Thursday, December 28, 2017

When Rick and Morty Don’t Get the Star Wars Movie They Want

So, by now, you’ve seen the latest Internet dust-up. No, it’s not over health care, or the massive tax break for the rich, or the ongoing cockroach cluster that is the American Media sex scandal, or the fact that Disney is now an Intellectual Property Monopoly unto itself. It’s not about food, or oil, or governmental overreach, or Russia, or corporate culture run amok.

It’s about Star Wars.

Luke looks a little dark in this poster.
I wonder what they could have been
trying to convey with that?
Yeah, you heard me, Star Wars. The 8th chapter in the seemingly interminable saga of the Skywalker Dysfunctional Family, the 9th movie in 40 years. And we’re not done with it. That is, most of us aren’t done. We’re waiting patiently for Episode 9, when the trilogy of trilogies is complete. We’re even going to sit through a Han Solo movie that no one asked for, while we wait.

But some of you—and let’s be clear about this: it’s a vocal minority, and we know that now, don’t we?—some of you feel as though you didn’t get something you were promised. And what exactly was that, hmmm? You were promised a movie that advanced a storyline that has been in motion—glacial, inexorable motion—since 1977. And you got it, in spades. Two-and-a-half hours’ worth of space fights, lightsabers, starships, and obligatory ancillary merchandise out the wazoo. So has it always been, and so shall it ever be.

So, what’s your problem?

Ben Shapiro’s Laundry List of complaints—many of which fall into the round file alongside stuff like “You wouldn’t hear the explosions in space, duh!” but it also includes a jab at the "Social Justice Warrior" message in the movie, as well. And this bit of incisive journalism about the unanswered questions plot holes in the movie, and, as writer/artist Jamal Igle notes, none of which are plot holes.  Gerry Conway’s political repositioning of the movie certainly accounted for some of the uproar. Apparently, Star Wars should never be about something, unless that something is friendships and space ships and laser swords. Darren Yohan went the opposite way and justified everychoice made in the movie.

The Teaser Poster. That red and white
color scheme that ran through the
posters? That was intentional. I
wonder what they could have been
trying to convey with that?
So, there was, once again, a gulf of difference between the fans and the critics. But was there? My evidence is anecdotal, largely empirical, and wouldn’t hold up in court, but since I own a movie theater that is playing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I have the luxury of asking my audience—passionate Star Wars fans, the lot of them—what they thought. Here’s their general consensus:

Most of them found one thing to not like, or question, or say, “I’d rather they...”. But then they hasten to add, “But I loved it. It was fantastic!” Now, this certainly may be partially due to the glow of having just seen the movie, but I’ve got repeat customers in week two who are only liking it more as they come out of the theater.

This isn’t all fans, of course. Many folks I know didn’t like the movie, for what I’d consider to be articulate, concrete, and specific reasons. A few of them are even mad about it. After all, for some of us, this would be considered yet another disappointment, after (just to pull one out of a hat) Episode I: the Phantom Menace.

For one fan, though, it was too much to bear. He started a petition on to get enough signatures so that Disney would strike the movie from the Star Wars canon. As of this writing, it has over 59,000 signatures and counting.

I am not joking. I wish I was.

Novelist and screenwriter Chris Cargill fairly Mjolnir-ed the nail on the head thusly on Twitter:

C. Robert Cargill @Massawyrm Dec 20
There has been a gawdawful Holiday Special, two unwatchable Ewok feature films, three reviled special editions, three despised prequels, a complete embarrassment of a feature length animated Clone Wars movie... ...but Episode VIII is where you draw the line canonically? Huh.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about the guy who started this whole thing, Henry Walsh. After the story went viral, and he started getting death threats (because, see, that’s what happens when stories go viral—they explode and their spores get all over everyone and this trigger mutations and that’s how you get more trolls, get it?), he rolled back his statement. Here’s the quote from the newsweek article
"Hey guys I need to be honest here," Walsh wrote on Tuesday. "I put this petition up because I was upset and I was on strong pain medication."  Walsh, who is from Avondale Estates, Georgia, explained that he was recently in a car accident, and was "frustrated and medicated" when he created the campaign. "It was a bad idea at the time and I feel that we are pooling our efforts in not a healthy direction." 
Walsh recommended everyone who signed his petition (46,394 people and counting) check out other, more pressing issues on "I couldn't get the help on GoFundMe to help pay for my surgery, and yet *this* gets this kind of attention," he wrote. 
Then, in a second update on Wednesday, Walsh announced he would update the petition every day to highlight a new cause, starting with A Force For Change, a fundraising effort by Star Wars fans, currently raising money for Unicef Kid Power and Starlight Children's Foundation. 
Walsh added that he still really hates The Last Jedi.

