May 29, 2018
Why I'm not excited about Star Wars going on forever
Well, we made it, people. We have reached the third age of Star Wars in cinema. The sci-fi cinematic juggernaut is back, and we’ll be getting more Star Wars than ever before.
And I don’t care.
To put it mildly, I could care less about the Star Wars resurgence, and before you come down on me for not being a true fan, allow me to set the groundwork. Star Wars, the OG film, is the first movie I can consciously remember watching all the way through. To give you some background as to how long ago this was, my father rented it from a video rental place specifically so I could watch it. I remember Jaws, King Kong, and the Indiana Jones movies in there too, but Star Wars was always there first, and it remains my favorite movie of all time, and I still own the VHS tape my dad bought back when I was five, the same tape my mom gave to me as a gift because she said I always watched it more anyway.
In the end, the original trilogy remains my favorite movie cycle to watch as a whole, and I’ll even go as far as to say the prequels were not that bad. They’re not the cinematic atrocities we can sometimes make them out to be, just frustrating works that made some very basic storytelling mistakes that the original three films seemed to avoid. I won’t go into what those are; that’s for another column. But at the end of the day, I was happy with the Star Wars legacy after six films, so why am I not excited about its future now?
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Oversaturation of the product
I’m going to get into a musical example in just a moment, but first let me get the basics out of the way. I saw The Force Awakens, and I liked it. With all my complaining about long-awaited sequels, this one was a breath of fresh air. It was a well-made, fun movie that did a lot of things right. It wasn’t a masterpiece, by any means. When it came out, it’s Metacritic score was 81 which, if this were a class and I were the teacher, is about the grade I’d give it. It was better than any of the prequels, not as good as any of the originals (though I would argue it realized its potential as a sequel better than Return of the Jedi), and it even had some moments that stood up there with the series’ finest.
So what’s my problem?
You ever hear of the cliché “too much of a good thing?” This is where the musical example kicks in. For those of you who only remember what the post-death retrospectives told you, Prince was an amazing, and amazingly prolific, songwriter. When most of you think Prince, you think Purple Rain, 1999, and maybe Sign o’ the Times for some of you more nerdy music fans. What you don’t think about is how, in his entire career, Prince released a whopping thirty-nine studio albums. He released three in 2004 alone, only one of which (Musicology) was any good. (I should know, it got me through my second tour in Iraq.)
Prince was a genius, but he never learned the value of restraint. If he thought of a song, he wrote, recorded, and released it. As a result, he put out a lot of material that ranged from “meh” to “what the fuck was he thinking?” We will always have his classics, yes, but be warned, not everything he ever made was gold, and introducing newbies to Prince requires knowing what to introduce them to first, lest they get the wrong idea by listening to his lesser works.
Star Wars is going down a similar road. Disney has made it clear they’re intent on turning it into the next Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we can expect a new Star Wars every year until…
I’m a Godzilla fan. It took fifteen films released over 21 years before the Japanese public got sick of the series and it took a hiatus, which lasted nine years. (With the release of Shin Godzilla, the series is ending another hiatus, this one lasting twelve years.) So the question I have for my fellow Star Wars fans of all stripes is: How long will it be before we all get sick of Star Wars at the release pace of one film a year? Sure, there will be those who show up to every Star Wars film regardless, just like there are people out there watching every single Transformers film in the theaters, though I’ve never met one of them personally. But how much is too much of a good thing?
I’m also a Doctor Who fan. In 26 seasons of the show’s original incarnation, and nine seasons of the shows current form, the numbers are clear: there are going to be dud stories in there somewhere. How is Disney going to maintain a quality level when it’ll be constantly churning out stories?
One may say that the Marvel movies show that they can pull it off. But the Marvel movies have the advantage of being several different properties and franchises released under one banner. Not a fan of Thor? You got Captain America. The movies too family-friendly for you? You can watch Daredevil on Netflix. This allows Marvel to stretch its appeal and combine multiple audiences. While Star Wars certainly has mass appeal, it’s always been one story, one entity. Will the cinematic universe approach strengthen its storytelling and appeal, or only serve to weaken it? That’s a question not too many people have grappled with.
Michael A. Novelli has a great piece on this very site about how Star Wars is going to be the new Call of Duty. It could be worse than that. Being an annual event, it would be more like the Super Bowl or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Each year you see a new version a little different from the last one, but still pretty much the same as the last couple, and you sit down and watch it because… of course you do, it’s a yearly thing, who doesn’t sit down and watch it?
Is that a future we want to live in?
Star Wars is less Star Wars, and more James Bond
I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but besides Star Wars and Godzilla, two of my favorite film franchises are James Bond and Indiana Jones. These two are very similar to the Godzilla films, in that the appeal is less the story and more the character at the center of the story. Not that the stories couldn’t be great or that any of these series couldn’t try overarching story elements. But their primary appeals have always been the figures at their center. In fact, all three series have a certain formula at their core for each film, with occasional variations.
