Thursday, December 3, 2015

Existential Quandry

(NOT originally written for Jedi News because they would probably never post this, nor would I ask them to)

Should I go see The Force Awakens?

Disney has completely thrown out George Lucas' story for Episodes VII-IX. They have reneged on a condition of the Lucasfilm sale and cut the creator out of his art.

They have repeatedly alienated Star Wars Fans by perpetuating a bold-faced lie about production methods to try and appease mainstream geekdom.

J.J. Abrams hired as a “consultant” a man who has said horrible things about this franchise and its creator (and still dares to consider himself a "fan"), and has stated that the nods to I-III shown in the trailers will be removed in favor of "something of our own", like the boring reused X-Wings and TIE fighters.

So, here's my dilemma right now.

If I go and spend money to see The Force Awakens, that will be condoning the abuse levied on me and mine by the powers that be and showing them that they can keep catering to horrible people with no repercussions.

If I vote with my wallet and disavow Disney's Star Wars as the Expanded Universe it so clearly now is without George's input, I not only give up any and all rights to judge the films themselves, but I open myself up to accusations of hypocrisy no matter how different the circumstances are.

I don't know the right course. 

Is option A the Senate blindly supporting Palpatine, or Luke throwing away his lightsaber and refusing to kill his father? 

Is option B the Rebellion taking out the Death Star, or is it Anakin letting his passion turn him to the dark?

Do I stand and fight or learn to let go? Both options go completely against my very core values.

And if it seems like I'm taking this too seriously, well, you may be right. At the end of the day, Star Wars is, after all, just a series of silly space movies. Movies that continue to touch the hearts and minds of millions, movies that changed the way movies are made, but movies nonetheless.

But this has never really been about the movies. I mean, of course we love them. Of course they have had a profound effect on our way of thinking and our way of life. But they’re really just stories. Touting their merits and proving that they aren't as objectively bad as mainstream geekdom would have you believe is a means to an end.

We have a culture where people are bullied mercilessly for liking something. We have a culture where subjective opinion is treated as objective fact and dissenters are shunned. 

We have a culture where people can take someone’s personal expression away from them, send them and their families hate speech and death threats, do the same to anyone who helped the project and anyone who liked the final result, and all because their artistic vision just happened to clash with the fanfiction you wrote when you were eight years old. Then, not only does one not receive any kind of consequences, but one is actually praised for this.

The extreme haters created a war when they decided to be extreme about it. And when those of us rational enough to just like what we like refused to get sucked into it, we inadvertently let them win.

I have never once cared whether or not anyone actually likes any part of Star Wars. I couldn’t care less. I’m not trying to force my own opinions down anyone else’s throat. I just want to be able to say “The Phantom Menace is my favorite movie” without being lynched. Without being screamed at 1,001 reasons why I’m objectively wrong, all of which being lies, misconceptions, hypocrisy, or plain old opinions.

I would never do that to anyone, and it pains me when people compare my indignation over the sanctioned bashing of the Force Awakens Marketing Campaign to bashing itself.

But I’ve been saying all along that the movie deserves a chance. That I would not judge the film until I’ve seen it, in fact several times. But when every new thing to come out makes it look like a remake of “New Hope” made by people who don’t understand what George Lucas was all about in the first place, it makes it that much harder for me to want to see the film.

So what do I do?

Do I fight?

Do I relent?

Or do I just walk away like I almost did months ago?


  1. I am really not the one to help with your struggle (I'm gonna see it just 'cause the sheer amount of diversity in a major franchise like this is staggering, and the trailers have me excited for it so far), but I do feel it's worth noting that Disney really hasn't 'shut out' Lucas--they're not using his treatments, yeah, but everything I've been reading from Lucas suggests he was already starting to walk away from the films and sold Lucasfilm in part so that the franchise could live beyond him--In an interview a while back he said he was really excited for the new films. I can understand being peeved about throwing out his original ideas, but most of what I read suggests Lucas himself is completely fine with it. He made this decision in part so he could walk away from the high-budget films and start doing the more experimental, smaller films he's always wanted to do, and I think that's a fair decision.

    Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon more than anything, and I think treating it as solely Lucas's child is damaging to what all it can achieve.

    1. I'm not going to start the old argument since I know we have disagreements regarding the artist's vision in the medium of film.

      What I will say is just in case you missed it, the full story I found out: Lucas originally wanted to do VII-IX himself, but with his age did not want to do a lot of traveling. He tried to have a soundstage built near his ranch, but the county wouldn't grant him permits for some arbitrary red-tape-maze reason whose details escape me at the moment. This, coupled with the endless barrage of the prequel haters wearing him down, is what inspired him to walk away from finalizing and directing the films himself and selling to Disney so, as you said, it could live beyond him. However, using his outlines was very explicitly part of the deal, and when he revealed in recent interviews how Disney and Kathleen Kennedy essentially betrayed him, he described it sadly as a "divorce" (and he's too classy a guy to say anything more negative).

      What saddens me most about that was that whatever your opinion on creators and the art of film, Lucas' influence is a HUGE part of what gave the previous films their charm. As we saw with the Expanded Universe, people who don't understand that tend to copy the visual aesthetic of IV-VI without giving it the substance.

    2. Where did you read it was part of the deal? Not to doubt you, I just haven't read that in any of the interviews and miscellanea about the film.

      And don't get me wrong, I absolutely do understand where you're coming from with Lucas, especially given how much people have discredited his contributions in the last decade or so--he was an essential part of the films and deserves credit for a large number of their strengths. It's just--eventually the art grows beyond the creator and becomes a part of their larger culture. That's what art is, a product of culture and society that becomes a living, breathing part of it. Sherlock Holmes outgrew Arthur Conan Doyle. Oz outgrew L. Frank Baum--Doctor Who outgrew Lambert, Whitaker, and Newman. I don't see why Star Wars can't do the same.

  2. I think you shouldn't take the PR tour to heart. I'm sure you know quite well that the prequels are widely criticized by a loud portion of the fanbase, so Disney is playing damage control and trying to lure them back. The film itself certainly will not openly criticize the prequels. (That Jar Jar skeleton remark that Abrams made was a joke. It will never happen, I guarantee it.) There won't be too many references to your films, but I think that's more because of the distance between this film and the prequels.

    I completely understand the feeling you have of being bullied. But should you allow that feeling to deprive you of enjoying a film that looks to be a lot of fun with a nice nostalgic rush? Doesn't that just let the bullies win? I know you prefer the prequels, but I also know from reading your pieces that you like the originals as well. Isn't it possible to watch the film as a continuation of those movies, rather than a reaction to the prequels? I hope you work this out, because I really look forward to watching and discussing the new movie with an entire tapestry of Star Wars fans.

    1. 1. "I'm sure you know quite well that the prequels are widely criticized by a loud portion of the fanbase, so Disney is playing damage control and trying to lure them back."

      Yes. I know. And that's what they're doing wrong. First off, I-III are good movies, so there's no damage to control. Second, you bought Star Wars, so embrace Star Wars and don't cement the artificial divide. Third, the loudmouths they're trying to win back are that way precisely because they don't get it, and they'll hate anything that's not a giant circlejerk IF that - and if THAT film is made, it will alienate the real fans this campaign throws under the bus AND the general audience. So either way you slice it, appealing to the toxic portion is not a good idea.

      2. "a film that looks to be a lot of fun with a nice nostalgic rush"

      That's part of the problem, though. It doesn't look like fun to me. It looks gritty and serious, which is exactly what Star Wars SHOULDN'T be with some very rare exceptions. Again, this could all just be marketing but, again, if the point of marketing is to make one want to see the film, they have failed with me.

      3. "I know you prefer the prequels, but I also know from reading your pieces that you like the originals as well. Isn't it possible to watch the film as a continuation of those movies, rather than a reaction to the prequels?"

      The mistake you're making here is separating the Star Wars Saga into "The Originals" and "The Prequels". It's one story, and any continuation should pay heed to the entire story that came before it while simultaneously becoming something new. The Force Awakens should not dwell in the nostalgia of ANY previous films - it should contain just enough to show that the history was not forgotten.

