Franchise Films, Alternate Worlds, and Why Wong Kar Wai Should Direct the Next Star Wars Film

by Edwin Turner

STAR WARS 3 hartter

News that J.J. Abrams will direct the seventh Star Wars film almost broke the internet yesterday. It’s easy to see why anyone who nerds out over franchise properties would take interest. After all, Abrams helmed the 2009 big-screen reboot of Star Trek, a film that shook the camp and cheese from the franchise’s previous films, replacing it with hip humor, thrilling action, and lots and lots of lens flare. Abrams’s sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness is perhaps the most anticipated franchise film of the year. 

I won’t speculate whether an Abrams Star Wars film will be successful or not—you probably wouldn’t want me to, because I hold the extreme minority opinion that Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is a deeply profound and moving work of cinema art—but I do think that the choice to hand the next big film in the Star Wars franchise over to Abrams represents the worst in corporate thinking. This goes beyond the playground logic of Abrams swiping all the marbles—he gets both the “Star” franchises!—what it really points to is the bland, safe commercial mindset that guides the corporations who own these franchises. J.J. Abrams is a safe bet. I can more or less already imagine the movie he’ll make.

Star Wars: A New Hope came out in 1977, perhaps at the exact moment that the innovations of the “New Hollywood” movement crested (before Heaven’s Gate crashed the whole damn thing in 1980). The films of this decade—Badlands, The Godfather films, Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown, Nashville, Dr. Strangelove, etc.—helped to redefine film as art; they also captured and illustrated a zeitgeist that’s almost impossible to define. And while plenty of filmmakers today continue in this spirit, their films are often pushed into the margins. The Hollywood studio system is tangled up in big budget spectacle. I have no problem with this, but at the same time I think that there’s something sad in it all—in the bland safety of having Abrams turn out Star Wars and Star Trek films—it all points to a beige homogeneity.

The problem I’m talking about is neatly summed up by Gus Van Sant in a 2008 interview with The Believer:

So, there were some projects I never really could get going, and one of them was Psycho. It was a project that I suggested earlier in the ’90s. It was the first time that I was able to actually do what I suggested. And the reason that I suggested Psycho to them was partly the artistic appropriation side, but it was also partly because I had been in the business long enough that I was aware of certain executives’ desires. The most interesting films that studios want to be making are sequels. They would rather make sequels than make the originals, which is always a kind of a funny Catch-22.

They have to make Bourne Identity before they make Bourne Ultimatum. They don’t really want to make Bourne Identity because it’s a trial thing. But they really want to make Bourne Ultimatum. So it was an idea I had—you know, why don’t you guys just start remaking your hits.

Lately it seems that the studios trip over themselves to reboot their franchises—the latest Spider-Man film (the one you probably forgot existed) being a choice example of corporate venality. In a way, it’s fascinating that Sam Raimi, something of an outsider director, was allowed to do the first Spider-Man films at all. Of course, now and then a franchise film (or potential franchise film) winds up in the hands of an auteur—take Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for example. Alfonso Cuarón’s third entry in the franchise can stand on its own (it certainly saved the franchise from the tepid visions of Chris Columbus). Even stranger, take Paul Verhoeven’s films RoboCop and Starship Troopers. These films were brilliant subversive satires, and what did Hollywood do to the movies that came after them? These franchises devolved into flavorless, flawed, run of the mill muck.

Of course, entertainment conglomerates have good (economic) reasons to “protect” their product. David Lynch’s Dune remains one of the great cautionary tales in recent cinema history. What could have reinvigorated “New Hollywood” instead proved a disastrous flop.  Dune never panned out as the blockbuster franchise that it could have been; instead, it gets to hang out in a strange limbo, greeting newer arrivals like Chris Weitz’s atrocious adaptation of The Golden Compass and Andrew Stanton’s underrated John Carter from Mars. It’s actually sort of surreal that we even gotDune film by David Lynch, complete with Kyle MacLachlan, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, and fucking Sting.

What’s even weirder is that Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to adapt Dune, working with artists H.R. Geiger and Moebius. (Jodorowsky also planned to involve Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and  Karlheinz Stockhausen among others in the film). What a Jodorowsky Dune film might have looked like is a constant source of frustrated fun for film buffs.

