Friday, February 9, 2018

For Better or Worse, George Lucas Didn't Have to Answer to Anyone

*Notes: I refer to George Lucas basically creating the first six Star Wars films entirely by himself. Of course, this isn't true as hundreds of people, including other directors and writers, created the films. My main point is that he had total creative control over the series and could change anything he wanted. 
Also, while I posit that it might be better if Lucas had not sold to Disney, overall, I am still optimistic about the future of Star Wars because, as a true fan, I think that more Star Wars is ultimately better than no Star Wars...for now.

“I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.” This was George Lucas’s response to The Force Awakens, and after seeing both that film and The Last Jedi, two things have occurred to me in regards to that quote. One, the new Star Wars films are essentially fan films, made by fans attempting to give the fans what they want. And two, I wish Lucas had never sold Star Wars to Disney.

That quote explains exactly why I have issues with the new movies. They were made in an effort to give the fans what they want. The problem is what fans want isn’t necessarily good for the film, not to mention that Star Wars fans are notoriously divided about what they like in the series. Most of all, fans are meant to wait for new material, not dictate it. This is why George Lucas should have held onto Star Wars. Like it or not, what he made was Star Wars. He told the stories he wanted to tell how he wanted to tell them, and he did not seem to care about fan feedback. Lucas didn’t create perfect films (he obviously agrees with this since he had a habit of going back and altering the original films), but he made the films he wanted to make.

It feels like Disney is just placating fans, and plenty of people seem fine with it. But I’m disappointed. My biggest problem (which is likely never to be fixed) is that these new films do not feel like Star Wars films. Sure, they look and sound like Star Wars movies, but something is missing. I cannot point to anything specific aside from the fact that Lucas is not involved. Without Lucas, these are fan films, and fan films, while at times impressive, are never as good as the real thing. That’s not likely to change, and I’ll have to accept that. But part of me wishes Lucas had never sold to Disney. Part of me wishes the series stopped for good after the prequels. I can’t believe I even partially feel that way, but The Last Jedi has really left me disappointed with this series. Star Wars was still sacred to me before the new films, and now it’s quickly turning into just another bloated franchise.

As I pointed out in my previous articles, I did not think that The Last Jedi took Star Wars in a new direction. I wish it had, but I saw far too many similarities to Empire and Return of the Jedi to consider it a very original entry in the series. I don’t blame writer/director Rian Johnson completely for this. It seems to me that he was also disappointed with The Force Awakens, which is why he dismissed so much of it while also speeding through the inevitable retreads of Empire and Return of the Jedi. For doing this, Disney is giving him his own trilogy, which I look forward to since he won’t be beholden to anyone but himself. This situation is exactly what’s wrong with Disney’s approach to the series.

Lucas had total control over the series. Of course, total control leads to a few issues. Lucas obviously didn’t do everything by himself, but he was the final decision-maker, and he did not have to answer to anyone. That led to Jar Jar Binks and some truly abysmal romantic dialogue, but it also led to some amazing lightsaber action and a totally fulfilling character arc for Obi-Wan Kenobi, among other things. It led to a singular vision for the series. Disney threw that out the window when they decided to hire different directors for each film, but there is hope.

Disney saw something in Rian Johnson, but it seems like they also realized that he messed with the direction of the core films. How else do you explain giving Johnson his own trilogy while also handing Episode IX back to J. J. Abrams? It’s possible that they regret not having Abrams write and direct the entire trilogy. At this point, I wish they had. Sure, it’s likely that Abrams would have continued on the rehash path he started, but at least it would have been consistent. Now that he’s back in charge, we might see the mysteries and plots abandoned by Johnson revisited. If that’s the case, then this is going to end up being a sloppy trilogy. (And that’s how I will refer to it: there’s the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and the sloppy trilogy.)

This is something you never had to worry about with Lucas’s films. If a mystery was set up in the original trilogy, it was explained. And everything you still had questions about was explained in the prequels. The Lucas films may have their inconsistencies, but at least he never set up a bunch of mysteries, and then handed off the next film to someone else.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the story wranglers at Disney obviously did not come up with a master plan for all these writer/directors-for-hire. Lucas took six films to tell the complete story of Darth Vader. Where do you go from there? How do these new films fit into that aside from his children and his grandchild still being around? And if we are moving on from Star Wars being about Skywalkers primarily, then what is the overall story arc for the new trilogy? Does anyone even know?

My biggest concern is Disney. Lucas may have been all about toys and allowing people to create new Star Wars books, games, cartoons, etc. But it was all separate from the core movies. In other words, you could ignore all the side stuff if you wanted, or you could take a deep dive in the expanded universe for more Star Wars. How long before Disney makes it seem like a requirement to play the games, read the books, and watch the cartoons? This already happened on a minor scale with C-3P0’s stupid red arm in Force Awakens. He mentions the arm, but it’s dismissed and never explained...unless you read a comic book that explains it. It’s fine if there are books and whatnot that fill in the blanks between Jedi and Force Awakens, but to point out some stupid little detail in a movie in the hopes of selling a few comic books is distracting, stupid, and troubling. It starts with a red arm, but it might lead to an entire character’s fate being left to some other media you have to buy. Lucas would create extra characters just to make toys of them, sure, but it wasn’t as obvious and/or distracting as the red arm.

The Last Jedi didn’t introduce any red arm nonsense, but by abandoning so many mysteries, it did leave the door open for major story details to be hashed out in other places. Is there going to be a Snoke comic book origin? Will the Knights of Ren be explained in a video game? If so, then fuck Disney. Also, fuck me for being stupid enough to read that comic book and play that videogame. Lucas allowed you to dork out if you wanted to; Disney might be making it a requirement.

Finally, Lucas being a one man show meant something else: there were only so many movies he could make. Since he was unwilling to let other people completely take over new films, he only made one at a time. And he took his time. Each release was special and exciting. Now, we’re looking at a yearly Star Wars movie forever. How long before this turns into Marvel fatigue? Sure, Marvel is chugging along just fine, but personally, I haven’t felt that need to watch the last four or five Marvel movies in the theater because it’s all getting too familiar or convoluted. Can I watch Thor: Ragnarok if I haven’t watched Doctor Strange? It feels like homework. Is this going to happen to Star Wars? I sincerely hope not. But one thing’s for sure, if George Lucas was still in charge, this isn’t something I would have to worry about. There probably would never have been another Star Wars movie if that was the case, but right now that seems better. Too much of a good thing is can be bad. Too much of a mediocre thing is much worse.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

You Have to Kill (and Apparently Copy) the Past to Move on in the "Star Wars" Universe

In my previous article, I went into exhaustive detail about my mostly negative opinion of The Last Jedi. One of those issues concerns Kylo Ren’s line: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” I have no issue with this line from a story standpoint as it works for Kylo Ren’s motivation for many of his actions. I take issue with people pointing to this line as a defense of the plot of the film both on the surface level and on a meta level.

On the surface, the line about killing the past is used to defend the massive death count of the film. From Snoke and Luke Skywalker to nearly the entire Resistance, the reasoning is that things can’t move on until people die.

That is a bit ridiculous. First, since when does it make sense to use a line from an unstable villain as an explanation of an entire plot of a film? Kylo Ren is clearly struggling with his actions and uses this line as an excuse for the evil that he does. He feels trapped by the past and the expectations of people older than him. This is why his parents and his current and past master must die. Now, in his eyes, he can become who he is meant to be. I’m okay with that, but that doesn’t mean it should apply to the story overall. It’s okay for a villain to be wrong.

I don’t think Kylo Ren’s line is what writer/director Rian Johnson had in mind as he killed off so many characters. But defenders of the film would have you believe this. Many defenders think that people hate this movie because Snoke is killed off or because Luke dies. I don’t dislike the movie simply because those characters are dead. In fact, I liked that Snoke was killed off (I just wish his character had been fleshed out before his demise). As for Luke, I suppose I wanted a more memorable death (and I think he should have been the last of the old three to be killed off), but his character’s death is not that big of a deal to me. I don’t get why Force-projecting himself is lethal, but whatever. Maybe it’s a rule about using that skill.

