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Critic's Notebook: How 'The Man With the Iron Fists' Proves We No Longer Need 'Star Wars'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire November 2, 2012 at 11:51AM

At a screening hosted by the Museum of the Moving Image Thursday, rapper-turned-filmmaker RZA claimed his first inspiration came not from the martial arts movie but from watching "Star Wars." "I believed there was a galaxy far, far away where I could go," he says. "But instead, I went to Brooklyn."
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Somewhere in between the Pam Grier cameo and the hints of Ennio Morricone references amidst the generally modern soundtrack, I gave up trying to keep track of all winks and nods and instead scribbled "Sukiyaki Badasssss Yojango." If you can pick that apart to figure out the titles within, you might get a sense for the vivid jammed-togetherness that defines "Iron Fists."

Although technically a part of the retroactive grindhouse cinema that Tarantino and his ilk have ushered into theaters in the past decade, "Iron Fists" does reflect a generation reared on the likes of "Star Wars," the ultimate mainstream standard for cinematic fantasy over the past 35 years. The timing is particularly apt, since "Iron Fists" arrives in theaters mere days after Disney announced its instantly historic acquisition of Lucasfilm and the entire "Star Wars" universe along with it. The news arrived with the promise of more "Star Wars" movies before the end of the decade. Suddenly that galaxy isn't so far away anymore.

"Star Wars."
"Star Wars."

The anticipation of yet another chapter in the saga that will not die led many movie lovers (myself included) to immediately pontificate on the best director to helm the next entry. (Maybe they should get RZA on the line.) This type of mogul role playing is amusing, but ultimately irrelevant, because movies like "Iron Fists" prove that "Star Wars" has not only set the bar for fantasy and science fiction films but fueled several generations' worth of enthusiasm for otherworldly narrative storytelling.

When Hollywood gives us franchises that work artistically, the filmmakers inspired to harness the power they receive from being inspired by those works should direct it elsewhere. We no longer need "Star Wars"; we need the people inspired by "Star Wars" to keep thinking about how to use their creativity to innovative ends. Otherwise, better movies will get buried by tentpoles with diminishing returns. That's a old truism audiences tend to accept as an immovable marketplace standard, but there's always room for an enterprising filmmaker to swing back with an iron fist of innovation. The Disney/Lucas news proves that the battle rages on.

This article is related to: Reviews, Critic's Notebook, The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA, Russell Crowe, Pam Grier