Anghus Houvouras on why Disney’s firm grip on Star Wars is choking the life out of Rogue One…
Recently I wrote the following statement about film franchises in my review for Star Trek Beyond:
Franchises are whores. They always have been—painted trollops far more interested in money than meaning. Any amount of love or passion obtained for a franchise film is a coincidental by-product of a business venture engineered to make a return on investment.
It feels like a good place to start this column.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the film I was most looking forward to this year. A Star Wars movie rooted in the world of the original trilogy but shedding all that Skywalker melodrama that the primary Episodic adventures is so focused on. I love the idea of Star Wars movies that carve out new creative territory. Whether you loved The Force Awakens or loathed it, there were precious few praising its originality. Episode VII was the kind of derivative soft reboot that felt slightly off-putting considering that Star Wars: A New Hope is the most popular movie of all time. Did we really need a copy/paste plot for the most singularly recognized piece of pop culture in the history of mankind?
Disney bought Lucasfilm and made it quite clear that their intent was to take the most recognizable franchise on the planet and turn it into a multimedia empire further cementing their domination of the cultural landscape. We’re getting a Star Wars movie every year from now until the end of days. The supposed benefit was getting new Star Wars stories. Unfamiliar characters that we will get to know and enjoy their adventures in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Individual, non serialized stories given to filmmakers with distinct voices who were able to take risks and try new things.
That didn’t last long, did it?
Rogue One has been plagued by behind the scenes stories of Disney dissatisfaction, studio meddling featuring editorial oversight from Tony Gilroy, and reshoots. While none of this means Rogue One won’t turn out awesome, it does provide us proof that there is a very clear mandate from the House of the Mouse and that deviations from their Star Wars vision board will be met with punitive resistance.
The bottom line: Gareth Edwards is taking risks with Disney’s biggest cash cow and they’re too afraid of fucking with the formula. What’s concerning about Disney’s obsessive tinkering with the Rogue One edit is that they will make it four quadrant friendly but strip away its soul. Studios who treat their franchises with such obsessive protection will only create tepid features, which is exactly what The Force Awakens was. Actually, ‘tepid’ might not be a strong enough adjective. Uninspired, obligatory, insulting, creatively bereft. Those would also work.
The problem when you grip something so tightly is that you might accidentally choke the life from the very thing you’re trying to save. Like Lenny in Of Mice and Men clutching a rabbit or George Lucas using the concept of midichlorians like a garrote wire around the neck of The Phantom Menace.
Rogue One is the best Star Wars trailer I’ve ever seen. Even after subsequent viewings it still generates chills and goosebumps. It’s the thrill of seeing a familiar Galaxy far, far away with new characters and stories with only ancillary associations to the Skywalker Saga and their constant family squabbles. I want a filmmaker willing to take risks with the Star Wars Universe even if it means the occasional misfire.
Doesn’t it seem strange how concerned Disney feels about a Star Wars film that deviates from the established status quo. I can think of few franchises that could survive the occasional creative clusterfuck as easily as Star Wars. And yet, Disney treats the property like it’s built on a frame of match sticks instead of a foundation of solid gold.
Let Gareth Edwards make Rogue One his way. Give us a variety of Star Wars movies that appeal to different types of film fans. Let the voices you’ve brought to shape these stories have their say. Don’t be so obsessively overprotective that you end up smoothing down the rough, risky corners in order to make the final product easier to swallow.
Star Wars will survive, and you might end up with some really interesting films.