Reestablished Grounds – Problems in Soft Reboots

Well, I finally made my promise of weekly posts. 🙂

Welcome back, all! Today we will be taking a step back to a more traditional topic for this blog, which is analysis (of course). This is one topic I have wanted to touch on for a while, and I have a feeling this may be a more controversial one depending on your opinions. I recommend you to keep an open mind as always but to also debate your own points towards mine as well. With that, we will begin.

For today, we will be focusing on a few particular cases of soft reboots. For those of you who do not know what this is, a soft reboot is when a ‘completed’ franchise picks itself back up with a new story that continues its narrative past its previous ending point, often opening up new possibilities, characters, lore, and directions to touch base on. Instead of a true reboot, this may be used to reinvigorate a franchise or pick it off the ground and will have a varied degree of success in doing so. Will you continue to march the flame, or will you change it to a flag?

All of the examples here will be of new heralds coming to give their spin on an established franchise. When constructing a story that continues past the end, an important question to ask is why it should exist. For a story such as Star Wars, is there any reason to potentially rob viewers of a happy ending after Return of the Jedi? Is there any reason why a new conflict would erupt, and will it have strong connections to previous events to push the story past them in a logical way? And for new heralds to a franchise: Can you make something worthy, respectable, and fresh for a franchise and stays within its bubble of tone, art style, and previous story development?

What would happen if a movie like The Force Awakens had an entirely new cast of characters against an entirely new enemy? What if the state of the galaxy post-Return of the Jedi was acknowledged, but nothing else was? Would you feel invested to know that you’re watching a movie happened to be set in the Star Wars mythos, but isn’t a sequel to anything you have experienced?

star-wars-the-force-awakens-2015-after-credits-hq

While I apologize for the barrage of questions, it is important to ask them. It can be a disastrous, inconsequential, or brilliant thing to have a soft reboot, and you can probably guess what the first example is by the image above.

Yes, The Force Awakens was produced by Lucasfilm, yet the amount of new influence put on this film leads it to be a soft reboot with the pressure of igniting a new generation of Star Wars. The expanded universe was done away with, throwing out years upon years of peripheral media that fans have put countless hours into. While this is not an issue for the casual movie-goer, does this movie justify such a measure? We will not be looking to criticize The Force Awakens here, but instead look as if it does its job of a soft reboot well. (And for the record, I do like this film. My opinions are a bit lower than the general consensus, but that is another post for another time)

As a way to make a judgement of the film, we will be looking at the questions I asked before and answering them to the best of my ability.

Firstly, the film does not rob the happy ending from the previous film. It made sense that the Empire was not single-handedly crushed after Endor and that there would still need to be plenty of work done before they would topple over. It is important to acknowledge that The Force Awakens does not truly act as a sequel to Return of the Jedi in a traditional sense, but instead picks up many years later when a new (yet very familiar) threat comes from the shadows. As this film is constructed as a way to continue Star Wars and also heavily cherish its past, it succeeds in this aspect with flying colours. The past repeats in a grander way, yet what makes this film stand out in comparison to the original film is that it was constructed as the first act of a larger trilogy: a larger story.

While the movie is completely deprived of background details and lore that would make it far more cohesive and connected to its predecessors, the movie is Star Wars. It looks the part, feels the part, and resonates in ways that recapture some of the magic of the original films. It respects them, perhaps a bit too much for its own good. The new characters are in the spotlight, yet they are just as endearing as the old. While many of the returning characters only appear for fan-service, (minus Han Solo and arguably Luke Skywalker, whose presence is very much important to the film’s plot) they are respected in feel like old friends being reunited with the viewer.

While the argument of whether or not The Force Awakens should have resembled A New Hope (and The Empire Strikes Back to a lesser extent) lies in the background, it cannot be argued that it is a strong soft reboot for someone who wants to watch more Star Wars. Whether or not the more devoted fans of the franchise will be pleased with a sound movie with a shallow mythology in its connection to the rest of the universe is up in the air, and the next two films in this new trilogy may change the outlook on this film’s story in significant ways.

On the other side, we have Halo 4. I wanted to refrain from using Halo again, but it is quite a different example in soft rebooting from The Force Awakens, and it would be a missed opportunity for myself to not use it.

Unlike The Force Awakens, Halo 4 takes the Halo franchise in a bold new direction. This is a point where 343 Industries had to take the realms of the franchise from Bungie and cement their place as the developer of the franchise for the foreseeable future. They changed Halo’s art style, tone (to an extent), and removed much of the comic nature present in the earlier games. It is also reveled in lore, taking the story a lot more seriously than previous games had in relation to the larger universe. How does it stack up to Bungie’s work?

And no, I will not bash The Force Awakens and compliment Halo 4. This will be an honest look at Halo 4, and comparison between the two will make sense due to how polar the style of soft rebooting is here.

To set the tone of polarity between old Halo and new Halo, I have provided two examples of Forerunner architecture above. On the left is Halo 3, and Halo 4 is on the right. Like before, we will also be taking a look at the initial questions I posed.

In Halo 4, the story is taken into a logical step past its end. Questions are answered, such as: What happened to the Master Chief and Cortana? What will happen next with the legacy of the Forerunners? What state is the galaxy in now that humanity and the Covenant are no longer at war? All are threads left off from Halo 3, which are utilized here in order to continue a narrative. These all connect Bungie’s trilogy and the first entry by 343 Industries, yet there is a departure from what is familiar to the player as well. The art style has been cleaned and altered in almost all aspects, and sound design has changed heavily as well. Electronic elements are introduced into Halo’s music, and much of the ethereal Gregorian chants have been done away with. Sounds that have remained consistent throughout the entire series have suddenly changed, which may turn some off from the new Halo.

In terms of characters, the core duo of the Master Chief and Cortana are present, and strengthened as the writers are comfortable with expanding these characters and pushing them into much more emotional and uncomfortable places than before. The rest of the cast goes to support their development and characterization, propelling a plot that ultimately revolves around the dynamic of their duo. Halo 4 does push Halo into new territory that it has never gone to before, yet such boldness will not have everyone agreeing as I mentioned before. The amount of expanded lore in this game is astounding compared to previous entries, which is an unfamiliar aspect for previous fans of Halo who are not versed in the expanded fiction but care about its story anyways. While the question of “why not just read the books” comes across, it is true that a story should be able to stand on its own without any peripheral fiction involved. While this is more of a problem pertaining to Halo 5: Guardians, it still exists within Halo 4 as well.

Halo 4 is an overall strong soft reboot as well, but it acts as an evolution rather than a defining act of reigniting passion towards it. It is bold, yet it stands on its own merits to create something unique. It may lose some due to how alien it may seem, yet it is Halo to its core. The question remains if it is Bungie Halo to its core.

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And with this, today’s blog post comes to a close. There are many more franchise soft reboots out there, I feel as if these two showcase many ways in which they can be, for better or for worse. Many other examples exist, which include Jurassic World or Gears of War 4. (The latter of which I considered until I realized how similar of a soft reboot it is to The Force Awakens) Some may be good, some may be bad, or some may just be regurgitation. Whatever the case, they will continue to exist long into the future and most likely dominate entertainment as artists become more and more afraid to make new content.

And to not end on a depressing note, I would just like to add that my plans for this blog in December are still very much a secret, and I also still very much want them to happen. I do hope that this month will be a great change of pace for this blog. Of course, I also hope that you enjoyed today’s offering.

Until next time.

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