Star Wars gets a Powergirl punch

Bhaskar Chawla

May 10, 2019 13:33:41 IST

The past two decades have seen Hollywood being overrun by seemingly endless franchises, primarily aiming to mint big money. Modern Hollywood actually sowed seeds of the idea in 1962, when the James Bond series took off with Dr. No. While the 007 series narrated a new story with every new film, the idea of extending a single tale over multiple films was patented by George Lucas’ original Star Wars series in the seventies.

Lucas has long retired but his series, exploring new adventures of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, returns during Christmas for its ninth and final film, The Rise Of Skywalker. An early trailer, released recently, has generated global buzz.

Forty-two years since the franchise’s first release, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, priorities have changed for the makers. For Lucas, the challenge was to create a film that would redefine science fiction forever — in terms of narrative as well as technology. When Daisy Ridley returns as protagonist Rey in the ninth film, the challenge — beyond giving the iconic series a grand finalé — will be to end the series on a note that lets it stay relevant in pop culture, at a time new-generation franchises are occupying popular mindspace.

The Hollywood franchise movie, after all, has changed since 1977, when the first Star Wars film released. Over the nineties, franchises such as The Terminator, Jurassic Park and Mission Impossible showed that sci-fi franchises could explore ideas beyond space drama to potentially go on forever. The Harry Potter series — that lasted for almost a decade — followed these in the 2000s and spawned a prequel series. Parallel to it were The Fast And The Furious and X-Men franchises. Pirates Of The Caribbean and Transformers were among other franchises to have lucrative runs. The Star Trek franchise of television found life on the big screen, James Bond was reinvented.

The advent of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), arguably the most successful franchise of all time, revolutionised not just the concept of superheroes but franchise filmmaking, too. The Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999-2005) fell way short of the standards that Marvel films would begin to set as sci-fi entertainers.

Marvel succeeded where the Star Wars prequel trilogy struggled mainly because MCU drew moviegoers into a fairly-detailed universe without compromising on source material or quality. Modern franchises need constant reinvention and, through its prequel trilogy, the Star Wars films failed to do so. Also, for a cult classic series as Star Wars, older fans tend to be less impressed with new sequels unless they are brilliant.

Brilliance returned to the Star Wars saga with its sequel trilogy, which started with JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens in 2015. Abrams, a new-age storyteller who made Mission Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), clearly drew from the MCU template. He will hope to replicate the trick with The Rise Of Skywalker.

Star Wars predominantly had a male fan base. In Abrams’ words, these were films fathers took their sons to watch. He wanted to make a film mothers could take their daughters to, as well. Not only was the decision empowering, it tapped into half of the world’s population as potential new fans.

The Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi (2017) — second of the new sequel trilogy — put extra focus on Daisy Ridley’s Rey. The trailer for The Return Of Skywalker promises Rey as the protagonist, making the Star Wars sequel trilogy unique. It is the only franchise centred on a female newcomer.

Rey is in the mould of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel — independent, not needlessly sexualised, and a more-than-capable fighter. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi pass the Bechdel Test, the definitive measure of representation of women in fiction. These films also prove a sci-fi heroine needn’t dwell on romantic interests. Rey’s bond with her male co-fighters is one of camaraderie.

The new Star Wars films have used the Hollywood guideline of diversity inclusion well to stay relevant. Apart from Rey, African-American actor John Boyega plays Finn, an important character, in a clear attempt to make the franchise more representative. Even though The Last Jedi didn’t have the same impact as The Force Awakens (2015), it did make a net profit of over $400 million. This proves the franchise has managed to stay popular thanks to its socially-progressive choices.

In the age of franchises, creating bigger spectacles is becoming increasingly difficult. Star Wars has banked on socio-cultural spins to stay on the right side of history.

 

The High Flyers of Sci-Fi

A look at the most remarkable heroines of sci-fi cinema

 

MARIA in METROPOLIS  played by Brigitte Helm

With Maria and her machine double, Fritz Lang’s silent film sparked off a political debate

 

RIPLEY in the ALIEN series  played by Sigourney Weaver

The heroine-centric series defined sci-fi violence. Weaver had an Oscar nomination for the first sequel

 

TRINITY in THE MATRIX series  played by Carrie-Anne Moss

The franchise redefined the sci-fi blockbuster and gave Hollywood one of its most stylish action heroines

 

SARAH CONNOR in THE TERMINATOR series  played by Linda Hamilton

As the protector of her son, the single mom Connor is rated among sci-fi cinema’s spunkiest action stars

 

PRINCESS LEIA in the STAR WARS series  played by Carrie Fisher

Fisher blended royal charisma with the pluck of an action hero to bring alive her character

 

Updated Date: May 10, 2019 17:58:54 IST

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