Addressing Criticisms of “The Last Jedi Betrays the Original Trilogy and its Heroes”

Many of the most common responses rather miss the point.

My dashed off essay, “The Last Jedi Betrays the Original Trilogy and its Heroes,” has gotten, well, quite a lot of attention. It’s now the most read post I’ve ever written, and it continues to be shared like crazy on social media. While many people have said it gives voice to their own disappointment with the movie, an equal number have told me I’m out to lunch, or not understanding the movie, or stuck in my ways and so incapable of seeing what makes The Last Jedi the best since The Empire Strikes Back.

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Here I want to address some of the most common rebuttals, not just because they’re common, but also because they appear to miss much of what I tried to get at in my review.

Watch out for spoilers below.

“All your questions are answered in the novels and comics.”

Yes, I am familiar with the supplemental material in the novels and comics. I’ve read all of them, in fact. But far from lessening the problems with the The Last Jedi, knowing that backstory only highlights those problems.

What the novels tell us about the state of the universe in the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens just doesn’t fit with what we see in The Last Jedi. It does fit with what we see in The Force Awakens. Episode 8 deviates not just from TFA, but from the novels, too. I’m not going to dig into the details, but what the novels tell us about the New Republic and what The Force Awakens establishes about the location of the First Order, the role of the Resistance, and damage done to the Republic by Starkiller Base, don’t support the utterly dire situation our heroes find themselves in throughout The Last Jedi.

“You’re just mad that the universe took a dark turn.”

No, I’m not upset that things are bad in the universe compared to the happy place Return of the Jedi left us, nor am I upset that, in the end, our Original Trilogy heroes didn’t win out entirely over the Empire.

That things turned dark in the decades since the Battle of Endor is just fine, and conflict’s needed for a good story. But TLJ doesn’t earn that dark turn, because the way the darker universe is presented to us doesn’t make much sense.

We’re given no real inkling of how things turned bad. They’re just bad. And they appear to be bad just so we can have another set of Rebels fight another Empire, rather than as part of a meaningful narrative that builds on what came before.

“You’re just opposed to change.”

Likewise, my objection to The Last Jedi isn’t that I think Star Wars movies should slavishly be about old characters and old themes. I’m not against change in Star Wars. I love it and want more of it.

But that change needs to be interesting, it needs to feel like Star Wars, and it needs to build on what we’ve established over eight prior movies — not to mention two TV shows, a dozen plus novels, and countless comics. Star Wars needs change, but The Last Jedi isn’t interesting change.

In fact, it’s not really change at all. That’s what so frustrating about this particular response. The Last Jedi begins with the Rebellion (sorry, Resistance) fleeing its last base as the Empire (sorry, First Order) closes in. It ends with the Resistance in tatters, the Empire ascendant, and with a young Jedi just learning the way as the galaxy’s last, best hope. Along the way we get a Jedi master in isolation teaching a young force users from a backwater desert world about the ways of the Force, and we get a trench battle against Imperial (sorry, First Order) walkers.

The Last Jedi is change in the sense that it ignores the state of the universe it was handed by The Force Awakens and the novels, particularly the Aftermath trilogy and Bloodline. But it’s not nearly enough change because it ignores the state of the universe in order to unthinkingly return us to exactly what we’ve already seen, and without rhyme or reason.

“Aren’t these really problems with The Force Awakens?”

No, they’re not. Here’s why. The Force Awakens is a movie about setup. It’s the start of something new, and so its job is to introduce us to the world and its characters, not to explain everything and resolve all mysteries. TFA does a good job with that.

Yes, its opening crawl is confusing. We don’t quite understand who the First Order are, or how Leia’s Resistance is related to the Republic. The crawl should’ve been revised, because the answers are both simple and make for a pretty cool setup. In short, the First Order is an Imperial remnant, way out in the fringes of the galaxy. The Republic knows about them, but doesn’t consider them a threat, which is why they’re not sending their military to interfere. Leia’s convinced the First Order does pose a significant threat, so she’s setup the Resistance to keep an eye on them. (In the novels and comics, we learn that there’s actually a non-aggression treaty between the two sides.)

