There are two types of people in this world: people who loved The Force Awakens and people who criticise it just to get attention. I'm joking of course (kinda), because there is something to be said about The Force Awakens' similarities to the original trilogy movies. In this post I intent to look at why The Force Awakens is a freeboot, explain what the hell a freeboot is, why that's important and why The Force Awakens wasn't the only freeboot in 2015...
People are complaining (a lot) about how The Force Awakens is just a retread of Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope and Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, that the movie covers precious little new ground and that the movie is not only derivative, but full of contrived conveniences. To those people I say poo off, and then refer them to this quote from J.J. Abrams:
Well that's a relatively impenetrable sentence that would be worthy of Master Yoda himself. But let's look at what J.J. Abrams might mean when he says we need to go back to move forward.
The Dark Times
The last multi year dry spell following a Star Wars movie ended with Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, and nobody was all that happy with it. Except they were, at first. It wasn't until a little while after the film was in theatres that people started complaining about how it didn't really feel like Star Wars, that Jar Jar was the devil and Anakin was a little turd. When George followed that movie with Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones, we all realised the fix was in and Star Wars would never be what we remembered. And by remembered I mean mourned, unless you kept your VCR, because the only version we had access to after 1997 were the (not so) special editions.
So, in 2012 Disney announced that they had just purchased Star Wars as a part of a deal to acquire Lucasfilm Ltd and that meant we would be getting new Star Wars movies. We all went, "Yay. I guess. Please don't screw it up." Then we started to get more confident as Kathleen Kennedy was brought in to run Lucasfilm and Lawrence Kasdan's name popped up, and J.J. Abrams, then the original cast, and so on.
We knew the people crafting this new series of films held Star Wars in high regard and, even though they didn't address directly (see insensitively) Episodes I,II and III, we knew they thought they were harmful, and so they distanced themselves from Uncle George's divisive, largely CGI and shaped-in-the-editing-process, prequel films.
So I'm speculating that a decision was made to very carefully relaunch the, now dormant for a decade, franchise with (what I'm now calling) a Freeboot (©Talk Star Wars).
What the hell is a freeboot?
To my mind a freeboot is when a filmmaker gets to reboot a franchise without actually throwing out everything that came before. They get to keep the same characters and settings, actors and props etc, but in an effort to reassure the consumer, they get to, for want of a better phrase, "rub the scent of what worked onto the new stuff." This is why the story J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan told followed the basic plot of the original trilogy so closely. They wanted to remind us how good the original trilogy was, but tell us a new story that introduced new characters, but honoured, and indeed featured, the original characters. It really was a stroke of genius. The Force Awakens is like hearing a familiar tune played by new musicians, or reading a new text in familiar hand writing. All the elements of the Star Wars we love are there, but just a little different. The desired (and almost entirely successful) affect was to have us saying, "Now this is Star Wars!" Which of course it is. But some people didn't see it like that.
Many critics are ignoring the attempt to freeboot the franchise and calling out J.J. Abrams and co. for a lack originality. That's far from fair when you consider why re-establishing that consumer confidence in that brand was an important and unavoidable exercise. This would make the people crying about the issue slightly more important to the Star Wars property than you'd initially think. These are the people that had enough faith in the pure power of Star Wars that they didn't consider the freeboot approach to be necessary. They were all like, "Just give me new Star Wars, we're good!" But J.J. Abrams was like, "I got you dawg, but let me win back these doubters first." Or something like that. Probably less 'street.' Don't think this is the first film to have done this though. Oh no. There were multiple this year alone, with slightly different agendas and results. Here's a list:
Perhaps the most egregious, is Jurassic World. This was absolutely a freeboot of the too long dormant dinofranchise. It basically followed the template of the original with a little added charm (Chris Pratt) and talent (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a fresh coat of CGI goodness. It wasn't a terrible film, as indicated by its (until recently) NUMBER THREE POSITION ON THE HIGHEST GROSSING MOVIES OF ALL TIME list. Now, as I've said before, box office is not an indicator of quality because: Transformers, but it did show that there is an appetite for these films and demonstrated that there was an audience. Largely an audience that wasn't going to theatres (because they weren't born yet) when the original was released, and an audience who were there the first time who appreciated a sequel/continuation of the series because they'd already seen Marvel's Spider-Man press the big red (and blue) reset button twice. All of these people returned for numerous screenings, as a they did with The Force Awakens, which explained the big pile of cash in the studios pockets.
Next up is Creed. Now I haven't seen Creed, so I'm drawing a conclusion or two about the actual story, but from what I'm hearing its a freeboot in as much as it takes our hero and plops him into Mick's role, and introduces Apollos son take fulfil the story responsibility handled in the original by Rocky himself. A continuation for the original audience, the same/similar story retold for the new audience - freeboot.
There are other movies that walk the freeboot line without fully committing, like Spectre. The latest Bond movies basically took Daniel Craig's Bond back to the 'pre-Craig' Bond style storytelling without needing to throw out everything the filmmakers had done up to that point. Terminator Genisys, which is more of a preboot (trust me that's a whole other thing), which marketed itself to the original audience by echoing the story and settings of the first movie, whilst introducing a new audience to the film using the tricks that won us over the first time around.
A reboot would be Poltergeist, which basically told the same story with new characters and cast, and J.J. Abrams' own Star Trek, which hit reset for the most part. An earlier example of a freeboot would be Robert Rodriguez's Predators. That functioned as a sequel, buy directly referencing the original, but simultaneously retelling (kind of) the original story; mercenaries in a forest being hunted by a bigger bad.
So there you go. That was a long way of saying The Force Awakens was what it was because there was a need to re-establish consumer confidence in brand Star Wars. A continuation of the story for the original audience of the series, but the telling of the same/similar story for a new audience - freeboot.
Thank you for reading,