I can’t tell you why, but I was reading a Cracked article that caught my eye. It was on the difficulties that Disney will have in creating Episode IX. Cracked has lost its step, but it triggered (pun intended) something in me that has inspired this post. I doubt that my argument is particularly novel, so just consider this me throwing my hat into the ring for a particular perspective.
There are a few points I should raise before diving in. You’re free to form your own opinions, and that won’t change mine, so I won’t justify any of these points. I provide them only for context which is necessary to my discussion.
Go to 2:28. Here’s an image of the relevant portion of the J.J. Abrams interview (also pasted at the bottom of this post).
2. The J.J. Abrams Movies.
I liked (not loved) Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Beyond. Star Trek Into Darkness was insulting to every Star Trek: The Original Series (“TOS”) fan, whether or not they realize it. At every point in that script, J.J. was insulting us by mangling the characters and ridiculing our sacred cows. He then had the temerity to justify this by referring to these events as “homages” to the original. (Into Darkness was the only time in my life I genuinely felt nerd rage. Usually, I just roll with it because no one owes me anything, but that was too much.) As for the Force Awakens, I also like (not love) it but felt that the Last Jedi was a below average film. I’d watch the Force Awakens again but not the Last Jedi.
3. Star Wars EU.
I know extremely little about the Star Wars Expanded Universe. If any of my ideas are identical to something in the EU, I wouldn’t know it.
4. Ghostbusters Reboot.
I’ve never seen it, so I have no opinion as to whether it’s good or bad.
What J.J. Is Likely Thinking
There have been countless memes, Facebook posts, and Tweets criticizing legacy Star Trek fans for being hypocrites. The argument goes something like this: “You say you wanted something new, but when J.J. gave it to you, you complained about it. He can’t win with you, so why should he care about you?” This was inspired by the flak J.J. caught from legacy Star Trek fans for the “Abramsverse” (i.e., his version of the Star Trek universe). In the first and third movies, he didn’t rehash any old Star Trek stories, but instead included an origin story and then a largely new story. I haven’t talked to J.J. nor have I seen him address this in any interviews, but I believe that he interpreted that hate as anger at telling a new story.
Why do I believe he holds this opinion? When creating The Force Awakens, he seemed to have decided at that point that the safe bet was to give fans the same story. The Force Awakens is essentially a retelling of a New Hope. As the Cracked article points out, J.J. Abrams is “nothing if not risk-averse.” I’m aware that J.J. received the same criticism from the fans (including me) for Into Darkness despite that being a retelling of one of the classic TOS stories, but based on his approach to the Force Awakens, I suspect that he saw that hate as riding on the coattails of the hate from Star Trek 2009.
Why J.J. Is Wrong
Based on his direction for the Force Awakens, J.J. probably is having a hard time reconciling the criticism with Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Beyond with the criticism of Into Darkness. He apparently doesn’t see the connection that all three movies have, which is actually the source of legacy fan anger. The reason people reacted so poorly to Star Trek and the Force Awakens isn’t because he was telling a new story; it was that he completely wiped out everything that we loved so much from the past. In the case of Star Trek 2009, the entire timeline was erased, and not because he wanted to tell a time-travel story. J.J. wanted to wipe out this universe and its characters that he hated so much and rebrand them to his liking. It’s going to be tough, in general, to make legacy fans happy when you tell them that everything they loved so much never happened and doesn’t matter. Only the sycophants will enjoy it as much.
Flash forward to the Force Awakens. Everything the Ewoks (and I guess the rebels too) accomplished didn’t matter, because in the end the Empire survived, just with a different name. That happy ending from Return of the Jedi was an illusion, which means the next time you watch Return of the Jedi, you should do so with a heavy heart knowing that tyranny and global destruction is just a few years away. Hell, Rian Johnson even screwed this up going from the Force Awakens to the Last Jedi. The profoundness of Rey extending Luke’s lightsaber to him was completely undone when he tossed it away. That joke wasn’t worth what it (un)did to the new trilogy.
