Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A bit less long ago, still in a galaxy far, far away....

So, the dust is slowly settling from The Move That Ate Manhattan (which isn't even done yet, so there's still dust to be...rendered unsettled), at least enough to the point that I can start to think about taking my writing muscles out for a spin or two. Thus it's time to do just that. But what topic would be a good one to jump-start the blogging engines?

Hmmm...let me think...oooh! I've got one! Let's talk about....


Heh! Who saw that coming!

Now that production on Star Wars Episode VII: You Will Not Go To Space Today (not the actual title) is ramping up, we're starting to get details dripping through, such as this photo of what is most of the main cast gathered around for the first reading of the script.


JJ Abrams and crew took a bit of flak after this photo's release, on the basis that surely there should be more than just two females in the cast of a new Star Wars movie. The original trilogy was never awash in parts for women, with just four speaking roles for women that I can remember over the course of three movies. The Prequels did get women into the act more, but heavens, those are the Prequels. We can't give them credit for anything.

In a post on this, good guy Jason Bennion makes a reasonable point:

The other issue that’s keeping me from getting too enthused about more Star Wars  is, frankly, my fellow fans. It only took an hour or so after last week’s news surfaced before I saw the first round of complaints… in this case, that there are only two women on the cast list and how is it possible that the Star Wars universe can still be so sexist after 40 years? Never mind that we know nothing yet about the plot of this new movie, or how much screentime the two women cast members will be getting compared to the males, or who the protagonist of the movie might actually be. Hey, here’s a crazy possibility for you: maybe the new Campbellian hero about to take their great journey is Leia’s daughter and the movie focuses on the two of them, with all the menfolk relegated to supporting roles! Probably not, I’ll admit, but my point is, we don’t know anything yet, so how can we already be complaining?
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not dismissing or belittling concerns about sexism. It’s a valid criticism: Female characters reallydon’t fare very well in the genre films that dominate popular culture these days, and Star Wars, which looms above everything else in the zeitgeist, is in a position to take the lead and set trends for years to come. A new entry in the series really ought to reflect the changes we’ve seen in our society since 1977. And chances are, it’ll fail in that regard. But we don’t know yet that it will. And I’m troubled that people who supposedly love this franchise are already bitching before we see even one frame of film. But really that’s just par for the course these days, isn’t it?

My main problem with that is that Abrams and company really should have seen the complaints coming. Their response to the complaints was a hasty "But we're not done casting yet! There will totally be more females! You'll see!" Well, that's not really inspiring of much confidence, especially considering that the production is at a stage where they are willing to gather up "the cast" into a single room and release a photo of this (complete with R2D2 hanging out in the background) to start drumming up excitement for a project that does -- let's be honest, here -- have a faint air of "Going back to the well again" about it.

I completely agree that there should be more women in Star Wars, and if they really do make a new movie with only a slightly better male-to-female ratio than the first one, that's a problem. But I'd also have to admit that I do partly hope that happens, because if it demonstrates the need for a space opera franchise that's got more women in it, then I happen to know of one in the offing...it's about Princesses...in space!!!

(Yes, folks, I am that big of a whore.)

Jason also makes a larger point about the general tone of Star Wars discussion these days:

I remember another time, before the prequels, before the Special Editions, when the original trilogy was beloved by pretty much everyone of my generation. It was the closest thing to a lingua franca we had. Stuck for something to make small talk about? There was always Star Wars. When I met my best friend 21 years ago on the streets of Cambridge, England, two young guys from different parts of the U.S. who didn’t immediately seem to have much in common, we bonded by sharing our memories and thoughts of Star Wars over pints of Guinness. It was something special, something we both treasured. Something we all treasured.
Then came the Disillusionment of 1999, and the long period of darkness I think of as The Great Fanboy Wars, when everybody had an opinion and was determined to make damn sure everyone else knew what it was. And suddenly, this wonderful, cherished thing became a source of never-ending contention and argument, something you really didn’t want to bring up anymore. Whatever else you may say about it, pro or con, the prequel trilogy sucked all the fun out of being a Star Wars fan.
Long-time readers may recall an entry I wrote shortly after Revenge of the Sith, in which I declared that I was tired of the rancor and hostility that now surrounded something I just wanted to love, tired of feeling like I had to defend my opinions all the time, or at least listen to everyone else’s. That was nearly 10 years ago… and nothing has changed. You still can’t mention the prequels in mixed company without someone going off on a spittle-flecked rant about Jar Jar Binks, or what a hack George Lucas is. Worse yet, all that animus has started to spill over to the original trilogy, as well; a lot of people now believe it really wasn’t that good either, which is a worse piece of revisionism than all the CG dinosaurs Uncle George everdreamed of inserting into Mos Eisley. It’s no wonder George finally just wanted to wash his hands of the whole damn thing.

I do agree with this, for what it's worth. Not only are the Prequels widely hated, but it seems that negative opinion toward them is increasingly spilling backward, to the original films. It's rapidly becoming accepted wisdom in some circles that Return of the Jedi isn't very good, and I'm starting to see a general sense emerging that if there have been any good Star Wars movies, there has only been one, and it's The Empire Strikes Back. I have a lot of trouble with that view, simply because if something was generally that crappy, why on Earth would it be this big of a cultural thing so many years later?

Jason's right in that Star Wars discussions these days almost invariably devolve into various levels of taunting and bitching about the Prequel Trilogy (which, for those new to the scene, I openly admit to loving although not without reservation and admissions of a lot of flaws in them). I dread May 4, which we've adopted rather oddly as "Star Wars Day", because of a bad pun. Everybody just makes some Star Wars jokes or whatever, and if any discussions actually come up, it's more "Lucas sucks" and "the Prequels are awful" and "Mr. Plinkett's reviews should be required viewing" and the like. The degree of negative passion inspired by a set of well-intentioned space opera movies dismays me, and the general reaction to the production of an Episode VII seems to boil down to two camps: "Meh, who cares, I gave up on Star Wars years ago" and "Cool, we can have Star Wars without George Lucas's scummy handprints on it".