The character deaths that bother me are those of the entire Resistance save about twenty people. The argument here is that just like the Jedi have to be reborn so does the Resistance and, per Kylo Ren, you can’t move on from the past until it’s dead. If that is truly why Johnson decided to kill off nearly the entire Resistance, then that is weak storytelling. I know that the point of the Resistance being decimated is to set up the scene at the end showing that a new generation of Force-users and rebels is on the horizon. That would be fine if this was the end of a trilogy and not the second chapter. Where do we go from here? Do the twenty Resistance members just hang out for a decade while all the new younglings hit puberty? And why is no one faithful to the Resistance, anyway? Sure, a lot of planets were destroyed, but so was the weapon capable of destroying said planets. When the Death Star destroyed a planet in A New Hope, it strengthened the resolve of the rebels. They didn’t give up and go home. Not to mention we’re dealing with a generation of people who saw the Empire destroyed. They know that good can conquer evil. Have they really forgotten so soon, and now we need to wait on the stable children to save the day?

This annoys me because it felt unnecessary for people to need a new event to inspire them to fight evil. There have been plenty. Have we not moved beyond whether or not evil is worth fighting against in this galaxy? I guess not. Fine, but does the Resistance need to be so decimated to prove this? It just seems implausible. The entire Resistance just hangs out together all the time? They don’t have members throughout the galaxy? And I’m not talking about Resistance supporters. I understand that the supporters are the ones who don’t answer the call at the end, leading to the need of a new group of rebels. Once again, fine. But even the old Rebellion didn’t travel all together all the time. There were soldiers and spies working throughout the galaxy. Have they abandoned that game plan? That seems unlikely since it worked for them the last time.

Maybe there are members of the Resistance left throughout the galaxy (how can there not be?), but this film makes it seem like both the entire First Order and the entire Resistance are involved in the chase throughout. And if that wasn’t the case, why didn’t any smaller First Order ships show up to finish the job that the slower main ship could not? And why didn’t any Resistance fighters show up to create a diversion or aid them in any way? As far as this film is concerned, the two groups fighting for control of the entire galaxy are in the same place. Is that the goal of the Resistance? Keep the First Order occupied while the rest of the galaxy minds its own business?

I know this is becoming a copy of my previous post, so I’ll just finish with this before I move on to the meta issue: you can introduce a new generation into the Resistance without destroying it. Also, maybe have the characters care a little bit about nearly everyone they know dying.

Now, onto the more infuriating defense of Kylo Ren’s line. Defenders claim that the killing the past line is in reference to older Star Wars fans unwilling to see the saga go in new directions. This is a weak argument on many levels.

First, where was this defense back when a large portion of the fanbase hated the prequels? The prequels truly took Star Wars in a new direction. There are similarities, of course, but the two trilogies are wildly different in many ways, and I’m not talking about the use of CG vs. practical effects. I understand why people hate the prequels (I loved them), but no one can claim that they just copied the original trilogy. I’ve said many times before that some people hated the prequels because they weren’t enough like the original trilogy. I don’t think that’s a legitimate complaint. What’s infuriating about people invoking that argument with the new films is the fact that they are like the original trilogy!

It’s accepted that The Force Awakens is a rehash of A New Hope, but, for some reason, people seem to think that The Last Jedi is a wholly original creation. It’s true that The Last Jedi is not a retread of The Empire Strikes Back; actually, it’s a retread of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I’m not going to list all of the similarities between Last Jedi and those two original trilogy films, but to prove my point, here are a few. The salt planet is basically Hoth all over again. Snoke is killed much like how Vader killed the Emperor. Rey thinks she can save Kylo Ren just like Luke thought he could save Vader. Luke is now Yoda. Rey abandons her training too early just like Luke did in Empire. There are many more, but I think those major plot points and sequences are evidence enough that The Last Jedi borrows heavily from the original films. So how can you say this film is killing the past when it is copying it? Maybe you have to “copy the past to kill it.”

I will concede that by lumping in plot elements from Return of the Jedi, The Last Jedi has moved on from the original trilogy. In that way, yes the past is dead. But that’s something I’m looking forward to. My least favorite element of the new films is that they have not gone in a new direction. Now they can. I think that some other characters could have survived to go on the journey, but whatever. We’re moving on, and that’s what I want. People who think fans hate this film because it’s too different from the original trilogy are blind to the fact that it is not different from the old films, and they don’t realize that many fans don’t want to see remakes of the original trilogy. It’s dismissive of actual critiques of the film. To hate this film, according to defenders, is to hate change. That is not the case.