Now let’s go off on a slight tangent. The same thing happened with Ghostbusters. Sure, it’s easy to slap a label of “misogynist” on a critic of that movie (as many of you did with the Last Jedi). That way, one can simply dismiss the critics as bad people and give themselves an excuse to ignore the critics’ pesky logic. But notice that those same critics are very excited about the new Ghostbusters movie that coming out in 2020. They’re excited even though they have no idea whether the main characters are going to be male or female; black or white; or Jew, gentile, or atheist. That’s because, as far as I can tell, only a statistically insignificant number of people care about that sort of thing. The internet, and the psychological need to look at train wrecks, gives those people more attention than they merit. Most people just want a good movie, but if the franchise is important to them, they want such stories to hold that franchise’s legacy intact. (That said, it’s always bothered my that Ghostbusters II basically undid the happy ending of Ghostbusters, so Rian Johnson was by no means the first filmmaker to make this mistake.)
J.J. Could Have Had It Both Ways
It didn’t have to be like this. I’m not a creative writer (as you can probably tell), so don’t hold me to the details, but let’s see if I can fix this.
Let’s start with Star Trek. Kirk’s origin story was never fully told in Star Trek canon prior to that movie, but there are some rough details we know. You didn’t need to change the timeline in order to provide such an origin story. If they had just told Kirk’s origin story within the prime universe, perhaps including stories that were mentioned in TOS (or better yet, dealing with their aftermath), they could have given 100% respect to canon while still telling a new story that everyone has been asking for. The movie could still end with the crew as we know it coming together. Star Trek Discovery, which I love, is doing something similar, so while it has its critics, it’s quite popular. There’s no hypocrisy here. Star Trek fans really do want new stories, just not at the expense of old ones. For long-time readers of my blog (all two of you), you may know of an exception to this rule that I endorse. For the record, Star Trek Into Darkness shouldn’t have been about (spoiler alert!) Khan; it should have been about Sybok. There’s nothing wrong with retelling a story if you’re getting it right this time.
For Star Wars, I would have made the new trilogy about the rise of the new Sith Order. Imagine that there’s no “New Order,” which means the Empire was indeed defeated, leaving the catharsis of the original trilogy’s ending intact. In the years since Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker starts a new Jedi Order, and his nephew, Kylo, is one of the padawans. Kylo is approached by Darth Plagueis either as a Sith ghost or as a reincarnated Sith. (Both can be reconciled with the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis.) Plagueis corrupts Kylo and takes him on as an apprentice. Notice that so far, a lot of this story is exactly what we have without undoing the value of the original trilogy. Kylo kills Plagueis, who then creates a new Sith Order from among Luke’s other padawans, abandoning the Rule of Two (i.e., “Only two there are. No more; no less. A master and an apprentice.”) Kylo considers the Rule of Two misguided, blaming it for centuries of Jedi domination of the Sith. Kylo believes that he’s found a way to manage the selfishness inherent to the Sith, which could make a Sith Order work. Now you have a new story, which is absolutely a Star Wars story, but respects canon 100%. While I expect most fans would enjoy this, I can accept the possibility that this story may not appeal to the masses. My point, however, is that I just provided an outline for a potentially enjoyable Star Wars trilogy that’s both novel in its approach and consistent with canon. That’s what the critics want, and the new fans would have enjoyed it just as much. Everyone wins.
For Ghostbusters, they should do exactly what they’re planning to do: Continue the original story. I’ll leave it at that.
I have a degree in physics. I’ve studied rocket science. This isn’t rocket science. This is about familiarity, but not story-based familiarity. The familiarity comes from the setting. Give us new characters, using the old characters to pass the torch if possible. Give us new stories, but within the same exact universe so that the old stories still matter. Unnecessarily wrecking our childhood is the crime. The new characters and stories should still make the kids happy without pissing off the ones that are telling them to get off their lawns.
Now get off my lawn.
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