That all works. It makes sense that there’d be Imperial remnants. It makes sense that Leia, given what she went through in the Original Trilogy, would consider them a threat. It makes sense that the Republic, tired of war, would want to believe they can safely be ignored.

The Force Awakens has, in other words, good and interesting world-building. And the mysteries it sets up are themselves good and interesting. The Last Jedi discards all that without earning it from a narrative standpoint. The Republic was rocked, yes, by the loss of its capital and senate at Hosnian Prime in the Starkiller attack. But it beggars belief that such an attack would mean the galaxy is now without any military force capable of fighting back against what looks to be a not-too-large First Order fleet. We’re told in TLJ that the Resistance is all that’s left. Why? How? Rian Johnson doesn’t care.

“You’re just racist and sexist, and that’s why you don’t like the movie.”

Um, no.


The Last Jedi Betrays the Original Trilogy and its Heroes

Through sheer storytelling laziness, it tells us that nothing that came before mattered.

The Last Jedi is the most disappointing Star Wars movie since Attack of the Clones. I don’t believe I’m overstating that. It’s a movie that, through its plot developments and characterization, makes the whole of the Star Wars saga less interesting and less compelling.

Its plotting undermined the characters. What was accomplished by Luke, Leia, and Han in the Original Trilogy? In light of The Last Jedi, they basically failed. The ending of Return of the Jedi is moot. We don’t know why it’s moot. We don’t know why the Rebellion’s victory turned out to be, well, nothing at all. Episode VIII doesn’t bother to tell us, because it just doesn’t care.

Instead, The Last Jedi says, “Return of the Jedi never happened. Our characters failed. The Empire still lives, somehow, though we’ve changed the names. Everything’s as dire as it was after Empire Strikes Back, without explanation, and without earning it. We simply couldn’t come up with a new story, so we inexplicably reset the universe to repeat the same story we’ve already done, with a handful of new characters.”

Why did the Rebellion fail?

Why did any of the Original Trilogy matter?

That the Rebellion failed could be an interesting story. That our characters ultimately failed could be an interesting story. But Episodes VII and VIII don’t concern themselves with that. They just want to have another Empire and another Rebellion, because that’s as ambitious as they want to be. And in doing so, without telling the story of how we got there, they’ve sapped the Original Trilogy of its meaning, and made the fight our heroes fought through three movies pointless.

Luke’s a loser. Han’s a loser. Leia’s a loser. There’s your characterization. But, hey, we got some porgs, Luke can make a hologram across planets, and Snoke’s is a generic bad guy in a bathrobe.

Let’s talk about Snoke. Here’s a guy who somehow built a war machine that toppled the New Republic, and built it out of at best a fragment of a bit of ships remaining from the Empire, which could be a great story and a great villain. But The Last Jedi doesn’t care about that. Snoke’s just, well, a plot point.

One might object that Episodes VII and VIII neededn’t answer all such questions. Except that these questions are central to what these movies are about. They’re the why that gives purpose to what we’re seeing, and that give purpose to the sacrifices the characters make.

For instance, they play up the conflict in Kylo Ren. Great. That’s important, and very Star Wars. But then they reduce his fall to Luke saying, “Snoke got to him,” and then a single scene of Luke trying to kill him. But not knowing anything about Snoke, we have no appreciation for what it means that Snoke got to him, or why Ren turned from Han and Leia’s son to someone who would murder both. He’s just bad because — handwave — some random dude made him bad?

In other words, our characters lack motivations for their actions, and so the actions are without much emotional weight.

The Force Awakens skirted this, because it was setup. We assumed we’d then learn why they were doing the things they were doing. The Last Jedi said, “Nope, we’re not going to bother with that.”

That’s why this movie was nothing like Empire, even though so many of the inexplicably glowing reviews want you to think it is. Empire was about building characters. It was about the “I am your father” realization that gave Vader so much more weight, and made everything matter in a much deeper way. That drove the characterization, making it all richer.

The Last Jedi just had characters fight. It had Luke be sad because he screwed up, somehow, but we don’t know how, because we don’t know who or what Snoke was and why he was so powerful. It had Leia lead a dwindling Resistance, but we don’t know why she’s doing that, because we don’t know why it matters what the First Order’s up to, because the universe is suddenly reset to a pre-Return of the Jedi order so there’s something to do? We’re just told the Resistance is the last line of defense, and so it matters, but we’re not shown that. The movie is all tell, not show.

