The Real World and Wakanda (and Why It Matters)

What follows are some thoughts about Black Panther and cultural context. These are, by default, outsider’s thoughts in many regards. I acknowledge this in advance.

Reality influences fiction. As much as we might want to separate art from the moment, especially pop art that is meant to be mostly enjoyed, we can’t really do that. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and while I’m not interested in limiting or censoring creative output (even “vacuous” output that is as much product as art), I think it’s good–important even–to discuss how our popular media relates to the world around us.

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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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