Being an ongoing series wherein CSW host and presenter Brian holds forth on news of the day, idle thoughts, and such like.
On Preconceived And Underserved Notions
We Hate What We Have Decided to Hate
In the time since the new trilogy launched with The Force Awakens in 2015, we’ve seen a wide range of reactions to the new canon and the decisions made therein. We’ve seen those reactions draw a sharp line between factions of our fellow fans with The Last Jedi, a film which for the first time gives us a view into the character of Luke Skywalker. Luke is a character who is beloved by all and is perhaps the most iconic character of the Original Trilogy who isn’t wearing a respirator. And that was where the battle lines truly began to form. But before The Last Jedi we had already seen fans who have decided to hate the new trilogy regardless. All of us have seen people insisting that a new movie is going to be terrible based on absolutely no information. Before one frame of footage had been seen, before one line of dialogue had been spoken, people were certain that the Solo movie was going to be garbage. Now that we’ve seen the trailer, people seem to think that the garbage will do. But the most common objections to the new movies seem to me to be rooted in something other than objective distaste for the films. They seem to be rooted in a predetermination to hate these movies for no other reason than the fact that they are new movies. Let’s discuss some of the things we accept fully in the Original Trilogy which we consider to be failures if not outright crimes deserving of punishment in the New Trilogy.
We see people outraged that Rey seems to have abilities which are not explained. In the first film she pilots the Millennium Falcon and does not smash it. She mind tricks a Stormtrooper. She survives a battle with Kylo Ren. She can speak Droid and Wookiee. And because of this sort of thing she is lambasted as a poorly written Mary Sue; a character who can do everything whom everyone loves simply because she exists. She’s picked apart by people who have decided to feel this way to such an extent that the writing of Last Jedi is criticized because when Rey falls into the water on Ahch-to (bless you) she doesn’t drown. “Where did she learn to swim,” people demand to know, “she grew up on a desert planet!”
But look at what people will accept on those same terms from the Original Trilogy. In A New Hope, Luke destroys the Death Star the first time he touches an X-wing, using the Force to assist in his shot for the exhaust port, just days after he learns that the Force is a thing. His only training in the Force is with Obi Wan aboard the Falcon on the way to Alderaan from Tatooine. I say again: his only training is conducted while traveling between planets on “the fastest ship in the Galaxy,” being piloted by “the best smuggler in the Galaxy,” who is in a hurry. Not exactly time for a graduate study in the Force. Luke is never shown training in telekinesis before he meets Yoda but he uses it on Hoth. No one objects. Luke is never shown training in Force Choke, which is a more troubling development, since he has never seen Vader use it, which means presumably Kenobi or Yoda told him about how his father uses the Force to murder people, including almost Luke’s mom. Which Jedi Master do we suppose taught Luke that? Yet again, we are fine with it.
Which is not to say that the Original Trilogy are bad films or are poorly written. But they are held to a different standard than are the new trilogy. We never question how Luke, who grew up on a desert planet, is able to ride a tauntaun which is native to an ice planet. It’s not like hopping on a bicycle. It’s a large powerful animal and Luke drives it to do things it is uncomfortable doing. Anyone who’s been thrown from a horse (as I have) will tell you that is not an easy thing to do. But while we’re fine with Luke having this skill despite never seeing him learn it, we seem to expect that the protagonist of the new trilogy should drown an hour into the second film.
The most unfair criticism leveled at the new canon films is the ever popular “plot hole.” This term has yet to be applied to the films in a manner consistent with its actual definition anywhere I’ve seen. A plot hole is an error in logic in the plot, but it is most commonly used to describe an unanswered question or a plot point which the critic missed.
I have seen this term applied to DJ magically knowing the Resistance’s plan to evacuate, so that he could further the plot by ratting them out to the First Order. But of course it isn’t magic. We see DJ overhear the conversation between Finn and Poe as they are returning to Crait. It isn’t a plot hole if you just didn’t catch it. Yet when I have pointed that out to people (more than one; more than ten) the most common response is to say that since they weren’t paying attention the failure is still the film’s for not keeping them engaged. Whatever the reason, whatever the argument, what’s important is the film is bad.
I have seen the term applied to the fact that we don’t learn Snoke’s background or how he turned Ben to the Dark Side. That we meet this character in VII and have not yet learned everything there is to know about his history is not a plot hole. Let us look at the historical trend. We meet The Emperor in 1980 in Empire Strikes Back. By the end of Return of the Jedi not only do we not know his background or how he turned Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, we don’t even know his name. He is credited as “The Emperor.” His name is never spoken. To learn his name we had to read supplemental material, the first of which was a figure you could special order with proofs of purchase from other figures. That’s where I got mine, and where I learned his name was Palpatine. It was 2005 before the full story of Palpatine’s background and Anakin’s fall was told. That is twenty-five years between the introduction of the character and the completion of that story. And we were fine with it. Yet we seem to feel as though not getting that same information pertaining to Snoke and Ben Solo a mere two years after we meet them is not just a failure of the writer, it is a crime; a personal attack aimed at us.
Which is where I think we find the root of these objections, which even when shown to be baseless are not abandoned. The Original Trilogy began in 1977 and concluded in 1983. The Prequels began in 1999 and concluded in 2005. Watching the prequels, we knew that Palpatine becomes Emperor and that Anakin becomes Darth Vader. We knew that Anakin would father Luke and Leia and that they would be hidden away immediately. We already knew who would take Luke. We knew as soon as we saw Bail Organa on screen that he would be the one to take Leia: he was the Alderaanian Senator and close with Padme. And of course we knew as soon as we met Padme that she was to be Luke and Leia’s mother. We knew all these things. The details were all we needed but we knew the broad strokes and it was easy to fill in the gaps.
But backing up to 1977, we had a different experience. Watching A New Hope in 1977, we didn’t know Luke and Leia were related. We didn’t know Vader was Luke’s father. We didn’t know Vader had ever been Anakin in the first place. We knew that Kenobi and Anakin had served together in the Clone Wars, and that Vader had killed Anakin. We had to wait till 1980 to learn more, and what we learned was a huge surprise. But after Empire we didn’t know who the Other was that Yoda talked about. We didn’t know Luke had a sibling much less that it was Leia. And we had to wait till 1983 to learn more, to see the resolution of the story as far as we had it.
And there we are. This is the first time since 1983 that Star Wars fans have watched a trilogy and if they had questions they just have to wait. Assuming a first watching at five years old, anyone born after 1978 has not had this experience before. And what’s more, those same fans have had not only the OT movies all in one lump viewing any time they want, they have had forty years of novels, comic books, video games, magazines, director commentaries, special editions, supplemental sourcebooks, roleplaying games, not to mention four whole movies whose entire purpose was to tell the stories of what came before the OT. And given that history, those same fans expect from a new trilogy the same level of detail and the same amount of information.
It’s an unfair expectation. And it’s unfortunate, because that’s how this trilogy and the next and the next are going to play out. Fans who’ve loved Star wars for forty years are probably going to have to learn what it’s like to see a movie, and think “I wonder what happens next,” and then have that question answered two years later. We as a fandom need to re-learn how to appreciate the journey rather than the destination. I remember waiting the three years between Empire and Jedi to find out more details about Luke’s mother and how Vader was turned. I didn’t get them until 1999.
And I still love Star Wars. Despite not getting exactly what I wanted when I wanted it in the way I wanted it, I managed to still enjoy the films and not wish death and/or unemployment on the people making it. I’m sure you did the same. I wish everyone did.