5 Ways Disney Can't Stop Screwing Up Star Wars
Star Wars. You love it! You think it's great. But what if Star Wars stopped being great? That would be bad, right? And bad things aren't great! Everybody knows that! Seeing as how we're all in agreement here, let's talk about the possibility that Disney's entire strategy for Star Wars might be, as a whole, actually madly deeply verifiably bad. I know it's painful to fathom such a terrible possibility -- I mean, The Last Jedi looks just bonkers -- but I can't help to notice a few glaring red flags. Bad flags. So without further ado ...
So Far, The New Movies Seem Afraid To Take Chances
For staunch Star Wars nerds burnt out by years of jackass Expanded Universe stories, adding to the Star Wars canon sometimes feels like writing new chapters to the Bible wherein Jesus comes back to fight ISIS with the aid of a talking car. And seeing as how the folks in charge of Star Wars are the ones who grew up on it, the new films feel a smidge unadventurous at times.
It's no secret that The Force Awakens mirrors every character and plot point from the Original Trilogy. But what I find staggering is how every new character also geeks out over the old cast. Kylo Ren worships Vader. Poe and Rey know all about the adventures of Han and Luke. It's as if the screenwriters wanted to make "relatable characters," and so naturally wrote them as Star Wars fans. The filmmakers aren't blind to this. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has spoken multiple times about the balance between writing an original story and keeping to the Star Wars tone. But with Rogue One, Lucasfilm's definition of "original story" was "the movie takes place literally a few days before A New Hope."
And remember Ass-Face Roy and Joe Walrus from the Mon Eisley Cantina? Hooray or something, they came back in Rogue One!
This scene is similar to one later in the movie, when we see C-3PO and R2-D2 on Yavin, watching the fleet roll out.
This is weird, considering that they're in that very fleet in A New Hope. Fans have already done the mental gymnastics required to fix this obvious mistake ("They must have taken a shuttle later into the war zone, because that totally makes sense!"), but the obvious answer is that Lucasfilm simply wanted to shove these characters into Rogue One and didn't bother to think about it too hard. And hey, when this kind of nostalgia callback inevitably wears off, people will have to confront the merits of the writing itself, y'know?
And let's talk about the spinoff movies (like Rogue One) for a second. These could explore enigmatic side characters like Boba Fett, jump forward or back centuries, or even completely switch genres. Who wouldn't want to see a Star Wars noir-style detective film? There are so many amazing options ...
Or make a Han Solo origin, I guess? Hey, wasn't A New Hope already the Han Solo origin? See, there's a reason that film began when it did: It was the most interesting point to start. We didn't need to know what Han was up to before saving the fucking Galaxy any more than we needed to see how Leia got the Death Star plans. These are footnotes to a bigger story. Devoting films to them is like if Peter Jackson made a two-hour Lord Of The Rings spinoff adventure about Aragorn hitchhiking to the Prancing Pony.
What frustrates me here is that it's not like there aren't popular Star Wars characters that it wouldn't be awesome to see the origin of. (Yoda has no doubt seen his share of adventures and/or psychic goblin orgies.) But I think the reason we're getting Han Solo is because it's safe from a writing perspective. He's a beloved character, a known quantity. His "origin" will undoubtedly be a series of unbearable callbacks to minutiae from A New Hope. In other words, brace yourself for a nail-biting "Kessel Run" sequence in which the prize is a vest.
Forcing A New Star Wars Every Year Means Rushing Out Crap
Everyone knows that classic I Love Lucy bit in which Lucy's wrapping chocolate on a production line, and the conveyor goes so fast that she gets desperate and starts eating the candy to keep up, but Lucy still makes billions worldwide, because people will eat chocolate no matter how sloppy and slapdash it is.
If you haven't puzzled out my brilliant analogy, Star Wars is the chocolate and Lucasfilm is the hilarious 1950s comedienne. Disney has decided that the world deserves a new Star Wars film every 365 days, because nothing says "quality" like deciding the release date before knowing what you're making. (That's why restaurants always bring your meal out in exactly five minutes, no matter how undercooked it is.)
The moral of the story is "rushing is dumb." It's why back when most TV shows had 20+ episodes a season, we'd get hogwash like clip shows and that one X-Files where the villain was a clowder of cats. We learned over time that it's better to have a smaller amount of high-quality things than a large amount of poor-quality things. This applies to 99 percent of everything humanity has ever created. And if you don't believe me, look at the small library's worth of articles about Lucasfilm's current production problems.
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, Lucasfilm's schedule is so nuts that they're hemorrhaging writers and directors. The script for A New Hope took three years and four drafts to complete, but the process for Rogue One was so zippy that they were writing pivotal scenes during post-production.
So if you're wondering why these new films seem to borrow so much from the originals, it's because who has time to think of something new? Who has time to consider plot holes or character inconsistencies when you're barreling toward a release date? This is the kind of dumb idea that forces you to panic and fire your directors five months into filming.
So yeah, slow the fuck down, Disney. No one is going to forget Star Wars exists if you skip a year. The world once went, like, 16 years without a new Star Wars movie. Those were some wild days.
And, Uh, Stop Hiring Indie Directors
Let's talk about Colin Trevorrow. For those unaware, Trevorrow got his start with a low-budget film called Safety Not Guaranteed, which was based off of a funny fake ad in the newspaper. It's a perfectly existing movie. So how did he go from that straight to directing Jurassic World? Well, the studio originally wanted Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to direct, and when Bird declined, he referred them to Trevorrow because he liked Safety. In a world full of qualified sci-fi and action directors, this one reference boosted an indie comedy guy to Spielbergian status. And Hollywood being Hollywood, Trevorrow also got a Star Wars out of the deal, because why the hell not.
