Overload: a Star Wars story

I have tried to write this a number of times over the last two years, but every time abandoned when each iteration invariably began and continued only as unreasonable, unnecessary, bitter bitchery, essentially. Unfortunately, that might be what it has to be, might be the only way this will ever manifest, and then maybe I can move on, back to essays on less important issues. Hopefully it has been restrained and made reasonable as much as is possible.

This is the third piece I’ve written on Star Wars, having published glowing thoughts on The Force Awakens, and a debate-ending defence of Hayden Christensen as Anakin/Vader.

I want – nay, need – nay, don’t need… just want – to complain about two things in particular: relentless encroachment on the original trilogy (OT) by recent additions to what is now official canon, and the superficially fashionable fandom of much of it all at this point in time.

We once yearned for far more; I now nearly yearn for less.

A Certain Point of View?!

There might be a reason beyond the exasperatingly intense, obsessive fandom that he didn’t sign up for, and the appalling (his words) – or ropey (his words) – dialogue of Lucas that nearly made him not sign up at all, to explain why Alec Guinness got a little fed up with the whole Star Wars thing (although he had a fondness for the simplicity, spectacle, escapism, and innocence of particularly the first film, with his irritation and dislike being somewhat exaggerated and conflated).

Between first film and second, it is suddenly decided that one of his most important, emotive scenes is now a craftily executed question dodge and half-truth:

“A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil… he betrayed and murdered your father.”

And between second film and third, another instance of previously unplanned ‘this will be a good twist’ results in his character being burdened with convincingly explaining not only his own, but with another significant secret too, while the one who kept it this whole damn time gets to exit peacefully and avoid any awkward conversation:

“The other he spoke of is your twin sister… to protect you both from the Emperor, you were hidden from your father when you were born.”

Now don’t get me wrong – I am perfectly content with, love, and enjoy both twists, and how they are fitted in with explanation. It works, and the second one really gives some weight, depth, and significance to some of those looks from Luke in Star Wars, and to that quite fully appreciated kiss in The Empire Strikes Back. Yet, ever since Return of the Jedi skillfully got away with it, there has been a piling on, slow and gradual at first, pretty carefree and rapid now, of explaining-to-do onto the original trilogy. The prequels began, with enthusiasm, this process.

Leia’s real mother died when she was very young? Yeah, when the little girl was precisely thirty-four seconds old. Her prodigious memory being shown its opposite in Chewbacca, who fails to mention at any point – not in discussions about the force on the falcon, not after seeing Kenobi face down bar-brawlers or Vader, not as Luke heads off in search of another Jedi master – that he was on pretty good terms with Yoda. And damn, it is rather a shame that Artoo and Threepio had to spend 19 years in the same corridor.

But these and many other prequel points of little to glaring inconsistency with the first three films are easy shots to take, and have been complained about enough. Yet in the new resurgent phase of recent years, it feels to me that the clinging of creatives to the borders of the original era and characters just results in the treading on of the most important canon of all.

Take Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: Rebels, for example.

I abandoned Rebels because it seemed as if on a quest, lifting proud the mantle of George Lucas circa-turn of the century, to render the original three films as quaint, contradictory, and as certain-point-of-view requiring as is possible.

I watched the first two seasons of Rebels, the first with far more enthusiasm than the second, and found it was wonderful in a number of not insignificant ways. The look and design of it, for one, bringing in a lot of old Ralph McQuarrie concept art, and the fairly effortless banter and fun of it. It was very good, outside of the one, and to me deal-breaking, issue under discussion.

There are the Inquisitors, not originally conceived by the show-runners but by them canonized, who, it turns out, have been helping Vader (presumably trained either by him or Palpatine) as he helps the Emperor hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. Building on the already pushing it singular character of the first season, the show introduced multiple of these Inquisitors, all wielding lightsabers seemingly born out of a design contest entered solely by excitable, unrestrained eight-year olds.

At one point these Inquisitors face Ashoka Tano, a character from another show who is the apprentice of Anakin right up until around the beginning of Revenge of the Sith. She is portrayed as a significant member of the Rebellion, interacting a lot with the main cast, and in fact learns that Darth Vader is the person who was Anakin Skywalker. She appeals to what she believes might be left of him when she confronts Vader to save the two main Jedi characters of the show.

