Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Series Criticism: Star Wars (Part 1)

I start off this with a piece of concept art for the last good thing in Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. It's a video game, and my favorite video game of all time, for reasons that I'll kind of get into here, and get way more into whenever I review this fantastic game. I start with the last great thing to come from Star Wars because it came out nearly seven years ago. And yet a lot of Star Wars has been coming out since. Very little of it has been any kind of quality, and for the most part, it has essentially kicked the fan of the series that I once had been in the teeth. I can't be the fan I was. Hell, I can't even be a fan at all.

Once this series stood for something. Back in the old days, days I don't even remember, when there were only movies, some comics, some action figures, and maybe a book or two, this series stood for something great. It was a series with infinite possibilities, an entire galaxy at the disposal of a great writer, a great thinker, and it was available to the masses. At one point you could watch the movies and know exactly all there was to know or care about in Star Wars. I've reviewed the original Star Wars movie, and I'm pretty sure I've made some of my feelings on the series known already. Star Wars was once great. Hell, the first time I saw A New Hope it was in theaters when the special edition came out in 1997. I probably saw it before then, my dad was a fan of Star Wars too, but the first time I really remember it, I was eight and I was in a crowded theater, loving the movie, falling into it every bit as much as I could fall into a good book. I fell in love with Star Wars from that moment on. I ate it up. I saw The Empire Strike Back, easily one of the BEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME, in a nearly empty theater at midnight, possibly the most appropriate way to watch that bleak film. And then I saw Return of the Jedi and fell in love with the characters and the story all over again, even if ROTJ does have its own issues.

I believed in Star Wars. I believed that it could be great, that it was great. I believed that there could be a galaxy far, far away... a long time ago... that housed Jedi and smugglers, and amazing spaceships, and everything else. Wookiees, Hutts, Greedo, Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin... the list can go on and on. My point here is that I fell into the same TRAP that a lot of people did. I believed in Star Wars, and I believed in George Lucas. And today, I believe in nothing but lies.

It wasn't the prequel trilogy that broke me. No. Of course none of the movies were good, but I saw them when I was young. I knew things were wrong, but I never hated the movies. I still don't. I wish they didn't exist, and I treat them as if they don't exist, but I have ambivalence for them, not hatred. They didn't single-handedly ruin Star Wars, and they certainly didn't ruin the original trilogy for me. What they did was bring Star Wars into the mortal realm, the realm of fallibility, the realm of not being the best. Star Wars fans have, for years, wondered what the prequels did... why did they have to be so bad? Why did the acting have to suck? Why CGI? Why everything? The problem is that the times- they are a-changing. I know plenty of people who love the prequels, despite my own disgust with hearing that. I know plenty of people who like the prequels more than the originals. I know it's a travesty, but it happens. The reason for this is that the times are different. People have their opinions and even if they are wrong, they're opinions.

So, the prequels are simply white noise to me. They didn't affect me, didn't bring about some kind of change. I didn't watch the screen and believe in this unbelievable universe. Instead it brought the harsh reality to my young mind that Star Wars wasn't real. It wasn't real.

It wasn't real.

Nothing could have prepared me for that disappointment. I was a lonely child, a nerd of nerds, a reader of novels at a time I should have been reading crappy little  pop-up dog books or whatever. "See Spot run (away from Darth Maul, what a terrible name)." I was holding onto Star Wars, putting it up as some kind of king of stories, of movies, of everything... and the day that I learned it was a broken series was the day I also learned that nothing in this world was perfect. I became cynical so long before I ever should have. I brought myself into horror, into other pursuits that were far removed from the atrocities of Star Wars. You think, my reader, that you have seen war crimes? No, not until you read some of the Star Wars novels, not until YOU UNDERSTAND the worst the world has to offer. Let me proceed, but I warn you, if you haven't been a big part of the Star Wars fandom or fanbase or whatever over the course of the last fifteen years or so, much of this will not make any sense to you. I speak of Yuuzhan Vong, New Jedi Orders, comics, Karen Traviss, the deaths of characters for convenience, and how so many characters never change, never evolve, never adapt, and... at eighty are just the same as they were at thirty. I talk of character assassination, galaxy destruction, the butchering of stories, and an absolutely broken fanbase that simultaneously praises and hates.

"Tell me a story of how greatness falls." That is the statement that initiated this writing, this "article", this diatribe on the good things that can turn so bad so quickly. It's not that the series fell from grace, or even that it broke apart just as it was on top. Instead it was a downward spiral. It was as if the series that was so dear to many of us was addicted to something terrible. Call it CGI, call it overdone and contrived plots, call it terrible romance plots, or fanfiction styled writing. Hell, call it what it is: a trainwreck. I loved Star Wars once, at a time when I could dream beyond the stars and see the world full of infinite possibilities. I used to think about what other wonderful worlds there were, if Luke ever found more Jedi, or if he truly would be the last. I used to think about what would happen now that the Emperor was dead and the Rebels would celebrating it up with a bunch of teddy bears. Would there be Ewok pilots? Would they have an embassy or something? What about Jabba's palace and all of his dancing girls?

What I'm saying is that the universe felt so large because it left me asking so many questions, but not caring about the answers. I can truly say that Star Wars is the series that gave me the desire to first start writing. It was also the series that sparked me to do this blog for the internet. I didn't want to blast the prequels or yell or rant or hate, I just wanted to be able to speak my mind, to say that I have been disappointed, fans of Star Wars have been disappointed. Some people may read this, may agree, may even like it, but I wish that people who had control over the franchise would read it. I wish that they could understand that Star Wars was never about gimmicks and crappy romances and appealing to the masses. It was a world of infinite possibilities. It was an action space fantasy about a ragtag group of rebels facing off against some terrible empire, even if the Empire seemed as okay as the rebels. Yes, some Imperials were bad like Tarkin and the Emperor, but most were simply regular guys. Some didn't even want to face off with the rebels. And the rebels probably had the same kinds of good and bad people too. Look, it created a realistic world where people acted like people and the universe made sense, not like the YOU ARE EITHER GOOD OR EVIL sense that the prequels gave to Star Wars.

Darth Vader wasn't evil, he just had different ideas. He disagreed with Obi-Wan and he disliked incompetence when his time was limited. He was focused and driven. Obi-Wan's term of describing him as "twisted" works well and fits. Then you look at Darth Maul. Yeah, not really feeling the complexities there. You can compare the bland and lackluster, almost confounding, General Grievous (What a name...) to Grand Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy of novels. How can you even compare the two characters? How can they even be seen as comparable at all? Yes, both are commanders of military things or whatever, but General Grievous is an absolute travesty of a character, whereas Grand Admiral Thrawn is a well done morally ambiguous "antagonist" to the main characters. He is both well-written and well thought out, which can be easily said for all of Zahn's characters, most of Michael Stackpole's characters, and Aaron Allston's characters in the X-Wing series before he became a big part of what is wrong with the Star Wars expanded universe.

So, this is my first part of an entire series analysis and criticism of Star Wars. I'm just getting started, giving you an introduction. I have no idea how many parts this will be, but next time I'll be focusing on where Return of the Jedi screwed over Star Wars, and the expanded universe stuff that came out until around the time the prequels came out. We're going to touch upon some incredibly awful parts of Star Wars, including Kevin J. Anderson, Barbara Hambly, The Crystal Star, Luke's love life, and the end of an age. Stay tuned...

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