December 31, 2015 -- I got an interesting email from a reader, taking me to task for using the word “reboot” to describe the film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in my review of the film. The reader said this film is only a sequel, not a reboot. He said a reboot is like “Batman Begins,” a whole new start to a franchise, as if the original film doesn't exist.
The reader's more detailed definition of the word “reboot” seemed too narrow to me (even his example, “Batman Begins,” didn't match that definition) so I looked up the word in the online Oxford dictionary and found this definition: “Restart or revive (a process or sequence, especially a series of films or television programs); give fresh impetus to.” The dictionary uses it in a sentence this way: “I hope that the filmmakers make the most of the opportunity to reboot the franchise.”
After thinking about the dictionary definition, I believe, regardless of whether it means restart, or revive, that both of these meanings definitely apply to this film. That got me to thinking about all the different ways that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” restarts and revives the Star Wars franchise.
My view is the Star Wars franchise was finished and completed with the first six films. The main reason to start making more Star Wars films now is not to expand and elaborate on the ideas in the original, but to make tons of money from fans of the original. That makes this new Star Wars film a new start. It is also, essentially, a remake of the first Star Wars film (Episode IV, a New Hope). This means the franchise is starting over, from the beginning as it were, which makes it a remake, a reboot, and a sequel.
I know that some people insist the labels remake, reboot and sequel are mutually exclusive, but they are not. People who cling to narrow definitions are splitters. Splitters are compelled to split large categories (like the species Homo Sapiens) and inclusive definitions into smaller and smaller sub-categories, and insist that those sub categories are overly important, even exclusive. I am a lumper. I lump those sub-categories back together. Splitters and lumpers are different. They disagree on lots of things like this and always will disagree. These are two different mind-sets.
Back to the Star Wars reboot. Not only is this franchise starting over from the very beginning, with the same basic story as the original star wars movie, it is starting over with a new, darker, 21st Century world view. While the first film offered hope, this film offers us a never ending struggle in which the heroes are doomed to endlessly fight the same old battles with the same old enemies.
There is zero explanation in the new film about how in the universe the evil empire, defeated in episode six, got rebooted as the First Order so quickly. How did it so quickly gain so much power and influence? This is a lot like a real world reboot in which ISIS arose from angry, imprisoned groups of Sunni Muslim soldiers who had served in the old Iraqi army, just a few years after that army's defeat.
Also, in the “revival” sense of the word reboot, this is a revival of the series in the sense that it had gotten “sick” with episodes one, two and three, although I thought episode three (Revenge of the Sith) wasn't too bad. I think it is safe to say Star Wars fans were not satisfied with these three episodes. “The Force Awakens” seems to be, for most fans, an enormously successful attempt to revive the franchise and recapture the magic of the first film.
For myself, no Star Wars reboot can ever give me the same feeling I had when I saw the first Star Wars movie I saw in a Boston movie theater in 1977, but the fan reaction to this film shows that Disney succeeded. I sure don't gush about this film the way that most fans do, but it is clear to me that many fans, and many critics are responding to this film, exactly the way that J.J. Abrams and Disney want them to.
This brings up the old argument over who owns Star Wars. For years, many fans have claimed for years that George Lucas doesn't own Star Wars, that it belongs to them, the fans. That claim seems specious to me. Lucas created it, he owns it. But now, Lucas has sold the franchise. He doesn't own this new Star Wars film and does not have creative control of it. So maybe this latest film really does belong to the fans.
If you subscribe to the theories of New York Times columnist Russ Douthat, then “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is fundamentally different from the first six Star Wars films. It is a work of fan fiction, a pastiche of characters and ideas lifted mostly from the first film. It is, in fact, a George Lucas fan film, according to Douthat, and others. After all, the director of this new film, J.J. Abrams, is, himself, a fan of the original Star Wars series.
George Lucas himself has criticized this new Star Wars film along those same lines, for being too retro, too nostalgic. So, in a sense, the fans have finally won, they took Star Wars away from George Lucas and now have it all to themselves. That would definitely make this a reboot.
After an email discussion about this with a reader about the definition of the word “reboot”. I received a final parting shot in the last email from the reader who does not agree with me (or the dictionary). He wrote, “Unfortunately ... people such as myself who want to be able to communicate precisely will fall by the wayside ... because no one was using the same definition for a word.”
This reader's frustration is shared by anyone who attempts to make the rest of society adhere to a narrow, exclusive, definition of a word. Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search to see how many others, besides myself, used the word reboot when writing about this film.
The search, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reboot, came up with 3.2 million hits. Of course, a small percentage of those hits are people (including J.J. Abrams himself) who say that this film is “not a reboot”. I did a “not a reboot” search for this film, too, which came up with a much smaller number of hits.
This whole discussion about the proper meaning of this word reminds me of a couple of quotes from a familiar and whimsical source, Lewis Carroll's “Through the Looking-Glass”:
“'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'”
“'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'”
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.