But what about a Star Wars film by Jodorowsky? What might that look like?

the star wars hartter

Sean Hartter imagines such prospects in his marvelous posters for films from an alternative universe. Hartter’s posters—most of which include not just cast and director but also specific studios, producers, and soundtrack composers and musicians—conjure up wonderful could-have-beens. They posit the kind of daring spirit and experimentalism I’d like to see more of from Hollywood franchises.

Most Hollywood franchises revere the illusion of stability in the property—the idea of a constancy of character throughout film to film. Even a franchise like the James Bond films, with its ever-rotating leads, tries to create the guise of a stable aesthetic along with narrative continuity. I would love to see something closer to the Alien franchise, the only line of films I can think of where each film bears the distinctive mark of its respective filmmaker; even if I don’t think Fincher’s Alien 3 is a particularly good film, at least it feels and looks and sounds like a Fincher film and not a weak approximation of a Cameron blockbuster or a stock repetition of Scott’s space horror (and Jeunet’s Resurrection—how weird is that one!).

But back to Bond for a moment—wouldn’t it be great to see Wes Anderson do James Bond, but as a Wes Anderson film? Or Werner Herzog? Or Cronenberg? What would Jane Campion do with Bond? (I’m tempted to add Jim Jarmusch, but he already made an excellent James Bond film called The Limits of Control). I’d love to see a range of auteur versions of the franchise. (Similarly, I’ve recently been fascinated by the way certain cult artists render major corporate franchise characters, like Dave Sim doing Iron Man, or Moebius doing Spider-Man, or Jaime Hernandez doing Wonder Woman). Obviously this fantasy will never happen—the auteur would have to have complete control—a Coen brothers’ Bond film would have to be first and foremost a Coen brothers film, not a 007 film—but hey, just like with Hartter’s posters, it’s fun to pretend.

Imagine a year of James Bond movies, one a month, featuring different directors, actors, studios, production designs. 007 films from Spike Lee, Tarantino, Almodavar, Lynne Ramsay, Lynch, Wong Kar Wai.

What would a Wong Kar Wai James Bond film look like?

What would a Wong Kar Wai Star Wars film look like?

I don’t know. I imagine it would be beautiful and moody and at times impressionistic. I imagine its narrative would tend toward obliqueness. I imagine it might infuriate die-hard fans (I imagine this last part with a big grin). I imagine that it would easily be the most human Star Wars film.

But beyond that, it’s hard to imagine what a Wong Kar Wai Star Wars film might look and sound and feel like because his films are powerful and moving and evoke the kind of imaginative capacity that marks great art, great original and originating art. Put another way, I can’t really imagine what a Wong Kar Wai Star Wars film would look like—which is precisely why I’d love to see one.

52 Responses to “Franchise Films, Alternate Worlds, and Why Wong Kar Wai Should Direct the Next Star Wars Film”

  1. I immediatly had to respond, and already guessed that finally, I was hearing from someone with the same fears and frustrations as me, when I got to:

    “goes beyond the playground logic of Abrams swiping all the marbles—he gets both the “Star” franchises!—what it really points to is the bland, safe commercial mindset that guides the corporations who own these franchises. J.J. Abrams is a safe bet. I can more or less already imagine the movie he’ll make.”

    This is my damned problem with this. Abrams basically is a corporation. It’s like the man has a focus group in his head to craft the slickest, yet mundane, pieces of entertainment possible, all while creating an illusion that they have more depth than say, Michael Bay. He is flat. And having the same person make both Star Trek and Star Wars continues to flatten culture.

    It sounds like playground logic, but there really is a problem when people talk about how they love what he did with Star Trek because well, they never liked Star Trek, but they love action sci fi like Star Wars, and now they love the new Star Trek. That’s absurdly frustrating because dammit, Star Trek was never for you, it was this thing that was awesome for the people it caught, now it is something bland for everyone, like everything else in this new world.

    Everything is everything else, or something. I’m sick, too, of remakes that aren’t even remakes but marketing devices. You know what I’d go see? A steam-punk action-adventure movie with crime-solving. Know what else I’d go see? A new Sherlock Holmes movie? Know what I don’t want to see? A Sherlock Holmes is suddenly a steampunk action hero movie.

