Friday, 18 May 2018

Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008's Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi - for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney's annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise's long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It's hard to say that that doesn't dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise's popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception - Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don't participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can't find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I'm not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).


I've been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I'm seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn't get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?
I feel like the answer to this has to be Youtube, right? I mean, where else is this common narrative that there's a single architect who is destroying Star Wars from the inside going to be originating from? Just look at the most popular results that show up when you search her name on Youtube:


It's either news, or overwhelmingly negative. Kathleen Kennedy is pushing a PC/SJW agenda. Kathleen Kennedy needs to go. Kathleen Kennedy is destroying Star Wars. On and on and on. I checked the Star Wars Reddit, which also tends to be a bastion for negative sentiments like this that could brew up, but it seemed pretty quiet on the Kennedy front and was actually less fractured than I was expecting on the whole. Obviously, I can't prove that Youtube is the big influencer when it comes to the brewing anti-Kathleen Kennedy sentiment, but it seems incredibly likely. There are other sources as well of course, such as clickbait news sites (including this one which calls for Kennedy's firing and says that Star Wars is in trouble because of a 71% tomatometer for Solo*, and claims that every Star Wars film Disney has made has gotten progressively worse, which is demonstrably false if you look at the audience scores, especially when compared to the prequel trilogy). That still leaves a question unanswered though - why does Kathleen Kennedy get all the flack while Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, among other producers of discontented high-profile franchises, get off scott-free? Hell, if you really think that the Star Wars franchise is getting worse with each film, why not rage against Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Force Awakens and Solo: A Star Wars Story? Well, let me lay out my theory...

One of the big complaints about Kennedy and The Last Jedi is that they have been forcing politics into Star Wars, an assertion which is, in my opinion, frankly absurd. I mean, how is The Last Jedi any more political than any other Star Wars film? Decrying rich people, keeping the spark of revolution alive... these are certainly political statements, but they're hardly pointed at any specific modern context, nor is are they more pronounced than what has come before in Star Wars. I mean, if Revenge of the Sith had come out in 2018, these alt-right types would have had an aneurysm.


Similarly, probably the most common complaint against Kathleen Kennedy is that she forces "politics" into Star Wars, and by that the complainants mean that she pushes for diversity in gender, race and sexuality in the franchise. That's right, people are getting all riled up about "social justice warriors" again and it is, quite frankly, sickening. We're well past the point where being staunchly anti-political correctness is an acceptable stance, ever since that mindset gave birth to the alt-right. Hell, it has gotten to a point where anti-PC types are arguably even more annoying than the actual SJW types that they rail against, having falling into this mirror image of the very thing that they oppose so vehemently. So yes, I believe that we're seeing a micro version of the larger social zeitgeist playing out within the Star Wars fandom, with diversity being opposed by those who are calling for a return to the "purity" of what Star Wars should be. That's not to say that there aren't legitimate complaints about the direction of Star Wars outside of a racist/sexist/homophobic angle - there clearly are, but I feel like the more unsavory side of the fandom is co-opting that discontent to draw people to their viewpoint.

Hell, this shouldn't really be considered news: at the time of The Force Awakens, there were people whining about there being a black lead in the film. When they then found out that a woman was the new hero of the franchise, the whining happened again. Similarly, people complained about how Rogue One was being led by a woman again (oh noes!) and that many of the leads weren't white. This anti-diversity bent has been rumbling within the fandom for years now, the only difference is that now these people aren't just being laughed off and shouted down. Now, they seem to be building in steam, which can only really be explained to me as a combination of the resurgence of extremism in society, and the growing sense of discontent within the Star Wars fandom in general. Now we're looking at boycotts for Solo: A Star Wars Story, not because of anything in the film itself, but because alt-right types want to reclaim Star Wars for themselves:
"'Disney continues to shove down their SJW feminazi agenda down our retinas.'
You mean creating characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, meant to empower women is a bad thing? Women holding an equal place within the Star Wars universe is bad? I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.
Gabriel even claims that he’s not sexist.
Um, yes you are. News flash: if you use the term 'feminazi' you’re a sexist."
Now I'm waiting to see what happens when the alt-right gets wind that Lando Calrissian is pansexual.

I don't think George Lucas intentionally made Star Wars a predominantly-white franchise intentionally, it was just the reality of the business at the time and he didn't think to change that up. Kennedy is clearly more aware of this and has the ability to push forth for more equality and so I'd say that it's good that she tries to. Now, she could certainly go too far one way or another, but for now at least the diversity doesn't feel like tokenism, nor are we looking at a "white genocide" by any means (I mean, just look at Solo, which seems poised to become its own white-male-led franchise here under Kathleen Kennedy's rule).

For my own part in all this, I feel like Disney can't mine the legacy of Star Wars forever. When I first heard that Disney was purchasing the franchise, I was hoping that they would be moving beyond the original trilogy and going forwards or backwards in time. Star Wars is a phenomenon and anchoring yourself to existing success only limits the creative expression you can have sooner or later. At some point, they have to push forward and make it their own thing if they want the series to last (and according to their claims, they plan on making them for the next hundred years at least), a reality which is going to alienate some long-time fans. I feel like The Last Jedi did this successfully, especially after the far-too-safe The Force Awakens. I read an article recently where a Star Wars fan basically agreed, saying that the film would have been fine if only Luke didn't die at the end: "The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that Luke died because Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Rian Johnson wanted to make way for the new characters. They didn’t want them to be overshadowed. This isn’t what Mark Hamill signed up for. It’s ridiculous. Rey is a fantastic character, but Luke Skywalker defines Star Wars. It won’t be the same without him." But that's my point - a time would be coming regardless when Star Wars would be without Luke Skywalker. In a decade's time, the Skywalker saga might even just be a starting point in the Star Wars franchise. Really, the sooner we cut that tie to the past, the easier it will be to expand Star Wars on to future generations, including those who may not have had heroes to identify with before, and to keep the saga from being stifled. As my home-boy Kylo Ren said, it's time to let the past die.

*Because apparently angry Star Wars fans put their faith in the tomatometer all of a sudden, and despite obviously not understanding that the tomatometer is an aggregate of how many critics gave it a 6/10 or higher, not an actual score for the film... wait, is the writer of that article equating a 71% tomatometer with a 7/10 for a video game? Because film critics aren't as awful as video game reviewers and a 7/10 is actually a good score... bloody hell.
**POST-SCRIPT: I feel like Solo is failing in part due to people who were burned by The Last Jedi not showing up, but probably more in the general disinterest in a Han Solo movie, the negative buzz that has been dogging this film, and probably most importantly, the diluting of the Star Wars brand and "event movie" status.

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