The Cinematic Language Of Episode VII
While tweeting online the other night with Jason Ward of Making Star Wars, we happened upon a topic that really opened up into a debate on the cinematic language used in the Star Wars films, and whether that language will remain or be changed with next Decembers Star Wars Episode VII.
Now, don’t get me wrong, while we certainly twisted and turned the topic around 360 degrees it was a conversation, not a conflict and we both agreed that while the saga episodes will most likely used the same ‘toolset’ as the prior 6 episodes, the standalone films will have far more leeway to experiment. But that said, given that a director is at the helm who famously likes to use flashbacks and different devices to the ‘Star Wars’ norm, is it beyond the bounds of possibility that Episode VII could employ the same methods?
The rumour of Billie Lourd (Carrie Fishers daughter) possibly playing a ‘young Leia’ got us thinking. If she is playing that role – and magazine show Good Morning Britain (don’t worry, it’s not a British tabloid, it’s a reputable TV show) seem convinced she is – then the only logical way to introduce that character would be via flashbacks. But flashbacks haven’t been used in the Star Wars visual vocabulary so far, unless you follow the thought that The Empire Strikes Back, which covers a long period of time chronologically, isn’t 100% linear in its storytelling. And yet, we have seen ‘new’ tools added to the visual toolbox as the films progressed.
Empire brought in slow motion as Luke and ‘Vader’ fought in the dark cave on Dagobah. Jedi was much more traditional in it’s approach, but looking on to the Prequels we see that Attack of the Clones introduced a handheld camera style for the Geonosis battle (harkening back to Lucas’ documentary days) and Revenge of the Sith brought us Anakins nightmares as we saw his dark dreams of losing Padme in childbirth. So there IS a precedent for new approaches being employed.
So, flashbacks. How would they be used? Spielberg kicks off each of his Indiana Jones movies with the end of the previous adventure, be it Colorado in Last Crusade, Shanghai in Temple of Doom, Peru in Raiders or Area 51 in Crystal Skull. Only Last Crusade was a true flashback, looking to Indys youth before segeuing neatly into his search for the cross of Coronado while onboard the Vasquez de Coronado. Could Episode VII begin ‘back in the day’ with a young Leia mid-adventure, linking in somehow to the Episode VII storyline? Why not, rumours abound that Star Wars Rebels and Episode VII share some characters and story points, so a younger Leia element might be pertinent. Or perhaps the flashback would happen during the flow of the story in lieu of that other informative device – exposition, a tool that can be cumbersome if employed incorrectly.
But another question is raised. With J.J.Abrams at the helm and his directorial skills brought to bring the film to life, what’s to stop him using his own stylistic approach to tell a Star Wars story? If he deems it necessary to use flashbacks, slow motion or dream sequences what’s to stop him? We know he can do a good Spielberg, as anyone who’s seen Super-8 will agree, but with his two voyages aboard the Enterprise he’s more than earned the right to tell stories in his own manner, and if that includes flashbacks…
There could be a few reasons why not. Firstly, it’s not known as yet if he has final edit, or final say in the manner in which the film is put together. Princess Leia herself famously said ‘I am NOT a committee’, but in the relatively new (for Star Wars) age of Disney there’s every likelihood that a committee is exactly what J.J. will have to deal with. Bob Iger, Kathleen Kennedy, even Creative Consultant George Lucas himself. All will have opinions to give and notes to make, and with J.J. now only directing Episode VII his sway to have his own way might not be as powerful as it might have been had he been signed on to direct the entire trilogy.
Secondly, his own ‘respect’ for the films which have gone before. Abrams has reportedly gone out of his way to make Episode VII feel like it’s a direct continuation (bar the chronological 35 year gap) of Return of the Jedi. He’s using the same lenses, the same lighting rigs and is clearly pitching for the same aesthetic. Would he want to affect that ‘vibe’ by employing previously unused techniques such as flashbacks? Doubtful, but not impossible.
Thirdly, the nature of the story itself. From what we know so far (and admittedly it’s a scant few hints) flashbacks seem unlikely. The role that Billie Lourds has taken is far more likely to be a relative of Leia rather than a younger version of the character, or a character totally unrelated. Remember the months before The Phantom Menace, when early reports had Jake Lloyd down as playing Luke Skywalker. A simple error in reporting could be the answer here.
After a batch of tweets across the Whale Pond me and Jason agreed that while it was highly unlikely that flashbacks would be employed, it wasn’t impossible. For my part, I don’t think anything is set in stone. Hey, if they can get Harrison Ford back to play Han Solo I believe pretty much ANYTHING is possible. And would I even want to see flashbacks? I’m not sure. After the experimentation of the Prequels a return to the classic approach that solidified the Original Trilogy in the hearts and minds of a generation is the logical way to go, and flashbacks are not a part of that dojo. Start at point A (preferably with a starfield and a BIG ship) and follow the alphabet to point Z. Tarantino can direct a standalone and do the non-linear Pulp Fiction thing, Nolan can start with the end credits and do a GFFA version of Memento but lets hope Abrams is tuned in to that 70’s vibe and tells a classic Star Wars tale in chronological order.
***A Huge thanks to our amazing friend, Mark Newbold, for writing a guest Blog for CWK!Powered by Sidelines