      Phantom is a perfect example of this. We went to familiar places and saw familiar faces, but it was still a new world to us. Certain events rhymed with events we've seen, but the details and the context were changed to something fresh.

      The line between subtle parallel and ham-fisted retread is narrow indeed, and The Force Awakens looks to be teetering on it. Which way it will fall I cannot say, but the powers-that-be trying with all their might to ignore a crucial part of the story so far - especially when that part deals with a character whose influence is meant to be felt by a number of characters in this film - gives me more fear than comfort.


      I hope that reassures you. You've clearly thought this through quite a bit and I don't want to try to talk you out of your worry. That isn't effective and I think it will only make you feel worse. What I will say is that I think the Star Wars community's greatest asset is its diversity, something I see greatly reflected in the cast and crew of this new film. If you leave Star Wars behind, you won't just become a sadder person, I think the community itself will have lost an intelligent voice that would benefit from your insight. I often disagree with you on your points. I'm not the biggest fan of the prequels and I don't consider them good movies. But I keep returning here because I love your writing and I love your passion for this film series, which is something I share. So again, I hope you make it through this. May the Force Be With You.

  3. As someone who's in the same boat as you, I've decided to just walk away and not see the movie. However, I'm not going to try to convince you (or anyone else) that they should do the same. My mind was made up ever since the 3D releases were cancelled in January 2013, since those were releases that I was actively looking forward to. Like you, I'm also annoyed with the marketing strategy and Simon Pegg's involvement. But I think this is a choice you should make on your own. Neither option is necessarily the right answer under the circumstances. I'm fully aware that I'm giving up the chance to judge the films themselves, but I can live with that, seeing as I'm content with the 6 episodes we have, which tell a fine story already. Then again, my choice could also be seen as the equivalent of refusing to buy ANH on DVD or Blu-Ray because Han doesn't shoot first, but I have my reasons. If your heart's not in it, I don't think anyone will hold it against you if you don't see the movie. My heart was honestly never in it since the Disney deal was announced, but I told my family I'd still check the films out . . . until Disney cancelled the releases that my heart was in and published a BS reason behind it. My family, for the record, thinks I'm being somewhat silly, but they've accepted my decision based on all the aforementioned treatments used to promote the film. Anyway, back on topic . . . the best advice I can give you if you're on the fence about this is to take some time, meditate on it, and decide what the lesser evil is. Like I said, under the circumstances there is no definite right method here, and you outlined why in your post. Whatever you decide, however, the best course is to be at peace with your decision, make like the ice queen, and let it go. Sorry if this didn't help you, but everyone in our camp is simply going to have different beliefs on whether not seeing the film or basically condoning the promotion/marketing strategy is more important. This path has been placed before you, and the choice is yours alone.

    1. The difference is obviously that the changes in New Hope were still George's decision, and TFA is all other people, but I get the point.

  4. Hello Adam,

    I understand how you feel. My decision is the following: I will not watch TFA on opening day or opening weekend (unless my family decides to go). I do not want to help TFA to break any records (biggest opening day or opening weekend worldwide - I am not in the US, so my ticket would only contribute to these records).
    And I can safely say that the things you have mentioned have led to this decision. Should I read some spoilers because I watch TFA one week after opening, so it be. Should I even read that TFA throws the PT under the bus, I may wait for the DVD release.
    (BTW, I would not be surprised if the hypothesis I have read is correct: the catering to Darth Media was mainly due to the free promotion Lucasfilm got, regardless of what Kennedy & Co. really think about the PT and practical effects. It's quite easy to please some magazines...)

    Off topic: I have read that GL likes TFA. Personally, I think this is really the case (if the movie is entertaining, GL certainly has no problems acknowledging this). He will even attend the premiere. I interprete his recent statements in the following way: even if Kennedy & Co. had used GL's story treatments, it would have been hard for him to let SW go. However, dumping his story treatments has probably hurt him. Maybe he is talking himself into that this development was inevitable, that it is linked to give SW to a new generation of filmmakers etc. Still, it was not a clean and happy ending for his relation to SW. And that's really bad.

