I don’t say all this to flex my fandom or make an attempt to say that my investment in Star Wars is greater than someone who doesn’t know what Slave One is. I think it is too easy to conflate hours watched and facts learned with a real understanding of what is best for a series and/or what made the series work in the first place.
But I’m not here to get into what made the original trilogy good. I’m also not going to try and dissect why Star Wars has so firmly ingrained itself into popular culture or permeated so deeply into the minds of many fans around the world. What I do want to talk about is how Star Wars is going to remain both culturally relevant and cinematically interesting, and how I think the interests of an extremely vocal group of Star Wars “superfans” could be hindering the series’ ability to fully adapt and survive in the modern film age.
First, a quick qualifier. Blockbusters are different now than they were in the mid-to-late 1970s. If a 70s movie that had never been released came out in theatres today, most modern audiences would be confused. And I don’t mean they’d just be perplexed as to why the actors were all dead or the movies weren’t shot in high-definition. Movies worked differently back then. They were slower, more plot heavy and certainly less action prone than the blockbusters of today. And we could argue back and forth about whether or not movies from that era are better or worse than movies now, but you have to agree that they are different.
Thus, what was likely to have made Star Wars work so well when it was first released may not have had nearly the same impact on a modern film audience. Star Wars’ space opera grandiosity and world building heavy universe were far more unique in the late 70s than they would be in a film today. And that’s not to say that the original Star Wars trilogy doesn’t do a significantly better job at that stuff than a lot of blockbusters after it. But it’s the relative ease of creating a universe with seemingly massive scale which nullifies that element of Star Wars’ success in a modern context.
So, if blockbusters from the late 70s are slower, plot-heavy and less action oriented, modern blockbusters are quicker, character driven and more action-packed. And, again, you might think this is bad. That’s fine. But that’s how it is. And for Star Wars to continue to remain culturally relevant, it has to adapt to the more modern style of filmmaking we are currently seeing out of Hollywood blockbusters. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have wanted Star Wars to be like the 40 years of James Bond movies (before Daniel Craig and Martin Campbell actually changed the series).
The way I see it, there are two schools of thought, in the negative, if you accept the differences Star Wars is making.
One: If Star Wars has to change to stay relevant, it should just end.
This is the kind of “hindsight is 20/20” –esque thing that people love to say when a movie gets a less-than-satisfactory sequel. Why would they make a sequel to this? It was perfect the way it is. All new movies should be 100% original and never build upon previous source material.
And if you think that way about Star Wars: fine, I guess. Stay in a bubble and watch the original trilogy on repeat. But Star Wars is multi-billion dollar franchise. To assume that it would ever be stagnant is extremely foolish. So embrace the inevitable. There is going to be more Star Wars. So we should demand that they improve, not lazily rehash the same things that you think made the originals great.
Two: Star Wars can change, but there are 100,000 rules and guidelines that the sequel films will need to follow in order to “stay true” to the originals. And that list will make it impossible for any writer or director top have any kind of original vision with Star Wars.
This is seemingly the predominant ideology of the highly vocal Star Wars fan community. Star Wars fans like to claim that they have absolutely no problem with the concept of a new Star Wars film. But the degree of restrictions that are placed upon these new films by fans, in terms of strict adherences to what every individual fan seems to see as “true Star Wars” is not only complete arbitrary bullshit, but deathly restrictive to the franchises ability to grow.
And I’m not talking about the people who hate that Finn is a black Stormtrooper or harass actress Kelly Marie Tran because they think Rose is “the worst Star Wars character in history how dare SJWs force her into my Star Wars.” These people aren’t worth the energy of trying to combat. Inclusivity is a good thing. And while I didn’t think Rose was a particularly well written or fleshed out character either, a jump to her inclusion being part of a liberal agenda is sexist and racist.
I’m more talking about the people who will talk your ear off about how Yoda and Luke’s uses of the Force in The Last Jedi are “not how the Force works.” Or the people whose only criticism of Kylo Ren is that he isn’t just Darth Vader again. Or the people who say that Luke shouldn’t have been bitter and old because that’s not the Luke they remember. Or the people who just sweepingly declare that the new films are bad because they don’t feel like they think Star Wars should feel because of about 1,000 different minute factors.
All of these criticisms stem from the same general place: people want Star Wars to make them feel like a kid again. They don’t like that Luke has grown cynical because Luke was the optimist of the original trilogy. So they ignore the storytelling elements and themes of The Last Jedi which clearly articulate why Luke is like this now and skip directly to “but that’s not Luke.” They don’t like that Kylo Ren is a petulant child rather than a stoic badass because that’s what Vader was. But they completely overlook that Kylo Ren is a complicated and interesting character who actually has a hell of a lot more depth and nuance than Vader ever had.
And the mentality of wanting to feel that nostalgia at such a direct, one-to-one level is the core of the problem. Each aspect of the hardcore fans’ nostalgia has to be precisely integrated into the new Star Wars for them to “feel like a kid again.” This way of thinking fundamentally misunderstands the entire point of creating a new trilogy of Star Wars films. Yes, part of what these movies are trying to do is harken back to the originals to get older butts in seats. But from both a marketing and thematic perspective, the new Star Wars trilogy is meant for the same core audience the original trilogy was likely meant for: kids.
Now I feel like saying a thing that adults like is “for kids” automatically riles people up. Just because something was created with the intention of entertaining children doesn’t mean it can’t also be appealing toward adults or have the deeper theming of movies targeted for adults. Star Wars clearly worked for both children and adults. But children are the first priority, and have been since far before Disney purchased the franchise (Ewoks, Boba Fett and Jar Jar Banks are all clear examples of George Lucas pandering to kids or trying to sell toys).
So if Star Wars target audience is the youth of today, not the former youth of 40 years ago, it stands to reason that the newer films will contain more elements that today’s movie-going audience is more used to. This means more action, more witty dialogue from the characters rather than the dryer humor of the original trilogy and a larger focus on character than story. The key is that Star Wars has managed to do this while continuing to intertwine the themes and mythos that made the OG trilogy so memorable and timeless.
This is why it is so frustrating to see older neckbeards demand that their Star Wars satiate their need for nostalgia by shitting all over the new films’ minute changes to their interpretation of Star Wars while completely ignoring every effort these films are making to adapt. And this isn’t to say that Force Awakens and The Last Jedi aren’t flawed, or that you are one of these neckbeardy fans if you didn’t like either (or both) of these films. But I’d love, just once, to hear some legitimate criticism of these films from “fans” that doesn’t immediately dip into the kind of nostalgia-blindness that will hinder Star Wars if we let it.
And I’d honestly love to see Star Wars get even more different than it is. Rogue One was a step in the right direction in terms of creating anthology films in the Star Wars universe that feel tonally different. Solo...wasn’t. Star Wars needs a chance to breath and explore, come up with wild stories and crazy worlds that continue to enthrall children and impress adults. That’s not going to happen if we keep demanding to see the Millenium Falcon in every movie exactly the way it’s “meant to look” or refuse to accept well-written characters like Rey because she isn’t a Skywalker or Obi Wan’s daughter or some other contrived bullshit. We need to let go. Let the past die. Kill it if we have to.