Director J.J. Abrams landed his perhaps most challenging and exciting role when given the opportunity to bring the Star Wars community together again with the newest revamping of the franchise, The Force Awakens, 2015, which is the seventh in the films saga. It also gives the blockbuster as a genre an opportunity at being more than just a estimation of money and American in motif. The film dubbed itself as the Star Wars installation that fans wanted and expected, after a series of seemingly pointless re-cuts of the originals, and popular but widely disliked prequels from George Lucas, director of the initial 6 films. It uses the strategy of J.J. Abrams widely admired filmmaking techniques, as well as leading itself to a pastiche of successful genre transformations.
Abrams established his career as a director by revealing himself as a master remixer. The idea that he tends to copy, transform and combine the elements of existing stories, seen with some of his earlier works that are built on established templates. This is what drives and makes Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a successful and familiar project. We can take J.J’s previous works, “Taking Care of Business, 1990” about a rich man and a poor man swapping their identities, a story derived from Mark Twain and his story “Prince and the Pauper, 1881”. Or one of his biggest successes, “Lost, 2004-2010”, that incorporates the stranded on an island story from another popular TV show “Survivor: Borneo, 2000” and “Castaway, 2000” and combining it with a non-linear timeline made critically acclaimed by Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction, 1994”. He then showed us Hollywood’s greatest talent, transforming the old into the new, with “Star Trek, 2009″ moving him to the big screen and giving fans familiar material to successfully relaunch a franchise. Abrams took this creative incentive and applied it to the StarWars franchise, however, fans shouldn’t expect anything less from the series, considering the first six films prided itself on the transformation and collaboration of a number of genres and influences.
Star Wars is a film that lands itself in the ‘Blockbuster’ category but with many sub-genres such as fantasy, science fiction and even space opera ( a term usually associated with simplistic writing styles and melodrama set in space). But this genre blend only becomes more complex when looking closely at some of the influences that have given the film its status in box office royalty. The obvious is the idea of a technology driven world that engages in space fairing, allows science fiction critic, then the fantastical nature in the presence of the “Force” means StarWars lands a “Science Fantasy” genre, recognised by fans. By default, to be considered a ‘Blockbuster’, you either had to make a lot of money as a film, or cost a LOT to produce. Sometimes there were the odd cases of doing both or the opposite together. Star Wars was this exception, in that it cost a modest $11million to make and ended up being the second highest grossing film gaining $194 Million in 1977 with A New Hope, directed by George Lucas. However, reason Star Wars gained blockbuster status is the way Lucas originally produces A New Hope, and now J.J. Abrams using this for The Force Awakens have told the story across conventions of genre and film technique.
Blockbusters have came from almost a decade of change to cinema, and A New Hope, the original Star Wars film that we can now see The Force Awakens draws inspiration from, is no different. It draws from the success of TV series’ popularity when the audience prefered the luxury of their own home, in particular “Flash Gordon, 1930s” using soft wipe transitions and more iconically, the opening credits.
Flash Gordon (1936) VS. Star Wars IV (1977)
Lucas also played on the massive success Asian countries were showcasing to western cinema, in response to content bans across borders. Star Wars then made reference to Japanese director and creative Akira Kurosawa’s works, in particular The Hidden Fortress (1958). Spiritual Martial arts of Japanese samurai were the foundations for the Jedi Knights as well as a low ranking duo as main characters, seen in the two droids of A New Hope. Lucas and Star Wars were able to transform potentials and great ideas across genre. Kurosawa used film techniques from American Westerns and detective stories to his own films about the samurai, Lucas liked this idea aswell, and borrowed scenes from Westerns, for example when Luke discovers his family have been murdered resembles the same scene from “The Searchers, 1956” .
A New Hope 1977
The Searchers, 1956
Now what J.J Abrams has brought us with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a similar but not the same version of the 1977 film. He’s taken the storyline and familiar plot of the original and hugely successful and adapted it for his own. The Force Awakens, needs to be recognised alongside A New Hope(1977), if you’re to see the conventions being readapted by Abrams for this blockbuster. We have a side by side comparison of some of the major storytelling ideas Abrams has treated fans to in his new adaptation.
The Force Awakens (2015) on the left and A New Hope (1977) on the right
An old force wielder is found and showcased as a mentor
Vital information abut enemy secrets is tucked away inside a small companion droid and sent away as a diversion.
The droid is then found by an orphan on a forgotten planet and showcased to this message. Later the message creates a mission to which they discover themselves as a major part in the galaxies future.
