Star Wars Review – the Profiteer’s Awaken

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I got to see Star Wars over the holidays and unfortunately it confirmed what I’d feared, J. J. Abrams has made an even bigger mess of the Star Wars universe than the mess he made of the Star Trek universe. How can he do any worse than blowing up Vulcan you say? Well let’s just say he likes to blow up planets! The plot was way too predictable, almost a remake of the first film….and by that I mean a New Hope.

And its not as if they were short of good material for a more interesting script. One key question for the fans was whether the new film would tie into the so-called “Expanded Universe”of star wars. This relates to a large volume of material built up by other projects, TV series, web series, computer games and the novels of authors such as Timothy Zhan which expands beyond the films. The Zahn novels in particular extend matters 25 years past the battle of Endor. In these novels he introduced a number of new characters, such as Han Solo and Leia’s children, Mara Jade (who initially starts off as an enemy of Luke, but eventually becomes his wife, making her a much more credible character compared to the “good/bad guy” template of most star wars characters) or Admiral Thrawn (a military genius and major villain in the post-Emperor era).

So clearly had they simply adapted some of the expanded universe material, or built on it, a much more compelling script could have been established. And in some respect’s I would argue that what they did was simply plagiarise the Expanded universe….badly! Kylo Ren is clearly based on Darth Caedus of the expanded universe, Rey is clearly based on Raina (oh! Spoiler alert, this means they may be shown to be related in the next movie!) and the “first order” is clearly based on the Imperial Remnant of the novels.

I can only assume the plan was to rip off the expanded universe to save them the bother of having to write a script, but change enough to save them having to pay royalties to the likes of Timothy Zahn. It is, to say the least, strange to be trying to avoid spending a little bit more on a script for a film with a budget in the hundreds of millions. Its like doing the Harry Potter films, but to avoid paying J. K. Rowling her cut, changing his name to Parry Hotter and his adventures in Doghorts university and his sidekicks Helminey Vixen and Dom Working-class-weasel.

This isn’t going to go down well with fans because one of the nice things about the expanded universe is that made some attempt to fill in the enormous plot holes in the movies (some of my favourite ones here). e.g. why did the Empire collapse so quickly just because the Emperor died?

Well in the expanded universe the Empire faced almost as many internal threats from rogue Admirals and corrupt Grand Moff’s as it did from the rebels. Recall the main reason the Emperor wanted the Death Star was to keep his own minions in line. At the same time as the battle of Endor, the aforementioned Admiral Thrawn was hunting down the rogue Admiral Zaarin who had attempted to usurp the emperor’s throne. So two of the Empire’s most elite units were too busy fighting each other to fight the rebels. Inevitably, with the Emperor and Vader gone, there was nothing to hold the Empire together and it gradually disintegrated. In the Expanded universe, it didn’t disappear straight away, it took the rebels several years to push them out of the core systems and a large Rump state called “the Imperial Remnant” still existed 25 years after Endor.

Okay, still a bit rusty, but better than the movie explanation, death star blows up… likely killing all the Ewoks (a primitive race of spear throwers who managed to take on an army with tanks and guns? don’t get me started!) and rendering their planet uninhabitable….empire over, cut to the after party.

But suffice to say that the new movie has opened up so many obvious plot holes its going to be impossible to fill. Once I saw Chewbacca it was obvious that the Expanded Universe had clearly just been flushed down the toilet (oh, spoiler alert, he’s supposed to have died 5 years prior to the events in a Force Awakens…so presumably he’ll be killed off in the next movie). And the plot of the new film is so formulaic and predictable I could pretty much tell you the plot of the next two films right now.

This is unfortunately the consequences of the modern mass media. Where the plot is altered for marketing purposes (why do you think they put all those Ewoks and Droids in? So they could sell toys!). Consider the changes already made to the original Star wars films. Indeed the reaction of Star Trek fans to J. J. Abrams first film has been to devote more efforts towards “fanfiction”, essentially the fans have taken over the story.

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Such films are getting ever more elaborate. A major Star Trek feature film called Prelude Axanar” is actually being produced via kickstarter funding, which the studios are trying to stop for violating copyright.

This suing your fans is generally a bad sign. It reminds me of the fate of TSR. They were a wargaming company whose products were very popular in the 80’s, but not very profitable. Anyway a number of suits took the company over and began to aggressively market their products, including sending out cease and desist notices to fans who published their own content for free on the internet. Needless to say they quickly alienated their best customers and eventually the company collapsed, being rescued by a rival, whose first course of action was to introduce an open gaming license on their products.

The Force Awakens is therefore another example of a script written by corporate marketeers and a triumph of style over substance….not that there was much substance in Star Wars anyway, which has always been more space opera rather than science fiction (hyperdrives? The force? Blasters? And don’t even get me started on exhaust ports!). But suffice to say the next two films will be more of the same, big explosions lots of CGI, until audiences loose interest.

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