Monday, April 9, 2018

Star Wars: A New Lore

Why Disney’s reboot of the Star Wars expanded universe has created a disturbance in the force for some fans. ♦ 
Since its purchase of Lucasfilm back in 2012, Disney has been utilizing the Star Wars franchise to its fullest, with decades of potential content waiting to be sent out to the hungry consumers who seemingly never get tired of the everlasting expansion of the Star Wars universe. Or, that was the case, until the newly released Star Wars: The Last Jedi created a controversial discourse on how Star Wars should be portrayed. The film itself scored very complimentary reviews from critics, with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 91%, but the fan base seems divided between calling it a masterpiece and an absolute mess. I, personally, am torn between the fan within me (that loves Star Wars regardless), the writer within me (that can’t help but notice significant plot holes), and the hardcore fanboy within me (that finds elements of the film to be essentially blasphemous to Star Wars as George Lucas intended it to be).
   But why is that? Although there is a history of fan divisiveness within the franchise, this time it feels like the voices against the film are louder than before. Media platforms are swarmed with reviews bashing the film, calling out all manner of objective and subjective mistakes the film made. We all know no film is perfect, especially Hollywood blockbusters, but what made this film particularly divisive? The answer to that, I believe, lies within the concept of “horizontal integration” and the way Disney is expanding the lore of the Star Wars universe outside of, and possibly to the detriment of, the films themselves.
   Lucasfilm has always had much more than films to offer—
there are video games, novels, comics, cartoons, toys and tons of other merchandise used as mediums to create multiple stories within Star Wars. Before Disney purchased Lucasfilm, there was a library of novels and comics once called the expanded universe, or EU (now called Legends), comprised of side adventures that the main characters from both the original films and the prequel films had experienced. It was a way for fans to get more characters, more stories, and above all more lore than was possible with just the films, especially given the expansion of time between the original trilogy, prequels, sequels, and even thousands of years before the prequels (The Old Republic). The lore of Star Wars, in fact, became the core of the franchise in these years, much like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth relies on its lore to play out its stories. Then Disney announced, after its acquisition of Lucasfilm, that the longstanding EU was no longer officially canon, meaning that the multitude of stories created over those decades are now simply legends and not actual events that occurred within the Star Wars universe.
   This gave Disney the opportunity to recreate the entire lore of Star Wars, as, after removing the EU from the Star Wars canon, all that was left were the films and the TV show The Clone Wars. Since then, they have built a new EU from scratch, with new comics such as Darth Vader, Kanan: The Last Padawan, and others. These comics are published by Marvel, who was Lucasfilm’s publisher back in the 80s for their first few attempts at Star Wars comics, until the franchise switched to Dark Horse Comics in 1987, where the largest chunk of comics were released between 1991 and 2014. This is where the concept of “horizontal integration” comes in, where Disney can use the different companies it owns to create content, including several novels such as Ashoka, Thrawn, and Leia, and the multitude of crossover comics from Marvel.
   So we have a new lore being built across multiple media platforms simultaneously, and a new film (The Last Jedi) with characters both from the previous film(s) alongside those making their debut in the Star Wars universe. But many found that both kinds of characters were not dynamic, that the characters from The Force Awakens were underdeveloped while the characters from the Original Trilogy (or OT) were misused and misunderstood compared to the amount of development they have been given throughout the years.
   The new main characters from The Force Awakens, such as Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren, are not as much of a concern in this argument because they are only present in the films and the novelizations of the films. The majority of criticism they receive are related to their underdevelopment, especially in The Last Jedi, where Finn is taken through a side plot that feels more in line with a filler episode from Star Wars Rebels and Rey continues to remain mysterious. Rey, I believe, receives the most criticism, where, because her abilities are not explained, the fans feel like they are being excluded from information that could increase interest in her character. The novelization of The Last Jedi attempts to do just that, by explaining how Rey can adapt to the force so easily and how she can wield a lightsaber with little-to-no Jedi training.