Those Inquisitors also face Darth Maul, who now has a lot more to say than when we first got to meet, and is still trying to be rescued from obscurity and essentially cameo because he looked cool.

And then there is the arc of the main character. Ezra meets and fights Vader, twice, the first time with his Order 66 surviving kind-of master; he also meets and interacts with a young Leia. He talks with Yoda, through the force and from afar in some Jedi Temple. Ezra meets and is taught by Darth Maul, and he subsequently meets and converses with Ben Kenobi on Tatooine, leaving as Maul arrives for a final fight with Ben, the three of them within only a short travelling distance of the Lars homestead, and a nearly-how-we-knew him Luke Skywalker.

That both the Rebellion and the Empire were apparently openly employing at least a few Jedi and Sith this whole time brings a few furrowed brows onto the perception as legend and fairy-tale of the force and its users shown by practically everybody. When Tarkin scoffs at the notion that Obi Wan Kenobi is still alive, proclaiming that the fire of the force users has gone out of the galaxy, and that “you, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion”, future viewers nurtured (shamefully) on canon other than the OT first and foremost may have to begin the first of many shakes of their heads at how these three, old films fit badly with the Star Wars that they know and love, wondering here why Vader doesn’t look at him funny, and swiftly remind Tarkin of the last four or five years.

That Yoda and Obi Wan know of and interact with surviving Jedi, and Ezra a quite powerful one at that who flirts heavily with the dark side, yet both act as if nothing has happened on that front since their fall and the Empire’s rise nearly two decades ago, clearly regarding their and everybody’s hope as lying only in the offspring of Anakin – Kenobi knowing that there was more than merely one, single chance left only after Yoda finally reveals to him Leia’s parentage and sibling-hood. If the Rebellion is doing so well and has Ashoka, Ezra, and Kanaan (the Order 66 survivor), three powerful Jedi Knights, in its employ at the time when Luke is about 13 or 14, then why the hell didn’t Yoda and Obi Wan re-join the fray at that moment, bringing Luke along with them at this fantastic opportunity to train and be guided, and have a pretty good force-using force with which to tackle evil. The whole point of the story of the originals is that there has been no opportunity and no hope for quite a long time. Instead, those 19 years prior to the Rebellion’s first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, have actually been decidedly alive with events and characters as or more impactful and important as those in the OT.

That the impression I get from the show is that the Empire are oft incompetent and nowhere near as dominant as the absolutely perfect opening of the original film emphatically states that they are, and that, again in contradiction to the first scene of the entire saga, the Rebels aren’t really doing all that badly.

All of this, to me, is so stupid. And what a waste! As I said, Rebels was promising, even though it is fairly kiddy stuff, and could have been really good more than just initially if it weren’t for the force and for the lightsabers.

Rogue One has far less of this problem, and, though my initial enjoyment has faded and I’m not particularly driven to see it again, I take less issue with its story – though that might be more to do with the comparative absurdity of the inclusions into Rebels already mentioned.

There’s the amusing notion of Leia claiming, to his face, to be on nothing but a diplomatic mission, when Vader had personally chopped through a hallway of Rebels quite clearly passing the floppy-disc containing the Death Star readout onto her ship. I quite like seeing Vader’s frustration and inability to act on it in Star Wars with Rogue One’s penultimate scene in mind.

Given that this was a film totally centred on and existing for the closing of one plot hole – that is, why did the Empire have a hole on the outside of the Death Star that led directly to its core – it is good that it didn’t really create any major others, and the final hour (perhaps the only good part) certainly establishes the dominance I complained that Rebels uprooted. Yet overall it adds to the problem.

Why would nobody mention the heroes who retrieved the plans very recently when they show the plans on Yavin 4 and discuss how they were obtained? Surely, given events in Rogue One, word of the Death Star would have reached a little further, even just in the short amount of time between the film and the second half of Star Wars. Wouldn’t the two guys from the Mos Eisley cantina, who we see, annoyingly, on the planet in Rogue One that is subsequently attacked by the Death Star, have mentioned their daring escape and the rather looming reason for it? Why would Tarkin be shown as a real person in Star Wars when just months before he was clearly a CGI member of the Empire?

