Longrunners and the Cruelty of Time

I’ve written before about how I find Star Wars to be uninteresting in terms of storytelling analysis. There’s simply too much baggage around it for any kind of judgment, either good or bad. But I do find Star Wars interesting in how it sits in our popular culture, especially how that culture has changed over the course of 40 years. If you think about it, that’s a lot of time for something to stick around, and like all longrunners, Star Wars is shaped by the culture of its past and the culture of its present.

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Vader v. Anakin: Dawn of Backstory

What makes a character work and what doesn’t isn’t always easy to define, but I will say that backstory is probably the least important aspect of nearly any character. We love digging into a character’s past, to find what makes them tick and drives them. And many a great character has gained something from having an interesting backstory.

BUT…

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The Book of Luke

I believe that there is probably some productive discussion to be had around The Last Jedi and Star Wars in general, but like religion, it’s mostly a clash of ideology and expectation that is too wide to be crossed easily.
 
It doesn’t help that Star Wars still isn’t properly a cinematic universe, but a single storyline. Even Rogue One is merely a sub chapter of the same story: One devoted to answering a question nerds loved making a joke about.
 
When I think about James Bond or Godzilla, I see them not as a single long story or even a single character, but as multiple interpretations of the same character. We might debate which of those interpretations we like best, but there’s an acknowledgement that none of them are “canon”, changing the nature of the discussion.
 
But there is only one Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, etc. And everyone has their own interpretation and expectations of those characters and what they want from them. Half the discussion I’ve heard and participated in has revolved around what people want from Star Wars, not necessarily the latest films as stories in themselves.
 
Which is fine. It’s inevitable, in fact. But like any long-running pop culture phenomenon, schisms will form. And there’s not much to be done about it.
 
The MCU is immune to this for a couple of reasons. It’s only existed a decade, and it’s multiple independent stories with some loose continuity in the background. People might have a range of feelings about Ant-Man, but his movie is not going to alter your feelings about the entire MCU. I found Ragnarok to be adequate at best, but it doesn’t diminish my hopes that Infinity War will be good because, even though I dislike the changes to Thor and his continuity, he’s only a small part of the entire story, featuring dozens of characters.
 
Star Wars as story is almost entirely irrelevant to me because story is almost entirely irrelevant to Star Wars. More so, I think than any other movie series. Yes, even Star Trek, while featuring recurring characters, is a series of adventures, not just one long adventure and with the reboot, we even created an alternate continuity which is there to put the kibosh on certain arguments.
 
You feel Star Wars. Or you don’t. And while that allows legitimate enjoyment and legitimate dislike, it’s really, really hard to debate feelings.
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The Perils of Fan Canon

I don’t have issues with fan fiction. Most of it is pretty bad, but most of everything is bad, so that’s nothing remarkable.
 
But a big problem with fan fiction culture is an obsession with minor details. The reason is simple enough. If you want to create an interesting story and not really sure what to write about, pick something you like, pick a detail of it that is unexplored (usually because it doesn’t need to explore), and expand upon it.
 
And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that.
 
But it has led to a larger assumption that every element in a story is important and an obsession over details and faux mysteries.
 
I saw it with The Force Awakens, when people were furiously debating over who Emperor Snoke was going to be because he had to be somebody important! Not just anyone could become Emperor. Certainly, if not a film character, he must be a version of an extended universe character!
 
I’m trying to imagine the original Star Wars in this context, and if you watch the original film, there is almost no mystery in it. Darth Vader is later found out to be Luke’s father, but there are no hints of it. The Empire has no secret agenda, nor the Rebels. Luke is not a mystery. He’s just a good kid who has access to the force.
 
And, lest we forget, the Force binds all things, and there’s really no reason to believe that Luke himself is particularly special in this regard. That stuff came later.
 
In fact, there’s absolutely no hint that the Emperor is a Sith. There’s no discussion of how the Jedi work, if they are a product of innate gifts or special training. We know Princess Leia is a princess, but we don’t know what that entails. The mystery quotient in Star Wars is almost non-existent.
 
At the time, we didn’t overanalyze things like we do now. There was precious little debate over the film and when its sequel came out, people weren’t debating about who would die and what mysteries would be revealed.
 
Granted, that wasn’t the culture at the time, and that’s not the film. In a way, the reveal of Luke’s parentage as a big surprise was sort of the beginning of fan obsessive culture, and it only worked because we didn’t overanalyze the hell out of everything back then.
 
As I’ve said, I think there’s precious little artistic discussion to be had about the merits of Star Wars at this point. It exists beyond such points. People love or hate or are indifferent to Star Wars for a million reasons, and I think to actually talk about the films themselves is mostly a waste of time. Not because they can’t be criticized, but because criticism and praise on any technical level is unimportant to their success.
 
At this point, if they rereleased the Star Wars Holiday Special, they’d make a billion dollars, so quality, while always subjective, isn’t worth talking about for me.
 
But liking or disliking a movie because it fits into your own personal headcanon is tricky business. Yet in a world where we will spend a week talking about the color of Luke’s lightsaber and what it might mean, it’s inevitable that things are going to get messy.
 
May the Force be with you.
 
Or not.
 
Whatever.
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