legacy, and cutting-edge filmmaking technology.
If Abrams, as expected, blends physical effects with CGI, and stays true to the values and styles of the original trilogy it's likely that Star Wars fans will be more than content. In this age of computer-generated domination, such an approach could certainly be conceived as pushing technological boundaries, but will that be enough to make it a good movie? We'll certainly find out on December 18, 2015 when Episode VII is released in theaters everywhere.
By Rudie Obias