7 Reasons Star Wars Is Dead (And We The Fans Killed It)
Yes, Star Wars is dead. Power down the lightsabers, switch off the breathing apparatuses, because the Star Wars that exists now is the Ewok-Empire battle of its own story. How did this happen? Friends, fellow geeks, our beloved franchise is lost. And as Jerry Holkins of Penny-Arcade once said, “This proud thing was being dismantled right in front of [Gabe’s] eyes, and the process was subsidized by the faithful.”
1) When It Comes to Star Wars We Eat It Up
To find out how you killed Star Wars, take a clicky and check out this video:
If your R2 unit’s restraining bolt stops it from playing video, here’s the gist: it’s a parody of the infamous “10 Hours of Walking in NY” video, but the streets are populated by people in Star Wars costumes with audio from the movies replacing actual fly-by misogyny. If you’re wondering what the punchline is, well, there isn’t one. There is no joke, no point being made. It’s simply something you know mashed together with something you love.
That video was on Youtube’s front page.
There can’t be more than twenty or thirty cultural Star Wars memes scraped off the surface of George Lucas’s original trilogy (more on him in a parsec), from Princess Leia’s space-doughnut hairdo to Darth Vader’s asthmatic breathing. But pop culture throws these at us again and again, artlessly. And our response to any Star Wars reference is almost Pavlovian. We’ve come to ask little to nothing of popular entertainment invoking Star Wars, as long as they’re affirming that thing we like.
2) We’ve Chosen To Forget Every Star Wars Disappointment Of The Last 15 Years
If you’re of at least Millennial age (any chance Han Solo’s beloved smuggling vessel didn’t play into that generational moniker?) then chances are good you remember the excitement before the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, came out. Expectations were, put mildly, high. The Special Edition had just had its theatrical run, and people were too excited about seeing Star Wars in theaters again to be too concerned about any of its story changes.
Well, The Phantom Menace came out, and by the Force did we try our hardest to like it. We tried so hard you guys. Check out Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in 2002, and the would-be Jedi busy showering that trash with their love by acting out scenes from it in front of the theater before Episode II.
And for all that, Attack of the Clones was somehow even worse. But what happened when Episode III rolled around? Another giant-ass crowd of faithful geeks. Over and over, for as long as many Star Wars fans have now been alive, our favorite space opera franchise has served us slop not fit for a dianoga in a Death Star-sized trash compactor, and we’ve lapped it up. Bad prequels, bad cartoons, and bad story retcons – if it weren’t for Genndy Tartakovski’s (of Dexter and Powerpuff Girls fame) award-winning Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries, there’d be literally nothing of creative merit we could point to to justify our ongoing devotion.
3) We Rubber-Stamped the Prequels When It Was Our Job To Reject Them
In the infamous Highlander 2: The Quickening, history’s most successful Scottish serial killers turned out to be aliens reincarnated in human form, and they now battled an evil corporation in a dystopian future where a sun shield blocked fatal solar radiation. In other words, it was Star Wars Holiday Special levels of left-field.
The movie made money but was vehemently rejected by fans, so producers scrambled to white-out their mistake by forgetting it happened in their next sequel. They understood something which apparently has since escaped both George Lucas and us: that once that first film had been released for public consumption, it was fans, not filmmakers, who were the final arbiters of canon.
Anyone who wants to tell me that the Star Wars prequels were less ludicrous sequels than The Quickening may as well try beating a Wookiee at space chess. Every faction from the Trade Federation to the Senate were amorphous blobs with such clumsy plans you’d think we were watching Twitch Plays Star Wars. And the “characters” are only slightly more fleshed-out than the CGI droids – can anyone forget Red Letter Media’s classic takedown of the bland characterization in The Phantom Menace? In all, it was like being promised a lightsaber, but being handed a melting popsicle stick. And being jabbed in the eye with it. So if we wanted to turn away from this attempt at expanding the series, as Highlander fans did, we had more than enough justification.
Not convinced that fans can reject bad canon? Here’s another example: Bram Stoker’s estate, in the recent past, produced a sequel to Dracula titled Dracula: the Un-Dead, written by…a direct-to-DVD horror screenwriter and Stoker’s great grand nephew, who was a track-and-field coach. Like the Star Wars prequels, its story directly contradicted its classic forebear. Do you think this sequel deserves equal space on your bookshelf? It has every legal stamp needed to qualify it as being just as much a part of the canon as Stoker’s genre-defining vampire tome.