   The older characters, however, like Luke Skywalker, Leia, and Chewbacca, are viewed as written poorly, especially in regards to Luke’s characterization. In The Last Jedi, Luke is cranky, but also humorous, as well as deeply broken. The fans upset with Luke’s actions draw an association the Luke that they knew from the OT as well as the comics and novels; those that have grown up knowing Luke in a certain way, knowing that he acts a certain way, and then witness his characterization be given essentially a reboot in Last Jedi, find it difficult to forget the Luke from Legends. Many fans were caught off guard at Luke’s attitude, his opinion of the Jedi, and the arrogance that came along with all of that. The same can be said with Leia; watching her soar through space like a god was also jarring for many who support the Legends stories. The OT made it obvious that Leia is force-sensitive, meaning she has at least a small connection to the force, but even in the old Legends it was never confirmed that she could actually tap into the force like a Jedi could. But, that has changed, and for the first time ever, fans got to see her use the force. The problem with this was not only that it goes against the all-too-familiar Legends material, but that it also defied certain logic within the film itself.
 Then there are the new supporting characters. This is where the resentment of The Last Jedi is most prominent, as the characters are seen as one-dimensional and used simply as plot devices for the film. Admiral Haldo (played by Laura Dern) was the one who took command of the Resistance halfway through the film, and while in command she creates a scenario wherein another character, Poe Dameron, feels she is endangering the fleet. However, amidst the understandable distrust of Haldo’s unknown plan, we find that Leia trusts her entirely from beginning to end. We then get a touching scene where Haldo and Leia seem to have a personal connection, hinting that they have been friends for a while, but thisi s otherwise ignored in the film, as this connection is only explained in the new EU novel Leia, where we discover that Haldo had become friends with Leia before the timeline of the OT. This is the best example where expanding the lore gets in the way of good characterization. When a character debuts on screen, unless the intention is to make the character mysterious as a whole, the audience should learn as quickly as possible what type of person they are, without having to go to secondary sources to understand them.
   Another characterization that suffers because of the cross-media approach of the new EU is Rose. She is a prominent character in The Last Jedi, working alongside Finn on a side-plot mission (which, unfortunately, amounted to nothing within the story itself). The only characterization we receive from Rose is that she had a sister (who died during the introductory action sequence) and that she cares more about saving lives than taking the lives of her enemies. She’s a good character at heart, but the way her character is revealed within the film didn’t cut it for most fans, and if we want to know more about why she is the way she is beyond what is revealed in the film, we need to read the comic series Star Wars Adventures.
   To be honest, there is nothing wrong with creating a new expanded universe—Lucasfilm is constantly spitting out new and amazing stories, now more than ever—but the problem they seem to be having is making sure that the people who don’t get into the lore of Star Wars (those who only watch the films/shows) are satisfied with the stories they are given, without forcing these fans to consume other forms of media in order to get the full picture of this new universe. Many say that they now have no interest in Episode IX, as the execution of The Last Jedi made the trilogy as a whole disinteresting (but that is more in line with the film’s connection to The Force Awakens).
   This isn’t merely about attracting new fans while placating longtime fans who’d followed the old EU for years, but about the hope that the new films will tie themselves more into each other as the canon’s primary texts, just as the older trilogies did, as opposed to relying on the new EU and cross-promotion to build up the new lore. That’s a difficult balancing act, but the force is all about balance. With new lore comes a new hope, and if they can find the right approach, one that favors character and story, there’s still so much optimism for the future of the Star Wars universe.
  • About the Author
    Brandon Krempec is an undergraduate student at Miami University, pursuing majors in Media and Culture and Creative Writing. Homeschooled until 8th grade, Brandon spent most of his childhood creating stories, saving them for the time he can publish them. He plans to have his first novel published in the coming years, the first of a trilogy, as well as a portfolio of short stories and short films in the works.

    Share this article :


    Post a Comment