And what we underestimate about sequels and reboots in general.
For reasons largely unknown, James Cameron – director of such films as Titanic and Avatar – has felt the need to voice his unpopular opinions about one of the biggest cultural revivals of our time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He referred to the film, directed by J.J. Abrams, as a “failed revival” that lacked “visual imagination.”
Cameron’s benchmark for visual imagination in film would be higher than the average filmgoer considering his 2009 hit Avatar was considered groundbreaking in terms of visual effects. I can’t help but think though that his opinion is reflective of a much larger attitude within fan bases of established franchises. There is an overwhelming sense that new material, regardless of quality or budget, must be inherently inferior to the source material. This attitude is an obvious fallacy and can be extremely off-putting to new fans of a franchise.
Successful franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Jurassic Park have all been rebooted or continued in the past few years. These reboots and continuations have brought flocks of new fans into the fold. These fans are by and large younger than those who were fans of the source material. To degrade reboots in the way that Cameron has is to dissuade younger fans from fully appreciating the originals. This dynamic creates deep rifts in fan bases. These rifts in turn create a hostile environment that detracts from the entire franchise.
Reboots and sequels are by necessity different in many ways from the original film. New creative teams of writers, directors, and actors are brought in to refresh the world in which the franchise is set. Cinematography, writing, and general mood are different because the creators of the films are different and of a different time than the original team. This difference is not inherently bad. This difference is usually what draws younger audiences to franchises that originally aired in the mid-twentieth century in the first place. Those new fans may be more inclined to seek out the originals if they are welcomed as fans with open arms.
These new spins on classic franchises are safe bets for Hollywood. Franchise name recognition often means big returns at the box office. The universe of Star Wars is large and complex enough to allow for almost limitless possibilities for reboots and continuations. The Force Awakens is the seventh film in the Star Wars series; it attracted a huge fan following and is critically regarded as far superior to the prior three. Hollywood will continue milking these franchises until they no longer attract fans and the money that comes along with them. When that happens, the franchise is dead. No one wants to see the death of Star Wars – not even Trekkies who claim to hate it.
It’s perfectly normal to prefer the originals, as nostalgia is a powerful force. Disparaging a reboot because it is not the original is nothing more than repackaged fear of change . Give the people what they want. We want Star Wars. What we don’t want, Mr. Cameron, is four Avatar sequels.