The Villains own a destructive planet-planet like weapon thats capable of destroying other planets. Note: This is also J.J. Abrams style from pervious space movies as seen in Star Trek (2009)
The leader of the villains murders an elder figure, in which the orphan views and screams “NO!”
The heroes of the movie then infiltrate the planet-like weapon to disable defence systems…
Using the information stolen and retrieved from the loveable droid at the start…
To fly down in the trenches and destroy the weapon by hitting a particular spot on a seemingly impenetrable fortress…For the third time in the franchise…
Amongst these similarities, it’s worth pointing out that he has transformed as much as he has used from previous films. Such as a female lead character in Rey, and black actor John Boyega, who was a former storm trooper as the second lead. His villain too, is showcased throughout the film to have huge insecurities and weaknesses, a failed admirer of former villains and removes his mask that makes him threatening.
J.J Abrams took what many believe to be the biggest film franchise of the modern era and revamp it into not only a continuum, but a A list blockbuster that has expanded throughout TV shows (such as The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Books (The Last of the Jedi), Video Games (Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed) with his film The Force Awakens. The film allows the success of the story from a low budget tale, to convey conventions of a blockbuster that are far more sophisticated with a knowledge of its influences. We love the familiar, and The Force Awakens, dawns the new era of popular franchises and old stories in Hollywood becoming box office smashes.
A, Ferrari 2015, J.J. Abrams: His Secret on Directing and Visual Storytelling, Indie Film Hustle, viewed 24th September 2017, <https://indiefilmhustle.com/jj-abrams/>
D, Charpentier 2010, West by East By West: The Influence of Kurosawa on the West and Vice Versa, PopMatters, viewed 24th September, <http://www.popmatters.com/feature/131926-west-by-east-by-west/>
D, Bronzite (year unknown), The Hero’s Journey – Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, Movie OutLine, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html>
K, Brennan 2006, Kurosawa Films, Star Wars Origins, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://www.moongadget.com/origins/kurosawa.html>
Wookiepedia 2017, Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, Fandom, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens>
Casey Neistat 2015, High school stories | Casey Neistat | TEDxParkerSchool, TEDx Talks, YouTube, Online Video, Published January 29, viewed 11th, 12th 14th, 16th, 20th August 2017, Available via <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ayTA-tJr3A>
“Opportunity and Obligation” (C Neistat, 2015)
The beauty of narrative for me personally, is the many forms it can take that include storytelling in film, experience, nostalgia and trajectory. The versatility in our ability to share narratives creates new meaning to things we take for granted, and I’d like to share an academic video response that looks at one man’s narrative that has defined his professional context, that compliments ideals and themes covered within a tertiary environment. Through a narrative reflection, value of experience is highlighted as a key feature to understand the ecosystem we find ourselves in when speculating the future of work.
“If I were a student…What could I hear that would affect me or what would I want to hear…” (C Neistat, 2015, 0:55)
This follows a discussion I opened up in relevance to Steve Jobs and a speech he gave about his life at a university graduation. It was interesting to hear Casey right at the start of his speech, talk about how he could have showcased his success and perhaps tips on how he feels about certain topics within his profession, but instead chooses to open up about what he thinks he (and ultimately his audience) want to hear. This direct quote stuck with me, and made me reflect on Lumen5, a platform that causes its user and the audience of the film to pay close attention to the details of a section of writing. What words resonate with different people, a really great insight into how we can apply this mode of thinking into motivational speech.
Casey Neistat is a filmmaker, entrepreneur, YouTuber and a father. Like great entrepreneurs before him, he never attended higher education to achieve his dreams or to excel in fields where the training would have served well to an established line of work. He gives a talk with TEDx, Technology, Entertainment and Design, about his own life and how his stride for efficiency allowed him to see opportunity perhaps when he didn’t even realise. Casey Neistat began his career with a hybrid mix of ‘gonzo journalism, guerilla filmmaking and cinema verite. He’s captured these elements working in a professional practise and then applied them to his daily vlogs. Cinema Verite often makes its way into the films or apart of the story, and Neistat takes this further by always showcasing his equipment and his work area giving them their own stigma in the videos he produces. Each of the devices he shoots with have it’s own story, his drones have a certain aesthetic or feeling behind them, to when he films on his iPhone that’s raw and seemingly unedited in the process. He’s allowed himself to develop stories from his past and essence that craftsmanship of narrative into his videos so that as an audience to his career we feel like he’s motivating us to grab any opportunity big or small, equipment professional standard or not.
