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15 Flaws in the Star Wars Saga or, The Holy Bee Finally Feels Like Part of the Internet

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Since it’s Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!), and The Last Jedi has recently become available for home viewing, and Solo: A Star Wars Story will be hitting screens in a few weeks, I figured the time is right to go through a long-delayed rite of interweb passage. I’m finally making some time to take pot-shots at good ol’ Star Wars! Even if it’s way too late, why not take a dip in the almost-empty pool already clouded up by a million nerds’ sebaceous discharge and medicated eczema cream?

I have touched on the events from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a few times on this website, but in case I haven’t made it absolutely clear, I am a hardcore, lifelong Star Wars fan. The first one I saw was The Empire Strikes Back at age five in the summer of 1980. In those pre-home video days, hugely popular movies were often re-released back into theaters. So even though, at two, I was too young to remember seeing the original Star Wars in 1977, I got to see it on the big screen, twice, during its 1982 re-release. Then I watched the original trilogy conclude with a crushing defeat for the evil Empire in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Yub nub!

…then we all grew up and moved on for awhile. Star Wars went into a lengthy hibernation, except for the development of a Star Wars role-playing game by West End Games (giving names and backstories to several minor on-screen characters) in the mid-1980s, which was the seed that grew into the “Expanded Universe.”

…then the EU really took off with a trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn starting in 1991, continuing the story beyond Return of the Jedi. They were…pretty ok. Further novels in the EU were not-so-much ok. 

…then came the prequel films from 1999 to 2005. They have their latter-day defenders, but the general consensus is that the prequels were…underwhelming. Like most of us, I found Revenge of the Sith a worthy entry in the overall series. The Phantom Menace had a plethora of problems, but retained an earnest likeability at its core. Much of Attack of the Clones, though, was downright dire, with plot holes you could fly a spice freighter through, unclear and illogical character motivations, and dialogue that was bad even by prequel standards.

…then Disney bought the entire Star Wars franchise outright in 2012, wiped most of the EU from the canon (the correct move), and began the post-ROTJ stroyline anew. I was totally on board. Despite its obvious “fan service” (which I don’t think is automatically a bad thing — yes, I’m a fan and, shucks, I don’t mind being “serviced” now and then) and repeating some story beats from A New Hope, I thought J.J. Abrams did a fine job crafting the opening salvo of a new trilogy for a new generation with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I was already an admirer of the next installment’s writer-director, Rian Johnson. I talked up his 2005 indie debut, Brick, to anyone who would listen, and his time-travelling crime drama Looper was one of the best films of 2012.

So when I put on my 3D glasses settled into my seat at the IMAX theater to see Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the pre-opening night of Thursday, December 14, 2017, I was vibrating with anticipation…and I was duly blown away. I found tears running down my cheeks two or three times. It was a dark, complex, very grown-up episode of the saga, full of angst, desperation, and characters making snap judgements and hasty mistakes. I was moved in a way that few films moved me. A little overlong? Yes, the editor’s scissors could have made an extra snip here and there, especially in Canto Bight. That was my main quibble (there was a secondary one, see #14 below…)

I had avoided all spoilers in the weeks before I saw the film, so the next morning I was excited to go online and plunge into the fan reviews and discussions. To my shock, when I made my first stop on the good ol’ Star Wars subreddit, I saw a tidal wave of…negativity. Howls of outrage, even. Other websites with active discussion forums were in a similar state. It seemed that everyone in internet-land hated it.

Whaa…? Did I (and every professional film critic, who all praised it to the skies) see a different movie? “Bombs can’t fall in zero gravity” and other whiny horseshit was being hollered by pedantic dweebs as they flung themselves on their racecar beds in despair. (Sound doesn’t travel in space either, but everyone wants to hear those engines, lasers, and explosions, don’t they? Yes, you too, Neckbeard. Remember, it’s a fantasy.)

Many of the complaints seemed to be along the lines of it didn’t “feel like” a Star Wars movie. “It’s too different” these guys pouted, and I’ll bet you a frosty mug of blue milk a lot of them were the same chinless wonders who bitched that The Force Awakens was “too much of the same.” Also, everyone seemed want Snoke to have some kind of awesome backstory, and everyone wanted Rey’s parents to be some kind of noteworthy figures. Well, guess what? Fuck ‘em, says The Last Jedi. None of that turns out to be important to the story as it barrells forward. Despite the (admittedly handy) existence of Wookieepdia, not every character needs an elaborate backstory, and not every character has to have family ties with other characters. (I suppose Kylo could be lying about Rey’s kin, but I hope not.) The Star Wars galaxy is a little too small as it is. And they hated Rose, mostly for stopping Finn’s self-sacrifice. I sort of see their point, but a Star Wars “good guy/girl” can’t be selfish, short-sighted and a little dense? They all have to be noble heroes? How boring.

