Friday, April 5, 2013

Oh, Did You Just Figure Out That Maybe Disney Buying Star Wars Means Everything You Liked About Star Wars is Going to Getting Demolished?

Shoemaker sent me this article from i09.  It's basically about how, the afterglow of Disney's purchase of Star Wars and the sudden lay-offs, etc... start to settle in, someone realized that Disney probably doesn't give two Jawa farts about the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

As I said in my email response to Shoemaker: no kidding

once again, your avatar for what will happen to everything you once loved

Even when the first Expanded Universe stuff hit the shelf when I was in high school, I didn't read it.  I guess by the time those books arrived, I was pretty well aware that studio executives weren't going to care that some sci-fi authors wanted to write Star Wars books when it came time to make new movies, and those studio execs were going to include George Lucas and his associates.  When movies that moved past the conclusion of Return of the Jedi did happen, they'd be so much bigger than a series of fantasy books, that the books would just sort of disappear into the ether as non-canonical, leaving a herd of nerds wondering how to reconcile the irreconcilable, narratively speaking, in their minds.

Of course, for two decades we had Uncle George backing up the books - which I doubted he ever read, but he knew that without his stamp, those books wouldn't be taken seriously nor purchased by Star Wars fans.  And that meant less dough, so best to just approve them and worry on it later.

It seems crazy now, but for a long time, there weren't a lot of Star Wars products out there between 1984 and 1998, and anything with George's blessing was like a sacred scroll found in a cave.  I was looked upon with heaps of scorn for not taking the Expanded Universe seriously.  It was official.

Still, I was a little surprised that Star Wars fans were so universally excited by the news that George was stepping down and Disney was taking over.  Then, a few days after it happened, I was talking to the guy who manages my favorite coffee shop who is about my age and a big comics and sci-fi nerd, and I said "well, it's going to be interesting to see what the fans do when the movies are all new and don't follow the Expanded Universe."

And Jim went sort of pale.  "You don't think they will?"

"I doubt anyone at Disney knows the books exist.  They're going to want their own guys to write their own story, not stick to some books only dudes who own their own stormtrooper armor care about."

He just sort of looked sad.

A few days later I mentioned this to my brother.

Jason: So the people who care the most about Star Wars are the ones who are going to feel like they got screwed the worst and feel completely betrayed.
Me: Yup.
Jason: But the studio won't even notice because they'll make a fortune from those people and all the new fans.
Me:  Yup.
Jason: So...  Sort of like every time someone reboots DC Comics.
Me: Yup.
Jason: Not feeling real bad for the fans then?
Me: Nope.

I mean, I do feel bad, because I know exactly what it's like to see something you love just get chucked aside when someone comes along who has the power and money and they make the decision about the thing you've devoted a lot of time and money and a lot of your wheelhouse space.  But maybe this is sort of the longtail to buying into what media conglomerates are selling us as narrative product.  Eventually there's going to be a corporate coup, and because it's not worth having a coup if you keep doing the same old thing, you're going to see some change.

I'm not saying JJ Abrams isn't going to use the Expanded Universe as the basis for his new films, but I doubt he's read any of that stuff, he's being brought in after the success of rebooting Star Trek (which, really, if it basically looked like Star Trek but didn't star guys ten years past the ability to collect social security, was always going to do fine at the box office), so he's going to put his stamp on Star Wars, too.  That is specifically why he was hired.  And if his Superman script (or how he thought of Roddenberry's vision for Trek) was any indication, knowing anything about the material isn't really a prerequisite.  He's Catherine O'Hara in Beetlejuice, absolutely certain he's got some pretty good ideas about how to make this space more modern and tasteful.

So, maybe I am saying JJ Abrams isn't going to use the Expanded Universe as the basis for his new films.  We'll see.

Culturally, we've passed into a realm where the commerce of stories and narratives no longer has a "The End" on the final page, where the author's stamp is necessary.  We want more because we want more, and it's only in getting more of it that we have to realize the fifth bite never tastes as good as the first, and the 20th bite may have been 7 or 8 bites too many.  We've asked corporations to shepherd our cultural touchstones, and they have done what corporations do - exploit the resources to maximize profit.  You cannot be angry with a scorpion when it acts by its nature.

I'd put this out there:  In the 1980's, when Star Wars was not a thing that made conventions happen, overwhelmed conventions dedicated to other media or genres, when it was a trio of movies and some toys and  whatnot, and we weren't getting any more - people were still trying to make the next Star Wars.  Some of it was good, most of it was dreck, but we ended up with a string of movies that at least tried.  Like Star Wars, they were cobbled together from other genres, other movies, etc... they didn't have the runaway bestseller kids books out ahead of them, drafting on pre-existing brand awareness and the safety of some guarantee of sales to existing fans.