“Those opportunities where in the moment, I couldn’t have told you they were opportunities” (C Neistat, 2015, 11:40)
This resonates quite heavily with me as a moment of reflection and contemplation. When asked to think of a memory or a narrative of my own, I mentioned that, “give attention to detail of the experience I’m having and will have”. Now, this quote from Casey I love to reconnect with the idea that I’m trying to give a greater focus on the opportunities life is giving me, and that is evident in my story about taking an advanced seminar class, despite having limited confidence when writing academically, subject to the description. He further discusses how the distinct difference between recklessness and fearlessness can promote the positive outcome. Perhaps another resonating feature this theme carries into is the idea of experience-near narrative. His family, his peers, and his Hollywood manager at one point in his highly successful career all disagreed with his decision to throw away years of “comfort” in the filmmaking space for a risk at daily vlogging (video blogging) on YouTube, a platform renowned for viral videos and unprofessionalism in aesthetic, however his momentum with his own local understanding allowed him to excel.
His core value sits very similar to the right way to approach this class and definitely this degree. If more content creatives were to just start with whatever they could get their hands on at the time and post professionally about what they’re passionate about then we’d start seeing the fears of work after study start to disappear. We’d start to build portfolios and this resonates with me, as I love to document new things and try new things and see where the creation leads to. My practise at the moment is that I want to work in a field using drone technology to encourage people to interact with them and push the boundaries of what kind of uses they hold, whether it be creative or assistance to helping people or even artistic.
“When I look back at the trajectory of my career and the larger scale of my life, I see every time there was a pivot point, now, in retrospect…it’s easy to look back and see where the opportunity was…when I scratch the surface a little bit more…in the moment the opportunity was never really clear, and I think that in itself, is what opportunity is” (C Neistat, 2015, 1:23)
Some of the motivation he carries and advice he gives on cracking this field isn’t a guide that everyone should follow, it’s inspiration based on his experience. His core values are simple in that “being fearless rather than reckless” is the most important part, crediting his success in his passion to tell a story. His viral sensations that escalated his career were both shot on devices he could afford at the time, a camcorder and a mobile phone.
TEDx talks usually require a script with a prompter in front of the speaker, this is something Casey doesn’t require in this video, instead talking with real auto-ethnography which allow myself especially to empathise heavily. An idea, that has been discussed in a classroom setting, is the emphasis we make on words and how reflection enables recognition. This story of how Casey Neistat allows himself to be subject to opportunity because he can reflect on steps taken that perhaps haven’t been orthodox, allows me as a media and communication professional to practise listening and applying this to my own past, present and future. Through his unique storytelling, I’m able to attract my own attention into values that I hold in high esteem to myself, and that is staying prepared and taking every opportunity. Casey addresses the notion of absent but implicit when reflecting on how “we have won the lottery on life”, implying that we are simply born into a world without choice, some however are born into a life of misery. He denotes that this isn’t relative, with exception, that he never understood this until he experienced life in a third world country. Living conditions there allowed him to understand his own obligation to grab every possible opportunity, to allow him to draw out every value in these individuals grievance. A showcase in his core values, that he is able to see their complaints and situations, to then take back and reflect, with perspective, how he can leverage his success.
Through my reflection and critical understanding of this resource, I allow myself to introduce others to the same practise and share my stories within a university setting that allows that obligation I accept looking forward. Something interesting Casey leaves us with, is the perspective on life he has due to a decision he made earlier in his career, much similar to an exercise I’ve recently reflected on. It’s an opportunity for a filmmaking project that he initially turned down, due to a lack of interest in the commercial viability. He takes us on therapeutic narrative about how the opportunity went behind him, but to help those less fortunate in life’s unpleasant nature. He could reflect his life so distinctly, and so coherently, that he could now leverage that life experience into helping others. That is the future of narrative in a professional practise, and that’s the future of media work. This TEDx video allows us as leaders of tomorrow, to inspire hope for our own future practise.
This semester I have been following the works of Sam as he looks to conquer the quest in building the perfect drone. Whilst he won’t admit that he is ‘The Drone Guy’, there is no denying that he is the drone king of UOW at least.
Sam’s drone journey began well before his time at University which makes his story unique. At aged 16 whilst on work placement at the RMS in his home town of Parkes, Sam noticed that the way the engineers and surveyors were conducting bridge inspections seemed to be time and money and consuming and a young Sam thought that there must be a better way to complete these tasks.
It wasn’t until his second year at uni until Sam started experimenting with drones. Sam would first get his hands on a drone in Digc202 where he had an idea for a project that was to…
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For this semester I have been following the development and progress of “360 drone” project in relation to how could drone would gives cost effective and safe time in bridge inspection. I following this project through his website ‘Free look’, ‘THINK Sam’ and his twitter under named Sam Noakes [@samnoakes95]. His project pitch was one […]