Monday, June 4, 2018

Intellectual Property Homesick Blues, Part 3: You Kids Get Your Banthas Off My Lawn

Now this tag line is actually
truthful. It was forever ago.
Part One is Here: Rocky and Bullwinkle
Part Two is Here: Solo

Solo came out last week, and it landed like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl as the intelligencia—ahem, excuse me—I mean fandom—savaged the movie for not being necessary, and also not being what they wanted it to be, a state of being that can only exist in the intellectual miasma of the Internet. I’m speaking, of course, about the vocal minority, out in force, clutching their lightsabers and calling for the resignation of Kathleen Kennedy for “ruining Star Wars.”

Mind you, I’m not talking about people with legitimate problems with the movie. If you don’t like the lack of tension, the uneven pacing, the need to self-reference other movies in ham-fisted ways, I’ve got no problem with that, because while I just don’t particularly care about those concerns, I freely acknowledge that they are there and you are right.

No, I’m talking about these guys here, the Poisonous Minority that seems to be infecting all levels and areas of popular culture these days.  I find this unfathomable in the extreme, and if you’re one of the people who have been arguing for this, sit back, because you need to hear what I have to say. Everyone comfortable? Got your fingers poised over the keys, ready to ragequit? Okay, here it goes:

You’re now officially too old for Star Wars. There. I said it.

That’s not to say that you (or anyone else for that matter) can’t still enjoy Star Wars movies, but many of you clearly don’t enjoy them anymore, and I’ve got news for you, Sparky: I doubt you ever will again. You can’t enjoy Star Wars because you ruined it for yourself. Also, you’re an adult, and you really need to grow the hell up.  

A girl! In a Star Wars movie!
And a black guy! The horror!
Think about it. You very likely saw Star Wars when you were a kid. You either saw it, in theaters, like me, or you saw it, on video tape, like the next set of kids, or you watched it on DVD, like the set after that, or your Star Wars-obsessed parents took you to see the prequels when they first hit the theaters, or you watched those movies when you were a kid on DVD/Blu-Ray combo. The only common denominator is that, however you first saw a Star Wars movie, you were a kid between the ages of 5 and 10.

And as a kid, you didn’t have a lifetime of other movies, better movies, more nuanced and impactful movies to draw from. You only had Star Wars. And it was pretty great. Certainly the initial trilogy was a fantastic springboard into other movies, other genres, other directors, as we got old enough to figure it out and appreciate it for what it was: an homage to the things George Lucas liked. He made a Flash Gordon/Dune/Kurasawa Cliffhanger mashup before mashups were a gleam in anyone’s eye. I’ve argued before that from a constructionist point of view, Star Wars was very much a Post-Modern movie. It plays against type and trope in so many ways; Han shoots first, the Damsel in Distress is really the Hero, it’s a fantasy set in a sci-fi world, etc. As a pop cultural artifact goes, it was so influential that it invented new ideas that have since become tropes and even clich├ęs in other movies. That’s incredibly significant, and we can’t take anything away from that.

But the franchise is now forty-one years old. I’ve lived with it for nearly my entire life. Some of you have never known a world without Star Wars in it. And that’s a real problem. The franchise has progressed over time, through three generations. I’m not saying that you, as a grown-ass man (or woman, but let’s face it, a lot of the people kvetching about this are doughy old white guys), cannot enjoy a Star Wars movie for what it is, but let’s be honest with ourselves: you’re no longer the target demographic. No matter how many toys you buy, how many Lego models you build, you are no longer and never will be again, an impressionable ten-year-old. There are better, more mature movies—even SF movies—out there that are, in fact, aimed at you. Granted, they don’t have Ewoks...

We are four movies into the Disney Reign.
The tone has been set. If you don't like it,
you can hit the bricks. 
It’s confusing, I know. The first two movies didn’t seem to be aimed at kids. There were dark themes. Dire situations. Operatic elements. Monsters. Villains. Our hero gets his hand cut off—by his own father. Certainly the first two-and-a-half movies weren’t so much aimed at kids as informed by Lucas’ childhood obsessions. And while they were constructed by an adult, with adult sensibilities, we as kids loved that they were dark and “mature.” That was part of their appeal. Not quite forbidden fruit, but there’s a reason why Empire is for so many of us the best of the original trilogy. I’m even going to set aside my problems with Return of the Jedi for the moment and give credit where credit is due and say that the three movies comprise a massive three-part story that was our first epic cinematic experience. It set the pace for every other Summer movie that came after it. Hell, it defined the term “blockbuster” as we understand it. Star Wars changed movie-making forever.

If you grow up with something in your life, it’s hard to let it go. It’s even harder when it lets YOU go. But Star Wars has moved on. There’s a new crop of Post-Millennials out there and they don’t have the same problems with The Force Awakens and Solo that you did. Because they are nine years old. They came to the movies in a Jedi costume, holding a lightsaber. You came in Dockers and a T-shirt that says “I Brrrraaaarrrork for Wookies.” There’s a big difference. They also haven’t consumed 25 years of Expanded Star Wars universe comics and novels and video games, and that’s another issue that bears pointing out: the length of time between projects.

