I normally write about folding; the most obvious is when a film contains a film or play, but there are a bewildering number of types. The most interesting of these to me is when the film ‘folds’ the watcher in, in some way. The least interesting is when a film overtly quotes another. Tarantino, does this in a way that I think distracts from his other strengths.
But what happens when you have a series that is older than most people on the planet, and has a world in some way adopted by nearly everyone that folds simple myths into itself?
Some of the novel folding Abrams used is required because the original three were never about a world but a story. That world was borrowed from westerns, minimally to support the story, and adapted also minimally to allow the tech. When you don’t have a full world to work with, you can’t expand the story into it. This world is sparse; if evil exists, it can only exist in and be opposed in one form. So, Abrams has to expand back into the story rather than into the world. He does it partly by direct quoting, adopting the key themes: parents, magical force as military force, and conflict as spatial engagement.
I particularly like how he places some action in the ruins of previous movies. In episode 7, we had the star destroyer. Here we’ve upped the ante with the ruined death star in ultra-dynamic water.
But I am going to suggest here that some of what we are seeing in the reflected story qualifies as folding. That’s because the original story was a simple instance of what Lucas probably still believes is a universal myth. Enough time (36 years!) has transpired from the original trilogy and enough exposure through aggressive marketing that the original trilogy’s instance has itself become the myth on which we now impress our story.
Three examples: The other two films advance the story through task episodes, after which there is an escape-chase. In this third case, the film is essentially a collection of chase sequences during which the story is advanced. Because the backbone is a chase, and we have a mature editing grammar for chase episodes, the maturity of pacing is extraordinary. Blockbuster films have advanced this art and Abrams simply uses the best. There’s even a situation of our heroes in corridors being hunted by stormtroopers that is filmed as a mini-chase. So, from my perspective, they’ve folded the confrontations into punctuations between motions.
The second example: after all this time, we have competing on-screen narrators. Palpatine has been manipulating things all along and has magical insight into what our characters are doing. This is folding of the viewer into a character, but of an unimaginative kind. In a more noir-quoting film, we’d have periods where we are reminded that our on-screen drama is only because the hapless heroes are being manipulated for our entertainment. Mapping this viewer’s narrative control to a villain is common.
But we have something far more inventive and for this viewer, thrilling. Our two main characters can actually see each other, across galactic dimension and occupy a shared interspace. The conflict can be conveyed through this narrative space that we share with the two, especially in an extraordinary fight scene where each is projected into the other’s space. But it is more than that. The entire new story that is imposed on the old, is about who sees into whom: Palpatine, Leia, Kylo, Rey, Luke, Han, and the mobs on each side have some vision and agency. Each is able to take action through this narrative space. Leia for instance significantly changes things by insight and narrative governance at a distance. Or is that Luke or Han or even Vader working through her?
The third example… The original trilogy is a simple quest in the context of pure good and evil. In the first two in this trilogy, the quest is continued, with little change but a different character. In this final instalment, this is no longer the fabric, but the background for a Shakespeare-worthy love story folded into it. This is grownup stuff, and we can see the fan kids and those who want to be objecting. The Disney folks have made a bold choice I think, differentiating from their Marvel property and investing for the long run. Give me a quest for complex urges any day. That’s a story fabric I can build my life around. Polar battles between good and evil don’t help me and have made my world worse.
Posted in 2019
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.