The Last Jedi fakes its “emotional” weight because it has characters we love pop up, and it has characters we love in danger or dying. But why they’re doing any of that is just ignored.

It’s a remarkably lazy movie, and arguably the worst of the whole saga. The Prequels were bad, yes, but they left the Original Trilogy intact. The Last Jedi betrays the legacy of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. It cheapens the most inspiring rebellion in film history, and turns its heroes into failures. For shame.

Update: Responding to Criticism

This essay has received a lot of attention. Which is great, especially when I hear from people who say it articulates their own reaction to The Last Jedi. At the same time, it’s received a lot of criticism, much of it good and thoughtful. In light of that, I’ve written a follow-up essay responding to some of the most common rebuttals. Here it is:


Star Wars Rebels Season 4 Needs to Get Better Than Its First Episode

“Heroes of Mandalore” is not a good start to the show’s final season.

Star Wars Rebels rarely does two-part episodes well. Unfortunately, “Heroes of Manadalore,” the Season 4 premier, wasn’t an exception. This being the show’s final season, the quality needs to improve if Rebels wants to go out on a high note.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Without spoiling anything, not a whole lot happens, and what does couldn’t fit in a single episode’s 22 minutes. To stretch the story to 44, we get a number of unnecessary and rather dull action sequences. In fact, the entire first half of “Heroes of Mandalore” could’ve been compressed to a three minute cold open.

That aside, the premier served not to establish the terms of the new season, but to reset to the status quo. It’s effectively an excuse to get Sabine back in the Ghost’s crew so that next week, I expect, we can kick off Season 4 proper.

This is all made worse because the Mandalorians just aren’t interesting. They’re a warrior culture and not much else. Nor has Sabine’s involvement with them, this season or last, been any better. It’s felt like an unwarranted diversion from the core Rebels story. That might be fine if you’re a handful of seasons in to an ongoing show. Digressions can work then. But this is the final season. This is when things matter, when the creators ought to be running full speed towards an epic conclusion. Taking a full two of their limited remaining episodes to tell a bland story that just gets us back to where we’d already been is indulgent and not a great sign.

There’s still time, though. And I still have hope Rebels will end in a way that establishes its place as a major part of the Star Wars story.

So, on to next week.


Which Star Wars Novels Are Worth Reading?

An ongoing list of the new canon books I’ve read, the ones I’d read again, and the ones I wish I’d never read in the first place.

If you’re going to read Star Wars novels, which ones should you read? If you’re dedicated enough, you read them all, of course. But if your time is limited or your tastes not quite so focused, which ones are worth your time? Here’s my stab at answering for each of the new Star Wars novels I’ve read.

A New Dawn

By John Jackson Miller. The novel that started it all doesn’t have a ton to offer, even for fans of Kaden and Hera from Star Wars Rebels, whose introductions it tells. Here’s where they meet, in a story about an evil corporate overlord in cahoots with the Empire, and his plan to blow up an inhabited moon to speed up mining operations.

The book took me a while to get through because I just didn’t care much about what was happening. We don’t need to know how Kaden and Hera met, especially given how little both of them in A New Dawn resemble their Rebels versions. This reads like it was written by someone who’d never seen the show.

Recommendation: Skip it.


By Chuck Wendig. The first novel to give us a peek at events between Episodes VI and VII, Star Wars: Aftermath is mostly about dropping hints. It also suffers from a problem common to many of the new books. Namely, because big reveals must be saved for the movies, reveals in the novels are necessarily small. A such, Aftermath spends most of its time following a rather inconsequential story, though it does give a decent sense of what the galaxy looks like immediately following the Emperors death. Is it worth reading? Maybe. Though perhaps it would be better, if your interest is mostly in the state of the universe stuff, to just read the Interludes spread throughout the book, instead of the whole thing. Still, like Bloodline, Aftermath probably falls in the category of novels to read only if you’ve got nothing better. Otherwise, the Wookieepedia coverage is just as good.

