Kathleen Kennedy and the state of Star Wars (and why Kevin Feige can’t save it)

Time to make another shameless click bait post!

So, Solo: A Star Wars Story did the unexpected.  It is a box office disappointment, and more importantly, it may even lose money.  This fact, coupled with the lasting anger and bitterness over The Last Jedi, has led many people on YouTube to call for Kathleen Kennedy (the head of LucasFilm) to resign.

I can’t speak to Solo because I haven’t seen it.  I’m not boycotting it; I would see it if someone else wanted to see it.  But I don’t want to see it on my own, and I don’t see it, that’s fine.  (The Last Jedi was the first Disney Star Wars film I saw in the theater.)

However, I do have a large collection of thoughts on the state of Star Wars and Kathleen Kennedy (and why Kevin Feige can’t save it.)  Here they are in no particular order.

1 Star Wars should have ended in 1983.

Star Wars was complete in 1983, with the release of The Last Jedi.  There was nothing more to say.  It’s called Star Wars, and once the war ended, the story ended.  The universe, as Rich Evans in Red Letter Media stated, is very small and limited.

See, the Star Wars universe, here’s the dirty little secret.  It’s very small and very limited.  Whenever Star Wars tries to expand out of Tie Fighters, X-Wings, Storm Troopers, and Light Sabers, it’s bad.  It’s limited.  It’s a small, little universe that they can’t do much with.

He’s right.

The Star Wars universe is incredibly limited.  Most of the characters in the original trilogy were static and one dimensional, with the exceptions of Luke and Han.  (Leia was a very static character.)  The aliens are never developed, either as characters or as cultures.  (Quick, tell me three things about Klingon culture.  Now tell me three things about Wookie culture.)  The cultures in Star Wars have no political philosophy, except for democratic republics are good and ur-Facism is bad.

This means there is little foundation for growth.

2 Star Wars is age specific.

My brother widely remarked that if he had not seen Star Wars at the age that he did (around the age of 8), he probably would not like Star Wars.  I think he is on to something, because my co-worker told me that he didn’t see Star Wars until he was 20 and he never really cared all that much about it.  A lot of people have talked about the confusion within the Star Wars fans (complaining that The Force Awakens took too few risks and The Last Jedi took too many risks) and wondering what fans truly want.  Here’s the truth.  Fans want to watch the original trilogy for the first time.  They want the experience of going back to the age of 8 and watching the Original Trilogy for the very first time.  The trouble is, they can’t.  No one can.

3 Movies make for a bad Extended Universe.

People constantly compare Star Wars to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe.)  This is not a fair comparison.  Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios are not creating the material whole cloth.  The plots and characters already exist.  Marvel writers and artists have developed them over decades.  They are standing on the shoulders of brilliant artists.  I don’t wish to take away from the work that Marvel films have done (Black Panther is spectacular!) but they have a very different task than Marvel.  This is why I don’t think Kevin Feige can save Star Wars, because the two tasks are not analogous.

Now, they had a chance to do something similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which leads me to my next point.

4 The Road Not Taken

Lucasfilm did have the opportunity to do something similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  After the Original Trilogy ended, the Star Wars novels did fill the intervening years with stories and new characters.  Star Wars could have chosen to adapt those books into films.  Unfortunately this would require recasting everyone from the original trilogy.  The original cast was too old to play Luke, Han, and Leia in their 30’s.  Would fans have accepted that any better?

5 George Lucas is vastly overrated.

George Lucas is not some kind of genius.  Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi were directed and written by others.  Even Episode IV, A New Hope, was saved in the edit.

George Lucas had total control over the prequels, and they were horrible in every way that mattered.  (Plot, characters, etc).  The Star Wars prequels were the worst thing since my son.  (Fortunately, my son hanged himself in a gas station restroom.)  George Lucas showed once and for all that he could not write or direct and was only interested in flashing lights and loud noises.  (Even so, the prequels didn’t ruin my childhood.  Fucking polio did!)  For more information on the prequels, see Mr. Plinkett’s reviews of the prequels on Youtube.  (But first you have to send me a pizza roll.)

Fans used to know this.  At least, fans in my generations used to know that the prequels were shit.  Even George Lucas said that he had no interest in making another Star Wars because everyone kept telling him that they hated him and he ruined their childhood.  Somehow, everyone has forgotten that.  (Personally, I pretend that they never existed.)

6 My nemesis

Nemesis.jpg

(J.J. Abrams, my personal Rian Johnson)

I can’t avoid this subject any longer.  Sadly.

