As millions of people flock to see The Last Jedi, it’s time to admit it: Star Wars just isn’t that good any more.
Yes, I know there’s a current trend to go all hipstery and criticize anything popular. “I’m tired of comic book shows and movies.” “The latest iPhone is a joke.” “Doctor Who isn’t as good as when David Tennant was in it.” That attitude annoys me, and I normally avoid doing it. But when it comes to Star Wars, I feel it’s justified.
Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises in the world — and it simply shouldn’t be. You, loyal fans, deserve much better.
Gliding on Reputation
There was naturally a lot of excitement when it was announced that Star Wars would be coming back. George Lucas wouldn’t return with the franchise, but on balance, most people felt that was actually a good thing, especially after the shambles of Episodes 1 to 3.
Yet Lucas’s revelation about why he quit the brand tells us a lot about this latest iteration. He disagreed with Disney’s vision that it should be “for the fans.” He wasn’t wrong. The Force Awakens and Rogue One were definitely for the fans. And that is an appalling storytelling strategy.
Star Wars has become an insular franchise that relies heavily on its past — so much so, it has revisited A New Hope by expanding on how the Death Star plans were obtained. Its next outing is a solo film about Han, something no one really asked for. It will, however, be lapped up by the fans.
Now, you might not consider this a problem because a lot of people have watched the prequels; even more have enjoyed the original trilogy. It’s not stretching the imagination. It’s not challenging the old audience or encouraging newcomers. It’s not exploring new depths. It’s just more of the same old Star Wars.
When a film is considered good because it’s the latest installment in a franchise, its individual narrative has failed.
We may forgive The Force Awakens now, enthusiastic about the movies being back, but in the future that film will be seen as an unnecessary retread of the same story.
You know the argument, but you know it because so many people have spotted it: The Force Awakens is A New Hope.
Okay, so no storytelling is new. It’s almost always variations on a theme. We can look to William Shakespeare to see the same patterns repeated on our TV screens, on the printed page, and in our movie theaters. The circle turns. But that’s boiling down plots to their core elements: the interesting bits are the embellishments on top. Star Wars‘s recent embellishments are disappointing at best.
Kylo Ren damaging his employers' property again there I see. Rubbish character. I'm not wasting any more viewing time on this crap. https://t.co/nmARBx8Bie
— Dene Kernohan (@Dene71) November 2, 2017
We have a DIY Darth Vader in Kylo Ren. Blatant echoes of Luke, Leia, and Han in Rey, Finn, and Poe. A droid hiding important information. The Tatooine-like Jakku, complete with seedy market which the downtrodden
Luke Rey frequents. The First Order’s knock-off Death Star, and its subsequent destruction amid a sky-battle.
Sure, call it an homage. It’s not. It’s falling back on the stuff J.J. Abrams knows is going to tick boxes for fans. This upcoming trilogy is just A New Hope/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi retold for a new generation.
Kylo Ren. What a loser.
I can’t think of a less-threatening villain. Let’s hope they draft in Gargamel from The Smurfs to ramp up the tension next time. Kylo is a whining twerp who rebelled against his parents as a teenager and never grew up. He’s a counterfeit Vader with the same charisma as Adam Sandler.
Captain Phasma had potential. She looks and sounds good, and is both threatening and ominous, and (the most important thing for commercial properties) marketable. But what did she do? I honestly don’t know because she was on screen for less than two minutes.
Then there’s Supreme Leader Snoke, a fascimile of Emperor Palpatine. As a projection only, he’s robbed of any real presence; this is further hindered by him being totally CGI. He’s intriguing, but not scary.
They should have just taped Darth Maul back together. Now that’s a bad guy.
Credit where credit’s due, Krennic was a solid enough enemy in Rogue One. He sustained his screen-time well — right until Vader showed up. That’s when I realized he’d been utterly dwarfed. That’s when I realized I’d been waiting for a greater threat to turn up.
Phasma and them weren’t the only ones to be seriously underdeveloped. Nope, the disappointment extends to the protagonists too.
We should’ve expected this. Star Wars has a history of not fleshing out anyone but the Main Three characters. It’s understandable: there’s only a limited number of hours to tell a story, so not everyone is going to have an extensive backstory. Look how quickly you care about Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) in Guardians of the Galaxy, and yet Star Wars doesn’t afford its actors such fine brushstrokes.
