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The Two Biggest Problems With Star Wars

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An independent filmmaker navigating the wild world of the internet. Be kind.

Artist ~ Jamcouver

Artist ~ Jamcouver

I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan. If anything I’m more of a casual viewer, one who simply enjoys the films without delving too deep into the lore and world of Star Wars (I can assure you that the irony of me writing this is not lost on me).

In the last couple of years, however, I have read rants and watched video essays attacking the new series of films. Now some criticism I feel is perfect in its summation of how Disney has failed the franchise, but I find that there are two big issues that fans and Disney alike seem to overlook;(1) Building for the present and (2) Ignoring the Extended Universe.

This article may contain spoilers for Star Wars and Marvel. Proceed with caution.

1) Building for the Present

Disney’s line of thinking once they acquired Lucasfilms was simple; relaunch Star Wars for a new generation whilst creating a nostalgic acid trip for fans of the older films.

This was done perfectly with The Force Awakens. The film introduced us to new heroes, had some new ideas but designed a world that was less prequel trilogy and more original trilogy while remaking (and rebooting) a New Hope (whether this was good or bad is up to you).

In terms of what Disney wanted, A Force Awakens delivered in spades, both critically and financially. TFA was a disappointment for some as it didn’t offer anything new, but for the majority it gave a healthy dose of nostalgia whilst kick-starting an all new Star Wars adventure.

A year later, we get Rogue One, a year after that The Last Jedi, five months after that, Solo: A Star Wars Story and with that last entry the first box office failure for Star Wars. It wasn’t an utter dismal failure, but the estimate loss on the film is between $50 and $70 million.

Now many have gone over the reasons why this film failed, mentioning things as Star Wars fatigue, The Last Jedi mixed fan response and the socio-political themes these new films are determined to preach, as possible reasons why these films failed.

While some of those things previously mentioned may have played a role in Star Wars failing, I think that the reason for this is that fans have realised that these new Star Wars films are not really driven by anything other than profit.

The films don’t build to anything. In contrast, during the last decade Marvel Studios has put out 18 films, all of which were pieces put in place, building towards something special – building towards Avengers: Infinity War.

Now whether you knew or cared about characters like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered, is that you knew that Marvel had a plan that had something to do with a rather mad purple titan. So we, the audience, are forced to watch all the films, as we don’t want to miss out on any vital part that would be essential in Infinity War.

You just have to look at how Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel is positioned before Avengers 4 to see this in full effect. Representatives of Marvel have made it clear that Ant-man will play a vital role in Avengers 4, the post credit scene in Infinity War hinted at Captain Marvel, possibly being the one who can save them. Marvel is actively telling the audience, “you don’t want to miss the next film because that is important for the conclusion of this really long story we have been telling you for the past 10 years.”

Star Wars on the other hand, doesn’t know what story it wants to tell. I mean, after two films it’s hard to pin point what the overall story of the new trilogy is about. Is it about Rey becoming a master Jedi? Is it about Finn doing something (I’m not quite sure what his arc is at this point) Is this the story about Kylo Ren becoming the next Darth Vader, or failing to do so, or becoming a hero? I don’t know. There’s no clear direction.

In fact, TLJ (The Last Jedi) seems to be railing against everything TFA (The Force Awakens) sets up. All this does is have the series be caught up in an argument about what the story should be, neither doing an effective job of answering it.

The original trilogy can be summed up to, a story about Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi and fighting to stop Darth Vader.

The prequel trilogy can be summed up to a story about the rise of the Empire, the Emperor and Darth Vader.

Yes there is a lot more to both trilogies than that, but I think if you cut to the core of those stories without getting into themes or any other complex ideas, that perfectly sums up both those stories.

But what is this new trilogy about? I’m just not sure at this point. I mean the way TLJ ended, left very little for me to look forward to and after two films there doesn’t seem to be anything to be excited about when it comes to Episode 9.

This problem I feel arises from the fact that Lucasfilms, merely places the responsibility of figuring out the story on the filmmakers that they bring in. Nobody has any idea of what the overall story should be about.