A part of me feels sympathy for Star Wars fans who were angered by The Last Jedi, because I too know what it is like to have a beloved franchise murdered, hacked into pieces, and the marrow sucked from the bones.  That is what J.J. Abrams did to Star Trek.  People complain about forced messages?  J.J. Abrams ends Star Trek Into Darkness with a dedication that makes it clear that he wants the audience to see this as a metaphor for  9/11!  People complain about ruining beloved characters?  J.J. Abrams reduced Khan (a genius whose grief for his wife spurs his desire for revenge and who quotes Moby Dick as he expires) to a one dimensional sociopath. People complain about inconsistencies and illogical ideas in The Last Jedi?  In Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J Abrams cured death!  Think about that.  He cured death!  I would be upset about the fact that he also made spaceships irrelevant but he cured death!   People complain about disregarding prior movies?  Star Trek Into Darkness begins with Spock trying to stop a volcano from exploding, destroying a pre-warp civilization, and he remarks that he cannot be seen since that will violate the Prime Directive.  He’s already violating the Prime Directive!  The prime directive says not to interfere in the development of a pre-warp civilization and that would preclude stopping a volcano from blowing up!

Khan

I could go on.

This was my first experience with J.J. Abrams and I realized that he was all about style with no substance.  (And Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is all about the substance.)  I deliberately avoided The Force Awakens when it came out in theaters because J.J. Abrams directed it.  At the same time, I thought it was a decent choice for Star Wars.  His film would be high on style with no substance whatsoever, which I felt would probably work for Star Wars.

I point this out because while everyone is talking about how Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy hurt Star Wars, but no one is talking about how J.J. Abrams hurt Star Wars.  And they should.

Khan.gif

Many things that people complain about in The Last Jedi are actually the fault of J.J. Abrams.

People complain that the backstory of The Last Jedi does not explain the backstory of the First Order’s rise to power.  Guess what?  That was Abrams’ job.  He could have provided a very simple backstory explaining where the First Order came from and the relationship between the Resistance and the Republic, but he chose not to do so.  People complain that Luke is a coward and a bitter old man in The Force Awakens.  Guess what?  J.J. Abrams set that up!  Han tells Rey and Finn that when Luke’s apprentice turned against him, Luke felt responsible and he just walked away.  Luke knew how dangerous Kylo Ren would be.  He knew that death and destruction would follow.  And Luke walked away!  What a hero.

J.J. Abrams was the table setter.  I’ll grant that he didn’t have a great foundation to work with, but many of the problems in The Last Jedi stems from cracks in J.J. Abrams’ foundation.

Khan

7 The problem of video games.

This is something that I haven’t heard anyone discuss.  I expect I may get some hate for this.  But too bad.

One of my theater teachers in college told our class that our generation had a very difficult time writing plays because we had grown up watching television.  TV has very short scenes, only a few minutes long, which works in TV but does not work in theater.  Theater does very well in scenes that go on for an extended period of time without breaking the scene.  (For example, read An Ideal Husband.)  I don’t disagree.  But I also think that video games have destroyed people’s ability to watch movies.

I realized this in Screen Junkies’ review of Godzilla in 2014.  The guys in the video used a term I had never heard before: “boss fight.”  I looked it up and it referred to a significant computer controlled enemy in a video game.  He is larger than other characters and he is at the end of a level in a game.  (Brings back memories about Donkey Kong Country.)

I mentioned that most Star Wars fans want to go back in time and experience watching the Original Trilogy for the first time.  But I also want to talk about how video games seem to have affected the way people watch movies.

People go to the movies now and expect it to be like a video game.  They believe that conflict = violence and they believe that the conflict is resolved through escalating violence.  This is one reason why so many people were so upset over the death of Snoke in The Last Jedi.  They couldn’t fathom killing the boss in the middle movie.

George Lucas definitely bought into this mindset.  Each lightsaber battle becomes longer and more dance-like and elaborate, desperately trying to top the previous fight.  And yet, as Mr. Plinkett points out, they are increasingly boring, because they are meaningless.

More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle wrote a work called Poetics, which explored drama, and he isolated what he felt were the most important parts of a play.  He identified them as plot, character, thought, diction(language), spectacle, and song.  Notice that spectacle is down towards the bottom, and plot and characters are towards the top.  Video games have encouraged to people to think that we go to the movies for spectacle.  Spectacle does give immediate satisfaction, but as the flashing lights and loud noises fade, and the cool novelty fades (especially as technology advances and special effects become increasingly better), what we are left with is plot, character, thought, and diction (language).

I think that this is why Star Wars films get good reviews immediately upon their release (CinemaScores has high scores for all Star Wars films, including The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) but people turn on them later.  Once the excitement over the flashing lights and the loud noises fade, people begin to think about the stories and the characters.  I also think this is why The Empire Strikes Back had a lackluster reception only to grow in people’s estimation over time; it has the best plot and best character deelopment.