Far too many are chalked up as “with the resistance” or “at one with the Force,” and that’s apparently enough.
Qui-Gon Jinn was the latter. Mace Windu too. Poe Dameron is the former, and a prime example of characters having little to no character development. He gets captured, he provides a way for Finn to escape, then blows stuff up.
These have since been amended in other mediums, of course. But a franchise shouldn’t rely on extended canon to flesh out its backstory. As initially presented, Jar Jar Binks went on more of a character arc than Poe Dameron. How can we invest in these people if we don’t know enough to care?
Can I leave it at that? No? OK, fine. Then let’s discuss Transformers — or TV show characters existing solely to sell toys. Sadly, that also covers the Star Wars roster. Let’s go back to the porgs because it’s a fine example of an alien included merely to attract Tumblr comments and draw in revenue.
They were included in The Last Jedi trailer just to make people tweet “D’AAAWW THEY’RE SO CUTE” and sell some plush toys in time for Christmas. GIFs abounded. Porgs were on the shelf before the film was released. There’s a soft toy, talking plush, T-shirts, a keyring, and a mug. You might even find Star Wars: Chewie and the Porgs sitting under the Christmas tree this year.
BB-8 was a similar case (and everyone knows that little icon has been flogged to death) but at least he has a purpose.
Disney has its eye on merchandising, and if that means inserting some extraneous characters into films, that’s what’s going to happen.
I can forgive it to a certain extent, but I can’t help feeling repulsed by the bank of related POP! vinyls staring down from shop shelves.
A Humorless Universe
I’ve mentioned Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) a few times already, and that’s because it’s arguably the closest franchise to Star Wars. They’re both grand in scale, have very dedicated fanbases, and have massive casts. They’re also both owned by Disney.
But there’s one thing the MCU has over Star Wars… humor!
Some say it’s a fault of Marvel’s, but compare its movies to DC’s, which are largely devoid of comedy: the acclaim and commercial success of one far outweighs the other. That’s because, however dark things get, people like to sympathize with characters. Spider-Man is more relatable because he’s a bit of a joker. But not The Joker.
Star Wars isn’t completely without laughs, although it’s a lot rarer. K-2SO is an oasis amid a very bleak desert. I don’t want Star Wars to turn into Guardians of the Galaxy, but some small laughs wouldn’t go amiss. Smarter humor would be preferable to Porgs too.
Is Finn funny? Not especially. His incredulity might make you smile, but nobody’s afforded enough downtime to chill, chat, and chuckle. I can’t remember Jyn Erso or Rey laughing at all.
Everything’s so serious, you watch a two-hour movie and come out of the cinema wondering whether the Dark Side was right all along.
Ruining the Legacy
Until this point, I’d invested in the Star Wars universe. Even the prequels added something to the mythos. But we’ve reached the stage where Star Wars was better as a cinematic legend. Official extensions to the brand just lessen that icon.
No one is afforded a Happy Ever After. These characters deserved the conclusions they got in Return of the Jedi. Beyond that, they could live on in our imaginations, and maybe in comics, books, and other mediums. Now, they’re diminished.
We know Leia and Han have a troubled relationship, resulting in the whining monster that is Kylo Ren. We know R2-D2 spent ages powered down, essentially dead. And we know Luke abandoned all of his friends to live as a hermit. It’s all disappointing, isn’t it?
Han is the cherry on top. [Spoiler Alert!] Kylo Ren had to kill off one of the best characters in the fictional universe simply to prove to himself he wasn’t a petulant child. It was obviously going to happen, but that doesn’t mean it should have.
Kylo Ren’s journey couldn’t properly begin until he’d murdered a childhood hero.
Star Wars started on the big screen, but it’s better it continues in our imaginations, where characters can fly and the universe is infinite.
A Long Time Ago…
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars was special. Now, it’s just another cinematic series that will be exploited for all its worth.
I hope its core ideas are kept alive for further generations, but let’s not favorably compare the recent additions to the original trilogy. The light has gone from this star.
Star Wars is dead to me, and it should be dead to you too.
Do you agree with my feelings about the new generation of Star Wars? Or do you vehemently disagree, and want to see Disney run this franchise into the ground? Please let us know in the comments below, whether you’re giving the thumbs-up or taking me to task.