Monday, October 16, 2023

INTRODUCING: Star Wars Subjectivities

No one ever gets what they want

No commercial property has ever meant as much to me as Star Wars. It is my first and still deepest cinematic love. Indeed, from the first time I saw that angled, yellow script crawl up the screen, I was totally and completely enthralled. I memorized the films to the point where I could put the soundtrack on and almost "watch" the films from memory. Friends and I would recreate Hoth in the snow, or Tatooine in the sand—dog-eared Hasbro action figures both re-enacting scenes from the films and new scenarios of our own imagining. 

Star Wars has, over the years, continued to capture my imagination in a way no other creative property has. Science fiction that's also fantasy. A messy, lived-in world with heroes and villains and plenty that fit somewhere in-between. A classic "hero's quest" backed by a fleshed-out mythology and plenty of deep lore. An exquisitely rendered late-70s art style, forward-thinking visual effects and arguably the best original film score(s) ever made. I could go on. 

I grew up with the Original Trilogy, because that's all there was. I had to fill in the gaps with novels and comics, the best of which were Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy. Like a lot of hardcore fans, I wanted new films that told that story—or a variation on it. 

Then the Prequels came out, promising something else entirely: the tragedy of Darth Vader in 3 acts. I remember going to see The Phantom Menace in the theater; I came out convinced that it was almost as good as the originals. Then I went again the next day and realized just how awful it was. But I watched the rest of them anyway—an experience that would repeat some years later when the Disney franchise launched with The Force Awakens. First time? "This is great! Star Wars is back!" Second time? "Oh god, no—it really isn't actually any good, is it."

To me, the Original Trilogy is a masterpiece—three almost perfect films that I can watch endlessly (well, okay—Jedi isn't perfect, but it's still damned good). The Prequels? Full of great ideas and some thoughtful observations on the end of democracy and rise of despotism that are torpedoed by shoddy execution—stilted dialogue, wooden acting, corny CGI and some absolutely cringe characters (looking at you, Jar-Jar). The Disney films, to me, are the opposite: competently made films with nothing interesting to say.  

Then came The Mandalorian. The show was, in many ways, the embodiment of what I wanted the film sequels to be. It takes place at a moment when the New Republic hasn't fully established itself—and is more or less absent from the Outer Rim. The Empire is still hanging around but are now the insurgents, lacking the resources or leadership to take the Galaxy back from its new rulers but still plenty capable of wreaking havoc. It tells a different type of story, with different stakes, on a very different —smaller— scale. The shows that followed have been hit or miss, but the best of them (Mandalorian, Andor, Ahsoka) have demonstrated how many kinds of stories you can tell within this universe. Fake-ass Death Stars need not apply.

So now you know how I feel, but do you feel the same? Maybe. But there's an equally good chance you don't. Indeed, search around the internet and you'll find many a lengthy opinion piece on which Star Wars properties are good and which ones are bad. Some will be Original Trilogy fanatics like me, others will tell you how secretly great the Prequels are. Others still will opine on how The Last Jedi is really a Top 3 Star Wars film sandwiched between two cinematic commercials for Disney theme park rides. Who is right and who is wrong?

The short answer is: I'm right, of course! The longer answer is: so is everyone else, because we each approach Star Wars with our own subjectivities. How we were first introduced to the franchise and by whom. How old we were when we discovered Star Wars and what generational cohort we are a part of. Whether we like science fiction and/or fantasy or just bounce right off of it. Whether we like the mixing of science fiction and fantasy or are a purist for one or the other. Whether we grew up on CGI or yearn for the days when practical effects ruled. Whether we like big summer blockbusters or think they ruined Western culture. And on and on and on.

Ultimately, my strong opinions are probably not your strong opinions—and there is probably no amount of words I could put to page that would transform yours into mine. Nor should I even try—because, in the end, we all have our own understanding of what Star Wars is and should be. Because of this, we are all inevitably disappointed when it doesn't conform to those expectations. We are just disappointed by different things.

Arguing the merits of the Prequels with data

The Project

This project will follow a somewhat different format that our typical special modules. We will not be providing dossier-style reviews that present opinions with supporting evidence to make an argument that aspires to objectivity. Rather, we will lean into the subjectivity of our opinions with nakedly partisan feelpieces. Sometimes these will take the form of love letters or furious rants; sometimes they will be more measured. The point, ultimately, is just to be honest about how we feel, as individuals. 

As a group, we will also reflect on these takes—and the how's and why's behind them. We will gather around virtual tables imagined to be round, not to joust over who is right and who is wrong, but to unpack our subjectivities and understand why we are attracted to some things and reject others. We hope this different approach will contribute to the broader discourse on Star Wars in a meaningful and unique way. And, of course, we hope you will enjoy reading our thoughts—and providing yours as well.