To me, this is disappointing, but not a hopeless state of affairs.  In Screen Junkies’ commentary for their Black Panther Honest Trailer, the guys (who all grew up playing video games) commented how disappointed they were that the movie ends with a large battle.  They wished it had ended with a passionate debate between T’Challa and Killmonger.  They understood that while conflict may contain violence, conflict is not synonymous with violence, and escalating violence is not the only way to solve a conflict.

The question is, is that too smart for Star Wars?

8 Gate keeping in fandoms

On some level, I understand the instinct to gate keep in fandom.  I was very angry with Star Trek Into Darkness because I felt that J.J. Abrams and Paramount were trying to pander to Star Wars fans.  (Stay in your lane!)  They are still trying to appeal to Star Wars fans because they made Star Trek Discovery, which has no regard for the ideals of Star Trek and is simply a war drama.  (Star Trek did have war.  I love the Dominion War arc in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, but the purpose of the Dominion War is to test the ideals of the Federation, not just blow things up.)  It makes me angry and frustrated that Paramount doesn’t understand (or care) about what Star Trek fans loved about Star Trek and instead try to appeal to new fans by destroying what we loved.

Think about it.  If I want to see a new Star Trek series, I have to watch a show by Seth McFarlane.  Never thought I’d say that, but Set McFarlane is a Star Trek nerd,  and he understands what Star Trek fans loved about Star Trek.

In some way, I think that is why I enjoyed the backlash to The Last Jedi so much.  After all, if Star Trek is ruined, why should Star Wars get a pass?

fanboy tears

And yet, that is a childish reaction.  Just because J.J. Abrams and Paramount ruined what I loved doesn’t mean that no one can have nice things.

I have sympathy for people who loved the OT and the Expanded Universe, who grew attached to the stories and characters, only to discover that they no longer matter.  It hurts.

9 Everything is Political Now

Many people on the political right are angry that Star Wars is now political.  They complain about SJW’s (Social Justice Warriors) ruining the stories and injecting politics into the films.  I don’t think this accurate.  What does the First Order believe?  What does the Resistance believe?

As Lindsay Ellis points out, there is no real ideology behind The First Order (or the Resistance for that matter) except for ur-Facism and democratic republics.  True, the Canto Bight scene is not a glowing representation of capitalism, but considering our current political divisions in the US, I am not sure it’s a leftist message.  In our current political climate, most Republican voters (if not official ideology) are also very skeptical of Big Business as well.  They blame free trade policies for rising unemployment, declining economic mobility, increasing immigration, and a loss of national identity.  I would argue that the fact that the rich of Canto Bight sell weapons to both sides could be seen as a critique of globalization, the bugaboo of the far-right.

Then there is the fact that people have really gravitated to the “animal cruelty” motif in Canto Bight.  I don’t read the scene in that way, but rather as as a poorly executed moment in Finn’s character arc.  (I’ll write about that in a later point.)

To me, the politics in the Star Wars trilogy are kind of like a Rorschach test.  People see what they want to see.  So what is going on?  Well, we live in an incredibly political time with harsh divisions between sides.  In the past 20 years, the percentage of people who would object to their children marrying someone from a different political party has increased dramatically.  Political divisions are less based on ideas and more frequently based on race, age, or gender.  We can also read, listen to, and watch media that never challenges our political opinions.  50 years ago, there were only three TV channels, so there were only three news stations.  Now, we can all choose the news that matches our political opinions and never challenges them.  The internet makes that worse.  Google and Youtube make the problem even worse, because the algorithms that they use guarantee that we will see more videos that conform to our views so that we travel even further into the echo chamber.

What is the result?

First of all, it means that we are hyper-focused on politics in every aspect of our lives, making us more likely to see political ideas in a variety of contexts.  Second of all, it means that we are less likely to see someone with a different opinion as an enemy.  Third, we have less exposure to a variety of ideas, so when when we see something that does not completely conform to our worldview, we are more likely to react badly.

10 Sexism is prevalent in fan reactions.

Sadly, this is a part of the gate keeping I addressed earlier. Many people are upset that there is greater representation of women in the films and feel that this is ruining the movies.  They also feel that they are not “real fans.”  There is a sense that white men own the series, and all people who enjoy the series must enjoy the films the way that they do.

Sadly, many of the attacks on Kathleen Kennedy are very sexist.  There is this belief that she simply hates men and compels the directors to portray all men in a terrible light, and yet is also weak and feeble with no control over the franchise.  (They can’t make up their minds.)

This is not specific to the Star Wars films, but a facet of of the wider society bleeding into the fandom.  Sadly, this brings me to my next point.

