So, could we… not get more Star Wars?

I’ve been seeing it for years. People are constantly bemoaning that our most beloved celebrities are dropping off like flies in an Ortho factory, and though they ask why, we all know the answer: All of our most beloved celebrities are kind of, you know, old.

How did it end up like this?

I’m not proposing any kind of answer, I just find it a little strange is all. Isn’t the internet the place where we obsess over the fact that mainstream moviegoers can’t let go of the past? That our society is being so held back that massive blocks of people (which would never include you!) blithely sit through unnecessary sequels and remakes and rip-offs year after year? But let someone who was in a popular movie thirty years ago die, and suddenly everything in the past was just so much better!

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Now, I love movies, and in fact I’ve grown to love them even more as I’ve gotten older, but it seems to me that there’s a case of willing doublethink going on here. Unnecessary sequels and remakes and rip-offs have existed almost as long as the film industry itself; if you don’t believe me, go look up how many times the name Dracula appears on Bela Lugosi’s IMDb page. There’s nothing wrong with the Hollywood of today that isn’t somehow rooted in the very beginning of the industry (in one way or the other), but to admit as much is to betray whatever unspoken hipster code of serious movie fandom people pretend to follow, until something you yourself are excited for is announced.

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I’ve written about Star Wars before, and while I didn’t get much into detail about it, it should be pretty obvious that I loved the prequels. Revenge of the Sith is still my favorite of the series, with Phantom Menace a pretty close second. Though I wasn’t as caught up in the hype for The Force Awakens as everyone else, and made it a point to mock said hype as much as possible, it sits comfortably at number three on my list, just ahead of Return of the Jedi.

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The Force Awakens is a solid B+ movie that had few ambitions, but certainly lived up to them. What I could have done without, however, was the absolute schadenfreude people took in Force Awakens out-grossing Avatar. I get that if you love something, you want it to do well, but the way people were rooting for Force Awakens to make more money, you’d have thought that James Cameron shot the president or something. It’s not even like Avatar is some long-standing champion of an era people wanted to forget about, like, say, if The Birth of a Nation (1915) was the all-time #1. It came out in 2009. There are Harry Potter movies more recent than that!

Who knows? But if I might don my junior detective hat for a moment, there’s one strikingly obvious fact that gels with the selective behavior I mentioned earlier:

Avatar is new, and Star Wars is old.

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Sure, Avatar is only “new” if you’ve never seen Dances with Wolves, and The Force Awakens is nominally a new chapter in the saga, but the point is that Star Wars has a pedigree and Avatar doesn’t.

I’m not one to judge people for falling under the sway of merchandising-based nostalgia (I had He-Man and the Masters of the Universe bed sheets as a kid, so I get it). However, I can’t help but feel that this renewed obsession with trying to make Star Wars the epicenter of popular culture again is in some way unhealthy.

The movies came out, they made a big splash and influenced everything that came after them, and then they ceded the stage to something else. Star Wars never went anywhere, but it used to have the good taste to let someone else make a few bucks here and there. Now, not only are we looking at a new wave of merchandise and ancillary tie-ins, but starting with the latest prequel out later this year, Star Wars movies are, to my understanding, going to be an annual event!

I remember the first time I heard that. I almost wanted to vomit. Why? Because guess what else is an annual thing? Call of Duty. And Call of Duty is kind of shit.

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There have been seven official Star Wars movies, a couple of TV projects, what must be hundreds of expanded universe books and comics, too many video games to count, and enough action figures to fill the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And that’s still not enough?

I won’t go into how, now that Disney’s running the show, the films are already becoming assembly line fanservice constructed almost entirely out of dog-whistle moments from the earlier films, since A New Hope was similarly made of Flash Gordon riffs, but if anyone’s still thinking the series has any tricks left up its sleeve, I’d hate to be the one to tell you…

Anyway.

If people want more Star Wars and have the money to pay for it, the market will bear more Star Wars. It isn’t going anywhere. But is this healthy? For all the hype that movies with new ideas get (Pacific Rim comes to mind), why is that we in the geek community would rather pony up for more of the same old same-old? In essence, to act exactly like the mainstream moviegoing audience so many claim to be rebelling against?

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For a multitude of reasons, the very concept of nostalgia is in a weird place right now. Even the presidential race is literally a battle between the ’80s and ’90s. But we’re approaching an important juncture. The forces of capitalism are causing the usual Island of Misfit Toys of movies that Americans just can’t appreciate to become huge hits overseas. America will eventually no longer be the epicenter of world popular culture, and while maybe that’s for the best (I know I love Bollywood films!), it doesn’t have to be this way just yet. We could give something else a chance to capture our flinty hearts, the way the prequels brought a new generation of fans into the fold by being newer and clearly better than what came before them!

There are so many new and interesting sci-fi films coming from amazing directors with new ideas and stories, and so many potential future classics! (If Jupiter Ascending isn’t held in the same regard as Blade Runner in thirty years, I’ll eat my beard!) Wouldn’t you rather support them now?