Leslie S. Klinger, a Dracula scholar (aka a professional fan) was quick to challenge the book’s legitimacy in the Los Angeles Times:
“That’s not to say that ‘The Un-Dead’ (Bram Stoker’s first choice of title for his own novel) is a bad book, just that no author would permit a sequel that baldly claims the original got the story wrong [emphasis mine]. This is no more a sequel than, say, a “sequel” to the Harry Potter books that reveals that not only was Professor Dumbledore secretly behind all the troubles but that he is still alive, while Voldemort, whom we mistakenly thought was evil, is also alive and ready to help.”
Every Jedi wannabe knows that the prequels were pretty free with their contradictions to the originals as well, either explicitly (Obi-Wan runs with R2 for years in Episodes I-III, so the old codger must be having a bout of Alzheimer’s when he fails to recognize the droid in A New Hope) or implicitly (somehow “Skywalker” is not a “Hitler”-level infamous name by the originals).
It was the same story again with the Dickens’ estate’s A Christmas Carol sequel, Mr. Timothy: A Novel. From Art Winslow’s Washington Post review: “…it would be wrong to consider Mr. Timothy a sequel; its intent is not to show how characters turned out but rather, at least in part, to meditate on the question of identity and loss, and redemption as well, drawing on A Christmas Carol for a few founding precepts.”
Legitimacy. This is for something for WE THE AUDIENCE to decide. It’s not just our power, it’s our responsibility.
4) George Lucas Went All Emperor On Us…And We Let Him
Imagine a friend gives you a painting. They paint it, they give it to you, and it just resonates right away, it just really touches your heart. And you thank him and you put it on your wall, and you have it there to look at during hard times and good times, and every time you see that painting it makes you feel right, for twenty years. Suddenly, your painter friend shows up, and he starts “touching up” the painting – messing with a hill here, a face there. Soon the painting is becoming something altogether different, and you tell your friend, “Stop! You’re ruining it!” And this painter heaves an irritated sigh and says, “Look, I’m sorry you saw an unfinished painting and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.”
I don’t know about you, but if it were me I’d say, “Get the fuck out of my house, George Lucas!”
If George Lucas wasn’t, on some level, writing about his own empire-building self when he penned Senator Palpatine’s rise to power in the Star Wars sequels, I must be in a parallel universe where everything’s reversed. And since Carrie Fischer’s not a movie star and the fourth Indiana Jones movie didn’t win an Oscar, I’m guessing I’m still in the shitty real world.
Does George Lucas derive his power from a huge collection of folks with lots to say but little power (the Senate/the fans)? Yes. Is he wiping away all evidence of a history he wants forgotten (Jedi/original version of the original trilogy)? Si.
Despite decades of love being showered on Star Wars by millions of fans, its creator continues to jealously guard his films like a spoiled kid who is loathe to let others play with his ball. In fact, now that Lucas refuses to release the original version of his Star Wars trilogy, it is much worse. He is like the principal of a school who won’t let anyone see a locally-famous game ball that the whole team signed that year, because the school owns the ball and I don’t have to display it! We don’t want the original Star Wars to be released, we need it to be. But sequestered in his comfy Skywalker Ranch, it must be difficult for Lucas to hear the cries of the people who built his Empire.
Worse, George has become a giant hypocrite. In the 80s, Ted Turner was out to colorize a mess of classic Hollywood films. It was obvious to anyone the prospect was going to net ol’ Ted buckets of cash; the question on film lovers’ minds was, should he be doing it? A squadron of Hollywood’s most influential voices was (I’m assumed) air-lifted into Washington, where they leapt from their plane and landed impressively by parachute in the middle of Congress (again, I may be embellishing a little). Many of them spoke in favor of preserving these classic films, but perhaps none so eloquently as that young rebel…George Lucas.
“American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history. People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.
“…Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.”
What happened to that guy? Because whoever this guy is has been doing all those exact things. For Anakin Skywalker’s ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi, Lucas replaced Sebastian Shaw’s paternal mug with Hayden Christensen’s fresher face. When the National Film Registry came knocking looking to preserve the 1977 Star Wars film for posterity, Lucas flatly refused. In fact, Lucas non-chalantly taped over the original negatives.
(Pic via Penny Arcade)
And to really put the icing on the cake, it’s fans using preserved prints of the film to reconstruct the original movies out of such countries as former Eastern Bloc nation, the Czech Republic. Will the real George Lucas please stand up?
5) We Keep Pretending Something’s Changed
Why do we geeks insist on lining up for each Star Wars train wreck with a Yoda plushy in our hands and a flicker of hope in our hearts? This has all the marks of an abusive relationship. The same conversation has preceded every Star Wars project since Episode I – “THIS time it will be good. THIS time Star Wars won’t hurt me.” As your friend and fellow geek, I am telling you: Wake up and smell the Bantha poodoo, sister, because HE IS NEVER GOING TO CHANGE.