11 Money and Fan Hate

I have watched a number of videos from people who hated the Star Wars films from an anti-SJW perspective.  (Don’t go down the rabbit hole.)  But instead of talking about their ideology, I want to point out an important point that people forget.  The people who make these videos (the most popular ones) are not simply fans making a video on their I-Phone and uploading it to Youtube.  Their videos are book-ended by pleas for donations to their Patreon pages and tips to sponsors.  They are making money off of the anger.  I am not saying they don’t believe what they are saying.  I am saying it no longer matters.  They will never change their mind on the series because that would be murdering the cash cow.  People complain about shills on YouTube who are paid by Disney.  But we must not forget that many anti Star Wars YouTube channels also have a financial incentive too.

12 Lucasfilm has been kind of a mess.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if they ask for Kathleen Kennedy’s resignation because of all the problems that Lucasfilms have had with directors.  They hire directors to take chances with Rogue One and Solo, only to bring in new directors and re-shoot them.  This is expensive and shows that they don’t really know what to do with Star Wars.  (Largely because there isn’t much to do with Star Wars.)  The director turnover and re-shoots do speak to disorganization that stems from the top. It is also expensive for Disney, and makes each film less profitable.

13 Fan service has damaged movies.

Movies now are plagued by fan service.  They throw images people remember from childhood in the hopes that people will like things purely out of nostalgia.  It is a burden to many films.  Sadly, I often just remember how things were better in the original.  (I felt that way for most of the live action of Beauty and the Beast).  I certainly felt that way in The Force Awakens, which had tons of fan service.  Look!  Look!  Darth Vader’s helmet!  You remember Darth Vader right?  And look!  A trench run to destroy a giant super weapon that’s shaped like a sphere!  You remember the Death Star, right?

Rogue One was also full of fan service.  As Mike put it so eloquently in Red Letter Media’s Rogue One review

It was like being in the theater with a bunch of perverts watching porn.  “Oh fuck, yeah!  Oh fuck, yeah!  It’s Darth Vader!”  When Darth Vader’s light saber came out, I heard so many cum shots.  It was disgusting.

(In some way, that is why I liked Luke throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder.  Rian Johnson blue-balled the audience.)

OK.  Those are all my thoughts.  Should Kathleen Kennedy step down?

I don’t really care.  On some level, I would say yes, simply due to the disarray behind the scenes with the directors.  There is something dysfunctional about constantly have to fire directors, hire new ones, and re-shoot films extensively.  This is also confusing Kathleen Kennedy said she wanted visionary new directors to make original films, only to fire them and bring in established directors to create safer films.

Even so, I don’t think it would do any good.  It won’t change the fundamental problems within the Star Wars universe.  And if they do try to address those problems, the fans will rebel (no pun intended) because they like many of the problems with the series.  It’s like people being attached to a pothole in the middle of the street.

But if she does, and we bring in someone else, here’s what the new leader should do.

1 End Star Wars with Episode IX.

Star Wars should have ended with episode VI.  It was the perfect ending for that story.  People are all upset at what the new trilogy has done to the original trilogy.  That was inevitable!   Accept the fact that stories end.

2 Take actual inspiration from George Lucas.

George Lucas was inspired by old Flash Gorden serials.  He wasn’t able to make his own Flash Gordan film.  So what did he do?  He wrote his own story.

(Imagine for a second if he had made his own Flash Gorden serial.  Imagine people speculating as to whether or not Luke Skywalker was Flash Gorden’s son, or shouting “Not my Flash” after the movie.  Imagine people saying, “I thought General Tarkin was the reincarnation of Flash’s main villain, but no, he’s just a guy they killed off.  They didn’t even give him a backstory!” )

Star Wars doesn’t need George Lucas back.  What Star Wars needs, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is Seth McFarlane.

We need people who will take the inspiration of Star Wars and create their own stories and their own universes, drawing upon what they love most about the trilogies. You want more Force lore?  A writer can create a space odyssey that blends far more fantasy elements (even gods) into the story.  You like ships?  A writer can create a story where the ships are the actual characters in the story.  You hate women?  A writer can create an entire universe where all the characters are men and they procreate through cloning themselves. Fans talk about uniting the fan base.  But perhaps what the fan base needs is not unity, but schism.  Fans are interested in different aspects of the story, and rather than demand a new trilogy that tells their story, they should create their own universe and write their own story.

Many people have picked up on Kylo’s advice to Rey to “Let the past die.”  To me, the real viewpoint of Rian Johnson is expressed by Yoda.  “We are what we grow beyond.  That is the burden of all masters.”

Oh, and give me back Star Trek!

Khan

 

 

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