Sure, I know I’m just as guilty as everyone else in this regard. Looking up from my computer screen, I can see an entire shelving unit devoted to old movies, TV shows, and books about old-school wrestlers. Hell, the most recent thing I bought was the complete series of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, but it sits quite comfortably next to my brand-spanking new copy of The Bronze.

There’s always going to be more Star Wars for you; Disney will see to that. But, you know, maybe we don’t have to gorge ourselves? We could step away from the buffet for once, and see what the restaurant across the street has to offer?

A man can dream…

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  • Sardu the Omnipotent

    Eh, whatevs. If a semi-decent SW flick comes out every Christmas that’s fine with me. I’m not immersed in the whole wide world of SW overkill, I don’t watch the tv shows, I don’t read the books, and the only two movies I treat reverently are the first two. Let em come.

  • danbreunig

    This is quite the credible theory Mister Mendo–especially the analogy and knowing when to culturally pace yourself at the buffet. Also, Revenge Of The Sith is also my favorite of the seven official films. (I’m one of the extreme few people who’s seen all the SW movies and *never* thought in terms of “these three movies are better/worse than those three”.) And yet my biggest takeaway from this article is the knowledge that you’re old enough to have Masters Of The Universe merchandise.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Well, don’t take that as too big of a clue. There were only so many American shows on AFN. 😉

  • Deneb T. Hall

    Yeah, I have to agree with you – there comes a point where enough is freakin’ enough. It’s like the Marvel movies – I’ve seen all of them, I’ve liked most of them, I’ll keep on watching ’em, but there have been enough of them at this point that you could stamp out most of them with a cookie cutter. Good movies gain an audience because they have a distinctness and a uniqueness about them that draw people’s attention. Once a series has been reduced to a formula, to be repeated again and again, then the magic is gone. It’s like the Xanth books, by Piers Anthony – I used to be a big fan of those, and they’re still coming out, but they’ve been reduced to endless variations on a theme; Anthony’s still writing them because he’s got a bunch of diehards breathing down his neck who won’t LET him write anything else, despite the fact that he’s written dozens of the damn things and quite clearly no longer gives a crap about them. It’s sad.

    • MichaelANovelli

      He brought that up when I interviewed him a few years ago. It was one of the most depressing things I’d ever heard at the time…

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Oh, right, I think I read that. I’d forgotten.

    • Olaf_the_Lofty

      In re Piers Anthony: a hundred years ago L Frank Baum had this problem. He had lots of other ideas, but once he hit on Oz, that was what the public – and publishers – wanted. He mildly grumbled about it once in a letter to his fans.

      • 333: SC

        The grumbling seems to stop when the check cashes though.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        True, although, from what I’ve heard, it was a little more than “mildly grumbled”; he made multiple attempts to go off in other directions with his writing, but the only thing that sold was his Oz books, so he kept getting drawn back to them. (The book ‘Rinkitink in Oz’ is a good example of that – upon reading it, it’s pretty transparently a separate work that was turned into an Oz book at the last second.) Still, when you get right down to it, Baum was able to transcend his problem to some degree – he wound up writing almost nothing but Oz stuff, yes, but there was enough flexibility in the concept that he was able to make each one more or less unique, and kept them pretty consistently creative and engaging. Piers Anthony’s problem, as I understand it, is that his fans just want more of the same, rather than any fresh exploration of the mythos he’s created, which at this point, he probably couldn’t deliver anyway; according to Wikipedia, the poor guy’s been plumbing the same well for forty books, with another one on the way. That well is DRY.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Speaking as someone who likes the earlier Xanth novels, the biggest problem with the newest books is that the puns just aren’t as clever as they used to be. Like, OK, not every joke landed but at least he didn’t tell one, and then grind the plot to a halt so he can explain it…

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Right, that dovetails with my own experiences – I tried reading one of his more recent books, and it just didn’t keep my attention at all. So far as the puns go, though, if I recall correctly, Anthony has stated that the punning was not really his idea so much as a thing that escalated because the fans seemed to like it – at this point, he’s probably sick to death of puns, and can’t summon the enthusiasm to make more than a handful per book, so he’s got to milk that handful for all he’s worth.

          • Look At That Tater

            I was under the impression that the books are all but fan written at this point- they send in puns and ideas and he just edits them together into a sort of Franken-book and puts it out.

          • MichaelANovelli

            That…CANNOT be satisfying, artistically…

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Could be – like I said, I haven’t read one for a good long while, so I don’t honestly know (although I do know he has been incorporating reader suggestions in one way or another for a good long while – there was a character called, I believe, Jenny the Elf, who, if I recall correctly, was entirely the creation of a fan, and the books I’ve read that featured her were from sometime in the mid-’90’s).

        • maarvarq

          I got to book 13 (I think) and was able to say “You’ve married off the last characters I care about. I don’t have to read any more of these books, I’m free, I’m free!” The first few were great, but I really don’t want to see what they’ve degenerated into by #40. At least (AFAIK) he isn’t an asshole like Orson Scott Card, whose output also went from brilliant to unreadable.

