[Editor’s Note: First and foremost, make sure you have consent of all involved BEFORE talking about TFA this weekend!]
So you’ve seen The Force Awakens. You, and probably everyone you know, has an opinion. Was it as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Or a further atrocity in the line of The Phantom Menace?
There must be a yardstick for the measuring of media beyond simple gut reactions.
German playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (whose name rhymes with “Your flow is smootha!”) put together three handy rules for evaluating art.
- What was the artist trying to accomplish?
- Did they succeed?
- Was what they were trying to accomplish worth doing?
Let’s see what happens if we apply the rules to another JJ Abrams flick, such as 2009’s Star Trek. Now Abrams’ Star Trek was a fine film, and audiences and critics generally enjoyed it. The one demographic which didn’t love it? Hardcore Trekkies. Goethe’s rules explain magnificently the disappointment of Trek’s core audience.
What was the artist trying to accomplish?
JJ Abrams was trying to make another installment in a beloved and long-running franchise, one which had spawned seven television series and a dozen movies so far. The new movie was clearly an attempt to bring the franchise into the new millennium while keeping the core of Trek whole.
Did Abrams succeed?
No he did not, but only Trek fans noticed.
Abrams made a fantastic sci-fi action film, but it was too much Star Wars and not enough Star Trek. Trek has long been the thinking geek’s sci-fi. Ideas mattered, and the crew of the Enterprise wasn’t shy about discussing them and acting on them. Action, in Trek, has more often been about suspense than whiz-bang action, but Abrams didn’t get that memo. He gave us a Trek with random ice monsters and action scene after action scene. While it was thrilling, it wasn’t Trek. That is why general audiences could attend the film and enjoy it, yet fans left disappointed.
Was what Abrams tried worth doing?
This is the argument against all prequels, sequels, and remakes. If a thing has been done before, why do it again? But the fan in all of us cries, “We want more Star Trek! More Star Wars would be delightful as well!” And so, critical theory be damned! Let there be more Trek and Wars! They are certainly worth bringing into the world.
Yet one cannot help but worry about the Star Trek franchise. The recently released trailer for the next Trek installment, helmed by a director best known for his work on the Fast & Furious series, again has fans worried that Trek has strayed from its roots. The first trailer has only stoked those concerns.
Goethe’s three questions elevate discussion beyond mere like and dislike. Yes, Jar-Jar was an outrage, but Goethe’s rules allow us to describe artistic endeavors with evidence and reasoning.
So, when talking about The Force Awakens, consider the lens of Goethe.
Wanna start talking about it right now? Why look! There is a comments section right below this sentence! Enjoy showing off your rapier-like wit and trenchant arguments here and now! Obviously be wary of spoilers.
Feature image courtesy Gage Skidmore