When the new movies arrived in 1999, it seems like that was sort of the end of anyone trying to make the next Star Wars.

Now we've hired a better-than-mediocre-but-not-exactly-visionary director to rehash more of the same, and people have been going bananas, not once thinking that this isn't going to go off exactly how they were hoping.  Nobody has been thinking this could be a trilogy of Superman Returns.*

I've been done with Star Wars since around 2002 (not even Jar-Jar could break me, but Hayden Christian could), so I'm not exactly broken up about all this business.  But I am certain we'll see a splintering of the core Star Wars fan base, especially in 15 years as the kids who grew up with Abrams arrive on the scene to tell the fans that Lucas was old school and had no idea what he was doing and Abrams "basically saved the franchise and made it not suck".

Disney didn't even wait for George's chair to get cold before they closed down LucasArts and other Lucas efforts started getting closed down.  Yes, everyone's been freaking out that Clone Wars was canceled, but that's what happens when your Disney/ ABC owned show is now showing on a Time-Warner Network, and, by the way, might not fit the "vision" of JJ Abrams.

Still, I'll always have snowsuit Leia.

Until the reboot, which will no doubt star various former Disney Channel kids.

*for the record, I still like Superman Returns, but I am well aware most humans do not, and that it's a divergent take on the Superman concept


Jake Shore said...

I don't know why anyone would be surprised. I'm a big Star Wars fan, but Lucas broke my heart with the prequels, so my expectations are in the gutter. I didn't blink at Disney buying Star Wars. No matter what they do, it cannot be worse than the prequels, which make me cringe every time I get a glimpse of them.

I remember when all those novels came out, but I never bothered. I never considered them part of any canon. To me, they were glorified fan fiction. That was confirmed when I finally picked one up. I tried to read Shadows of the Empire (the story between Eps. V & VI), and put it down after less than ten pages. The writing was awful. I don't understand why anyone would believe Lucas, Disney or anyone else would allow themselves to be guided by the writing choices of Timothy Zahn twenty years ago. We're not talking about movies based on books. We're talking about books based on movies. The films were the original creative medium for Star Wars. To me, it would be like J.R.R. Tolkien (if he were alive today) deciding to write a new Lord of the Rings trilogy, but being expected by fans to follow the canon laid out by movie spin-offs of the original film trilogy.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I don't feel sorry for them.

The League said...

If someone really loved those books, I am sure it seems obvious to use them as your architecture for the next few movies. But I think your statement "We're not talking about movies based on books. We're talking about books based on movies." sums it up perfectly.

Matt A. said...

I try to be reasonable about the whole thing. I know Lucas put the words "Star" and "Wars" in close proximity on those 3 films that came out after 1999, but they aren't Star Wars. I read some of the Timothy Zahn trilogy, but they weren't it either. I'm just happy with my movies that start with "Episode IV", and I'm teaching my daughter the same.

I think you hit it right, League. We get what we ask for when we ask people in corporations to be the keepers of our cultural identity.

The big question for me is what Disney will do about the fan culture. Lucas has been really kind by not punching the internet with a legal arm, and let people make their own stuff. Heck, he even helped some of the people who did it - like the "Troops" show, he let the cast borrow some official props and costumes from the films. Will Disney start throwing down cease and desist notices to anyone who makes a tribute film on YouTube?

The League said...

Well, hopefully Disney recognizes what they bought. They've been pretty good with Marvel's fans to date, and given that Disney has its own expo now (D23), and sort of quietly cultivates its own obsessives for the animated material, I think they get it a little. But that's the current regime at Disney. And Star Wars' fandom is on a whole other level.

We'll see. It's all in the waiting. Frankly, having seen what I've seen at cons like the one we went to, Marvel and DC are pretty open minded about liberal use of their IP by the folks at the tables.

Simon MacDonald said...

Personally everything I liked about Star Wars was demolished when they released Episodes I, II and III so I've had the time to get used to the idea that Star Wars is no longer for me.

As for the expanded universe I've read quite a bit of the books and some are great and others are not very good at all. If they wanted to pick any books to base the new movies off then the first Timothy Zhan trilogy was pretty great. It introduced a couple of great characters in Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. The difficulty in shooting those movies is that Luke, Leia, Han, etc would have to be recast.

@Matt A if you absolutely need to show you kids some of the earlier movies the best viewing order I've found is:

Episode IV - A New Hope
Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

This preserves the overal narrative. It allows the kids to marvel at the big reveal at the end of episode V, then learn more about Darth Vadar in episodes II and III before coming back to his redemption in Episode VI.