The thing about George Lucas is that he saw each film as a chapter, one chapter that was part of a larger story. The reason why Star Wars always felt big and epic is because there was more going on in that world then what we got to see. We heard about adventures, and worlds, histories and creatures. Each chapter showed us a little bit more of the world but kept expanding the galaxy.

With each instalment the franchise grew a little bit bigger. Now, with each instalment the franchise grows a lot smaller.

While Solo was a fun film, I keep thinking, what if the film wasn’t Solo’s but what if it was Poe’s film? What if they decided to make a film that expanded on Poe’s story, giving us his origin and how he ended up in the rebellion, placing an emphasis on his desire, thus helping us understand him, his journey and how he fits into all of this? I don’t know about you, but I think at the very least that would have been an interesting prospect.

Artist ~ TatarskiSkandal

Artist ~ TatarskiSkandal

The extended universe is full of ideas. Ideas waiting to be stolen, ripped apart and then sewn back together as part of a new narrative. You don’t have to regurgitate the material from print to screen exactly, but you can mine its essence.

Artist ~ James Zapata

Artist ~ James Zapata

2) Ignoring The Extended Universe

To be completely honest with you, I know nothing at all about the extended universe apart from the fact that it exists. For the uninitiated, the extended Universe of Star Wars is a massive collection of, comic books, games, novels and other stories that have been told over the last 30 years or so.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy CEO of Lucasfilm, decided to ignore scrap the extended universe and to only consider the last six films as part of the official story. Everything else was considered superfluous. Now, this might sound counterintuitive, but I think this was the right move, however, completely ignoring the extended universe completely, was not.

Given the complexity and the convoluted nature of the Extended Universe, it’s easy to see why Disney would want to distance themselves from it. But, in doing so, Disney and Lucasfilm have done themselves a great disservice.

The extended universe is full of ideas. Ideas waiting to be stolen, ripped apart and then sewn back together as part of a new narrative. You don’t have to regurgitate the material from print to screen exactly, but you can mine its essence.

For the most part the MCU keeps looking at the comic books for its best ideas, i.e. Civil War, Extremis (Iron Man 3), Ragnarok, Winter Soldier, Infinity Gauntlet (Infinity War) etc… Marvel doesn’t simply adapt those stories to the big screen, they use those stories as inspiration and then take what they can from them as they figure out ways to navigate a new story they want to tell on the big screen.

Christopher Nolan did the same when it came to figuring out the story for his Dark Knight Trilogy. Batman: Year One was an obvious inspiration in crafting Batman Begins. As was The Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall used as inspirations for The Dark Knight Rises.

The comic book Old Man Logan was a great source of inspiration for director James Mangold on his film, Logan. Many will be quick to point out that while there are certainly some themes that cross over in both those narratives, the two stories are vastly different from one another.

You see the thing is when trying to navigate a huge franchise, like Marvel, DC and especially Star Wars, you do yourself a disservice when you completely ignore a vast ocean of ideas. Is it any wonder that Justice League and Suicide Squad failed to connect with audiences? Both stories failed to look at the comic books for any sort of inspiration. It’s not surprising that the filmmakers involved failed to find any interesting questions and impactful moments that had the potential to strengthen the narrative.

The biggest moment in the Dark Knight Rises comes when Bane breaks Batman’s back. The biggest moment in Infinity War comes when Thanos snaps his fingers and half the heroes turn to dust.

Both these moments were pulled straight out of the pages of the comic books they were inspired by. But, in both cases, neither happened exactly the same way as they did in there comic book counterpart. For instances, Thanos snapping his fingers causing half the universe (as well as half the heroes), to disappear happens at the beginning of the story, in Infinity Gauntlet. This pushes the remaining heroes into action most of whom were unaware of Thanos before this crisis. Whereas, In Infinity War the snap occurs at the end, with our heroes battling to stop him.

With Star Wars floundering in on the edge of a directionless narrative, you have to wonder how many good Star Wars stories lay full of exciting memorable moments that the vast audience will never have the joy of experiencing. Could there be a Thanos *snap*moment waiting to be discovered? Possibly. But with Lucasfilms and Disney continuing to ignore the massive expanse of ideas in the extended universe, I can’t help but feel at loss for those stories now forgotten.