  2. May as well take this moment to encourage you, if you don’t know it, to check out the comic book Prophet. It is a hell of a creative ride. Imagination, the creative spirit, drives its madness forward, while the structure makes it all hold together. I keep on waiting for it to go from being amazing each issue to merely being okay, and it hasn’t done that yet.

    • Yeah, this was a bit of a rant…I was trying to push too much out through too small a filter. I didn’t even get into the awful X-Men films, Ang Lee’s “arty” Hulk film, etc. Anyway.
      The Sherlock Holmes film by Madonna’s ex husband (forget his name right now) pissed me off to no end. On one hand, I think Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are charming and that the cinematography was good and the action was competent—but on the other hand that was all the film had going for it — this anonymous shell of an “action film” floating on superficial charm. There was no intellect to the film (a film about the world’s greatest detective!) and no imagination. Which is the problem with most of these films—they lack any real imagination, they exist simply to lead to the next sequel, and hopefully to a Burger King tie in. Synergy!

    • I read the first trade, Prophet: Remission and it may be the best comic I’ve read all last year.

      • Isn’t it continuously wonderful? I buy it at my local shop in the singles, and I was in their today, bitching with a friend there about J.J. Abrams, when he handed me the newest issue, I had to stop myself and really appreciate that such interesting, smart, creative stuff is still being put out, all the time, regardless of what other shlock is being put out.

  3. And I got to ask, since I don’t see any other mention of it in your archives, would you like to expanded on the comment “Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is a deeply profound and moving work of cinema art”?

    • Well, it would take me several hundred words to illustrate in full (including a lengthy discussion of why the prequels have been held to a false standard), but:
      1. I think the film does a marvelous job exploring the perilous position of democracy.
      2. I think that the film, even more so than Empire Strikes Back, measures the way that oedipal competition underwrites existence.
      3. I think that the film illustrates the risks of absolute belief—when we most believe that we are right (and know that our “right” is best for all), we are most susceptible to being wrong.
      4. I think that the film explores how humanity is a performance and not just an inherent property of “being human.”
      5. I think the final fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Skywalker is the best moment in all six of the films.

      • At the risk of being thrown into the lava pits of Mustafar by die-hard fans, I agree. I actually liked Revenge of the Sith, for the same reasons you listed. And #5, yes. Best fight scene ever.

      • “is the best moment in all six of the films.” Really? I thought it was extremely lame. “I have the high ground Anikin!” Such depth in that line huh? It’s like spouting some quote from the Art of War and this should automatically imply a win condition because of some literary knowledge. The fight was not that great. It was ok, entertaining (and really, that’s all movies are when you come down to it, for the most part they have lost their way at being great story tellers) but the whole prequel thing mostly annoyed me. Sure I am starved for SciFi due to the near lack of quality and quantity of them, but the whole prequel/Darth Vader fall can be summed up as ‘teenage angst’, which was prevalent across too many movies. Not to mention that all 3 movies accuse Old Ben of lying to Luke in the first place (“When I met your father, he was the best star fighter pilot”) but “it’s ok, we’ll just throw in a pod-race and that will be what he meant”. Sorry, not buying it. The whole ‘lets go from being worried about my wife” to “lets slaughter little children” was too much too fast. Too rushed and not believeable enough. Oh, and let’s not forget the whole, what, 20 some-odd years of mentorship/near fatherhood between Padawan and Jedi only to be suddenly turned into ‘I hate you.’ because someone else said the Jedi were responsible. I’ll forgo the thought on “I really don’t think there were prequels implied in the original 3 at all.” idea.

        • Ooch!! So much sincerity and truth in these few sentences. I have been a Star Wars fan before. I am still, but I was a greater fan back then. But things changed. I don’t know if I was supposed to laugh or cry at your comment, but for some reason it made me smile. A sad smile.

  4. Remakes I’d like to see:
    1. The Wizard of Oz, directed by Martin Scorcese, starring the girl from Beasts of The Southern Wild as Dorothy, a digitalised reproduction of Orsen Welles as The Wizard, and Tom Cruise as The Tin Man.
    2. An anime versión of Brief Encounter directed by Hayao Miyazaki or better still by Mikoto Shinkai with music by Rachmaninov.
    3. Ace Ventura Pet Detective directed by Terence Malick, starring Viggo Mortensen as Ace and Ian McKellan as the cross-dressing police chief.