In a follow up article, on a website closer to home, he added to the story:
 Walsh said he tried to rein it in, telling people to devote their energies to helping someone who needed it and reminding them of the petition’s humorous intentions. That made things even worse. 
“The people supporting the petition decided I was a sell out and Disney had bought me off,” he said. “I wish Disney had bought me off. I could use the money." 
Walsh has had a tough year. An accident left him wheelchair bound and he moved to Avondale Estates to find treatment for his condition and get back on his feet. He said when he saw the movie – the longest “Star Wars” film ever made – he was in physical pain due to sitting up the whole time. 
After the film, he was venting online when someone suggested he write the petition as Professor Walsh, a persona he used when he wrote for the “Star Wars” fan site, “Ask a Jedi.”

“I was hired to be controversial, so we created the Professor Walsh persona, which is like if you take me and ratchet me up to 11,” he said. “Professor Walsh was always highly critical and aggressive in a critique.” 
He said when he created the petition, “At the time I was really frustrated with the film. It was, ‘Hey, let’s do this. It will be great. We’ll get 20 or 30 people and it’s gonna be a laugh and that’s it.'” 
But not everyone got the joke, he said. 
“Funny thing about ideas on the internet,” he said. “It seems, not everyone realizes things aren’t supposed to be super serious.”

But, see, here’s where Henry Walsh got it wrong, so very wrong. He knew exactly what this would do. I am not unsympathetic to his situation, okay? As one of the people on, he was an authority on Star Wars, especially the Expanded remember, all of that stuff that was the first thing to go when Walt Disney bought George Lucas’ hot mess? That stuff. So, this guy, who was a big deal, a decent writer as far as fan-scholars go, and someone who had all of the answers, suddenly had no answers.

Then he got hit (literally and figuratively) with a couple of tragedies; things that would have thrown any of us into a real funk. And he didn’t have any (or enough, or the right kind of) insurance to cover the cost of his surgeries. So he started a GoFundMe campaign, and it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. But he never thought to go back to his old stomping grounds and say, “Hey, all of you Jedi fanatics, I need a little help, here.” He could have done so easily, even though the site no longer seems to be regularly updated, I’m positive this kid is online in other Star Wars forums. He could have asked for what he needed, and I’ll bet you some Star Wars fans who GET it would very likely have gladly dropped a donation to help him get a brace so he could have mobility back. Because that’s what a Star Wars fan would do, as the hundreds of non-profit Star Wars charity groups across the country would tell you.

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he decided to pull a Rick and Morty and pitch a hissy fit about the Szechuan Sauce. 

Now I’m not going to aim this directly at Henry, because again, I am sympathetic to his medical condition, and the effects of pain killers, and also I understand about stupid lapses in judgment on the Internet. Also, I appreciate his efforts to back off of his original stance and highlight other groups that need help and support on gofundme and

This next part is aimed at the 59,000 and counting Star Wars fans who signed that ridiculous petition: just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

I’ve spoken before about fans taking ownership of the Star Wars movies, but there’s a big difference between a director monkeying around with a film and changing fundamental characters and endings, years after we all decided we liked them just fine the way they were, and a group of fans who are acting like middle management at a dog food company, rejecting a commercial proposal because it doesn’t hit the right notes for them. “Yeah, no, we were thinking of something just like the old Chuck Wagon ads, but not exactly that, but basically that, even though they are old and we’ve all seen them before. We’re going to need you to take this back and rework it. We don’t quite know what we want; we’ll let you know when we see it.”

