Star Wars vs Avatar

2010-03-15 15:40
Ilan Preskovsky

James Cameron’s Avatar has garnered more than its fair share of attention since its release in December 2009. In no short time, it has taken the major award ceremonies by storm, developed a sizable fan-base and became the highest grossing film of all time. Add all that to its sci-fi/ fantasy setting, classically simple storyline ("Pocahontas in space", indeed) and groundbreaking special effects and it isn’t that hard to understand why it has been called "this generation’s Star Wars".

Me, I don’t buy it.

Putting aside the fact that calling anything "this generation’s Star Wars" is about as unlikely a claim as calling the latest teenybopper band "this generation’s Beatles" - I simply don’t see Avatar having Star Wars’ longevity. They may share some seriously clunky dialogue but Star Wars wisely takes itself a lot less seriously, is more tightly plotted and, most importantly, has a host of far more memorable characters. Only Avatar’s staunchest, most unyieldingly fanatical of fanboys would dare to suggest that Avatar’s characters have anything on the iconic personalities that people the Star Wars universe. Avatar doesn’t boast so much as an Obi-Wan Kenobi, let alone a Darth Vader or Han Solo.

Of course, Avatar should have Star Wars beat on a purely technical level and, it does. Between the vivid, painterly alien landscapes and the shockingly expressive and life-like motion-capture techniques used to bring the computer-generated characters to life, Avatar is a sumptuous, visual feast on every level. Add to that the latest in 3D technology and it should surely offer an immersive experience the like of which cinemagoers could only previously have dreamed of. Astonishingly enough, it doesn’t. Not even close.

For all of the leaps and bounds that Avatar made in creating technology specifically designed to bridge the gap between the creator’s imagination and what can actually be shown on screen, Star Wars still did a better job at drawing the viewer into the universe that Lucas created. Most brilliantly, it did it with nothing more than the following simple phrase: Episode 4: A New Hope. With those words, Lucas throws the viewer smack into the middle of something; the middle of a story, the middle of a saga, the middle of a fully formed universe. Playing like the latest installment in an old adventure serial, Star Wars may have told a fully understandable, self-contained story but it did so while constantly hinting towards a far great "universe".

However much has been made of Lucas’ stilted dialogue, through small details like side remarks and a knowing glance, he had the uncanny ability to immerse you fully into his universe. Lucas and a vast array of novelists, comic book writers and video game designers may have expanded on the Star Wars Universe over the years but all of that was built upon tossed off lines of dialogue and background characters that Lucas suffused throughout the original films.

The universe of Star Wars, in short, feels lived in. Avatar, on the other hand, for all of its technical wizardry, still feels like a coldly artificial construct. I may well be in the minority on this but, as far as I’m concerned, Avatar’s greatest failure is that I never managed to shake the artifice of what was happening on screen. I was kept so far out of this world, in fact, that I had to constantly remind myself that the main character was supposed to be interacting with an actual alien planet rather than a computer-generated virtual reality program.

In stark contrast to Star Wars, Avatar relies so heavily on the effects that it neglects entirely to draw the viewer into the world through the heart and soul of all filmmaking: honest to goodness storytelling. Contrast the way everything in Pandora is painstakingly laid out through the most expeditionary of dialogue to the tantalising hints, vague gestures and background details that Lucas employed to breathe life into his creation.

Since debuting in 1977, Star Wars has consistently, through every medium imaginable, had its story and its universe expanded upon, often with little more than the most tangential of ties to what occurred in the main stories of the films themselves. Will Avatar ever be able to match this? Time, I think, will prove that it very emphatically cannot.

Comments

  • Mauritz - 2010-03-16 03:41

    The times we live in also changed, children are so desensitized with the amount of good special effects and quantity of movies aimed at re-creating the "Star Wars" phenomenon(read money). 10 year olds need to be wowed with something really spectacular to make an impression, or maybe this art form is just starting to see the beginning of its end...