Aftermath: Life Debt

By Chuck Wendig. The second in the Aftermath trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt is more of the same. We get to see the liberation of Kashyyyk, but its less interesting than it ought to be. We get to see the remnants of the Empire continue to sputter, intrigue, and seek to regain control. But, again, theres not enough good here in terms of storytelling, characters or prose to make reading 400 pages worth it unless you really liked Aftermath.

Battlefront: Twilight Company

By Alexander Freed. The thing about Star Wars novels is that if you took away the Star Wars branding and set them in an original universe, we fans probably wouldn’t see much value in reading them. Top-shelf sci-fi they’re typically not. Battlefront: Twilight Company’s a rare exception.

Not much new in terms of world-building or secrets revealed, but this story of grunts fighting for the Rebellion is just so damn good, with compelling and adult characterization, meaningful emotion, and excellent, if a little workmanlike, prose. If you read just one of the novels in the new Star Wars cannon, make it this one. Though you run the risk, as happened to me, that Alexander Freed’s book will ruin a bit whatever else you read in the series, because its that much better than its peers.

Before the Awakening

By Greg Rucka. Oh man, do I wish I’d read this before seeing The Force Awakens. A collection of three short stories set just before the events of the film, Before the Awakening answers a few of the most confusing things about Episode VII while not spoiling the introductions of Rey, Finn, and Poe. Rey’s story tells us why she’s such a good pilot if she spent her life landlocked on a single planet. Poe’s tells us what the Resistance is and its relationship to the New Republic. Okay, theres not much in Finns. But its still good.

The book arrived from Amazon a few days before Episode VII’s premier and I held off reading it, fearing spoilers. That was a mistake. I would’ve enjoyed the movie more if Id read this first.


By Claudia Gray. A grown up novel fro the author of the much better YAStar Wars: Lost Stars,Bloodline ploddingly tells a story that shouldve been better, given the importance of its premise. Episode VII begins with the new that Leia is no longer a senator but instead back in a military role leading The Resistance against the First Order, and this Resistance is somehow distinct from the Republic Navy. So what gives? Thats the storyBloodline sets out to tell. But its just not all that interesting when the events are all out on the table. And while the author handles the tragic love affair inLost Stars with the necessary YA ham-handed starry-eyedness, when shes writing adults engaged in whats supposed to be political intrigue, she lacks the chops to make it at all convincing. Simply put, the book is boring and not worth the time. Better to just read about the events and characters online.

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel

By James Luceno. Catalyst is a difficult novel to slot into this list. On the one hand, its pretty dull and largely plotless. On the other, having read it before seeing Rogue One, Im convinced it make me enjoy that movie more than otherwise. Introducing Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, it strengthens the characters and relationship of both men, and so makes the events ofRogue One better resonate. Recommended for that, but not much else.

Lost Stars

By Claudia Gray. The first genuinely interesting novel in the new canon, and the first thats an unquestionably recommended read. Star Wars: Lost Stars gives us a bit of new information on the post-Return of the Jedi era, mostly regarding the Battle of Jakku, but its good stuff comes in presenting a thoughtful, realistic look at the events of the original trilogy from an Imperial perspective. We get to see the Rebels as terrorists. If we don’t rebuilt it, the terrorists will have won.and the Imperial rank and file as sympathetic true believers.

My only knock against the book is that as a YA novel, it shoehorns in largely uninteresting teenage drama and romance. But thats easy enough to overlook when the rest contributes so much to a story I thought I already knew inside and out.


By James Luceno. Okay, if a little unfocused. It fills in a good deal of Tarkin’s backstory, but I found it didn’t do much to change my sense of the character or make me appreciate him more. Lucino’s a decent enough writer, but theres just not enough here to make reading the novel worth the extra time over just reading Tarkin’s entry in Wookieepedia.


Why the Rogue One Novelization’s Author Is a Good Sign for the Movie

Alexander Freed wrote the best Star Wars novel to date and his style fits perfectly what we hope Rogue One will be.

Reshoots have fans worried.

Every movie schedules reshoots, but scuttlebutt is that Rogue One’s getting more than most, and that they’re happening because Disney wants more humor. That they want a “lighter” story and jokier dialog. Disney’s denied this, but studios always deny fans’ fears, right?