And for those of you approaching this new Star Wars flick with the hopeful idea that George Lucas’s hands are not on it, you might want to pull back on that optimism. Mr. Lucas is a “creative consultant” on The Force Awakens. The series is roughly where Lucas had hoped it would be by now; Mark Hamill mentioned in an interview in the 80s that Lucas planned to have sequel movies with Skywalker “passing the torch” “around 2011.” Most pressingly, however, he has considerable pull. Following his sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, Lucas has become the second largest shareholder of Disney stock.
So George Lucas is still involved, but other creative voices may still get the old lightsaber humming, right? Wrong. Star Wars needs an injection of daring creative direction, and we know we won’t get it with this new trilogy. If anything, we’re witnessing a creative retreat. Stunned by the critical failures of the prequels but obviously impressed by each film’s galaxy-sized box office, Disney has charted the safest possible course. The Millennium Falcon! Stormtroopers! Han, Luke, and Leia! They can’t wait to distance themselves from the mind-numbingly boring worldbuilding of Lucas’s prequels. Instead, they’ll replay his greatest hits. It’s another attack of the clones, just a different kind of clone. At least Lucas had the creative honesty to attempt a substantial expansion of the narrative. The only original notion we can expect from The Franchise Awakens are cheeky references to the originals.
What’s the over/under on Han delivering some variation of the line “too bad you don’t still have that metal bikini” to an eye-rolling Leia?
6) We’ve Accepted That Disney Has More Claim To Star Wars Than Us
Even director JJ Abrams holds no surprises for us. We have already seen how he rehashes the high notes of a beloved franchise and clumps them together. Consider: did Abram’s bloom-heavy shout-a-thon give you any new insights to the characters? The Star Trek movies did not revisit with us the soul-ripping humanity that, beyond the cheap sets and cheesy effects, made Star Trek matter. Through cheap references to common Star Trek memes like Tribbles and the Khan scream, it told us about those stories, secondhand, like cave paintings telling us about the great hunt.
And if you think Abrams plans to do something more substantial with Star Wars, I can’t see it, because isn’t that formula exactly why Disney hired him?
Disney is a company, and an uncommonly ruthless one at that, in a period of aggressive expansion. They don’t care about creating a powerful, daring story, and they certainly don’t care about fans (“You mean those people who buy our merch no matter what?” Cue evil laughter)
A strong clue to the attitude the House of Mouse has toward us was their first major move upon acquiring Star Wars: the “retiring” of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Decades of beloved stories in the form of dozens of novels, comic books, and games, each with more love poured into it than any of Lucas’s prequels. And yet, rather than uphold the expansion of Star Wars canon the fans actually like, Disney is throwing that treasured narrative into the garbage. To make room for the prequels.
Tell me how much better, how much more faithfully, Disney’s cinematic effort can be expected to service the fans than the prequels did, when the Star Wars expansion fans actually loved has been cleared like rainforest? Hell, these materials are what kept Star Wars ALIVE; when comic book writer Tom Veitch was pitching ideas to Lucasfilm, before penning the pivotal graphic novel Star Wars: Dark Empire, his colleagues were telling him “You’re crazy. Star Wars is dead.” Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy not only proved Star Wars could be successful in novel form, he proved they could sell MILLIONS OF COPIES, and likely influenced George Lucas to revisit what he may have thought was a dead brand. But sorry Veitch, Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, Michael A. Stackpole, Dave Wolverton, and many others – your contributions to the New Republic are just not contributing enough to the Empire.
7) We’ve Forgotten How Great Being A Fan Used To Be
There was a time when no-one needed to make excuses for Star Wars, when adding disclaimers whenever you talked about your enthusiasm would have been ridiculous. But now here we are, all “Yeah, I still love Star Wars. The prequels weren’t so great, but..”
When Star Wars hit the scene, it was an incredibly resonant cultural message. It was George Lucas’ love letter to the Flash Gordon serials of his youth. The original Star Wars blockbuster was a revelation in popular film, resuscitating orchestral scoring and WWII-era dogfighting and of course, cutting-edge special effects. The more character-driven The Empire Strikes Back and the climactic Return of the Jedi both added whole wings to the house Star Wars built, and it’s safe to say the Star Wars phenomenon would not be the same without any of them.
Look again at these folks out in front of the Ziegfeld Theater, pretending to swim on the sidewalk. Man, that is love, right there. Do you still feel that love?