Another year, another Star Wars sequel out soon on DVD and Bluray, and another sense of lingering dissatisfaction and unease that is difficult to articulate. Fortunately, we have gifted critics like Rich Evans to help crystallise our thoughts; to remind us that while the Star Wars universe appears to be immense, it’s actually quite small. Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker leaving the family farm and going on an adventure. Everything tacked on to that will always be fan-fiction.
Ah, fan-fiction. Back in the ‘90s the burgeoning internet allowed this literary genre to proliferate like never before, and at first it all seemed like a good idea. In those heady days many of us honestly believed that new voices and talents could bring our favourite characters and situations to life like never before. But a perfectly-formed story doesn’t need extra chapters any more than a working machine needs any more moving parts.
Even when fan-fiction is good, it’s inessential. And when it’s bad, it’s horrid: “It was a dark and stormy night. Naruto was fucking Sonic.”
If a movie is competently executed and conforms to a coherent story structure it can stand the test of time. Films like Commando, Rambo First Blood: Part II, and David Lynch’s Dune are just as watchable today as when they were first released (I guess that’s one way of putting it - Ed.). The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are not. The Force Awakens has aged even worse.
Star Wars films are no longer stories, but spectacles – amusement park rides on celluloid. It’s a great way to make a buck, but a terrible way to build a brand.
These flicks are slapped together, incoherent, advertised to within an inch of their lives, and designed to make a profit the very first week after launch. Does that business model remind you of anything? It should. Whether they’re aware of it or not, the suits at the Disney Corporation are creating and marketing films as if they were video games.
Don’t get me wrong – video games are great. But a handful of very, very rare exceptions notwithstanding, video games are fundamentally ephemeral. Their appeal stems from the innate human craving for novelty.
Recall that the video game economy currently revolves around an axis of waifus and loot crates – presumably because the world isn’t quite ready for full-on pornographic gambling. As such, in the perfect Star Wars game you wouldn’t play as a Jedi or a Sith – you’d play as a Hutt. As an amoral crime lord of the Outer Rim you’d enslave and/or employ dancing girls, spice (drug) smugglers, and bounty hunters, and manage your workforce by dragging and dropping under-performing vassals into your Rancor pit. The loot crates would be stolen shipments of imperial cargo, to be earned by interminable marathon play sessions, or bought for modest amounts of premium currency (On a related note, Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford is to be commended for publicising a Subreddit full of Battleborn smut; I expect the 2K share price to soar as a result).
If they had their production pipeline sorted, Disney would follow the Pixar example of ruthlessly iterating quality stories for their movies, and then flogging branded ephemera. But if the films themselves are ephemera, then those annual samey sequels can only erode the brand. Consider the legacies of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Guitar Hero, and Call of Duty.
Perhaps this is all the master plan of some shadowy Disney executive who believes that by destroying Star Wars he can free up Disney’s movie budget and bring back Tron.
It’s a dark time for Star Wars, but the suits are not solely to blame. The creators and consumers of content form a symbiont circle; you must understand this. The fan-fiction addict lives his life like porcine livestock. For a pig consuming nothing but oats can only see one path to happiness: more oats. He cannot see the world beyond the walls of his pen. He cannot even imagine it.
Ephemera has its place, and that place is gaming. A Papers, Please clone starring a Small Moff Tarkin, a Wing Commander clone starring a dashing young Ensign Ackbar; this is the calibre of disposable spin-offs we deserve.
Did you ever hear the tragedy of Rogue One the film? The tragedy is that it wasn’t a game instead.