  5. I’d also like to see a musical remake of Jaws, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Nemo the clown fish as the blood-thirsty beast from The deep.

    Otherwise, I agree entirely with your blog.

  6. Man, I just don’t see it… Those prequels were useless, of ‘Star Wars.’ And they’re painful to watch. The “director’s cut” (b/c, yes, I know Lynch didn’t touch it but was taken from what he wanted) of “Dune” is brilliant. Yes, Jodorosky would’ve been interesting to see, too bad, but we still have “Holy Mountain,” a massive leap in any ‘hero narrative.’ Ummm, but I don’t get how the complaint of Abrams can really take hold after those prequels: Lucas did that long ago, recently did it to Indiana Jones. The prequels were awful, and I saw them in the cinema, and after those prequels I refuse to watch ‘Crystal Skull.’ Abrams may be “safe,” but, Christ, at least there might be promise… Lucas selling to Disney might be the best thing at this point b/c he’s become so useless and against everyone like a grumpy, jaded old cynic. Hell, they might even release the theatrical cuts of the original three (unless Lucas is the true shithead he’s become and destroyed them… an ultimate tragedy if so), b/c you know they love $$$ and ‘vault’-shit at Disney. This all me, though. Reality is subjective.

  7. Curious, and I did not search out archives/opinions, of what the thoughts on Peter Jackson doing LOTR and more or less taking over complete control of The Hobbit as well?

    • I liked what he did with LOTR—I like the films. They have some problems (especially shots of scale), but on the whole I thought they looked good and were faithful to the books. I think his handling of The Hobbit seems terrible—it should be one 2hr15minute movie, tops.

  8. The Hobbit is a bloated, soporific bore. Then again I only managed to suffer the first half during which i fell asleep.

    Sadly it seems to be doing well at the box office which probably means we’ll see a three-film, nine-hour production of Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince directed by Jackson in 3D 96 frames per milisecond with the Prince played by Ian Mckellan (digitally enhanced to look younger and smaller), the fox replaced by a ferocious balrog and the pilot played by Cate Blanchet with a fake moustache.

  9. Great post,bub. The thing I don’t understand is that after all these years – they have developed this great Star Wars universe – with the possibility of telling a whole assortment of different kinds of stories – and yet it goes unplundered. I don’t want the Star Wars ‘format’ regurgitated ad infinitium (as will likely happen), I want the spin offs. I want a wookie movie, damn it! A wookie train heist flick where the only dialogue is un-subtitled barking and growling.

  10. The fact that Hollywood does keep making sequels also annoys me as well as thrills me. Which is probably why when I write stories, I try to make it so unique and different, that maybe someday Hollywood will take a look at my work and say, “I want to make this into an awesome film.”

    • Sorry to tell you this, but if you do anything original, Hollywood is unlikely to pick it up. You need to explore subjects already explored, do characters which are familiar, cover events already covered at length. There is nothing original in Hollywood. In fact, I suggest that you write a reboot of a popular series.

  11. I think whoever is going to be at the helm will be both very successful (everyone will see the movie no matter what) and controversial as there will always be a lot of people very critical… a tough job I say- no matter who it would be!

  12. I’m on board with Won Kar Wai. Star Wars is one of my favorite movies, and so is 2046 Lost Memories. There would probably be great, gorgeous slow motion shots of Jedi staring contemplatively into the glow of their lightsabers.

  13. I think Abrams is the one the most overrated directors working right now. He did a good job with Star Trek, but I think he was aided by good timing; I have a feeling that he won’t be so lucky with the new one. As for Super 8, all I saw was him fellating Speilberg for 2 hours or so and wrapping it up with another one of his “secrets”, which as was pointed out by someone else, tend to only encourage people to think about better possibilities than the ones he ultimately presents. Oh yeah and that alien was eating people; am I the only person who saw the fact that it made its victims feel sympathy for it as a feeding/survival mechanism, not as some heartwarming carnivorous E.T. Anyway, back on point: I would love to see the kind of director’s renaissance you describe, but sadly doubt that the powers will ever let it occur. I do think as digital recording technology becomes more affordable new directors will be able to take the reigns away from big Hollywood more and more, but that may be wishful thinking.