Um, that’s not how this works, y’all. I can’t believe I’m defending Walt Disney, Inc,. here, but this is exactly the movie they wanted to put out. I’m sorry that two full years of rampant speculation and countless hours—no, make that weeks—spent on the Interwebs, explaining the reasons for your theory as to who Rey’s parents were in detail—with frames from the film, to back it all up—all of the arguments, friendly and otherwise, about Kylo Ren, Snope, The First Order, all of it—well, I’m sorry that none of that fan-activity amounted to diddly-squat. You weren’t, in fact, the first person to figure it out. No one figured it out. The slate has been wiped clean. The Etch-a-Sketch has been turned over and shaken. Too bad, so sad.

And if that’s why you’re so pissed—that none of your guesses were correct—then you’ve got the same pants to get happy in, Rick and Morty, because you have clearly and completely missed the point of Star Wars, watching movies, and I daresay, interacting with people.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

By the time I was a teenager, in the 1980s, I was used to being lied to by authority figures. My first political scandal I remember was Watergate, and “I am not a crook!” hung in the American Lexicon for at least twenty years or so. Two fingers up, jowls shaking, say that phrase, and people go “NIXON!” So, between Saturday Night Live, Mad Magazine (I was too young for National Lampoon—good thing, too, or I would have been insufferable), a slew of post-modern films designed to challenge accepted narratives, The Iran-Contra scandal, “Read My Lips: NO NEW TAXES!” and oh, GOD, what else? I stopped trusting adults as soon as I hit puberty and never looked back.

This did include—and moreover should have included—Lucas’ plans to make six more Star Wars movies. We should have stopped after Return of the Jedi. I see that, now. I didn’t believe Lucas when he said he was done. Well, I did at the time, but when the re-mastered digitally-enhanced Special Editions were released for the 25th anniversary, I began to think maybe he was going back on his end of the bargain. And boy, did he!

Most of ya’ll weren’t around to see the reactions from Generation X. We were just like you, if we can be perfectly honest about it. We were pissed. Pissed about all of it. Especially The Phantom Menace. I’m sure most of you have seen “the Fandom Edit” version, where some enterprising young pirate cut all of the Jar Jar Binks scenes out of the movie. And can you blame him? We weren’t over Greedo shooting first—that was still being hotly debated—and now here comes this new Star Wars, for a new generation (Lucas mentioned his kids several times in the interviews before the world “turned against him” and he shut himself off from the fans).

But it blew over. The second Prequel (the one I like to call “the apology”) was at least watchable, if not enjoyable. And that last one—well, see, we knew how the story was going to turn out, so there was zero suspense, zero tension, and zero surprise, unless you count Mace Windu getting killed, or Darth Annie slaughtering all of the young Jedi children like he killed all of the Tusken Raiders who kidnapped his mother in the previous film. But whatever. We had to come to grips with the notion that Star Wars was not "ours" anymore, because there were eager dads showing the movie to their kids, hooking them on Darth Maul, lightsaber fights, the toys, the collectibles, all of it. Lots of dads got to vaguely relive their wonder years with their kids in tow.

And we made a kind of peace with this new trilogy. We had to, for one simple reason: the franchise wasn't ours to monkey around with. It belonged to Lucas, and he made that abundantly clear when he decided to release the Special Editions with all of their nonsense. He did it even as he had growing contempt for his fans. There's a lot of spite in the prequels, an almost "because I said so!" vibe. Daddy was mad at us. And for a while, we were mad at him right back.

But then we shrugged and said, “yeah, well, I’m just not going to buy them when the come out.,” or “I’ll own them, for the set, but I’ll never watch them.” Whatever it was you did or said to get you over the hump. The six movies, such as they were, represented a complete arc. The birth, life, transformation and redemption of Darth Vader. It was not what we were promised. But if you stepped back and looked at it as a complete thing, it held up as someone’s vision, if not the original idea. And if you’ll notice, that’s where Lucas stopped. 

