Wednesday 4 May 2022

Let The Past Die: A Star Wars State of the Union

It's May the Fourth, the holiest of days for ardent Star Wars fans, and a moment to celebrate the brightest, boldest and weirdest moments in Star Wars history. Except this year, I'm not feeling particularly festive, and want to share some grievances (or should that be Grievouses'?) I have with the current state of Star Wars.

Let's not beat around the bush; Star Wars is in a deeply weird place right now. The franchise's future is murky and muddled; clouded by the dark side, some might say. 

On the one hand, there's a pretty empty film slate – after five films in five years between 2015 and 2019, a new Star Wars film won't land in theatres until December 2023 at the earliest, when Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron is supposed to arrive. The poor performance of 2018's Solo and the backlash to 2019's Rise of Skywalker caused Disney to pump the brakes and reconfigure their plans – and pivot towards streaming in a big way.

And pivot they did. Because streaming seems to be where the future of Star Wars lies, with six series in various stages of production. But I'm finding it hard to conjure up much excitement for Star Wars' streaming schedule, because so much of what is promised looks to the past, rather than forging ahead into the future. 

In short, Star Wars stories right now are preoccupied and fascinated with pre-existing characters, stories and settings. Narratively, aesthetically, creatively and thematically, the franchise is stuck in the past – unable to distance itself from safe, fertile ground that we've visited before. Star Wars is creating a comfortable safe space for audiences to bathe in, rather than doing anything daring that inspires or excites.

Nothing demonstrates this frustrating arrested development more than The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The former, which started out as a breath of fresh air when it first aired in late 2019, veered sharply into familiar territory towards the end of season two when our hero, monosyllabic Mandalorian mercenary Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), crosses paths with a more familiar faces than a family Thanksgiving. 

Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano, Artoo and Luke Skywalker are all woven into the wider narrative – a narrative that started out as a blank slate with ample room to invent and create anew. No matter how much scope there is to do something different, Star Wars creatives – in this case, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni – always seem to find their way back to the Skywalkers.

The Book of Boba Fett falls afoul of the same thing. By episodes five and six, the show had shafted Boba (its title character!) to the background and was more concerned with the affairs of Luke Skywalker and Ahsoka. Before you know it, we're back in a narrative cul-de-sac of our own making.

This preoccupation with the past has some strange side effects too. In order to weave Luke Skywalker into the story, both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett leveraged deep-fake technology and a sophisticated AI neural network to evoke Mark Hamill's face, voice and mannerisms from Return of the Jedi. It's a deeply unsettling and imperfect effect that doesn't just dip into the uncanny valley, so much as it plunges into it, on fire and screaming. 

The same complaint was lobbied at Rogue One, when it tried and failed to use CGI to defy death and include Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing in its story. Which begs the question: why bother? Why bother resurrecting some of cinema's most iconic heroes in this fashion, if it's going to look and sound so shite?The answer is a simple one: because Star Wars is stuck in the past, unable to imagine a future that doesn't constantly call back or check in with old characters. 

Later this month, when the latest Star Wars miniseries hits Disney+, we're once again travelling back to Tatooine, once again journeying back to the period of time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, once again centring ourselves around the Skywalker family and their friends, mentors and enemies. 

Obi-Wan Kenobi, directed by Deborah Chow (who has worked on The Mandalorian as well as Jessica Jones, Better Call Saul and Fear the Walking Dead), checks in on wizened old Ben Kenobi (played by a returning Ewan McGregor) as he wonders the dunes of Tatooine, watching over Luke Skywalker and evading the clutches of the evil Empire.

From what we've seen and heard, it's exactly the kind of thing we've come to expect from Star Wars in 2022 – a straightforward story about familiar faces that fills in the gaps between things we've already seen. McGregor is back, as is Joel Edgerton as Uncle Owen. Even Hayden Christensen is back as Darth Vader, for an unnecessary rematch that promises to retcon the significance of his clash with Kenobi in A New Hope.

I want to feel excited about it, I really do. But the cynic in me knows that it's just another product created to satisfy Disney's insatiable appetite for content with a capital C. Everything about it – from the Darth Vader appearance to the Duel of the Fates needledrop in the trailer – feels geared towards satisfying that part of our brain that feeds on nostalgia and delights at seeing something we love come back for more.

Beyond Obi-Wan Kenobi, only one of the six planned series is set in a time period that isn't adjacent to or parallel to existing Star Wars canon. That's Leslye Headland's The Acolyte, which is supposedly set in the High Republic era, thousands of years before The Phantom Menace

The rest all overlap or interweave with Star Wars' past, through characters like Cassian Andor (Diego Luna from Rogue One), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover from Solo) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson from The Mandalorian).

At risk of sounding like a broken record, the only Star Wars film that felt like it was doing something new and interesting in the last decade (since Disney took the reins) is Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Johnson leveraged new and old characters and put them through the wringer, moving the story forward by taking narrative risks that reinterpreted and reimagined the Star Wars canon in compelling ways; he understood the assignment, as the kids say. 

Did it work for everyone? Hell no, and the divisive nature of The Last Jedi is what has led us to this point. Disney got the jitters, and decided it was much easier to indulge those most critical of The Last Jedi with a string of safe stories that are packed with fan service. 

Johnson is still involved in future Star Wars projects, supposedly – he's working on a trilogy of films, apparently, but that announcement was back in 2019 and he's been booked and busy with Knives Out ever since. 

Other filmmakers have been announced or floated too. In February 2020, JD Dillard was linked to a new Star Wars film. Two years ago today, it was revealed that Taika Waititi was working on a new film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Last Night in Soho), but nary a word on either project has been heard since they were first announced. Marvel's Kevin Feige is working on another film, but who knows when we'll see that as well. 

Ten years ago, when Disney paid upward of $4 billion for Star Wars, I would have scoffed at the notion of there ever being 'too much Star Wars'. But right here, right now, with a carefully curated slate of stories that don't move the story forward or colour outside the lines, I have a really hard time getting excited for anything that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

1 comment:

  1. I was one of those who really liked The Last Jedi as I thought what Rian Johnson did took balls. He took a lot of major risks in what to do as I thought it was the closest thing to the original trilogy. Having read the script for Duel of the Fates, I thought what Johnson did lay the groundwork for something daring and compelling with Colin Trevorrow wanting to continue that path. It took a bunch of fanboys with sand in their vaginas to really whine and whine and whine about that film which got Disney scared and asked JJ Abrams to make something more familiar.

    I saw a few bits of The Rise of Skywalker yesterday on TBS before I was to watch AEW Dynamite and it reminded me why I haven't seen the film since it came out. It was just... eh...

    The Mandalorian has given me hope and I was enjoying The Book of Boba Fett early on until it became a mini-sequel to the former.

    I hope Obi-Wan doesn't go into that path.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...