Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ROGUE ONE and other thoughts on the state of STAR WARS

So, the first trailer for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY dropped last week, and...well, it looks good. How good? I won't hazard a guess, but it does look like a Star Wars movie. Felicity Jones as the heroine looks fine, although the trope of the good guys having to trust everything to a rogue whose methods or motivations are questionable isn't the freshest thing in the universe. Also, I'm a little turned off by the apparent gritty tone of the film, which looks to me like Star Wars melded with Battlestar Galatica. Maybe it's not full-on grimdark, but the film's producers have noted in past interviews that their story isn't as morally unambiguous as the main-line Star Wars story, which isn't something I'm thrilled about. There's a place for morally ambiguous stories of war in science fiction, but Star Wars to me is about mythic storytelling, so I'm not sure how the tone will fit.

More troublesome to me is that we're going to the Death Star well again, this time to tell the story of how the Rebellion got the "complete technical readouts of that battlestation" in the first place. I'm not sure this is a story I've ever really cared about hearing, especially since this will be the fourth movie in the Star Wars universe where a big spherical planet-destroying space station is a major plot point. This, coupled with the derivative story in The Force Awakens, and with the coming films centering on young Han Solo and young Boba Fett, seems to indicate that Star Wars is heading into a period of self-referential self-milking. And it's not just the movies: we've had numerous novels and comics over the years that told versions of what happened in between the movies, and Disney's first act of business upon acquiring Star Wars was to strike all that from the record and then...immediately start producing more novels and comics that tell versions of what happened in between the movies.

Frankly, I'm starting to get a sense of Lather, rinse, repeat from Star Wars. It's the feeling I had during the second season of Star Trek: Voyager, when it became clear that we weren't going to see exciting new stories but just more TNG-flavored tales told on a new ship with a blander crew. Maybe I'm wrong and these movies will be great, but I want new stories, not constant revisitings of the old ones. I'm not interested in Star Wars as ritualistic theater where the same stories are told all the time.

::  Something crystalized for me a few days ago, via a post on Tumblr, regarding the approach Disney is taking to Star Wars as a whole, and the misgivings I had about the characterizations in The Force Awakens. Someone wrote this:

There are posts about Finn that come across my dash frequently that really concern me.

It’s not that I don’t think musings about what a sweet innocent soul he is and imagining what his humble life must’ve been like are coming from a loving place, but Finn’s character has already been filled in via a canon source, and it was not humble.

Read the novel “Before the Awakening,” where you will learn that while FN-2187 may have pulled shifts as a janitor just like any military trainee has to work some shit jobs, he was actually the absolute rock star of his elite band of Stormtroopers. He was the natural leader, the best of them all, the highest scores in every possible measure, someone Phasma and Hux were well aware of as the shining example of what their pet Stormtrooper program could accomplish. He was everything they’d worked for for years.

The only problem was, he cared too much about his fellow Stormtroopers, even though they didn’t return the feeling, due to indoctrination and some envy of his superiority. It is pretty obvious, reading BtA, that Finn is Force sensitive. It is that Force sensitivity that set him apart, and made him the one who could overcome a lifetime of indoctrination and get out.

I know it’s the fault of the film for sketching him so lightly, but guys, it is crucial that we start acknowledging who Finn is, and his strengths. Which, canonically, are leadership, strategy, all the skills a commander must have. I worry that there is too much PRECIOUS PURE CINNAMON ROLL going on and not enough shared knowledge of his *canon character background and gifts*.

Please spread the word about Finn. This sort of thing shortchanges him horribly. When the FO lost FN-2187, they lost more than just another Stormtrooper. They lost a future general, and the Resistance picked one up.

There are so many ways this makes me crazy (none of which are the poster's fault), but at the crux of it is this:

NONE OF THIS IS IN THE MOVIE.

