Will the latest instalment of Star Wars - The Force Awakens - damage the Star Wars core fan base?

posted 5 Jan 2016, 23:07 by M Juschke   [ updated 10 Aug 2016, 00:54 ]

Serious SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen the movie, don't read this.
Also, SPOILER ALERT in regards to the Expanded Universe (EU) books.


Do you want to read on? Are you sure you want to read the spoilers?

OK, since you are still reading, here’s my opinion: I think this latest movie will damage the Star Wars fan base. 

First, let me say that as a stand-alone movie I quite like The Force Awakens. It has all the right mix of likeable characters, adrenaline action, dog fights and a big bang at the end. Most of the new core characters are introduced while under fire, and it doesn't take long to be on the edge of your seat, wondering if they will make it. Even the bad guys are shown as real beings, rather than stereotyped evil. The First Order's Supreme Leader is not hidden behind a cloak, and the new dark Jedi who serves him is not always wearing a mask. We even learn a bit about his personal struggles.

The special effects are done well too. The decision to not use CGI when they could do it with models and sets, definitely paid off. So as a generic sci-fi movie this is a great and enjoyable one to watch.

So what is it that I don't like?

The first problem I have with the movie is, that while it is billed as a sequel to the other six movies, and set thirty years after Return of the Jedi, it does not follow the established history of the Star Wars galaxy as written in the Expanded Universe books (EU), as Disney has relegated the EU to legends status.

For me that doesn't work.

Seriously, how can the events of the last thirty years, as told in the EU, suddenly be pure legends that never happened? Thirty years is within living memory, especially in the Star Wars galaxy where some sentient species live hundreds of years, where intergalactic communication and news media broadcasts are almost instantaneous, and where many species keep detailed archives. Sure, much of the involvement of Han, Leia and Luke in the overthrow of the Emperor and Vader might not be known, and that may give rise to folklore, but how could the Thrawn events, for example, be pure legend? How about the Sun Crusher genocide? Or the launch of the buried Executor-class star destroyer Lusankya from within Coruscant, which devastated 259 square kilometres of surface and buildings, and killed millions of beings? If those events happened, everyone still alive at the time of The Force Awakens would know that they are real. And if the events didn't happen, then everyone would know that anyone telling such tales are making it up. As such, those tales of events would be classed as propaganda, lies, or someone's grandstanding, but never as legends.

In our own world, we remember World War I, and that was 100 years ago. We know it was real. Conversely, what if someone claimed that they served with the Airforce during the relief efforts in the Great Amazon Earthquake and Flood of 1990 that cost 12,345 lives? We would instantly know it was fake; nobody would elevate it to a legend.

There is also a more emotional issue with having the EU declared as invalid. I, like many other fans, have an attachment to the characters and events in the EU books. I jumped at the chance of finding out what happened after the end of Return of the Jedi. I scoured book stores, and later the internet, for info on the next new book in the EU.

I remember celebrating when Han finally got Leia to marry him. How many other fans worried with Leia and Han about whether their kids would be Force-sensitive, and if maybe they would follow in Vader's footsteps instead of Luke's?  How many empathised with Leia trying to juggle being a wife, mother, Head of State, and warrior woman? How about Han feeling sidelined in the media as just the husband of the Head of State, a pilot, ex-smuggler, instead of being the Hero of the Republic he used to be? How many of us grieved with Leia and Han when their youngest son Anakin sacrificed himself, when brother Jacen became a Sith, and when sister Jaina was forced to kill him for the good of the galaxy? Who worried about Ben, Luke's son, falling under dark-Jacen's spell? How many shared in Han's anguish, grief and depression when Chewie died during a Yuuzhan Vong attack?

I have been invested in the Star Wars galaxy for decades. I got to know and love more worlds and more characters far beyond just Leia, Han and Luke. Within the realm of the Star Wars galaxy and its fans, the EU is not a set of legends. Authors wrote it, we read it, so it happened. Together we have made the EU a Star Wars reality.

And now Disney has put a proton torpedo down the EU's air vent.

The second problem is that in my view The Force Awakens was incorrectly advertised as a sequel, when in reality it is a reboot.

Why do I think it's a reboot?

Because the Force Awakens uses the same plot as A New Hope. They mix the sequence a little, but it's the same story. There's an Empire (The First Order), with a dark Jedi doing a Supreme Leader's bidding, there's a Rebellion, and there is a droid who escapes with a secret map into a desert. Some people who have no interest in joining the Rebellion come across the droid, come under attack by the Empire, and escape in the Millennium Falcon, and kind of have no choice but to fall in with the rebels. There's also a planet-destroying mega-weapon that is about to target the rebel base, after first destroying other planets. There's a visit to a cantina, there's a Force-sensitive person who doesn't initially know that she can use the Force, and there's the passing on of a lightsaber kept in storage. There's a woman captured and imprisoned on the mega-weapon, there is a rescue attempt, and a trench run that ultimately blows up the mega-weapon at the last second. And there is even a father-son confrontation between the good guy and the bad guy. And we have our new would-be-Jedi finding a planet on which an old Jedi Master is hiding.

In addition, The Force Awakens doesn't say much about the last thirty years since Return of the Jedi, and in fact hardly anything appears to be different, except the age of Han, Leia and Luke. There still is just an Empire, a Rebellion, and a super weapon. Sure, the characters mention the existence of the New Republic, but in this movie it doesn't actually feature in the plot, so it might as well not exist.

So for all intents and purposes, to me this looks like a reboot, with the original characters mostly thrown in for the advertising opportunity to create the sequel feeling. And there are only two original characters who get any decent screen time, Han and Chewie, and Han is killed before the movie is over to underscore how evil his son has become.

Personally, if Disney absolutely had no choice but to break with the EU timeline, I would have much preferred it if they had done a proper reboot, without any of the original characters. The Force Awakens would have worked as a reboot with only new characters. It has the sucessful plot of A New Hope, it had a kick-ass director in JJ Abrams, and characters as lovable as the original. It still would have had the Star Wars feel when we see a YT-1300, lightsabers and Jedi.  And with the EU just ignored, it would still be alive as an alternate reality; probably without new stories, but continuing to live on in our imaginations in the same way that every other good book or movie lives on long after the story has finished.  And it wouldn’t have stopped me from wanting to see what happens in this new galaxy, far, far away in some slightly different corner of the universe that a fully rebooted The Force Awakens would have opened up. I may even have come to accept it as the new Star Wars.

But that gradual change was not allowed to happen. With Han and friends being a part of The Force Awakens, the EU is irretrievably dead. I can't pretend that it isn't, because the same characters cannot simply be in both the EU and in the new universe. Yet, even with the EU gone, The Force Awakens doesn't feel a part of my Star Wars universe either, probably because it is the reason for the death of the EU.

Will I watch future movies? Maybe. Rey is an interesting character, and I do like this kind of sci-fi movie.

Will I be hanging out for their release days in the same way I was for the other movies? No.

Will it be Star Wars for me? No.

Will I ever buy any new books that carry the Star Wars banner, "Legends" series, or new series? No. Most definitely not.

So will this movie lose the core Star Wars fans? I think it will, as I would imagine that I am not the only one who feels disenfranchised. But then again, maybe it is just me ranting on alone somewhere in the Jundland Wastes.