Anghus Houvouras asks why every second movie needs to be The Empire Strikes Back…
Is there anything worse than the widening pit of quicksand that nostalgia has become?
It’s one thing when we’re constantly forced to deal with the ‘member berry’-centric society of fandom. My expectations of fans is lower that current metrics are able to track. Every time you think that rock bottom has been achieved, some malcontent finds a more ludicrous way to embarrass themselves. Like the fans that created a petition to ‘ban’ Rotten Tomatoes for their negative Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice reviews. Because apparently there are those who believe that democracy is somehow applicable and that companies would shut down a profitable website because 28,000 misguided DC comics’ fans said so.
Yes, fans can be the worst. To be fair, they can also be the best. But for every fan who recreates Raiders of the Lost Ark shot for shot there a few thousand trying to hack Scarlett Johansson’s cell phone looking for nude photos.
My expectations for creators are a little more comprehensive. I understand we’re living in an age where fans have become filmmakers. Where guys and gals who adored the same pop culture mainstays are out there shaping the new big budget blockbusters. I’m not interested in dissecting the current state of blockbuster cinema, but begging for a moratorium on the most painfully overused phrase in geek cinema.
“It’s going to be the Empire Strikes Back of the series.”
I cringe every time I read it. The go-to metaphor for any second film in a series that plans on taking a darker turn.
We’re all aware that Star Wars is the most popular film series ever made and a sphere of influence that surrounds every facet of our modern culture. Are we so chained to the past that the only language we can speak in for darker second chapters is Star Wars? Has three plus decades only given us a single, salient example and/or metaphor to be used?
The latest director to use the name of The Empire Strikes Back in vain is J.A. Bayona who told fans eager for another Jurassic World film that he wanted the second installment will be ‘darker and scarier’… just like The Empire Strikes Back. Here’s the entire, excruciating quote:
“It will be darker and scarier than the previous film. Obviously when you have Chris Pratt, it will also be very funny. But it will be darker. It is a second step in a trilogy, and the second step is always dark as in The Empire Strikes Back or the Wrath of Khan, which are the examples you always get.”
There’s so damn much wrong with this sentence. It’s basically a blueprint for why our blockbusters have become such unoriginal, uninspired slogs. Let’s look at that third sentence:
“It is a second step in a trilogy, and the second step is always dark.”
But does it have to be? Did Empire Strikes Back and Wrath of Khan create an unavoidable paradigm that the second installment of a trilogy has to always be dark? I hate that kind of thinking. That limiting set of rails that all these blockbuster filmmakers use to plan their trip. The Empire Strikes Back has become an albatross around the neck of young filmmakers who are unable to see past the blurry blinders of their own nostalgia.
Wouldn’t it be a thousand times more interesting if someone heralding a franchise deviated from this 35 year cadence and made a second installment that wasn’t like Empire? Would that thought even cross anyone’s mind these days?
And while we’re being honest, has going dark a la Empire really worked out for a lot of franchises. While you could find some darker second chapters that worked well, you could equally find some cliffhanger laden second chapters that were awful. For ever frame of perfection there was of The Dark Knight you have an absolutely shameful piece of misery like The Matrix Reloaded or something boring and uninspired like Star Trek Into Darkness.
Maybe the reason these franchises are all starting to feel so bloody similar because they’re all following the same blueprint. Perhaps it’s time to try and find some new thematic territory and strike out on a new creative course that doesn’t use The Empire Strikes Back as a compass?
I think this question can be answered with another question:
In thirty-five years, what film has tried and succeeded to be the Empire Strikes Back of the series?
I rest my case.
The only film that is allowed to refer to itself as ‘The Empire Strikes Back of the series (other than The Empire Strikes Back) is Star Wars: Episode VIII. All you filmmakers, find a more original way to describe your next film.