For the longest time, there were only three Star Wars movies. Well, three Star Wars movies, a horrible Holiday Special, two shitty Ewok TV movies and two equally shitty Saturday morning cartoons aimed at children, but you take my meaning. It was fourteen years after I watched Return of the Jedi in the theaters before I got any new Star Wars stuff on the big screen, and the stuff I got was pretty mediocre—but I still paid my money to watch the Special Editions because Star Wars was my thing. No, wait, I’m not saying that right: Star Wars was MY thing. There, that’s better. I felt like a shareholder. I’d bought in. I’d paid my dues. I’d put Lucas up in a Hidden Fortress (see what I did there) and paid for his lifestyle with my Christmas and birthday money, with my head space, with my heart.

I watched those special editions because I had given up hope that I’d ever see any other Star Wars movies again. And really, I was all right with that. There were enough books, comics, games, and toys to scratch any itches I might have if I wanted to dip a toe back in those waters.

Not my Star Wars. But also not a big deal.
I got my movies already, from 1977-1983.
The Prequels came out from 1999 to 2005, and while I didn’t like them very much, I also realized almost right away that Lucas had moved on past me and was now targeting the current crop of kids. I mean, it was obvious, right? How could you not see it? I don’t think it worked as well, because it’s always weird and lame when your dad tries to talk to your friends and he always gets the slang wrong. And Lucas made the classic mistake of thinking that kids would relate to young Annikan, Skywalker because he was a kid, like them. Idiot. Kids don’t want to be other kids in movies. They want to be grownups. Like Qui-Gon, who you killed, or young Obi-Wan, who you’ll eventually kill, or Padme, who you’ll kill offscreen, or...oh, never mind.

Ten years after that, Disney bought Lucasfilm, I knew right away where this was going. It had been a decade since the last Star Wars movie, after I’d given up any hope of ever  seeing episodes 7, 8 and 9 get made. Lucas all but told us outright that he was sick of our shit. And I couldn’t blame him, not after we collectively excoriated him for the prequels. Interesting because, at the time, while we were all watching Lucas get more and more defensive, the generation under us was quietly digging the movies, buying the toys, dressing up for Halloween—in other words, being fans.

Disney acquired this franchise because they wanted something that would appeal to boys the same way that Disney Princesses appeal to girls. I don’t agree with that broad categorization, but then again, as with so many other decisions, I was not consulted by Disney. Boys and girls. Not men and women. That the parents are excited is certainly laudable, but it’s bonus money for them. The focus, ever since The Empire Strikes Back, has been and always will be, the kids.

Here’s another thing about Disney. They are the most savvy film studio when it comes to marketing their brands. They are Machiavellian in their efficiency. Draconian, even. Everyone else doing branded and targeted demographic marketing is following Disney’s lead and using their field research. They know what they are doing. But they didn’t know Star Wars. And when a film studio wants a movie, but doesn’t want to take a risk, they don’t try something new. They remake the thing that worked before. I won’t insult your intelligence by listing the number of times this has happened.  I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.

There's a good chance that Rey will
factor into the next crop of movies.
If you pull the rip cord now, you can
avoid having to be mad about them.
Disney wanted—nay, needed to make new Star Wars movies, so they made the very safe decision to finish the original nine-movie trilogy of trilogies, if only to have closure. And to keep the interest in the franchise high—and also, I firmly believe, to test-market the kinds of movies you’d be willing to accept as being labeled “a Star Wars story”—they put these interstitial films into production. Films set between the ones we’ve said that we liked. Films that wouldn’t break Star Wars as a brand, but that had different themes and settings and that used different elements from the old tried and true Jedi Knights.

Now, we can argue as to the efficacy of that plan, as well as the quality of the four movies we’ve gotten, all day. Your mileage will definitely vary. And provided you aren’t arguing about the number of women and people of color present in the movies, I’ll likely agree with any actual complaints you may have about plot, story, and character. I won’t debate you, because I probably mostly agree with you. I just don’t really care to put any more mental energy into thinking about how I’d “fix” Star Wars if only they’d let me. That ship has cleared the planet’s gravitational pull and has made the jump to hyperspace.

And neither should you. Star Wars has changed. It’s three generations removed from what you grew up with. Or two generations, if you’re a Prequels kid. Either way. That you cannot see it, or worse, that you think the inclusion of a woman and a black man is somehow analogous to the wheels coming off of a multi-billion-dollar juggernaut that, at last count, is doing just fine, is to be so willfully ignorant that I question how you ever got a driver’s license or manage to hold a job down.

My advice to you is to find another hobby. The toys are selling well. The movies are selling well. We’re going to have Star Wars events every year until at least 2020, and I’m willing to bet we will have them for many years afterward. Maybe after 2020 you can poke your head in and see if anything has change for you, but I suspect that it won’t. Just gather around the tar pit and wait for someone to come push you in. Take it from someone outside of your closed feedback loop: what you're doing is only pissing everyone else off. Either sit this one out, or shut the hell up. 

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