In Star Wars, the original trilogy, the ships, gear, and guns all had a no-nonsense gritty, used look.
It was the sort of aesthetic that was sure captivate male sensibilities.
Han Solo’s ship, the Milennium Falcon was no shiny new vessel, it was a beaten up, but functional tin can. Random protuding pipes, cables, electronics with the occasional dent or scorch mark say it all. What guy who’s ever worked on a car or electronics wouldn’t want his own Falcon?:
And lets face it, the ships, military vehicles, artillery depicted in the OT tend to be a uniform unpainted gray. Why would anyone one paint them beyond necessary insignia or identification numbers? The rebels and imperials alike seem to care a whole lot more about going out and winning than making their military hardware look pretty.
One minor character distinguished himself merely by showing up with a beat up old suit of armor dented and scratched with the marks of many battles. As soon as viewers saw this masked man, they knew he must be a badass. Thus this character went on to become a major part of the Star Wars franchise:
Let’s compare now to the aesthetic of the new trilogy. One example should suffice to illustrate my point:
Not only is the ship bedecked in resplendent gold and silver, even its afterburners emit a soft fuschia glow that inpires fear in the enemy as it flies over a tropical blue gem of a planet that brings to mind beaches and drinks served with little umbrellas. Indeed the ship itself resembles some kind of colorful creature we’d be delighted to see while snorkeling in warm, tropical waters.
I will extend our inquiry to another franchise: The Elder Scrolls
The gritty, exotic look of Morrowind:
All around, in this town, we see chipped mud-plaster walls stained dark by years of smoke from lamps and cooking fires. Like Mos Eisley space port, the place feels genuinely lived in. The locals have a rangy, hungry look to them and ragged, slapped together armor and clothing that immediately tells us life around here isn’t easy. The aesthetic successfully drives in the fact we’re in a remote border province on the most visceral level.
Now for the polished and happy look of Oblivion:
To make my point, let’s compare the aesthetic to that of Lisa Frank, a line of notebooks and folders marketed to little girls:
Even as a guy charges at us with a bloodied sword we can’t help but bask in the serene glow of the bright cerulean afternoon and admire the bandit’s improbably spotless suit of elven armor. Truly a museum piece.
Yes, the soft glow and bright colors put us at ease even as he’s trying his best to kill us.
The graphics are technically superior but the aesthetic is inferior; it fails to make us feel the setting of the adventure at the gut level.
After all nothing says adventure for men like savage border outposts, uncharted settlements, nicked unadorned blades with a spotting of rust, sooty fireplaces in taverns, and hastily improvised hyperdrives.