That's when things got stupid. After being personally hired by Spielberg for Jurassic World, the newbie director asserted himself hard during the production process and reportedly became difficult to work with. And while a good director is supposed to lead the charge, his lack of experience contrasted with his overconfidence and created a toxic mix, not unlike electing a reality TV show host to be the president of the United States.
And so when his next film, The Book Of Henry, proved to be a confounding disaster, Trevorrow was hastily dropped from Episode IX and replaced with the much more experienced J.J. Abrams. Look, I have nothing against Trevorrow as a director, but the guy was, well, two movies into his career when they hired him for this massive task. And yet for Star Wars, this is a painfully common practice that almost always leads to problems (which I have pointed out again and again).
When Lucasfilm hired Chris Miller and Phil Lord -- directors known for improv-heavy comedies like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie -- one would assume they were there to bring that element to the Han Solo film. And you know what? Neat! Considering what I've already said about that premise, a Han Solo comedy about improv space shenanigans would have been kinda awesome. But it turns out that wasn't what Lucasfilm had in mind, and the directors' slower shooting style and frustration over lack of creative freedom led to them being replaced with smilin' Ron Howard.
See the pattern yet? Lucasfilm inexplicably hires inexperienced or unique directors, refuses to let them express themselves, and ultimately has to shitcan them. I'm gonna go ahead and call it "Trank Mania" after Josh Trank, whose troubled times directing the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot reportedly led to him losing the Boba Fett solo movie. (Also, "Trank Mania" sounds like an awesome WWE special, so there's that.)
There's No Single Person In Charge Of The Story
While he didn't direct two-thirds of the Original Trilogy, George Lucas did oversee the writing and production of all of them. Today we have similar "George Lucases" for other series -- Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe, Kevin Feige for Marvel, J.J. Abrams for the new Star Trek films, and Peter Jackson for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
And so here's my question: Who is in charge of these new Star Wars films? Is it Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm? Not really. By her own admission, she and Lucasfilm "haven't mapped out" the direction of the new trilogy, and have been largely leaving it up to each director to figure it out. And that's kind of insane, isn't it? Most film trilogies are championed by a single artist keeping track of the details. And without that, you run the risk of setting up plot points with zero payoffs, or adding twists that contradict previous scenes.
To give you an idea of why this is important, when Alan Rickman played Severus Snape, he was made aware (before anyone else) that his character always had a thing for Harry's mom. That knowledge dictated the way he played the role long before that twist was revealed. Imagine how less effective that performance would have been if he was told, "Oh, by the way, we decided you've been good all along!" at the very end.
And right now, the directors of Star Wars are absolutely making those kind of last-minute decisions. You know the ending of Force Awakens, when Rey and Chewie and R2-D2 show up on Luke's island of Jedi guano and bring him his lightsaber?
Well, it turns out that J.J. Abrams originally planned for BB-8 to be there, and swapped droids at the request of Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. We don't know why Johnson needed the switch, but it sure seems weird that they're doing stuff like that. Meanwhile, J.J. is coming back for the final film, and who knows if his plans will match up with what Johnson has set up?
In fairness, both of these directors are good at what they do. But the whole process still seems like they are flying blind with one hand tied behind their backs. And the oddest thing of all is that no one seems to know exactly where it's all heading, or really why we're making these films beyond the fact that people love Star Wars. And that brings me to a pretty dark question ...
Maybe Star Wars Was Never A Repeatable Premise?
There was no fucking way the Hobbit trilogy, or even a Hobbit solo film, was going to be as good as the Lord Of The Rings films. Tolkien wrote Rings as an epic sequel to The Hobbit, and by reversing that order, the movies lowered the stakes. This is the same problem I'm sensing with Star Wars.
The first films were about the saving the entire goddamn Galaxy from tyranny. They were a definitive, standalone series that highlighted the most important event to happen in that universe. Anything else is supplemental and pales in comparison. The prequels worked (on paper) because they didn't attempt to tell that same story, and focused more on one man's transition to the Dark Side. (The delivery did have some issues.) But these new sequels seem unable to do much save repackage the same threats from the original films. "They had a Star Destroyer? Well, we have a Mega Star Destroyer!" "You thought the last Death Star was big? Well, ours is even DEATH-IER!"
Look, I'm honestly not certain I'm 100 percent right about this, but I think somewhere down the line, we overestimated how repeatable of a premise Star Wars really was. The originals were a self-contained trilogy, and after they came out, even George Lucas attempted to pivot off of them and find the next big franchise. (Unfortunately, it was called Willow and failed hilariously.)
But Lucas still continued to spend the next decade searching for original stories for his company to tell, eventually giving in and re-releasing Star Wars in the late '90s. When Titanic knocked the re-release from the #1 box office spot, he went full tilt and dug up his idea for the prequel. And after that, the world's never stopped wanting more.
But I believe that through all his attempts to revive the franchise, Lucas knew in his heart that the most important, most epic, and beloved part of Star Wars had long been told.
He knew, deep inside his hirsute gullet, that it was time to move on. That Star Wars would never be as special as that first time.
Unfortunately, it might take the rest of us a bit longer to figure that out.
If you're George Lucas and wanna vent (or maybe just hang out sometime), contact Dave on Twitter.
The new Star Wars movies may be flawed, and we know porgs are just marketing gimmicks. But goddamnit we want still want porgs.
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