So are we facing a needlessly “family friendly” movie? Will Rogue One suffer the senseless humor of the prequels? To date, I haven’t been much concerned. Now, with the announcement of Alexander Freed as the author of the movie’s novel tie-in, I’m even less so.

Freed’s not an established name in Star Wars books. He’s a video game and comics guy. But his one novel, Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company, is the best in the new Star Wars cannon. (It’s the only tie-in novel to make BuzzFeed’s list of the “24 Best Science Fiction Books of 2015.”) In fact, Twilight Company is quite likely the best written novel to bear the Star Wars name, and certainly the one that makes the best case for being just a good novel, even if you filed off all the Star Wars bits.

It’s also the most distinctive in tone — and that tone is what bodes well for Rogue One the movie. Disney had a ton of choices for the novelization. They could’ve turned to one of their regulars, like Alan Dean Foster. They could’ve chosen someone of bland competence, like Troy Denning. But they went with a guy who has only a single novel under his belt.

The thing that sents Twilight Company apart isn’t just the quality of its prose and dialog, though both are excellent. What sets it apart is its grown-up psychology, in contrast to most Star Wars novels, which tend to go for a style of what I’ll call “adolescent” psychology.

It’s important to note that this distinction isn’t about the presence of violence or “grittiness.” You could tell a psychologically adult light adventure story and a psychologically adolescent war story. Twilight Company is, of course, about war, but that’s not what makes it so good.

The common feature of the adolescent style is that characters act without feeling the weight of their situations. They fret, yes, and get angsty, but they maintain a sort of archetypal detachment. Han is always wisecracking Han, no matter what’s happening. The young lovers in Star Wars: Lost Stars swoon for each other because that’s what young lovers are supposed to do, even when their world is falling apart. And all of it happens in a way that meets the expectations of how children and tweens and teenagers believe adults act and think instead of the way adults actually act and think.

I got into this in a bit more depth in my reviews of Lost Stars and Star Wars: Bloodline. Of the latter, I wrote,

Bloodline tells Leia’s story, as she slouches through a dull political career suddenly made livelier by uncovered secrets, unexpected betrayal, and a fall from grace. But the whole thing has a typically juvenile feel, like this is how an unworldly teenager thinks politics works or spying missions play out or adults talk to each other. There’s a lack of psychological plausibility, a lack of realistic emotional expression, and a lack of meaningful danger.

This tone pervades most Star Wars novels. They rarely feel real — and in a way that has nothing to do with aliens and spaceships and the Force.

Twilight Company feels real. It feels like actual people with psychological depth, facing situations that make them uncomfortable or put them in difficult positions, and then responding as adults genuinely would. Their motives make sense, their reactions to events and to each other make sense. The characters of Twilight Company are, dare I say it, deep.

What does this mean for Rogue One? Like I said above, Lucasfilm didn’t have to choose Freed to write the novel. He wasn’t an obvious pick. So that decision, coupled with how much Twilight Company (again, his only published novel to date) stands out from the rest, makes me think that his announced tie to Rogue One is because Rogue One will match Alexander Freed.

If that’s the case, then we’ll get a movie that also stands out, and for all the right reasons.


Star Wars: Lost Stars — A terrific Star Wars story dragged down by unfortunate YA-ness

Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars caps off my reading of the five novels in the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series. On the whole, they’ve been quite good — and much better than the old EU stuff. Part of that, I’m sure, is their canon-ness. These books — and I know this is silly — are about what actually happened in the Star Wars universe. The EU, on the other hand, always had a whiff of fan fiction.

Gray’s novel is, on the one hand, a terrific look at the events of the three movies (plus a few years more) from a different and fun direction. But, I really wish it hadn’t been YA. Or rather, I wish it hadn’t been YA romance.

This is, I’ll admit, the first YA “boy-and-girl-fall-for-each-other-and-run-into-troubles” book I’ve read. Though I take it that genre’s kind of a thing among a pretty big set of readers. (Twilight and all the other supernatural romances fall into this category, I guess?) But, so far as I can tell, what it meant in practice is that we got basically a war story with a bunch of teen drama and teen romance shoehorned in, both of which were at best boring.