          • 333: SC

            There seems to be a law that says all sci-fi/fantasy writers gradually go insane… Clark, Asimov, Heinlein, they all become unreadable at some point, some faster than others…

          • maarvarq

            I thought Asimov and Clarke still produced some good works quite late. Heinlein certainly died at least one novel too late (To Sail Beyond The Sunset *shudder*), and the process of his later novels turning into Lazarus Long fan fic wasn’t pretty.

    • rtpoeman

      Or Doyle and Sherlock Holmes…..

      • MichaelANovelli

        Oooh, yeah. Those later stories… 🙁

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Yeah, another good example – although I don’t think (and mind you, I could be wrong) that Doyle ever got to the point where literally ALL he could write were Holmes stories; he had quite a varied repertoire for most of his life. It’s just that the Holmes stories were the ones he HAD to write, and in time he got royally sick of them.

  • UpToFourPlayers

    I always assumed the fervor to dethrone Avatar at the box office stemmed from its complete existence being style over substance. It was a tech demo for 3D movies first and a movie with a plot second. And as a result, its box office was going to be higher because those 3D films cost extra so without counting for inflation, it was already going to make more money. And then toss on top of that all the people saying “you just HAVE to see it in 3D in theaters! It’s so real!” and that drove in more people because seeing it on DVD or Blu-Ray in a few months wouldn’t have the same effect.

    So even if The Force Awakens is mostly A New Hope made circa 2014-15, at least it has a story that’s more than a tech demo, so wanting it to dethrone Avatar makes sense to me. Both diehard Star Wars fans and the movie fans would probably prefer a film made to tell a story (even a familiar one) than a spectacle showcase that happens to have a familiar story (Dances with Wolves/Fern Gully/Pocahontas, etc.) to appear to be at the top of the charts.

  • Murry Chang

    I’ll pony up for the new SW movies until they start getting as bad as the prequals, then I’ll stop.

  • enchanted tim

    Well … I suppose it comes down to how far up your own ass you want to stick your head. Jose Luis Borges is credited with having said that there are really only four stories to tell. I think that’s carrying deconstruction a bit far, but this idea that endless recycling of the same idea is a “modern” concept is preposterous. This may simply be my memory tricking me into believing what I now prefer, but the primary attraction to Star Wars (not A New Hope) for me was that I was 14 years old. I was already losing interest by the time Return (sadly, not Revenge) of the Jedi came out, and the “prequels” were clearly for a different audience.

    I can almost understand the thinking behind making The Force Awakens (which I have not seen) a fanciful trip down Nostalgia Boulevard. The hype was so suffocating that only a masterpiece might have appeased a ravenous public. So making the new film a paen to the original satisfies that part of the fan base that should sensibly have “aged out” by now (but hasn’t), while giving a new audience — that would probably find the original “quaint,” if they cared to watch it at all — a chance to jump on the carousel and ride around in circles as long as they want.

    Other than that … I have no strong feelings on the subject.

  • CaseX

    Bela Lugosi only played Dracula in film twice.

    • Deneb T. Hall

      Technically true. However, he played characters who might as well have been Dracula throughout the rest of his career, and typically wore some variation on his costume from the original while doing it. The characters may have had other names, but so far as he performed them and the movies treated them, they were essentially Dracula.

      • CaseX

        Yeah, well, he didn’t say “essentially.” He said, “go look up how many times the name Dracula appears on Bela Lugosi’s IMDb page”…which I did and he only played “Dracula” twice.

        • Deneb T. Hall

          Fair enough. I’m just saying that, while I wouldn’t presume to put words in his mouth, ‘Bela Lugosi kept playing either Dracula or roles like Dracula throughout his career’ is a decent guess for what he MEANT to say. Such would be my guess, anyway.

          • CaseX

            Well, regardless of what he meant, his statement was factually incorrect…and, if you’re going to write articles snidely quoting such “facts,” you might want to check them beforehand. It takes 30 seconds. Google is your friend.

          • Sardu
          • CaseX

            This meme could represent this entire article.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Bela Legosi played Dracula twice in a movie, twice on television, and stock footage of him was used in the Spanish version of the original. 😉

          • CaseX

            I’d hardly consider a television appearance or two to be a “sequel”…which is what your article is decrying.

  • NameWithheldByRequest

    Fanboys prefer the warm cozy comfort of the known to the unknown. They typically will consume whatever crap you feed them. Just slap their favorite label on an inferior product and watch them rush to the trough to feed. Hence the inexplicable prequel revisionism recently rearing it’s ugly head. The prequels were bad, worse than bad actually, downright awful, unwatchable garbage. But fanboys love their nostalgia. Feed, baby, feed…

    • MichaelANovelli

      Don’t agree 100% but you raise some interesting points…

  • Sooper

    The largest problem I had with Avatar is that it is ultimately a very empty, hollow movie that made a ton of money for having a new effect technique. The story, the characters, the dialogue, all by and large unmemorable. The focus was all on James Cameron’s CGI bukkake, and everything else fell by the wayside. Cameron made some good movies that I still love and enjoy, but this was a demonstration of his worst impulses as a filmmaker, and as a person who loves story first, and effects in service to that, it was beyond disappointing. So anything that was able to knock it off that perch, I’d be happy to see it, because I think having it be as successful as it was, has taught Cameron, and the studios, the wrong lesson.

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