It's as if just letting Star Wars be, without bitching about it, isn't even an option, which leads to things like John Scalzi deciding that May 4 was the perfect time to rev up his Star Wars engine. Now, I love John Scalzi. He's a fantastic writer, and I tend to agree with him on many issues; when I agree with him, he still manages to put things in ways I hadn't considered, and when I disagree with him, it's in the nice way of being challenged to think things out a bit more. But it's my experience that when he starts in on this topic, the results don't tend to be inspiring. (Examples, here and here.) Anyway, Mr. Scalzi tweeted thusly:



Now, I've little doubt that Scalzi doesn't really think that there's some kind of equivalence between anti-science weirdos whose views have created serious public health problems and some folks who view a movie differently than he does. But when that's the starting point in the conversation, when it gets framed that way right from the outset, well...it makes the ensuing geekery less than fun, unless you're on the side that's saying "Ooooh, look! A pile-on! Let me join in!"

Oddly, Scalzi later on justified himself on this basis:



As if being a critic, or having been one at one point, means anything at all, in terms of the factual level of one's opinions. Scalzi doesn't say this, actually; in a subsequent tweet he indicates that his knowledge of film is sufficiently broad that no one can sway his opinion on these films. Well, that's nice. Roger Ebert gave positive reviews to two of the three prequels; but then, he also famously praised Speed II. In the end, a critic is simply a talented writer paid to write about films. They may offer insight and intelligence, but that doesn't mean they are offering fact.

But I digress; the point here isn't to rail on John Scalzi, which is like a flea biting an elephant anyway. Star Wars fandom seems like a fractious thing these days, almost like fandom in general, and now I've seen the word "fandom" take on a new meaning, to refer to the thing you're a fan of. Thus, my "fandoms" include Star Wars, Star Trek, the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and so on. There are so many more things to be a fan of these days, and the Internet makes it so easy to divide oneself into a lot of separate little fan communities. So it is with Star Wars, to the point where often there's just not that much of a feel of fun to being a fan in the first place anymore. To be a fan seems to be to be angry at things a lot of the time. I'm guilty of that myself, but I try to keep it in check; why spend time constantly griping about the awful things that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did to Star Trek? Why bring it up each and every time the general topic of Trek arises?

Maybe that's what Yoda was talking about in The Empire Strikes Back when he told Luke that the Dark Side is quicker, easier, more seductive. Anger is easy, and sometimes, it even feels good. Which is a bummer, because love is harder, but it feels so much better.

(None of this should be read as an exhortation for people to love the Prequels. If you hate them, that's honest and real. I'm just tired of that general hatred of them being the starting point of most discussions.)

Let's see, what else is bugging me about Star Wars? Oh yeah: apparently the new film will pretty much set aside all of the Expanded Universe continuity and do its own thing. So no, the events of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy never happened. Luke Skywalker never redeemed and married Mara Jade. Han and Leia may have had kids, but not those kids. And so on. How do I feel about this?

Well, I stopped reading the Expanded Universe books years ago, when their production outpaced my desire to read nothing but Star Wars. I can see their point, in a way; they're making a movie or movies for an audience that likely knows nothing about everything that's gone on in the non-filmed Star Wars continuity, and it's just easier to start over as opposed to honor everything. And yes, I suppose that fans can adopt their own individual preferred continuities if they like. But it's not as if a new movie has to include everything; surely a writer of Lawrence Kasdan's skill can get what exposition is needed in with pretty short order. Want to show that Han and Leia have kids? Easy:

EXTERIOR: Coruscant -- spaceport landing platform.

THREE YOUNG ADULTS, two men and one woman, are waiting.

MAN: Mom and Dad are late.

WOMAN: There they are now!

The MILLENNIUM FALCON appears in the sky and comes in to land. HAN SOLO and LEIA ORGANA disembark.

HAN: Hi, kids!
Again, I get why they're doing it. But an awful lot of people have invested a lot of emotion and energy in all those tales that have been spun in this universe since 1991; to toss it all aside seems to me a pity.

Let's see, anything else? Hmmmm...nah, I guess not. But by the way, seeing as how Disney now owns Star Wars, I suppose that means that we'll have Star Wars movies without the iconic 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare at the beginning. So be it...but this would be a cool alternative:



Party on, Star Warriors!

2 comments:

Jason said...

Three quick thoughts:

1. I'm honored you quote me so extensively and label me a "good guy." :)

2. Scalzi seems to have really gotten full of himself in recent years. Yes, he's a great writer and has a keen mind for debate, but to proclaim his opinions unassailable because he used to be a film critic and wrote two books? Fie on that arrogance.

3. Regarding the EU, I am frankly amazed that anyone ever seriously believed thought that upcoming movies -- or any other product that bore the name Star Wars -- would or even ought to reflect anything that took place in the novels. How many hundreds of Star Trek novels and comics have been produced since the early '70s? As far as I know, nothing in any of those stories has ever subsequently appeared on a theater or video screen, or been considered "canon." Why should the SW franchise be any different in that regard? Or perhaps I'm just better at compartmentalizing such things... after all, I still enjoy the old Marvel Star Wars comics, and we all know they've got no connection to anything!

Roger Owen Green said...

Certainly, your yeoman's work on the prequels makes your observations as legit as Scalzi's, even if I don't always understand it.