Star Wars has always been different. It has always had more in common with Star Trek’s original movies, in that each film tried to be different from the last while deliberately leaving some things hanging for the next film. Each film has its own distinct story with a certain arc that needs to be explored.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel it’s only a matter of time before Star Wars gets transformed into more of a James Bond-style series, where the story will matter only so much, and the appeal will be more the universe than anything else. We’re already seeing this. The Force Awakens, story-wise, resembled the original Star Wars a bit too closely for me, and I’m saying this as someone who liked Force Awakens.
But as mentioned above, does the franchise lose something when it becomes so common it no longer feels special? I kind of gave up on the Marvel movies because they no longer feel like events. They feel like the state fair. You know what you’re getting but you go anyway to see if there’s anything new that catches your eye. That’s fine for a state fair, but with movies?
I just said above that movies can get by on character trumping the story, and I meant that. But is Star Wars one of those? The Hobbit movies come to mind. I didn’t like them much. Mostly because what made the Lord of the Rings movies so great is that the story ends. There’s something beautiful in knowing a story is over. Not that some stories can’t go on, but some stories, when they end, are at their best. So the Hobbit movies felt like unnecessary digressions in a universe I was happy to move on from. It didn’t help much that they felt like they were being indifferently made by a director contractually obligated to finish them.
Star Wars had an ending with Return of the Jedi. The Star Wars Expanded Universe (which no longer exists, cinematically speaking) had an ending. Now it doesn’t. And I don’t believe for one hot second that Disney has an ending in mind. The series will end when Disney says it will end, and that will probably be when they aren’t making any money off of it. Think of all the film franchises that never got a proper ending, at least in their original incarnations. The box office numbers dropped and the studio gave up.
We now live in a world where something as definitively over as Harry Potter was undone in the name of making more money. (A prequel and a stage play, yes, but still, it’s a continuation.) Even Godzilla and James Bond needed to take breaks before they came back revamped. Star Wars is in that category now. Best case scenario, they drill it into the ground until general audiences stop showing up, and then a decade later… they reboot it, Star Trek (2009) style.
Your welcome for that nightmare.
Some fans will ruin it for all of us
When you get a chance, watch this:
This is Red Letter Media’s newest release of the Plinkett Reviews, about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s a bit long, but a lot of their points are pretty spot on.
I’ve had my differences with fandom in the past. I don’t hate people for their fandoms, nor do I think being a fan of something makes you less than me. But since it’s 2016, I tend to look at fans like I look at voters. Most people who vote for a presidential candidate, regardless of party, are good, hardworking Americans, who just want what they feel is best for their country. But there is that hard fragment of supporters who just ruin the candidate for everybody else. The zealots whose devotion to the cause borders on the disturbing, and who regard anyone who disagrees with them as the worst kind of human being. (As to who I voted for this election cycle, it was a little candidate known as none of your damn business.)
Fans of entertainment franchises tend to fall into similar patterns. There are the loyalists who like the franchise, and then the true fanatics who obsess over every little detail, love it whether it has any real quality to it, and will lash out against detractors as if the detractors attacked them personally. If you’re excited for new and more Star Wars, I’m happy you’re happy. I’m worried about the quality control and audience fatigue, but hey, more power to you, and have a good time at your local cineplex.
But for me, there are the fans who are really going to ruin it for me. You know who I’m talking about: the ones who will see the movies regardless of quality because it’s Star Wars, and they’re not going to think about it critically. And this has been going on for forever. Don’t believe me? Just watch this:
Watching that made me throw up in my mouth a little.
Now, a lot of you will call me mean for bringing this up, and say that quality is subjective, and yeah, I get all that. But as I mentioned before, the majority of film series don’t get an ending. The returns at the box office just fade and the studio loses interest. Star Wars had an ending, and now it doesn’t, and now it will be pushed out as long and as often as we are willing to put up with it.
If you’re happy for more, once again, more power to you, but I’m not. I’m already sick of seeing Star Wars everywhere, and I’ve lost track of all the films Disney says are in production. I’m in my thirties now; I don’t have the money, the time, or the inclination to keep up with so many different continuities and stories. If I’m going to sit down and watch a movie, I want there to be a good chance I’ll get something out of it. While I’m still affectionate toward some properties, I no longer blindly track down everything with the right label.
I suppose the lesson here is that even as a fan, I tend to look at works more critically in my age. I don’t want to have to see 30 movies in the theater a year just to be part of some large conversation about a franchise. But my voice has been drowned out by the rabid screams of YouTube fans squeeing over seeing the Millennium Falcon in a trailer.
So you young fans who are jazzed about more Star Wars, one day you’ll be in my shoes. I know it because when I was young, I was jazzed that new Star Wars was being made. And I thought I’d never get sick of the series either. There was a time I couldn’t get enough Star Wars; now I’d be fine if they never made another one.
Who knows, maybe the next few films will be so good I’ll eat my words. But the more films they make, the more chances they have to screw things up. We will see.
Or you will. I’ll wait until it comes to Netflix.