There are other examples elsewhere. Another I dislike is Anakin having an apprentice (the aforementioned Ashoka) inbetween Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. That might just about work if the prequels had linked up with the originals and had Anakin as much older, seeing as he was evidently close to Obi Wan’s OT age at his return and passing in Return of the Jedi. From the little I know, the apprentice storyline seems to have been part of a fairly good series that rescued much of the good parts of the prequels, most importantly the main character, showing an Anakin being gradually drawn to darkness. But, according to the original film, when Vader left Kenobi he was but the learner. I don’t think apprentices of Anakin or Vader (here thinking of The Force Unleashed) make sense.

It is not that these events and things could not possibly have occurred in-universe, nor that they explicitly and overtly say and depict the opposite of lines and moments in Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi. You can rationalise them in if you really want: just check through YouTube. You have the full range, where people will provide in-universe, story explanations for why the Vader vs Obi Wan fight in Star Wars is nothing like the extended acrobatics of Revenge of the Sith, and why Vader fights stiffly compared with how he moves in Rebels; suggested reasons, besides gross indifference to continuity, why Kenobi and Yoda pretend that they don’t know R2 D2 in Star Wars and Empire, and why Anakin’s force ghost is a young guy now; even an explanation for how exactly Leia, due apparently to genetic inheritance of her mother’s genius, which is evidenced by the Naboo Queen being in politics at such a young age, had a genius-level memory that allowed her to remember things from such a young age.

Though it’s out there, I didn’t link to video evidence of this rationalising because I didn’t want it to become like personal attacks on particular people, most of whom simply love the Star Wars universe and enjoy speculating on all the gaps and/or contradictions left in time and story. Perfectly acceptable pastime. It’s still dumb, though.

Stretch and strain to make them just about barely fit as one might, even when it succeeds still they make the OT feel so small and empty, as if everyone in them is ignoring their own past and very recent history, and all I can see is future generations being caused by all this to regard the original films as, like I said before, quaint and contradictory, having regular cause to comment with “but where is [X]?”, and “hey, that’s not how it happened…”. This new content is pushing the original three films – the core and most important and best and really only content that matters – to possible obscurity. Extremely promising sequel trilogy aside, the next film is to be this Han Solo one, again clinging to the edges of the original film, albeit likely further than Rogue One at least, and I’m sure it will add further to this issue. Why waste more story-telling opportunity in such a vast and populated galaxy, let alone universe.

They will probably include a familiar silhouette or in- and out- take of mechanically-assisted breath in one of the trailers for the upcoming film about the smuggler, and if they do, it will no doubt elicit reactions, the like of which I mention in the next section. But right now, I don’t think you can really have Darth Vader ‘returning’ when he never seems to go away.

Attack of the Clones

Star Wars has always been a product and a commodity, even as it was many other, more meaningful, things, and the fanatical (I use that word here as neutrally as it can be, not negatively) fan-base, emitting deeply based and incredible adoration, seemed to big-bang into existence instead of growing slowly in the wake of the films. It burst and announced itself into the realms of common cultural popularity and commercialism just as instantly and impactfully as those two hollow-yellow words did on a big, black screen in May, 1977, after the fanfare, after the ellipses, after the pause and the short, calm silence.

But it was once a phenomenon, and not a fad. It captured, instead of being captured and used, held a pretty slave by a chain round the neck, paraded and made to dance to impress all guests and onlookers.

The blatant farce of so much of the content we are unlucky enough to be granted today and in the last couple of years: so many of the reactions, the articles, the commentary, the unconvincing performances of supposed unwavering passion and interest (all of which Red Letter Media do a good job of mocking)… I just might cringe and writhe considerably less if made to watch a mash-up of the romance scenes from Attack of the Clones woven into the Star Wars Holiday Special. Star Wars feels to me at times to have been accosted, and become but an ugly and a garish badge, even a sash littered hideously with them.

