As a sequel, this movie failed.
Anyone who saw the movie probably noticed that every change this movie made from the originals was either quantitative or just not a change:
The list goes on.
This pattern was intentional. The writers decided that they wanted to tell the same story that had already been told in the original trilogy.
I cannot understand this decision.
Sequels must be a blend of the new and the old. Think of a story line as a path. A sequel’s job is to take new steps along that path. If you change too much, you’ve veered off the path. If you change too little, then you’ve succeeded only in stomping around in the footsteps that led you here. In other words, you spent a lot of energy on a pointless action, and you’ve likely tarnished what came before you.
So what is the path of a given series? What DOES make a quality sequel?
The path is created by the promises a story makes to the audience. Every story begins with a few strong implications:
This is what we’re dealing with. This is what will happen. This is what COULD happen.
A story like the original Star Wars trilogy is brimming with promise in a way that a different series, say Rocky, just isn’t. Rocky has a very narrow set of promises
1. This is a boxing movie about an underdog.
2. An up and coming boxer will have the match of his life against the heavy weight champion of the world.
3. This protagonist COULD be fighting to WIN that match in a sequel (instead of just having the fight of his life), he could become friends with the heavy weight champion and team up against a different fighter, his friend could get killed by a genetically enhanced fighter and he could seek retribution, his son could be the underdog, his rival’s son could be the underdog.
Many possibilities, each qualitatively differentiated from each other in some way, but all within the confined premise.
Now look at Star Wars:
1. This is a space opera epic about the battle between the Light Side of the Force and the Dark Side as it impacts the galaxy as a whole.
2. A young farm boy seeks to become a space pilot and helps to destroy a moon-sized base with the aid of the Light Side of the Force.
What is the third promise? What COULD happen?
The premise of this series promises us any number of stories that feature the Light Side and the Dark Side in all manner of forms and interactions, all different types of peril that could be threatening the galaxy, exploration of countless interpretations of Light and Dark and how that could impact the characters at hand.
Look at the two original sequels:
Episode V – Instead of focusing on using the Force, the protagonist focuses on learning about the Force, and the perils of confronting one’s own struggle between Light and Dark.
Episode VI – A Dark Jedi struggles with the good still in him. Also, Ewoks.
Joking aside, each installment is RADICALLY differentiated from the previous one.
EVEN the prequels, and veteran readers of this blog know my feelings about those movies, featured beautiful developments on what COULD happen:
Episode I – The Jedi Order must deal with a potential Jedi whose training could impact the galaxy in great or terrible ways.
Episode II – A young Jedi struggles with the will of the collective vs what he wants for himself.
Episode III – This movie sucked.
Star Wars Episode VII gives us the SAME story line, the SAME characters, the SAME political situation. It refuses to even change the particulars of that story line. In a series that promises SO MUCH with its premise and its world, this is a disgrace.
I understand why the writer’s chose to do it this way. It must be terrifying trying to innovate in a franchise this iconic. But as we all know, fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Now, I know that for people who liked the movie, their first line of defense is: don’t look at this movie as a sequel, look at it based on its own merits! Don’t worry, that’s what we’ll tackle next. (Then you can use your second line of defense: this movie is obviously a sequel, don’t judge it based on its own merits!)