And, while the events of the novel were a ton of fun to read about, the two main characters, Thane and Ciena, were so totally flat, so totally without interesting features, that I didn’t care a jot about their budding love or tortured loyalties. Maybe that’s a romance thing. That you want the readers to be able to imagine themselves as one of the two leads, as so you have to make them sort of empty vessels and totally non-threatening, so there’s nothing where the reader’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to imagine myself as thatguy or girl.” For someone who didn’t find the drama/romance compelling, though, the flatness leaves the characters feeling, well, flat.

But, anyway, that aside, I quite enjoyed Lost Stars. Seeing how Imperials reacted to things like the destruction of Alderaan and then of the first Death Star was pretty neat. As was the Battle of Jakku.

I just wish it hadn’t been a novel about kids acting and talking like really bland kids.


Star Wars: Bloodline Isn’t Very Good, but It’s Star Wars, so That’s Okay

Fans hold novels set in their favorite universes to a different standard than they would original works. At least, I assume they do, because if they don’t, people’s standards for quality fiction are even lower than I thought.

What I mean is, what passes for an “I’ll totally read this” book when it’s got “Star Wars” on the front and Star Wars characters and locations inside can get away with shoddier plotting, weaker dialog, and less polished prose. For me, at any rate.

If Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Bloodline hadn’t been Star Wars, I likely wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place, and I surely wouldn’t have finished it.

Not to say it’s bad. It isn’t. It’s just okay. But there are so many really great books out there I haven’t read that “just okay” isn’t enough place it above other titles in the reading pile. Except, again, that it’s Star Wars and covers events I want to know about, and has characters I want to spend more time with. So it gets a bit of a thumb on the scale.

Still, it could’ve been more. Alexander Freed’s Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company, the best book in the new canon, and by a country mile, managed the kind of nuanced and grown-up prose and characterization that makes Bloodline read like the work of a precocious high schooler.

Bloodline tells Leia’s story, as she slouches through a dull political career suddenly made livelier by uncovered secrets, unexpected betrayal, and a fall from grace. But the whole thing has a typically juvenile feel, like this is how an unworldly teenager thinks politics works or spying missions play out or adults talk to each other. There’s a lack of psychological plausibility, a lack of realistic emotional expression, and a lack of meaningful danger. And it’s all packaged in workmanlike prose that dulls the edge of whatever minor edge there may be.

Gray’s other Star Wars novel, Lost Stars, showed many of the same problems — though it was a good deal better than Bloodline. But that was intentionally pitched as a young adult book. Bloodline has the larger trim size and smaller type of a grown-up novel, yet it’s equally YA.

So, while not terrible, and certainly never outright boring, Bloodline gives little reason to actually read it, outside of that big Star Wars logo on the front. Which, I admit, for me, is reason enough.


The Bittersweet Abundance of Our New Star Wars Era

I was reading news about the casting of the new Han Solo movie and it struck me. As of December last year, we’ve fully entered an era of Star Wars abundance. An original Star Wars movies every year. Star Wars on television. Books and comics advancing the canon.

That’s good. Wonderful. We’re not just staring down the firehose new Star Wars, but what we’re getting is good. Lucas is out of the picture and the franchise is in the hands of people who grew up with it, love it, and — here’s where Lucas stumbled — understand why we all love it.

But I’ve got three kids, of ages where they’re just dipping their toes into what I hope will be a lifelong love affair with the franchise, and something about this abundance — irrationally perhaps — makes me a little sad. Because abundance means their relationship with Star Wars, assuming they get hooked, will be in important ways different from my own. Part of the magic of those movies, especially before the still-birthed prequels, was their scarcity. You got three films. That was it, really. (Because I’m not counting the inconsistent, high-gloss fan fiction of the Expanded Universe.)

It’s similar to how unlimited streaming changes the relationship to music. I grew up saving my allowance or tiny, part-time paychecks for an album, then buying it, and then listening to it over and over and over, because it’s what I had. This created a relationship to the music, a permanence of memory maybe, that won’t happen when you can listen to anything any time at zero marginal cost, and so wander more.

Part of my Star Wars experience is long term and frequent immersion in the original trilogy. Learning it inside and out. Memorizing it, basically. With a new movie every year, one or more TV shows, etc., that won’t happen. Which, even though the abundance is wonderful, also makes me a little sad. Will they have every line of every movie memorized? Of course not. Why would they?