The meta argument is mainly annoying because fans use it to claim that this film has broken new ground in the Star Wars universe. New powers have been revealed. The big bad villain is dead already. Random stable kids can be Jedi. The Jedi don’t have to follow the old rules, etc. But that is simply not the case with this film. There are new powers on display here, but force projecting and surviving exposure in outer space does not upend the Force as a whole. And the claim that only certain families can produce Force users was never a rule of the old movies. It’s made very clear that the Force is within everyone, but some people, the Jedi and Sith, are able to harness that power. Nothing was stated about particular bloodlines being the only ones to do this.

This brings to mind two other lines in the film used often to defend it: “This is not going to go the way you think” and “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” A very changed Luke Skywalker says this. It’s important to defenders of the film that Luke says these lines because people who love this film seem to think people hate it largely because of how Luke was presented. They claim that fans hate the film because it subverted their expectations of what Star Wars is supposed to be. Kevin Smith recently singled out the treatment of Luke as an example of why fans hate it. The argument is that people who hate this film hate it because it wasn’t what they were expecting. This is pure bullshit, at least for me. I don’t think it’s in keeping with Luke’s character for him to be where he is in this film, but I could accept it. And as far as subverting expectations, as I’ve stated earlier, this film recreated multiple elements from both the prequels and original trilogy, but for some reason people are ignoring that and claiming it is subverting the tropes of Star Wars. Wow, people cannot accept the possibility that some fans hate this movie because they found flaws in the storytelling (and also, in my case, the action). According to fans of the film, the movie isn’t flawed; the fans just can’t accept it.

Once again, I’ll bring up the prequels. When people trash those films (I imagine many who trashed them are the ones defending this film so ardently), the argument can be made that they didn’t like them because they subverted expectations, but no one makes that argument. At least, they didn’t make it as loudly as fans are now. (Of course, who knows what reaction to the prequels would have been like if the internet was like it is now back then.) This is annoying since the prequels actually did subvert expectations. But they also used a lot of CG, introduced concepts people hated (midichlorians), featured some bad dialogue (“Sand…”), and introduced annoying characters (do I even need to name a certain Gungan here?), among other gripes. But it’s okay to hate those films, because those are flaws. Fine. I disagree. Despite some of the flaws in the prequels, I still love those movies for the other elements that I thought were amazing (Obi Wan, the action, the world building, the moments that tie in directly to the original trilogy, etc.). But I understand that some people can hate them. I’ll write an occasional article defending the films, but I try not to dismiss fan hatred completely by saying, “Oh, it didn’t meet your expectations.” People who hate the prequels, and people who hate The Last Jedi, have more reasons than that for their hatred. Why can’t people accept that? And if you love the supposed subverting of expectations in this film so much that you ignore any flaws, why couldn’t you approach the prequels in the same way? Why do the flaws of that film outshine the new places the series went? Even if this movie did go in new places (which I it doesn’t, not that much anyway), that doesn’t excuse the other issues.

It just doesn’t make sense to me why people are bending over backwards to love this film while they were so quick to hate the prequels. Is it really all just about George Lucas? Does CG bother people that much? I’ll delve into this in much more detail in my final article, which will be about George Lucas. But I’ll just state here that the prequels had their faults. I rewatched them recently and cringed many times. But they also had some of my favorite moments in the entire saga. The action alone makes them worth watching, but more than anything they still felt like Star Wars to me. Sure, it was a vastly different Star Wars, but it felt right nonetheless. With The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I felt like I was watching fan films with huge budgets, which is what some people want. I thought it might have been what I wanted, but so far, it’s not.

Before this becomes even more of a rant, I’ll finish with this. I wish the people defending this movie were right, and that it was a bold new step in the saga. But it isn’t. Introducing a few new powers doesn’t rewrite the rules of the Force. Something tells me there are still going to be lightsabers and Force pushes and whatnot next time around. So there’s not going to be a new school or Temple in the next film? Fine. No one ever said that was needed. Plus, Rey still took the old Jedi texts, so she obviously doesn’t plan on doing things much differently than the old Jedi. So maybe they won’t call themselves Jedi, and maybe they won’t play by the same rules. Once again, the original trilogy did that already. Luke was too old to start training and there damn sure wasn’t a Temple. You can like or even love The Last Jedi, but don’t claim that you do because it’s something wholly new in the saga. It has elements that are new, but overall, this is still far too similar to the original trilogy. We’ll have to wait for Episode IX to see if they truly want to take Star Wars somewhere new. As for now, it all looked very familiar to me, no matter what the characters say on any level.