The Gollancz Blog is delighted to welcome Gavin G. Smith back to the blog. As you can see from the title of this post, Gavin is about to explain to you why he belives Jupiter Ascending is better than Star Wars.
So now that I have your attention… I enjoy baiting Star Wars fans. Part of it is their oh-so earnest fervour; part of it is I enjoy being booed at conventions; (it makes me feel like Dr. Doom, you know, the Marvel villain that Lucas completely ripped off to make Vader). This is what I really think of Star Wars however: for a short period of time as a kid I was quite into Star Wars. I saw all of the original trilogy at the cinema. (I was three or four when I saw Star Wars. I’m not sure who was the most confused: my grandfather or me.) Between Empire and Jedi I had some of the toys, read the books, wore out a VHS copy of Star Wars taped off the telly, and borrowed the comics to read. (My comic money went on 2000AD. I still frequently re-read those stories.)
I think that Star Wars is very important film, not just for genre, but also for cinema as a whole. Along with Rocky and Jaws it was responsible for pulling people back into the cinema at a time when audiences were falling and cinemas were being closed down. Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before, and, for better or worse, it was instrumental in the birth of the summer blockbuster. It’s also not very good.
Calm down. Can we look past the narrow view offered by the goggles of our speeder bike pilot costumes and fannish enthusiasm for a moment? With the exception of James Earl Jones and a few supporting characters, (Peter Cushing!) the acting’s not up to much, the story is full of holes, the Force is one of the most ridiculous deus ex machina’s in SFF history, and the dialogue makes me want to weep rage filled tears of bloody urine. That’s before we even start to look at how morally ambiguous the ‘heroes’ are, the debt owed to EE Doc Smith, and all the fucking teddy bears.
But that doesn’t matter. I ‘know’ that Citizen Kane is a better film than Escape From New York. It’ll still be old Snake I’m watching over a few beers with my friends after a long week. If you like a film who cares what other people think?
So then there’s Jupiter Ascending. Which I like. Many don’t. So why do I care what they think, and why on-Earth would I set it up for a celebrity death match with the juggernaut of all SFF? Oddly it’s not just because I enjoy drinking the tears of Ewok-loving Ed Cox
The Wachowski siblings are auteur filmmakers. Since the success of the Matrix they have been pretty much allowed to do what they want. This has led to some pretty interesting films, a number of which have been flops (though they did get a pretty credible adaption of V for Vendetta made). It also leads to self-indulgence.
There are problems with Jupiter Ascending, there’s no doubt about it. There are gaps in the narrative, but we’re an intelligent audience, we can work out that Aegis is a law enforcement organisation made ineffectual by a ridiculous bureaucracy, which in turn plays into the hands of an aristocratic, 1%, oligarchy. Mila Kunis’ character isn’t so much weak as just a bit dense and does things that don’t make a lot of sense. That said she’s overwhelmed and the character has more in common with Sarah Connor in the first Terminator movie, than she does with Bella in Twilight. I also get the feeling that Jupiter is on a longer character arc than just the one film. Basically the film needed another 30-40 minutes setting up world and story, and character motivation needed to be a lot tighter. Not ideal but not the end of the world.
So why all the hate? The film makes a lot more sense than Pacific Rim did, and everyone seemed to love that film, it certainly didn’t get the flack that JA did. Even Interstellar didn’t get that much shit and that’s 40 minutes of being hit in the face with stupid. (Apparently Interstellar is longer than 40 minutes but that’s how long I lasted before leaving the cinema to go and chew on the tires of my car.)
Guardians of the Galaxy? Now I enjoyed that film but is Marvel really trying? This time the plot MacGuffin is Infinity Stone purple! Not Tesseract blue! Or Aether red! But purple! It’s how we know the difference, see? (Yes I know there’s six Infinity Stones, I read comics as well, but still.) And you want to talk about the agency of a female character? Gamora? She’s set up as a shit-hot assassin, the adopted daughter of one of the MU’s biggest bad asses, and she needs to be rescued by/plays second fiddle to Starlord, who, whilst amusing, is basically just some-guy.
I could go on, point out other fan-favorite films that have massive issues, everybody reading this could do the same, genre audiences are good at that sort of thing because they are very media savvy. What I’m saying is that JA seems to be getting judged by a vastly different, and far more unfair criteria than say Guardians of the Galaxy, and I can’t really work out why.
So anyway back to my initial point. Jupiter Ascending is the better film: Star Wars is no longer SF, if it ever was. It’s nostalgia. Which isn’t a problem in itself but often its unthinking, uncritical nostalgia, and frankly that gets in the way. Too many people, particularly genre fans, look up to Star Wars as the be all and end all of space opera, and along with Star Trek we’re really struggling to get past that in the cinema. So we get Guardians of the Galaxy, or Firefly, both of which at their heart are Star Wars clones, I enjoy both but Peter F. Hamilton, Hannu Rajaniemi, Al Reynolds and the sublime Iain M. Banks, amongst others, tell me that there’s more to space opera.
Star Wars should be remembered for what it was: a groundbreaking spectacle that changed everything (despite its shortcomings). The sad tired flogged to death horse corpse being paraded in front of us is an insult to the genre and our intelligence as an audience. It’s undignified.
Jupiter Ascending is a better film, now, because it’s trying, because it’s doing something a bit different. In a Facebook conversation with Adrian Tchaikovsky he said that Jupiter Ascending frustrated him because so much good SF went un-filmed, and he’s right about that, but I think Jupiter Ascending is a step in the right direction. It is a step away from the 35-50 year old franchises that dominate SF film and television.
So perhaps we could be as forgiving to Jupiter Ascending for its shortcomings as we are to Star Wars’? Just a thought, because when I watched the Wachowskis’ film I felt a sense of wonder not unlike the one I felt the first time I saw a speeder bike race. You might feel the same way as well, if you let yourself.
What do you think? Have you seen Jupiter Ascending? Do you agree or disagree with Gavin? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet us @Gollancz.
You can find out more about Gavin G. Smith by visiting his website or followig him on Twitter. Gavin is the author of Veteran, War in Heaven, Crysis: Escalation and The Age of Scorpio. His new book A Quantum Mythology will be available in bookshops and online on the 26th March.