You’ve probably heard by now that Solo, the new Star Wars prequel directed by Ron Howard, is a box office disappointment. That has people wondering what went wrong. Why has the magic faded? One answer offered this week at The Hollywood Reporter is that “toxic fandom” has ruined the series.
Some loved the bold liberties of writer-director Rian Johnson. They understood that there was room under that big tent for characters like Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), women placed alongside Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Ridley’s Rey at the center of the Star Wars drama.
But others hated it. Hated everything it stood for. Hated what they saw as a social justice warrior remix of the Star Wars they grew up with. And they hated Tran’s Rose most of all because they decided that she was the avatar for all that was wrong with the franchise. Those fans — a minority but a loud one — found their “them” in the very thing they used to love.
Over at the Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro has a piece responding to this argument which points out (correctly, I think) that blaming the fans for not liking movie seems like a bad attempt to point fingers anywhere but at the people responsible: the filmmakers, and in particular producer Kathleen Kennedy. And, more particularly, he points out that the new films have lost a lot of the old fans because they seem to have made such poor use of the classic characters:
The Force Awakens is garbage; The Last Jedi is double-garbage. That’s because Kennedy had two choices upon being granted the helm of the Star Wars universe: (1) fast-forward fifty years, beyond the original characters, and reboot, losing the nostalgia of the original characters but gaining freshness; (2) recast the original characters and pick up where Return of the Jedi left off. Instead, in fully risk averse fashion, she chose door (3): leech off the nostalgia while introducing new characters a few years in the future. This led her to the idiotic decision to murder off all the original beloved characters in increasingly stupid fashion — and then to the doubly idiotic decision to go back and create new movies around those now-dead characters. She pissed off all of us who grew up on Star Wars, and in doing so, destroyed whatever good will existed among us for the newer batch of characters. Solo and Rogue One are good movies — but Han Solo was killed by JJ Abrams in The Force Awakens after being turned into a loser drifting around the galaxy in his iconic Millenium Falcon, the equivalent of a deadbeat dad who abandoned his family in the 1970s to trek the country in his bug van; Rogue One revolved around a set of characters who all die.
I grew up with the original films and, like everyone else my age, I thought they were some of the best movies ever made. I still think that’s the case with the first two (now episodes IV and V). But there’s really no denying that Star Wars has been on a long, sad decline. Some of that started with Return of the Jedi which introduced the “yub, yub” singing teddy bears as characters. And then for many years it seemed that would be it.
When the Special Editions of the original films came out in the 90s, things got much worse. George Lucas had decided to go back and “fix” things he didn’t like in the classic films. That meant adding a bunch of bad CGI characters and making other changes which were less defensible. The best known change was to the moment when Han Solo meets Greedo in the cantina and shoots him. In the revised special edition, Greedo shoots at Han first and somehow misses from 3 feet away. This led to a backlash of people who a) thought the change was awkward and stupid and b) felt Lucas was messing up the arc of one of his best characters. The fans hated it. “Han shot first” became something you saw fans wear on t-shirts.
Then came the prequels and things once again got worse. We were introduced to a young Darth Vader but also to Jar Jar Binks, easily the worst character ever put in any Star Wars film. But it wasn’t just that. Many of you have probably seen Mr. Plinkett’s review of Episode 1 (if not, please watch it below). It’s nearly as long as the movie it critiques but is far better in every way. It points out that nothing in the movie makes sense. Not the heroes. Not the villains. Jar Jar is just the tip of the iceberg. And I’m not even going to bring up midi-chlorians! Some say Episode III was the best of the lot but I don’t see it. The prequels were a horrible abuse of the fans who had already taken a beating with the Special Editions.
And now we come to the Disney era and what’s new this time, as Ben Shapiro points out, is we get to see a bunch of new characters killing the old ones we loved to advance a story that isn’t 1/10th as compelling. I don’t think people disliked Rey because she’s a woman. I think they disliked her because she seemed to know everything without even trying. From the Guardian:
On a highly-amusing online thread called “Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens Feminist Propaganda?”, one commenter claims the movie treats its female lead, Rey, with a deference spared any previous male leads, who all had to graft for their wins. “Rey does not need to work at anything, she’s naturally awesome just by being a woman”, the commenter writes, before adding: “the male support is bumbling, and has an episode of acute cowardliness”.
Another critic also points out that Rey can fly the Millennium Falcon “like a stunt pilot” on her first attempt and repair the spacecraft to a higher standard than lifelong-owner Han Solo. Unlike Luke Skywalker, she can use Force powers with zero training.
Another commenter concludes: “Rey was so perfect that she was slightly irritating. Women aren’t allowed to be ordinary flawed characters that struggle and grow”.
Simply put, Rey is a cheat. She doesn’t seem to have earned her victories through any kind of preparation or symbolic trainee status. She can just do whatever is needed intuitively. I guess the idea was to show she was somehow even better than Luke but really it just seems a bit ridiculous. She ruins the fantasy by making it seem too easy.
That’s not the fault of actress Daisy Ridley. She didn’t write her own part. It’s the fault of the story development team and the writers who worked on these films without seemingly having any understanding of what was good about the originals. Or how mythic storytelling works.
Did social justice concerns ruin Star Wars? Maybe a little, but Lucas and Disney have been ruining Star Wars for at least 20 years with bad rewriting followed by bad writing. Maybe the fans are just getting sick of seeing it happen.