The other major source of pissing and moaning was the characterization of Luke Skywalker, which I thoughtLuke Skywalker Last Jedi via Lucasfilm Header was the film’s masterstroke. In The Last Jedi, Luke has become a Yoda figure — a wild-eyed, disillusioned hermit, who believes to the core of his being that he is a catastrophic failure (echoing Yoda’s Revenge of the Sith line “into exile, I must go” after failing to stop the Emperor). This was a nice piece of work by Johnson, and performed beautifully by Mark Hamill (who was snubbed by the Oscars in the Supporting Actor category, if you ask me.) But evidently, Luke wasn’t enough like the old “Expanded Universe Luke” for some naysayers, clutching their pearls in high dudgeon. Based on the decent-sized amount I’ve read myself back in the day, a good chunk of the original EU was uninspired, juvenile, color-by-numbers garbage. Seriously, I’ve never read anything as badly written as some of that shit. I don’t care what the upcoming stand-alone Han Solo movie does, it will never be as clunky and stilted as Ann C. Crispin’s version of the Solo origin story. I loved the fact that The Force Awakens had Han return to his roots as a shady, second-rate smuggler and made Leia a boots-on-the-ground Resistance general. The EU’s choice? Make them a boring old married couple dealing with the bureaucracy of the “New Republic.” And the EU’s Luke Skywalker was a dull plaster saint with nothing truly interesting about him. That’s what people wanted?

After a half-hour of wading through these complaints, I actually unsubscribed from the Star Wars subreddit in a fit of disgust, and thought dark thoughts about perpetually butt-hurt fanboys who were disappointed that The Last Jedi wasn’t the movie they had “written for themselves in their heads” (to quote my very perceptive wife, who also loved the film, along with all of my friends and anyone whose opinion I respect.) Continue reading

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Full-Course Kenner: An Autobiographical Journey Through Star Wars Toys, Part 1

KENLOGThere’s no big Star Wars-related milestone that inspired me to write a little bit (or not-so-little bit) about the line of Star Wars Kenner toys that were such a massive part of my childhood. The original three movies are 37, 34, and 31 years old, we won’t see a new film under the deal with Disney until at least the end of 2015, so things are pretty quiet in the Star Wars universe.

What set me off down this path was actually a podcast — The Star Wars Minute, hosted by Alex Robinson and Pete the Retailer. The concept behind star wars minutethe podcast is these two Star Wars geeks around my age (closing in on 40) dedicate each episode to a single minute of the original Star Wars movie. (I still have trouble calling it A New Hope or Episode IV.) A typical episode runs between 12 and 15 minutes, and it’s better than it sounds. They go into behind-the-scenes trivia (most of which I know, and I tend to yell corrections at my iPod when they flub something) and banter with their weekly guest, in addition to analyzing the minutiae of the film sixty seconds at a time. I may be biased, but I don’t see this working with any other film series. There’s a certain richness to the Original Trilogy that latter-day CGI-fests can’t match (terrific as some of those films are.) (EDIT: There’s now an Indiana Jones Minute, Back to the Future Minute, Jaws Minute, Goodfellas Minute, all done by other podcasters. No, those movies are not “latter-day CGI-fests,” and no, they still don’t work as well in a minute-by-minute breakdown.)

Star Wars Minute has moved on from Star Wars, and are a ways into The Empire Strikes Back (they have promised to hang it up without doing the dreaded prequels. EDIT: They’re totally doing the prequels), and here’s my beef: they have remarked numerous times that they have received complaints about digressing too much into discussion of the Star Wars toys. It surprises no one that these complaints come from Generation II of the Star Wars fan base.

Generation I are the people who fell in love with the Star Wars movies during their original theatrical run (1977-83), and aside from yelling occasional corrections at their iPods, are content to bask in nostalgia and not rock the boat too much. (Maybe there’s a little irritation at the sub-par writing of the prequels.) Generation III is everyone from toddlers through high-schoolers who were born or began to watch the films after the “Special Edition” re-releases in 1997 and are totally uncritical and accept the series as a whole, prequels and all. New Generation III’ers are being made each day (welcome!).

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Generation II are the nitpicking assholes. The millennials. The Gen-Y’ers. The eldest of them maybe got taken to Return of the Jedi as an infant and breastfed through it. They usually have older siblings or younger parents who were Generation I and got them into it…and then they really ran with it. They played all the video games, gobbled up the “Expanded Universe” novels and comics, and re-watched the movies endlessly on video. They are the ones who began to fetishize Boba Fett beyond all reason. They’re mostly in their mid-twenties to early thirties these days, and they’re the type who actually e-mail complaints to podcasts. Which is fine, but when they say the toy discussions should stop, that’s where I have to step in and invoke a little Gen I seniority. (Sad 2018 EDIT: And I guarantee you all of the racist, misogynistic fuckwit trolls who are ruining Star Wars fandom are 95% Gen II. I know you’ll all die alone, and I hope it will be painful.)

Generation II have never existed in a world without home video. To Gen I, the toys were the only way we could keep the movies alive in our heads. We squeezed in as many viewings as we could at the theater, and once it finished its run, we hoped it would show up on TV now and then.

In the meantime, we had the toys. The wonderful, wonderful toys produced by Kenner from early 1978 through 1985, which fired the imagination like nothing else could. Continue reading

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