And I'm not exaggerating here. There is not ONE thing in the movie that supports any of this. The Tumblr poster says that the movie "sketches Finn lightly", but I think that's drastically understating things. The film strongly suggests that Finn is a space-janitor who is seeing his first space action. There's no other reasonable reading of what we see in the film: the way Finn is stunned by the single death of a single stormtrooper, the way Finn lowers his weapon when he's supposed to be killing innocents, the way he just stands there slackly as Kylo Ren wanders through, the way he has to rip off his helmet to try and regain his composure...sure, Finn's training comes through at times, just by virtue of his knowing stuff ("Fly low! It'll screw up their scanners!"), but mostly, there isn't one thing in The Force Awakens that establishes Finn as "the absolute rock star of an elite band of stormtroopers". There really isn't one thing that clearly establishes him as being Force-sensitive. There isn't one thing that establishes that Finn is held in any particular esteem by Hux and Phasma (who are still awful, terrible characters). As far as the movie is concerned, Finn is just some random stormtrooper who inexplicably develops a conscience one day. Nothing of his background is established in the movie, no context is given at all for his change of heart, and to be told "Well, you gotta read this other novel to get it" is incredibly weak tea.

And that's what makes me crazy about how Disney is approaching Star Wars now.

First of all, it's simply not reasonable to expect people to be up on the minutiae of every single thing out there that has been declared to be "Star Wars canon". I'm not planning to read any of these novels; at most I'll read some of the comics. Most people who see the films will do even less than that, but now we're leaving crucial bits of information out of the films entirely. That bit about Maz saying "That's a story for another time!" when she's asked how she got Luke's original lightsaber? Well, there's no doubt in my mind we'll get that tale in some other media format, and that's a ridiculously cynical approach to storytelling. "We'll just leave crucial stuff out, so people who want a coherent tale will be forced to indulge all this other stuff!" Ugh.

The movies have to be coherent, and if they're not going to be, then I have a problem. I'm not going to sit back and enjoy Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and the others if the story they're wandering through is leaving out key details as a selling point for books, comics, and video games. In truth, I'm going to find it hard to care. If the movies can't tell the entire story -- and that means playing fair with the characterizations and explaining the presence of major items like Luke Skywalker's first damn lightsaber -- then the movies are at best lazy and at worst they are reduced to marketing devices. And wouldn't that be an irony? To see Star Wars movies reduced to pushing other media tie-in stuff so that fans can learn what the hell is going on? Years after people were busily accusing George Lucas of selling out and using his creation to sell stuff, we'll cheerfully look the other way because now Disney is doing it.

So yeah, I call bullshit -- utter, complete bullshit -- on the idea that if I didn't read some novel, I don't really understand Finn as a character. That is the job of the movies, and if they're actually not going to do it, well then, I for one will pine for the days of George Lucas being in charge.

3 comments:

Jason said...

Booyeah! Total agreement on the dreadful "synergistic" approach to Star Wars that requires you to be up on everything across all media platforms to really know what the hell is going on. Not even Star Trek at its most navel-gazingest ever went to that place. Same with the Marvel Cinematic Universe... all the properties reference each other in one way or another, and if you've read the comics you can grin knowingly when you see something in the background, but it isn't required. Time was, the tie-in novels and comics were merely supplements to the movies... value-adds, to use some more awful biz-speak jargon. They were... electives. To turn them into pre-requisities is a colossal mistake, in my view.

But then I've realized the other day I just don't have the energy or the inclination to live and breathe a media franchise anymore. I'm too damn old, I guess. I'm outgrown being a fanboy and now I am merely... a fan.

I'd like to think that a lot of people are going to start eating crow and realize things weren't so bad under George Lucas, but (a) people never admit they're wrong like that, and (b) the fanboys will just eat this stuff until they're so engorged they explode like Mr. Creosote in that Python movie.

Meantime, I'm going off in search of that bootleg scan of an early 35mm print of the original Star Wars...

Roger Owen Green said...

I MUST totally agree that one oughtn't have to read the books, watch the cartoons, et al in order to understand ANY character in ANY movie.

My thought, and this is me trying to make sense of it all, is that Finn's backstory will be revealed in the next installment - in flashbacks, maybe?

Josh said...

I agree. Back when Episode III was released, I was annoyed because Lucas introduced General Grievous in the title crawl, however, to really know the general, you had to have watched the Clone Wars shorts on the Cartoon Network in the previous couple years.