Anghus Houvouras on the cruel reality of high expectations…
There’s a brilliant scene in the toxically sweet rom-com 500 Days of Summer where our hero, Tom, has his unrealistic high expectations brutally crushed by cruel, sobering reality. A scene that is brought to life in a brilliantly staged split screen. I often think of this scene when writing about disappointments (something you can read more about here). Disappointment is the vicious byproduct of high expectations. A dark, dreary depression created when your hopes and dreams die. Most film fans are probably familiar with this feeling, often referred to as ‘Phantom Menace Syndrome’.
The internet has made movie hype a 24/7 cottage industry. Film sites are constantly feeding you the latest news, behind the scenes photos, and anything that will help continue to feed fuel into the fire of your favorite franchise.
There may not be a franchise more prone to the double-edged sword of high expectations than Star Wars. It was the high expectations that made watching the prequels such a pained slog. It was also the high expectations that turned so many of us into apologists during the immediate aftermath of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Judging a mega-popular franchise like Star Wars often feels impossible since every film associated with the series comes with copious amounts of immeasurable hype.
I’ve written a lot of words trying to articulate something very simple: We want a Star Wars movie to be good.
To be fair, we want every movie to be good, even though our logical mind reminds us that almost every movie we see is going to be a fairly innocuous experience. In any given year I see a few hundred movies, and come December I struggle to remember 10 films worthy of being called ‘the best’ of whatever year it is. There are a handful worthy of real praise. Maybe one or two movies that will be worth discussing after award season comes to a close. There’s also a few terrible movies that are so bad we question how on earth a multi-billion dollar industry can produce two hours of sense assaulting garbage. But most are neither great nor garbage. They’re just average, forgettable affairs that barely exist after the final credits roll. Digested by our mind with a few remaining bits that will rattle around our cerebellum.
The idea that most movies are average is the kind of rational thought that doesn’t play well in the hyperbolic landscape of the internet. Where baffling levels of bile and ridiculous amounts of praise are doled out every week. As if the pendulum swings so wildly back and forth in terms of quality. The truth is most movies are remarkably similar in terms of quality. Most making a melange of mediocrity that is barely worth having a strong opinion either way about.
This is why we don’t get that bothered when a movie like Allied comes out and proves itself to be just another average, uneven marginally entertaining cinematic experience. Other than Brad Pitt or Robert Zemeckis enthusiasts, there was no sense of heightened expectation. The slate was relatively clean when we entered the theater. But not with something like Star Wars.
For so many fans there are years of memories attached to a Galaxy Far, Far Away. It’s more than a collection of movies, action figures, animated series, non cannon Expanded Universe Novels, Video Games and one horrendous Holiday Special. This is the most known, quoted, and revered films in the history of the filmed medium. So how exactly does anyone go into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a clean slate?
You can’t. It’s completely impossible. Star Wars movies are more about the heart than the mind. We want every single trip to this universe to be perfect. We want it to be reverent to the previous installments while giving us something fresh and new. It’s a perilous balance, one that J.J. Abrams had trouble navigating with The Force Awakens. And now we have Rogue One, another film that’s being positioned as a bold new direction for Star Wars. A solo film (no pun intended) that tells a self-contained story outside the serialized drama of the episodic installments.
If we’re being honest, it doesn’t feel like that much of a departure. It’s a Star Wars movie with a Death Star, Darth Vader, and a lot of familiar looking set pieces. But that’s my head talking, not my heart. My heart wants Rogue One to satisfy my Star Wars loving inner child while providing me with something challenging and original. I want Rogue One to rekindle that feeling of excitement and anxiety as the lights in the theater dimmed and the 20th Century Fox logo lit up the screen.
Expectations gives us the exuberant highs of anticipation and the woeful lows of crushing disappointment. That’s why any Star Wars story is going to be greeted with elation, vitriol, and not much in-between.