So the Star Wars thing happened. Even if you aren’t a nerd you know what I’m talking about, and chances are you know it’s a big deal. How are fans reacting? Well… it’s complicated. It would be pointless to try and survey the full spectrum of of responses, as improbably vast as the mythology it’s attached to, so instead I’m going to try and articulate my own reaction and put it in context with what others have said.
First off, the acquisition itself. Like it or not, merchandising has always been the powerhouse strength of the franchise. The Kenner action figures of your misspent childhood and the ironic Cafepress t-shirt of your misspent adulthood are linked together in supporting art through the forces of capitalism. Merchandising ‘made’ Star Wars, and nobody merchandises like Disney.
What will this terrible convergence wright though? Thing is, Disney is increasingly a diverse entertainment company looking to appeal to demographics from the cradle to the grave, so fears of “cheapening” or “kid-ifying” Star Wars are largely unfounded (in so much as Star Wars was ever a “mature” franchise in the first place). Moreover, Disney seems to have realized that franchises are most profitable when they appeal equally to general audiences and hardcore fans. There was much hand wringing a few years ago when Disney acquired Marvel in a similar fashion. You know what they gave us though? The Avengers. Let me repeat that for emphasis. The Avengers. The most ambitious fanboy dream project ever, something no one would have even believed feasible a decade ago, let alone the highest grossing film of all time, came equal parts from the House of Ideas and the House of Mouse. Then there’s Wreck-It Ralph. A movie aimed at kids way too young to get all the references, cameos, and shout outs to old video games in it, but still possessed of enough narrative gravity to keep older audiences engaged.
This brings us around to the thing itself though. Episode VII. Which is happening. Just saying the words seems heavy and portentous. What will it contain? Fans will be quick to point out that there is a wealth of material in the “Expanded Universe” dealing with the time period post-Return of the Jedi. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really hold out hope for these works to be used or even really referenced. For one, the time frame for the ages of the central characters doesn’t really fit with the ages of the actors who played them (presuming the original cast would even return). Moreover, the actual quality of the material in question is honestly kind of variable. Some is great, for certain. Some would make you long for The Phantom Menace though. Finally, at the end of the day they’re just not canon. Not really. Star Wars has always been pretty cavalier with it’s own legitimate catechisms, let alone the glut of what could at best be called apocrypha.
Many fans will be turned off by this. Fans who are projecting the same unfulfillable expectations onto these films they did onto the prequels a decade ago. Relax though, guys. Like it or not retcons are a part of fandom, and believe it or not they aren’t always bad. Anybody here a Star Trek fan? Of course you are. Anybody like the Klingons? Sure you do. What you probably like about the Klingons is their portrayal from the Next Generation onward, with the whole space-viking-samurai thing going on. Did you know they weren’t always written that way though? Although not discussed much onscreen in the original series, the background culture of Klingons as written in magazines and official guides was almost totally different from what fans are today familiar with. That’s okay too, because honestly the “new” background is better. Star Trek is a really good example of our discussion in general. Prior to three years ago Trek was almost an ex-franchise. Being strangled to death by its own bloated continuity without room to grow and lacking in a real sense of currency. The new film was a radical departure and a serious gamble, but one which has effectively resurrected the brand. All these things are today true of Star Wars as well. It desperately needs something new, truly new, and sometimes the only to do that is by clearing away the old.
At this point I’m pretty much over this whole argument of artistic purity. Reboots, remakes, and sequels are not inherently bad. Would you say of a broadway stage revival “Why bother when the original was so good?”
Throughout our history art has been in a perpetual state of reinterpretation and reinvention. Everything old is new again and enriches us all the more for it. To even the staunchest naysayer I ask: aren’t you the least bit excited? In your blackest fan-heart aren’t you the teensiest bit stoked? Did you even think a feeling like that was possible five years ago? we are not so jaded that we don’t ‘want’ this to be good, and honestly I think we are more likely than not to get exactly that.
Until next time, the force will be with you… Always…