    1. Just something that crossed my mind: As I will watch TFA only once (probably), I am not even sure whether I will really be able to fully appreciate it should I like it. As you have stated once or twice, Adam, you have encouraged others to watch SW movies several times to fully appreciate them.

      I do not write this to put pressure on you (!) (You know, something like "You wanted to give this movie a chance, and you therefore even have to watch it several times.") On the contrary, I may have come to a decision because of the marketing campaign so that I may not fully enjoy the movie. :/

    2. Yes, my expectations have been forever tainted by all of this. For me to fully enjoy the film at this point would require it doing a complete 180 from the attitude of the marketing.

      I agree with your first statement: I will make a point to see it, no I won't rush to be first week or possibly even first month.

      If it does that 180, or has enough redeemable qualities, I'll continue to study it. If it doesn't, I'll say my peace (being respectful of those who enjoy it in spite of what turns me off), forget about it for a while, and reevaluate it in a few years when I've calmed down a bit.

    3. Glad that you found my suggestion useful. Since the movie seems to be (at least) entertaining, you will probably enjoy it (at least a bit). At the same time, my experience will also be (slightly) tainted by all the backstory we have heard and read.

  5. I really can't say or even suggest what you should do. But I can say I think you should go with your gut. If your gut says "fuck this movie" then don't see it and don't give it a second thought.

    Personally, I'm definitely going to see this movie and try to enjoy it. If it's a rehash of "A New Hope" (which is still a fear of mine, regardless of what people who saw it on opening night say, I'm sure a lot of them just wanted to see Han and Chewie again) then I'll probably dislike this movie completely. But I just absorb everything Star Wars, good or bad lol I've been like that ever since I discovered the EU. And I don't feel the need to mock or shame people that like what I dislike, unlike a certain part of Star Wars fandom that continually grates on my nerves (but I digress). And while I am turned off by their marketing of the movie, I still want to see it and hope they make good Star Wars content in the future. I'm a huge star wars fan and it looks cool so I can't help it! Lol

  6. I'm just going to go see the movie. It's a new movie. It's something to do. And I'm interested in the new characters. If many people say that it's not a rehash of "A New Hope", then I can breathe easier.

    1. I would hate for it to be a rehash as well (though let's be fair, that was a major criticism of Return and a lot of people love that movie), but from my perspective, it'd at least be a rehash with a woman and two POC in the lead cast and a woman as a lead villain...which is pretty danged awesome.

    2. It bothers me how many people point this out like it's something new to Star Wars.

      I'll give you Person of Color as Main Three for the first time, and first female in a numbered film that's presumably meant to be a lasting threat, but that's about it.

      I feel like it does a disservice to Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Leanna Walsman, Ashly Eckstein, Ahmed Best, and the various actresses behind Asajj Ventress to treat TFA like a trailblazer in this regard when it's simply taking the next small step.

    3. It bothers me how many people point this out like it's something new to Star Wars.

      I'll give you Person of Color as Main Three for the first time, and first female in a numbered film that's presumably meant to be a lasting threat, but that's about it.

      I feel like it does a disservice to Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Leanna Walsman, Ashly Eckstein, Ahmed Best, and the various actresses behind Asajj Ventress to treat TFA like a trailblazer in this regard when it's simply taking the next small step.

    4. I mean, I'm not saying Star Wars is some MRA paradise here, but it's also never been on particularly solid ground in terms of minority and feminist representation, at least within the films themselves.

      Looking at female representation, the entirety of the six films only have two recurring female characters--if I'm right, every other female character without exception is either a bit role without a name or is killed off. Both Leia and Padme are fairly strong characters, but Leia is stripped of all her narrative agency by the last film (especially with the rather uncomfortable Han/Leia romance in Empire) and Padme ends up fridged. The films are so starved for female representation that it takes until Phantom Menace for them to even pass the barebones Bechdel test, so the fact that Force Awakens has 4 prominent female characters announced, at least two of which are sure to be recurring, is a pretty big step forward.