There's your Must-Have Christmas
item for 2017. See? Star Wars will
never really let you down. And now,
neither will Walt Disney, Inc. 
Then Lucas sold it all to Disney for two billion dollars and laughed all the way to the bank. And who can blame him? I’m sue he was sick to death about hearing how he invented the modern blockbuster and doomed the planet to an early extinction event at the same time. How Star Wars revolutionized an industry and inspired a generation and the prequels were the worst thing to happen to filmmaking since Howard the Duck.

So, this new Disney-backed trilogy is announced, and since everyone didn’t like the prequels, let’s get the original gang back together. Only, you didn’t like that, because it was too much like the other one. So, now, the new one comes out, and it completely upsets the apple carts, and you’re crying like four-year-old with a scraped knee. Unbelievable.

There is nothing in this movie that is any dumber, any more illogical, any less make-sense-able, any stretching of the imagination to the breaking point that is in ANY of the other Star Wars movies. Leia’s little floating stunt? You didn’t like that? Midi-Chlorians, asshole. In fact, that should be the counter for everything you don’t like about The Last Jedi, from Porgs on down. Midi-freaking-chlorians. Give me strength.

This reminds me of something from the Simpsons:

Close enough, right?

Writer and Director Rian Johnson has given us all a gift. He took all of the stuff that didn’t make sense, that you didn’t like, that you spent months of your life trying to work out in your head so that it made sense, and he swept the table clean. There are no more Legos on the board, now. And what he replaced it with really set some of you off. If your explanation for why you're so mad includes the word "agenda," then you're a nickel-plated imbecile. 

There was a comedian, Greg Davis, in the 1980s, who had a character he called “the Punk Rock Magician,” and it was a silly gag, really. He put on a fake mohawk and held up things like a rubber chicken with a nail in its heads and say, in an affected cockney accent, Iss an eelooosion!” and when people laughed, he’d yell, “Fuck Yew!” More than once in the routine, he’s grab the mic, lean out across it like Johnny Rotten, and say, “I’m fewlin’ you an’ you don’ like it!” Boy, do you NOT like it. But that’s okay. You’ll settle in, just as we did. And are doing. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve been lied to. We’re Generation X. Our zeitgeist is held together with half-truths, lies, and fabrications of all kinds. Welcome to adulthood, y’all.

Episode 9, the last one, in two years’ time, will finally, after 43 years, put an end to Lucas’s nine-movie odyssey. Ambitious in 1977 to the point of ridicule, but now a completely doable thing. And we are going to watch that movie with fresh eyes, and no idea what’s coming. No more Luke, Leia, and Han. I hope Chewie takes the droids and flies into the sun. Let’s just end this thing. It’s gone on for too long. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited for the movie. I want to see it end. I think the world that Lucas created still has life in it. And I want to see new movies set in that world. Whether we go back a thousand years to the Old Republic and find out how the Jedi and the Sith separated, or whether we go forward from the remnants of Episode 9 (I hope it’s the former), I’m looking forward to new characters and new stories that don't take forty-three years and three generations to wrap up. But first, we have to clear this embarrassing clunker of a promise—a stack of lies and deceptions—out of the way so there will be an end to it all and you can let go of it. That’s what youfans want, even if you’re going to hate it so much that you’ll only watch it three times, instead of your usual five.

From the Vanity Fair photo shoot.
Still gets me every time. 
Maybe at the end of all of this, we can apply a little perspective and think that maybe, just maybe, this whole shebang was little more than a sleight-of-hand trick that we watched so much we figured out how it was done. We keep wanting the magic, but we can see how the trick works. We can’t have it both ways.

Here’s the final link. It’s the only one that really matters. It’s Henry Walsh’s GoFundMe page. If you can spare anything, please help him out. As a fellow Star Wars fan. Regardless of whether or not he liked Episode 8. Let’s be the people that Ben Kenobi and Yoda would have approved of. Do what you can, if you can do anything. No hate. Just love. Positive messages only.

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