On Lucasfilm and Disney and Fandom
November 4, 2012
When I heard Disney was buying Lucasfilm, I wasn’t greatly bothered. This stuff happens in the entertainment industry all the time. It happened to Marvel. It’s happened to a lot of other IPs that people are surprised Disney owns until they see the merchandise at a Disney theme park, or the characters pop up in a Kingdom Hearts game.
When they announced Star Wars Episode VII would release in 2015 in the same breath, my heart sank.
No, wait. That’s not entirely accurate.
When I first heard that bit of news, I had to go looking for the actual press release on disney.com. "Episode 7" felt like that tiny, crazy detail that lets you know an otherwise plausible news story is actually from The Onion. "Episode 7" is exactly what you would expect a giant corporation to announce once they bought the rights to Star Wars. It’s mustache-twirlingly evil, the sort of thing you do when you want to rub your inevitable victory in the heroes’ faces.
Once I confirmed that it was in fact legit, then my heart sank.
I was late on board the Star Wars bandwagon as a kid. I remember my parents watching Return of the Jedi on TV when I was young. I didn’t know what a Jedi was (I assumed some sort of magical artifact), but I knew that it was a live-action movie (only cartoons were interesting) and that I could be playing Nintendo on that TV. My aunt and uncle bought me a large lambda-class shuttle toy, like the one that Han pilots in Jedi, for Christmas one year. It was cool, or at least as cool as it could be to a kid with no point of reference, but I ended up selling it in a yard sale.
And so I somehow managed to avoid Star Wars until my teenage years.
When I did get into it, I went in whole hog. I played the X-Wing games on PC, the Decipher CCG (which, in retrospect, was poorly designed compared to Magic: the Gathering, but no one in the Bible belt thought it was a gateway to the occult), the West End Games RPG (which, despite d20 Star Wars, still has a fond place in my heart), and Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (I was into the editing community around that game and released several levels).
My understanding of Star Wars was cemented in the original trilogy and filtered through the Decipher CCG, which fleshed out the background settings and characters in those movies. This was a rich universe. It was a universe in which Luke undertakes a hero’s journey guided by the Zen-like wisdom of Old Ben and becomes something larger than life. But it’s also the universe in which the drama of those without mystical destiny like Han, Chewie, Leia, and Lando looms just as large. And none of these characters, with or without the power of the Force, can do very much against the evil empire without the ragtag army of the Rebel Alliance.
In retrospect, I’m not sure why Disney’s purchase should bother me, given that the prequels had already shattered this vision. With far better special effects than the original, I felt like the wit, wisdom, and dedication of the original trilogy’s heroes paled in the face of backflips and dual-wielding. Because everyone wanted to be either a Jedi or Boba Fett (who took on a heightened importance as the first of the Clone Troopers), I often felt these were the only characters who had much agency in the newer stories–most of the mundanes were either getting killed or getting rescued.
Granted, after 10 years, I’m sure these are more my perceptions than objective reality. But even so, to me, the prequels and cartoons didn’t feel quite as large or heroic because they had a different vision of what being larger-than-life or being a hero means. And while they filled in the epic backstory hinted at in the original trilogy, they were sometimes clunky or forced in how they did so.
(As an aside, I felt the same letdown watching the pilot of Caprica, realizing that the historical war between the humans and Cylons had started less than half a century before BSG, and that the Adama family figured prominently into that, too. Perhaps some stories should remain untold.)
All this is to say, I suppose, that I’ve been through this before, and I’ve come to accept that changing the feel of a franchise need not ruin it.