How Disney ruined Star Wars for geeks
Star Wars was once the cornerstone of geekdom. It didn’t matter if you were a techie, a philosopher, a theater geek, a fantasy gamer, a sci-fi reader, or straight out of band camp; we all could all agree on the cinematic majesty of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. But after several film attempts to add on to the tale of a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars can now be a divisive subject.
Lucasfilm did a pretty good job of disenfranchising fans with The Phantom Menace, and to a lesser extent Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. But the wide gap of a real and cinematic generation between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy allowed the two film sets to be seen as separate entities. Episodes I through III can be dismissed as an unnecessary prologue, and our love of Episodes IV through VI can continue untarnished (as long as we remember that Han shot first).
So where and when did it all go wrong? There are some who agree that it was a short time ago in a place not too far from here, Walt Disney Studios. The House of Mouse’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 opened the door to what could be an endless marching out of weak Star Wars universe stories that threaten to wither our love for the unique world that George Lucas created.
The most heinous of crimes in the sequel trilogy stems from Disney’s shameless pandering to the lowest common audience member in order to rake in the chips. It is interesting, then, that in the latest cash grab, The Last Jedi, a sub plot painfully attempts to address the unethical acquisition of profit in the character of D.J. and the gambling planet of Canto Bight.
The plot device of Canto Bight is a ridiculous mission impossible from beginning to end. The opening shots of the gaming pit are cartoonish, and though we can see some truth in Rose’s assessment of the place, the dialogue was halfhearted and juvenile. This is unsurprising coming from Disney, who easily grossed 13.22 billion dollars in pure profit last year alone by banking on the easily molded desires of the young.
The only redeeming aspect of the Canto Bight mission was found in the character of D.J. (superbly acted by Benicio del Toro), but even here the message sent by The Last Jedi conflicted with the heroic spirit of Star Wars. His parting line “Don’t join” is indicative of the egocentric attitude that has enabled the Galaxy to accept a status quo of tyranny and war. However, D.J.’s immorality goes unanswered by consequence, so it seems Disney is telling audiences not to pay attention to the Bantha in the escape pod.
Droids and creature features
Did you happen to sit next to someone incessantly fawning over the melodramatic overtures of Porgs? I feel your pain, and wanted nothing more than for Chewbacca to take a big bloody bite of roasted Ahch-to seabird. Wookies are known to do that, or at least they used to be. The creatures that brought the Star Wars universe to life were once bizarre and dangerous, but with Disney behind the wheel all we can hope for is next Christmas’s heavily marketed plush toy.
Droids did a pretty good job of lightening the mood in the past. The banter that the droids shared with each other and their human companions was humorous, brief, and served the audience in their understanding of the scene. With The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, this isn’t the case. The droid BB-8’s preposterous antics are plugged in at every opportunity and the only purpose it serves is (surprise!) merchandise marketing. While K-2 of Rogue One was perfectly suited to lighten up the war story, he was left behind at the most nap-worthy points in the film.
Of course Lucasfilm did their share of merchandising Star Wars to children in the 1980’s with action figures, lunch boxes, and sheet sets. They did such a pervasive job of it that Mel Brooks made a scene about the astonishing range of wares in his hilarious classic Spaceballs. But Lucasfilm didn’t let the product line affect the integrity of the films until Return of the Jedi (see Ewoks, whom I actually love). With Disney, every Star Wars picture to date and to come is indeed a sequel subtitled, “the search for more money.”
Fractured fairy tale
Disney built its empire on peddling watered-down fairy tales to the masses, and their acquisition of Lucasfilm is no different. It places the stories of George Lucas with those of the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. Walt Disney Studios has free rein to throw out canon and pull ridiculous stunts when it comes to key concepts like the Jedi and the Force, and even with well known characters like Luke Skywalker.
Mark Hamill has openly admitted that he profoundly disagreed with the character choices made for Luke in The Last Jedi. Luke, has always been deeply invested in the rebellion and protecting his friends. Nothing would compel him to stay behind on Ahch-to when his sister Leia has gone to such lengths to specifically request his assistance. Sure, Jedi Masters often take time to recharge their spirit in nature, but Luke’s spirit has always been re-kindled by his connection to others. The deal should have been sealed when R2 played that data file.
The decision to expand on abilities the Force can endow characters with is a daring alteration. Using the Force to FaceTime with your sister and nephew, or see your friend topless, has never been part of a Jedi’s abilities. More disturbing is the request that audiences suspend everything known about space and believe that Leia can stop her lungs from rupturing and Forcepull her way to safety with no previous Jedi training. For many nerds, this lack of attention to detail is an affront to our intelligence and imagination.
I love you. I know.
There used to be a love story in Star Wars. The tempestuous passion between Han and Leia can never be duplicated, not even by the characters themselves in the new Star Wars films. While having the partnering of the two characters from very different backgrounds fall apart made sense in The Force Awakens, there has been a suspicious lack of any romantic chemistry between characters in all of the newer Star Wars features.
Disney’s made its bread and butter for more than half a century by telling audiences that they are no one until somebody rich and of good breeding loves them. So buying the rights to the story of a princess and a scoundrel made perfect sense on paper, but since Disney proclaimed they no longer wanted to make animated princess features, they appear reluctant to inject any true love based on mutual respect, admiration, and passion into any of their pictures.
A weak attempt to put two characters together was made in The Last Jedi with Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). While the two actors have a functioning friendly relationship, the building blocks for a hot romance between the two characters are completely absent. There is no reason for Rose to pine for the deserter Finn, and the last we knew he was still crushing on a very busy and oblivious Rey. The flaw made for an awkward kiss in the film’s finale, which is a shame because we could use a good kiss.
The worst part for the Star Wars fan base, though, is in the shrinking of any fervent ardor for the original series. There were those who had influence and an intimate knowledge of the devotion that George Lucas injected into every level of his passion project. Han had it. Luke had it. His twin sister had it. But with the film death of our heroes and the sad passing of the great Carrie Fisher, there is no hope left to save the Galaxy from the Empire of Walt Disney.
Image Credits: Star Wars, Disney, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox