Much ink has been spilled (or typed) about this story, with responses ranging from great excitement at what the news film might hold, to seething rage at George Lucas latest betrayal, to admiration after Lucas announced that all the money from the sale would go to his charitable foundation. There have been copious articles, on WhatCulture! and elsewhere, discussing possible storylines, the relationship the new films should have with the other films, and possible choices for directors. There has been so much written, in fact, that theres not much new that can be said about it.Or is there? I cant claim to have read every article on the acquisition of Star Wars, but Im willing to bet that few have discussed the wider implications of this decision on our popular culture and the film-making landscape we live with today. If we look beyond the implications for the series, in terms of its internal logic and direction, this decision will have or at least could have dire consequences for the future of creative cinema.
Before we get into the meat and drink, let me be clear that I dont hate Star Wars. If I hated the very thought of Star Wars, despised its very existence, I wouldnt have spent my free time revisiting them all, in chronological order, and reviewing them on my own blog here. I like the original trilogy, though I admire them more for their technical innovations than any kind of narrative or character strengths. Given the choice I would take Flash Gordon over any of them, since that is far more aware of and more comfortable about its essentially pulpy, silly nature. Like most sensible film fans I detest the prequels, and I have less than zero interest in the Clone Wars TV series, the novelisations, the video games or anything else.In short, I have no problem with the notion of Star Wars. Nor do I have any objection in principle to its often obsessive fanbase: considering that I used to present a radio show which celebrated cult films, that would make me one hell of a hypocrite. What I do object to, however, is the way in which Star Wars seems to have colonised every corner of our culture, to the point where the lines between cult and mainstream status have been forever blurred. I hesitate to compare Star Wars to any kind of religious system (even if Jedi is now an option when filling in your census form), but it is extraordinary how one particular series or fictional universe can have so much influence on popular culture. In terms of cultural impact, and influence on the formative years of film fans, Star Wars holds a position only truly rivalled by Disney. My problem with the Disney takeover does not stem from any kind of narrative concern. I dont oppose the decision because of what Disney might do with the series: if I can put up with Jar Jar Binks and R2D2 flying, theres not much that they can throw at me that will genuinely shock. And besides, the original trilogy was at its best when Lucas was less involved, so maybe it will be a good move from a perspective of internal creativity. What I worry about is the impact that it will have on the creativity of the film business as a whole, and on that front things really dont look good. Whatever your thoughts about the proliferation of Star Wars into our culture, there was a crumb of comfort you could take in the fact that Lucasfilm was an independent company. While 20th Century Fox provided the distribution, Lucas built the Star Wars empire (no pun intended) from the ground up under his own steam. You might not have liked Star Wars or its commercialisation, but at least this commercialisation sprang from something which was once free-spirited, rather than just another studio franchise: even at his worst, George Lucas was no Michael Bay. Its depressing, therefore, that the company which was once a chimeric bridge between the mainstream and the independent world has now been swallowed up by the epitome of corporate film-making. Whatever you think about Disneys output, past or present, they go to paranoid lengths to preserve the brand, whether its in the rules surrounding employees at Disneyland or directives surrounding the content of their films. Deviations outside of these boundaries are unacceptable, and thats bad news as far as genuine creativity is concerned. Ive banged on for ages about how Hollywood is becoming more risk-averse and conservative, relying on franchises, sequels and remakes to stay afloat relying, in other words, on established brands like Star Wars which can bridge different demographics. Disneys takeover, and the announcement of three new films, only serves to entrench this mentality, by which we will keep seeing our cinemas filled with old stories, told lazily and presented with contempt, while all the smaller, smarter, more innovative films out there will either never be seen or never be made. And when we pay our hard-earned money to see these films, whether its because of the hype or on the pretext of being a fan, well be the ones who get blamed for what follows. Well foot the bill for Hollywoods lack of creativity, and that simply isnt fair.
The worst part is: I dont have a solution to this. Boycotting all future Star Wars films and spin-offs might be a start, but thats unlikely to lead to this decision being reversed entirely and thats making no presumptions about the potential quality of the new films. We are at a crossroads in our film culture, with the homogeneity of the studios weighing in against the films and film-makers that fight for every screen and every ticket. In the long-term, it may be possible to reinvigorate our culture through support for local cinemas, day-in-date releasing, and other suggestions I mentioned in my New Horizons article. But that is looking less like the light at the end of the tunnel, and more like the daylight that is falling away as we plummet further down a well. In Yodas own words, once we start down the dark path, forever will it dominate our destiny.A few years ago there was an outcry when John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, did an ad campaign for Country Life butter to fund a reunion tour for Public Image Ltd. Many people felt betrayed, seeing it as the moment when Johnny Rotten, the last great icon of punk rock, finally sold out. Lucasfilm up to now was like an ageing punk rocker: well past its prime, living off past glories but still determined to rebel against the established order (even if that rebellion took the form of making money). With its acquisition by Disney, the punk rocker has admitted defeat and gone off to record duets with Justin Bieber. However good or bad the new films may be, this truly is a dark day for cinema.