Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: All set for a box-office blast

The previous three Star Wars films have been so terrible that the latest instalment, The Force Awakens, will be out of this world

There is every indication that the new Star Wars movie will be good. If only because the previous three films have been so terrible, so majestically, grotesquely wrong, there is no place to go but up.

George Lucas, creator of the universe, showed signs of suffering from the delusion that afflicts some who find sudden success - they think that because they have struck gold by doing one thing they love, they will get the same result by chasing something completely different.

So Lucas presumed his Midas touch went beyond action-adventure for males aged between seven and 25. He poured into the Star Wars prequels (1999-2005) his love of romantic movies, political dramas and old-fashioned comedies.

We got an anaesthetised Queen Amidala cavorting in meadows with a sulky Anakin Skywalker, their cringe-inducing love talk cribbed from grade-school mash notes. We got reams of jibber-jabber about blockades and treaties. We got a sinister Trade Federation with Oriental accents and a greedy hook-nosed slave owner given the name of Watto, when it should have been Fagin. We got Jar Jar Binks.

 
 
 
 

The three films made piles of cash, in spite of how they showed that the 1990s Lucas was no longer the 1970s Lucas. By then, he was another mogul, insulated from the real world, lost in his own myth.

A huge loss, because Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) was such a breakthrough. It was the first sci-fi fantasy to have serious amounts of money spent on spectacle.

Lucas broke with the conventional wisdom that until then trapped sci-fi in the B-movie ghetto. In his hands, samurai swordsman from Japanese dramas became Jedi knights with lightsabers, in a world that mixed westerns with mediaeval fantasy.

From that jumble, he created a coherent universe that looked as awe-inspiring on screen as it did inside the heads of sci-fi pulp fans.

The John Williams orchestral score took care of the majesty; the special effects took care of the rest. Five minutes in, during the opening text crawl, a generation was converted.

It changed how we watch movies. Lucas, with Steven Spielberg (Jaws, 1975), created the summer blockbuster as we know it. From Star Wars, Jaws and the Indiana Jones movies, studios learnt that big-budget action films, backed by intense advertising campaigns, could be huge money-spinners. These movies are usually released from May to September - hence the "summer" tag - but Episode 7 has so much buzz it can create its own season in December.

The worlds Lucas made were so beguiling, we skated over the questions. They range from the minor (Why can't anyone shoot straight? Why does the Empire build giant killing machines with silly vulnerabilities?) to the more serious (Why is it implied that the giant worm Jabba desired to make a sex slave of the human Princess Leia? What happened before we see her chained, wearing a metal bikini?).

And why is it that the humanoid races have a monopoly on sophisticated, technologically advanced cultures?

The good, smart aliens help or serve humans (Chewbacca, Yoda). Otherwise, they come from primitive societies (Sand People and Ewoks). And it is not because that is just how sci-fi was at the time. In the 1960s, Star Trek showed that a universe could be utopian and egalitarian across races. The strangest irony is how popular Imperial Stormtroopers have become in the mainstream, in spite of how Lucas modelled the look of the Empire and its Fascist-leaning creed on the Nazis.

Doesn't it show that deep down, we believe that genocidal dictatorships produce the sharpest uniforms? We root for the rebels, but when we play dress-up, we want to look ready to carry out ethnic cleansing.

New director J.J. Abrams has said he worries that pre-release hype has sent expectations of The Force Awakens soaring. He needn't worry. Non-fans will see it once or be left out of the global conversation. Fans will see it several times over.

The franchise has survived critics, Hayden Christensen, Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks and plots with holes big enough for two sarlacci and wookies.

Like a Death Star, it absorbs damage, rebuilds and carries on.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'All set for a box-office blast'. Print Edition | Subscribe