Perhaps all this overload and fakery was also the way from 1999 to 2005, when the prequel trilogy had its time, and it is only the much earlier iteration of the internet combined with my age of nine, and 12, and 15 that hid it from me. Yet it certainly seems to be peaking now, perhaps to someday drop away. Or we are to be faced with endless higher peaks close-by and stretching out in every direction in view, as each one is painfully surmounted.

I got caught up, too, in the displaying, online, of fandom during the run up to The Force Awakens, yet this was because that question voiced ethereally above a sandy expanse merely nudged into view something which had never left nor fallen silent, but remained running deep and true ever since the moment that, on an otherwise unremarkable day in 1997, a golden-bordered magic box, holding within some cheap, black plastic around a roll of tape, brought home from out the local library, turned out to contain a very old and very distant galaxy.

Maybe it’s just that same way and even more so with the people I feel regularly compelled to complain about. For many joining in, surely, but for many more… I really do not think so.

I don’t want to be elitist. Nor to talk of true fandom, of imposture, of battling claims of legitimacy in passion. I shouldn’t be. I definitely am, though.

But that’s not right. Yet it’s how I feel…

It’s not fair.

I know I’m better than this.

But they’re like animals…

I hate them.

And not just the men…

Just Breathe

Really, does this matter? This irritation over the faddiness, and the fashion show fandom? Does it take anything away from me, from my memories and current experience? And the issue discussed first, of – to me – stupid additions to canon that affect the original trilogy and waste story-telling opportunity: does it stop me from keeping close the canon and content that I want, and ignoring that which I don’t?

Of course not. Except when certain people try to make available only the latest ‘improved’ versions of the first three films. But otherwise, if people enjoy Rebels as much as I enjoy Return of the Jedi, despite the nonsense and lack of care for matching well with the films its owes its existence to, and if people who really never actually had but barely a fleeting and average interest in the films before decide to perform a gaudy shallow love for them now when it’s auspicious to do so, then so be it. That is not a problem.

Did that sound sincere…

Cos it’s not…

No. It is. And if it isn’t sincere, well at least it’s true. It does not matter, and – really – everyone can and should enjoy in their own and differing ways, for any length of time and to any depth, deep or shallow, held to the heart or worn temporarily as fashion. I see my black-gloved mechanical hand, raised and clenching with both spent and still unused aggression, becoming only worse than that it’s raised against.

Never.

And, once again, here at the end, I feel it an unnecessary essay. But I’m not deleting it this time. No, then it will just re-emerge: at the next YouTube video suggestion I get, having been fool enough to click on some of the guilty videos before; at the next announcement of an anthology film ‘idea’ and upcoming storyline of Rebels; at another barrage of publicly performed ‘enjoyment’ and ‘excitement’ over an increasingly routine and regular addition to the franchise. So, just as with Star Wars itself in our culture, it is here now, on my blog-site, unavoidably and forever, for better and, at times, for worse.

4 Thoughts

  1. I gave up on Star Wars a long time ago when I realized how weird and out of sorts the prequels made everything. Instead of Vader being a sinister villain we knew very little about, which lent to his foreboding, we got to see him as a whiny, brooding crybaby, then transformed in a running joke as we get to see him dance at Disneyland, crack jokes and other general silliness that utterly betray everything that made him a feared figure in cinema. Rouge One gave a little of that back with the last few minutes, but it will never restore him to what he was at the end of Empire. In short, the whole series has gotten this treatment. Whereas once it seemed a magickal fantasy about space knights, damsels in distress and mystery it now seems like a running joke intended to get money from the masses, with as much thought put into it as a Saturday morning cartoon. No thanks.

    Like

  2. Of course I agree….. think how I felt taking you to see the first of the prequels….which at the time you loved.

    Funnily I am right at this moment in the foyer of an independent cinema waiting to watch the new Blade Runner which I was very reluctant/nervous to see but I am here on Roberts recommendation. Anyway this cinema next week is showing the original trilogy of Star Wars as a back to back epic. I think the first three are so apart from all the other spin offs that they will survive intact.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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