  • WeZo - 2010-03-16 08:21

    Avatar isnt as creative as Star Wars!! loved the movie tho, but u cant compare the two. Star Wars wins even if its old enuf to be Avatars grandfather!

  • Rickus - 2010-03-16 08:38

    Ilan I completely agree. Avatar was great but lacked a real intriguing and moving plot. Its much more fun watching Star Wars than Avatar...

  • CTheB - 2010-03-16 10:09

    While I agree that Avatar is not the new Star Wars (even the 3 prequel episodes aren't the new Star Wars. Or the old Star Wars, for that matter, they're simply a travesty), you're using something that isn't actually true - when the first Star Wars movie came out it was not episode 4 or A New Hope. It was simply Star Wars. The bits about being episode 4 and the name, A New Hope, were added later by Lucas.

  • Strider - 2010-03-16 13:06

    In this debate, although I did enjoy Avatar, SW will have to win. But in my opinion they all fall short of Lord of the Rings. By far. Enormously epic, technically a powerhouse, emotionally riviting...there's just nothing that gets even close. The Avatar blue people creators would've done well to have a chat to the Gollumn creators about how to put proper emotion on an animated face.

  • Ilan Preskovsky - 2010-03-16 13:27

    Sorry, CTheB, you're wrong. You're right that it was originally simply called Star Wars but in the opening scrawl, it clearly states Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. That's what I was referring to. And Mauritz, you're right, I don't think Special Effects are going to have the impact on today's kids that they did for past generations. Ultimately, if they're going to be wowed by something it would be the stories themselves and with top notch films still being produced by the likes of Pixar, I don't see it as being the end of anything.

  • Pablolima - 2010-03-16 16:38

    Sorry IIan but CTheB is right,please see an offical quote from George Lucas about the opening title: "Though the first film in the series was simply titled Star Wars, it later had the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope added later to distinguish it from its sequels and prequels." So when people first saw it in 1977 it was just Star Wars,but when they re-released it in 1997 just before the prequels were due out, they added the "Episode IV" part. Btw I think Avatar is the "An Inconvenient Truth" in 3D! Really boring and way too preachy!

  • Ilan Preskovsky - 2010-03-17 13:03

    Well, Pablomina and CTheB, it would seem that you are almost entirely right. My bad. In my defence though, until the 1997 re-release, I had only seen the video versions of the Original Trilogy, which means that I have never seen a version of Star Wars without the "Episode IV" subtitle. I did some research and apparently, while it is absolutely true that the original 1977 theatrical release of Star Wars didn't have the subtitle, "Episode IV: A New Hope" was added as early as the early 80s when the film was re-released to coincide with The Empire Strikes Back where it has remained ever since. Apparently Lucas couldn't resist tinkering with Star wars even way back then though, though seeing as how I got all this off the Net, it may well be complete hogwash.

  • Tra - 2010-05-23 08:34

    NAW MY DUDE. YOU OBVIOUSLY DIDNT GET THE SCIENTIFIC MESSAGE IN AVATAR. THAT JAMES CAMERONS FILM IS BASED ON FACTS BY SCIENTIST. A ASSUMPTION THAT PANDORA, THE PLANET, WAS SUPPOSE TO BE US. BUT OUR MOON MOVED AWAY, OR MAYBE THE BIG ASS METEOR THAT WIPED EVERYTHING OUT. DO YOU UNDERSTAN THAT PANDORA IS THE "OLDER AND MATURE" EARTH WE COULDVE BEEN? AND THE SPIRITUAL MESSAGE IN AVATAR IS STRESSED HIGHLY. THAT EVERYTHING IS ONE, AND THE PLANTS MAKE EVERYTHING POSSIBLE. THE CIRCLE OF LIFE. BRO. DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU TALK SHYT. JAMES CAMERON WAITED 13 YEARS TO RIGHT AVATAR BECAUSE HE "KNEW THE TECHNOLOGY" THAT HE NEEDED. PEACE

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