      Minority characters are unfortunately in the same boat--in the entire franchise you have three POC in recurring roles, all of them supporting, one of whom was introduced to be the shady character that betrays the heroes (Lando did grow to be a better character than that, and point of fact he's one of my favorites in the franchise, but it's still an unfortunate point that the first black character in the franchise is 'the shady one'). Darth Vader is voiced by a black man, but is canonically made to be a white character (even though it would've been so easy to use Jones as the face under the mask instead of Sebastian Shaw), which leads to its own problematic issues. As before, the fact Force Awakens has two persons of colour in its lead cast is huge in comparison.

      Again, Star Wars is not the worst franchise ever in terms of representation--it's no better or worse than the majority of films out there. Which is the problem--the reason representation matters is that the vast majority of the arts feature stories about white men, with women and people of color shunted to the side in supporting roles. Force Awakens features a creative team actively committed to changing that, and I do think that's something worth celebrating.

    5. Just because the roles are supporting doesn't make them lesser roles. Even if they're not the focus, they're treated as important characters. Any negativity to their portrayal has to do with the kind of characters they are - theoretically, anybody could play them from any walk of life without it changing the plot.

      And while I do agree with you 're: Leia (a lot of that was admittedly Fisher flying throughout the role), I think it's disingenuous to say Padmé was "fridged". She had to die because she was dead by the time New Hope happened. Also, what sets it apart from Fridging (which is a practice that disgusts me as much as it does you) is that her death was a very necessary thematic element - in trying to save her from a possible death, Anakin brought it about.

      I will say that a lot of Padmé's better moments in Sith were edited for time, making her seem weaker in comparison which I feel can be considered a flaw, but even as is I can see her as certainly the strongest of the three leads in terms of staying true to her values and not letting other people sway her otherwise.

      I'm not arguing against a rise in "nonstandard" main characters. I agree that there should be far more diversity amongst lead heroes (or heroines, as the case may be). But trying to fill a quota is almost as bad as excluding and shunting. And unless it's integral to the story trying to be told, the only thing anybody should care about is whether or not that person is right for the part.

    6. Well, supporting characters are by definition lesser roles than the leads, that's what makes them supporting. It doesn't make them not important or anything, but they are necessarily of lesser consequence to the narrative. Which is why it matters that women and minorities predominantly end up with supporting roles while white men get leads--it's an imbalance that reinforces unfair power structures within our society.

      And Padme's death was used as a means of causing grief to Anakin--that's almost the definition of fridging. Padme isn't mentioned at all in ANH, and point of fact the only mention of Luke and Leia's mother is when Leia recalls her in Return, indicating she's still alive--we can explain this away as Leia remembering her foster mother, but the point remains they had to actually go out of their way to kill Padme, and it's a frustrating thing for one of the only two major female characters in the franchise.

      Re: quotas, the thing is that these are films being made in the real world with real consequences, and I think it's of the utmost importance that we do more to correct the imbalances and injustices that do exist in our world--proper representation is just one part of that. Dan Harmon had an excellent point in an interview he did for AV Club that looking for representation isn't settling for poorer quality to fill a quota, it's looking a little bit harder to find someone that's just as good as who you were going to pick, but is part of an under-represented group. Saying stuff like "the best person for the job" kinda implies that the reason our media is so dominated by white men is because white men are always the best person for the job, which we both know isn't true. We need more POC and female characters regardless of whether it's integral to the story or not, simply because the lack of them is an injustice in the world that deserves to be corrected. Women and minorities are a huge part of our society--they deserve to be a huge part of our art as well.

    7. 1. The conversation in Jedi makes it clear that whatever mother Leia is talking about is dead, though I always felt Leia was talking about her adoptive mother. I feel if the birth mother were alive, she'd have made an appearance.

      2. Padmé wasn't killed to simply "cause Anakin grief", it was a necessary part of the story of how Anakin's inability to accept loss caused him the loss he was trying to avoid. It's very plain that had Anakin kept a cooler head and opted to "protect" Padmé by staying with her rather than seek a way to prevent her possible death, she'd have been fine. That's completely different than killing her off just to provide a hero tragedy, especially since Anakin had pretty much become Vader and was directly responsible for her death.

      3. I keep forgetting Pernilla August as Shmi when discussing this, and that saddens me. Now, I would at least understand if you felt Shmi was fridged. I would still disagree with you in the end since it is also integral to Anakin's fall and not done lightly, but I'd at least concede a reasonable argument in how it's presented.

