For some reason, James Cameron has seen the need to throw shade at J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Insert skeptical emoticon here.
James Cameron is currently prepping his Avatar sequels — as he has been since 2009 — but he did briefly resurface to share his thoughts on The Force Awakens.
“Well George Lucas is a friend of mine and he and I were having a good conversation the other day about it. I don’t want to say too much about the film cause I also have a lot of respect for J.J. Abrams, and I want to see where they’re taking it next, to see what they’re doing with it. I have to say that I felt that George’s group of six films had more innovative visual imagination, and this film was more of a retrenchment to things you had seen before and characters you had seen before, and it took a few baby steps forward with new characters. So for me the jury’s out, I wanna see where they go with it.”
James Cameron, whose totally original and not at all a Pocahontas-ripoffy Avatar has evidently made him an expert on what constitutes “a retrenchment to things you had seen before,” genuinely seems to believe that even the Star Wars prequels somehow broke more ground than The Force Awakens.
And he’s right — from a certain perspective.
In terms of visual storytelling, George Lucas definitely raised the bar, both for the original trilogy (practical effects) and prequel trilogy (digital filmmaking). And for The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams very consciously chose to go back to shooting on film, with practical effects whenever possible.
This choice may have pleased Star Wars fans wishing to see something more closely resembling the original trilogy, but from Cameron’s perspective, no, Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t push any significant technological boundaries (if you don’t consider the ingenious work on BB-8).
And, however much we can make fun of Avatar, the first instalment of the third Star Wars saga has definitely also taken some heat for re-treading old ground, by so closely linking Rey’s story to Luke’s.
It’s important here to consider the counter-argument, however: That audiences needed a familiar story, if they were going to accept such radically (by small-minded standards, anyway) different lead characters. Because unfortunately, the fact that Rey is a woman, Finn is black and Poe is Latino would be enough to turn some people off the saga, and dismiss it as not being ‘for them.’
But by making the new trio a reimagining of sorts (if far from a perfect correlation) of Luke, Leia and Han, and letting them follow roughly the same story beats as A New Hope, J.J. Abrams managed to invoke the feelings of nostalgia and familiarity necessary to make The Force Awakens a hit.
The characters are familiar enough that we recognize them as belonging in the Star Wars universe, yet different enough in both appearance and personality that it truly feels like a contemporary, reimagined world.
And, criticism aside, this has worked out very well for the movie’s box office numbers and general critical success. James Cameron should understand the value of familiar stories breaking way for new worlds better than anyone, but hey, everyone’s a critic these days.