  14. I love Christian Bale. Can’t wait to see him in the next movie!

  15. The Hobbit was great! Although i slept through the first 25 minutes, just in time to see clever Bilbo playing with the Trolls. The first book is totally different to the “Lord of the Rings” I thought Jackson stayed quite true to the book, minus all the horrible singing and poems of course.

  16. There are directors who prove the value of going to see a ‘movie’. Then there is Wong Kar Wai.
    Wong Kar Wai is the reason film was invented.

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  18. Personally I’d like to see The Coen brothers direct a Wookiee Heist movie set in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant or amid the “Scum and villainy” of Mos Eisley :D A Wong Kar Wai film would be fantastic too

  19. The problem is that you’re preaching to the choir (I’m an alto). Film fans (as opposed to franchise fans or regular movie patrons) will always want someone interesting to helm a movie that has potential, but that’s not gonna happen unless the lunatics take over the studio system again (New Hollywood). Rarely is a huge multinational corporation going to hand over the reins to a possibly lucrative film to some art house/indie/foreign director. As you said in a comment, it worked with Harry Potter 3 but not with Hulk (Lee). Studios are in the business of making money, not art, not cinema and they’re going to rely on data pretty much every time.

    Big studios aren’t going to change their product until the audiences stop going to see their schlock and, although it’s cool to be a “nerd” these days, real nerds don’t have the economic power to negatively affect box office returns (i.e. if nerds don’t go, enough other people will that it doesn’t matter).

    The only way I can deal with bad news of the Abrams/Star Wars type is to drastically lower my expectations. In an alternate universe, all the versions of movies you mention might exist and might be awesome. But in those worlds, maybe the audience complains that there just isn’t enough lens flare.

    • I know I’m preaching to the choir…this post was more of a wish fulfillment fantasy response to the Abrams news than a well-thought out proposition. Abrams, to me, seems like a shot at mediocrity. His Star Trek film was so forgettable—not bad at all, but forgettable (in contrast, to say, that utterly disastrous/hilarious Star Trek film that was set in San Francisco, the one with the whales—IV, maybe?—I’m pretty sure Nimoy or Shatner directed it). Even though Ang Lee’s Hulk didn’t work at all, at least it was an interesting failure.

      • Dude, you didn’t just slight Star Trek IV, did you? It was full of goofball oddness and silliness, but also full of ideals — pretty much exactly like a whole ton of the episodes. I really do love The Voyage Home. It feels like a longer, much more expensive, original series goofy episode.

        • LOL. No, not slighting the whale one at all—it’s easily the most memorable one, for me anyway. I think it’s a great example of a memorable film, for all its silliness, spirit, and frankly, its weirdness.

  20. I wish I had something wittier to say right now, but yes. Holy fucking yes! You make some damn excellent points, sir. It’s always about “whose going to the best version of what I know?”. I certainly thought that when I first heard about the new Star Wars flicks. No one ever really goes for the full on “shot in the dark” anymore. Well said, sir. Well said.

  21. Personally, I think J.J. Abrams directing both Star Wars and Star Trek is some anti-Nerd conspiracy to make both of them so close to the same thing that when someone asks what the difference is, there won’t be an answer anymore. Although I enjoy some of the Star Trek movies now and then, I believe that Star Trek is a TV series, it’s in the show’s soul, and it should be kept that way.

  22. Both a Wang Kar Wai Star Wars and a Wang Kar Wai James Bond would have a lot of cigarette smoking in them.

  23. Discovering your blog has been the best part of my day. Actually read this one aloud at the water cooler as we have many Star Wars fans!

  24. Reblogged this on St Sahm and commented:
    Too good not to pass along! Enjoy…

  25. “Even stranger, take Paul Verhoeven’s films RoboCop and Starship Troopers. These films were brilliant subversive satires, and what did Hollywood do to the movies that came after them? These franchises devolved into flavorless, flawed, run of the mill muck.” Couldn’t agree with you more.

  26. Reblogged this on Baby & Kids Clothing For Momz & Dadz and commented:
    why we will never give up our childish joys?

  27. “I hold the extreme minority opinion that Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is a deeply profound and moving work of cinema art” YES THANKYOU ! i agree!

  28. I found Revenge of the Nerds similarly moving.

    In questioning what it is to be human, RotN is reminiscent of films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful. It evokes the age-old struggle of the oppressed (the nerds) vs the oppressor (the jocks).

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