      4. As for the overall issue of representation, which is far more complicated than either of us really have the privilege to debate (as in, I'm attempting to check mine), I shall only say this: as we work to correct the gross imbalance, let us be careful to not swing the other way. The ultimate goal, as far off and improbable as it is, is to see all humans as humans first regardless of appearance and background. That's how I try to live. Don't make a big screaming deal about how inclusive you're being, just BE inclusive and treat it like the normal everyday thing it should be.

    8. Sorry, I misspoke--I meant "still alive by the end of the prequels"--it's pretty clear she would've passed away at some point before the first film, but there's nothing that intrinsically demanded she be dead at the end of Revenge. And even in your defense of her death, it's entirely focused around Anakin's struggle and character arc rather than her own. Her death is subsumed from being an end to her story to become a means to another character's. That's the heart of what a fridging really is.

      And in fairness, the creative team hasn't really been making a 'big screaming deal' about the diversity, apart from Kennedy just saying "yeah, this is intentional". The most discussion of it has been around the film rather than from the film itself, which is to be expected. And I think it's important to note that, when we're pushing for better and more minority representation, it's actually not really possible at the moment to swing the other way. Like, if the new Star Wars was *entirely* filled with minorities and no white men whatsoever, it would not be *nearly* as hurtful as if the opposite was true because, well, we white men have about a dozen other things we can watch instead. It's why "Hamilton" is so revolutionary right now: here we have a story normally told with white men being told entirely by minorities, reclaiming a space they've been shut out of for so long.

      I agree--the end goal of all of this is to treat all peoples equally, regardless of race, sex, creed, identity, what have you. But we can't treat offenses against those in power as equivalent to those oppressed--the minute we start trying to police how oppressed people can fight back, the minute we are in danger of becoming one of the oppressors ourselves.

    9. It's a recent musical that's been taking Broadway by storm the last couple months--it tells the story of the American revolution and Alexander Hamilton in a sung-through hip-hop score, cast entirely with minorities. The creatives have described the show as telling the story of America 'then' with America 'now', with the point being to give minorities a space in telling this history they're normally shut out of, and make it their own as well.

      The cast album's available on YouTube and Spotify and is pretty much the whole show--it's a really fantastic score; I'd recommend it.

    10. Oh, should've mentioned--interesting point of synchronicity that the guy who wrote Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, actually contributed the 'cantina' music for Force Awakens.

      (which, incidentally, I thought was very very good, though I definitely understand your not wanting to rush to see it just yet)

  7. I did not write this but here is an intresting take on deciding to or not to see Episode VII

    1. That article makes a very fair point.

      Again, I have decided that because of the marketing, I will not be part of the opening weekend madness. I will see it, and in theatres, and will give it a fair shake. I'm just not going to rush.

  8. I will go see the movie with an open mind, but if I don't like it then that will probably be it for me with JJ Abrams Star Wars, I've already got George Lucas' s Saga and that's all I really need...anything else would just be an extra helping.

    To be honest I've had a very hard time dredging up any excitement for this film at all. And being a Star Wars fan that is just depressing to me. But everything I've seen from it seems to be a nostagia trip for those who grew up with the original trilogy rather then a new film in it's own right.

    And seeing as how I didn't grow up with those films, I started with the prequels, therefore the marketing hasn't done much for me at all.

    But we shall see

  9. I'll say this to you -- I've seen the film this morning and it's very good, in my opinion. You voiced concerns about it being gritty and it's not. It's good old-fashioned fun, and it feels oh so like Star Wars does. All of Star Wars, not just some nostalgia-goggles view of the Original Trilogy.

  10. My two cents: Go--just don't go on the opening weekend. That's the one that everyone looks at. And going while it's in the theater will give you your best chance to form an independent opinion of the movie, before you spend months listening to everyone else talk about it.

  11. I watched it and it was really good. They actually threw quite a few bones to Saga fans. And in a way the film actually did more harm than good to diehard hateboys despite the surface pandering, but I won't spoil you the details.