Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has opened. Initial indications are that it’s what we suspected it would be: a JJ Abrams film. In other words – to put it somewhat bluntly – a festival of glorious visual storytelling without, in fact, much of a story underneath to tell. This does not surprise me, since ‘Made by JJ Abrams’ is exactly what the label said on the can. I will hold off further critical comment on the specifics until I’ve actually seen the film. But I have some comment on the generalities.
Abrams isn’t alone in being a modern, high-profile 2010s director whose creative output is synonymous with ‘style over substance’. I’d argue that from the 1990s – from Quentin Tarantino, in fact – directors of my generation (Gen X) have focused largely on recreating the look and feel of films they liked. Without, it feels, understanding how the underlying stories worked, and particularly how they were structured in terms of theme rather than mere plot or even drama.
The films of the 1970s-80s, in other words, aren’t just about what happen – or even how much you care about what happens – but about a deep sense that things in this filmic universe happen for a reason.