Now is the best time ever to be a Star Wars fan. No doubt. But it’s a different kind of fandom, too. Abundance is awesome. But it’s not without effects. In the case of Star Wars, look with bittersweet anticipation on a future where my kids have so much of it that no single movie is a special and central as those original three were for me.


What the Star Wars Prequels Did Right

They’re terrible movies. Let’s get that out of the way. But watching The Force Awakens again, and then again the divine Original Trilogy, I got this weird and unsettling flash of appreciation for something Lucas had done in those stillbirths of CGI and suffering actors and dialog usually confined to airport novels written by ex-advertising executives. He built a universe and showed it to us.

Of course, he’d already done a bit of that with the Originals. We had an Empire and its Rebels. We had spectacular aliens and even more spectacular spaceships. But what we saw of it was only so much as needed to give the characters somewhere to be. Very little came off as existing without them. Luke’s farm sits like as movie set in the middle of nowhere. Alderaan is just a blue sphere until it’s not. Hoth’s a Rebel base and nothing else, and Dagobah is Yoda’s hut and a murky pond.

Not that we don’t get tastes. Tatooine in Episode IV has Jawas, a pass through Mos Eisley, and that wonderful cantina. Cloud City in Episode V features hallways with doors behind which people presumably live and earn a living. Jabba’s palace and Endor in Episode VI show denizens up to things unrelated to the struggle for a new Republic.

But those are small. Just tastes. The prequels gave us the whole meal. Planets and citizens. Civilizations from screen corner to screen corner. We knew about this stuff, some of it, going in, because we could imagine it in the Originals’ lacuna and had been told about it in novels and comics and games. Still, the prequels widened, radically, the scope of Star Wars.

That’s what I missed from The Force Awakens. It’s a great movie, a return to form, a revitalization and a demonstration of faith on Disney’s part that they get it, that they’re fans, too. But it’s a return to form, too, in narrowing that scope. Again we’re in a universe of isolated sets, of points of light in otherwise wilderness. Even Maz’s castle seems to exist without neighbors. There are no cities in The Force Awakens, save for a single shot, and only two villages, if we can call Niima Outpost that, and if we count Lor’s tiny settlement, which we only witness dying and never living. The wide angles of the prequels have become tight.

Perhaps this was intentional, meant to remind of us A New Hope, as so much else does, or to keep us focus on fresh faces as a way to establish them in our consciousness the way Luke and Leia and Han are. The fresh worlds will come. But after the expanse of the prequels and then the Clone Wars TV show, The Force Awakens feels a little small.

The prequels feel big.


The Meaninglessness of the Clone Wars

I can’t get into Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It’s sat in my Netflix queue for literally years, and I’ve only made it six episodes into season three, and most of that has come half an episode here, half an episode there. I don’t think I’ve ever watched more than two episodes at a time. The show completely fails to engage me.

I’ve been thinking about why that might be, given my enthusiasm for pretty much all things Star Wars. And it comes down to stakes. This is a show about a single, galactic conflict, and none of it matters. Not just because we know how it ends. I love Star Wars Rebels, and I know how that conflict ends. The Clone Wars are different. For one, because we know Palpatine’s basically in charge of both sides, the “war” is like watching one guy play chess against himself. No matter what happens, he wins, and so the individual conflicts within it aren’t part of something bigger.

But, second, even setting that aside, I don’t feel the weight of the non-secret stakes, either. With the Rebellion, you had an obviously evil empire oppressing people, and a band of freedom fighters fighting for, well, freedom. It mattered who won. But why is the Republic fighting the Clone Wars in the first place? Is it because its existence is threatened by an outside foe? No. It’s because a bunch of worlds, disatisfied with its rule, want to … leave. They don’t want to destroy the Republic or enslave its citizens. They don’t even want to enslave their citizens. They just want to do their own thing. And this is bad. So bad that the Republic needs to mobilize all its forces and fight a costly war to stop it. But … why? I know the writers think the war’s important. George Lucas thinks the war’s important. But that doesn’t mean it is important. It just isn’t. And the secret stuff doesn’t make it any more important, because of the whole “chess against himself” thing.

I’ll still probably finish the show. It may just take me another several years.