I’ll never forget the day it was announced that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm. It was October 12th, 2012, and I was headed up to the bathroom to shave when all of the sudden my phone began violently erupting. Everyone I knew was either emailing, texting, or tagging me on Facebook, mostly to see whether or not my head would explode. I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I’m a pretty serious STAR WARS nerd, so it ought to speak volumes when I say that my love of the franchise is inversely proportionate to my love of Disney.
Seriously, I fucking hate Disney. Always have, even as a little kid. It doesn't take much to whip me into a frenzy on the subject. In fact, I used to work with a guy named Daniel who’d constantly wheel me out for a new audience (not unlike a Stage Mom), saying, Yo, you gotta hear him rant about Disney; it’s the funniest fucking thing. Then he’d light a Marlboro Red, sit back, and watch me go off on the company and their product. I’d systematically detail the disgusting, saccharine characters; the nightmare theme parks that resemble a bad LSD flashback; the prepubescent Whorespawn manufactured for shitty TV and music tie-ins; the creepy, racist, and misogynistic hidden messages in films designed for children; and most of all, Uncle Walt himself, that jolly old anti-Semetic Nazi sympathizer. Whether or not my tirades were actually amusing depends on one’s tolerance for bizarre stream-of-consciousness attacks on this beloved American institution, as well as whether or not you’re a certified member of what I call the Tragic Kingdom: one of those weird, stunted adults who worships Mickey Mouse, knows every word to the FROZEN soundtrack, and gets married at Disneyland while surrounded by assholes in Goofy and Donald Duck costumes.* When I wish upon a star, I wish that Disney iconography would fuck itself out of existence.
Okay, so you get the idea: I’m not a fan. I hate musicals more than I hate throwing up; and if I could, I’d line up every talking animal sidekick from every one of these cookie cutter animated films and systematically break their necks while the others were forced to watch. This also includes talking snowmen, candlesticks, and other inanimate objects given horrible sentience. When I walk past the Disney Store, I see a cross between a pedophile’s basement and a fever dream from which I’m repeatedly waking to explosively void my bowels of Fruity Pebbles. I hate Disney.
So I’m sure you can imagine my reaction when I heard that the House of Mouse had purchased Marvel in 2009. As a lifelong comic collector, I bypassed all the stages of grief in an instant, going directly to Rage. I’m still not sure whether that’s technically one of the medically-defined responses commonly associated with loss or mourning, but what I am sure of is that I was like a gas station going up. You could see me from about thirty miles away.
And now they own STAR WARS.
To what I’m sure was the disappointment of those friends, co-workers, and assorted associates, I didn’t yell and scream when I heard the news. I didn’t Hulk Out or shatter the bathroom mirror. Rather, I was stunned. I think I probably read that article in The Hollywood Reporter a good three or four times in a row without being able to process the news that George Lucas -- the independent filmmaker who’d built his own empire to escape the corporations he so vehemently despised -- had sold his company, as well as the rights to STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES, to the most immediately-recognizable commercial manufacturer in the history of Anything. His creations, which he’d so jealously guarded, and which one would have wisely assumed would remain in the possession of his family in perpetuity, were handed over like a frozen pizza at the grocery store. STAR WARS was just another “thing” to be bought and sold.
But wait -- there’s more! We hadn’t heard the punchline yet. Disney, it seems, was announcing that the fabled Sequel Trilogy was happening. Yup. Remember the ongoing adventures of Luke Skywalker that Lucas had always told us was part of his master plan until the day came when he told us it wasn’t…? Buckle the fuck up, everyone: here it comes! And not only that, there wouldn’t just be a new STAR WARS trilogy in 2015, no! There’d be a new STAR WARS every year until the end of time. That meant sequels, prequels, sidequels, spin-offs, stand-alones, and everything and anything else you could ever imagine. FOREVER.
Suddenly, Lucas looked far less like a soulless toymaker. Suddenly, he looked like the very model of restraint.
But the more I read, the more it seemed the news wasn’t all bad. Kathleen Kennedy was taking over control of Lucasfilm from her old boss. She was a veteran of the machine and knew it intimately. And now, in her first official act as president of Lucasfilm, her immediate mandate was for the company to cease production on all STAR WARS shit that was in any way Prequel-related, and to return to what the fans wanted: the classic films, and the classic characters. The CLONE WARS cartoon? Gone. The in-development bounty hunter game, 1616? Gone. Even the Expanded Universe of comic books and novels dating back to HEIR TO THE EMPIRE was cancelled, and assigned “legendary” status (TRANSLATION: “You can still read that old crap if you want to; but just so you know, none of it counts anymore.”). In her kindest act of mercy-killing, Kennedy grabbed a giant Planned Parenthood needle and impaled DETOURS -- that putrid Seth MacFarlane animated series about STAR WARS characters as kids -- murdering it as it slumbered in the womb. Take note, conservative Pro-Lifers: not all abortions are bad.
The focus was on the Original Trilogy now. More importantly, the Prequels were being treated as mistakes to be learned from. There were a lot of really subtle things that, when added up, seemed to support this notion. The newly-issued books and comics focused on characters like Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader. The BATTLEFRONT video game was filled with classic environments to explore. Most notable was the almost invisible way in which the films themselves were retitled with the latest blu ray release. Dropped were the episode numbers that had become a part of the formal title structure with the release of THE PHANTOM MENACE; thus STAR WARS, for example, had become STAR WARS: EPISODE IV -- A NEW HOPE in 1999. Under Kennedy’s watch, it was still unfortunately being referred to as A NEW HOPE, but as of 2015, the numbering was gone.
Why is this significant? One has to consider how these two trilogies were identified during their respective theatrical runs. The first three films were collectively called THE STAR WARS TRILOGY, with each individual chapter -- STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RETURN OF THE JEDI -- referred to by their official title. The episode numbering was always an in-movie gag, a sort of throwaway homage to the FLASH GORDON serials, and only took on significance in the early 80s once Lucas began telling reporters that he planned to do the backstory of Darth Vader. While STAR WARS, now assigned the fourth slot in a multi-film series in which it was now no longer considered the “first,” was given the episode subtitle A NEW HOPE to accommodate for “STAR WARS” becoming an umbrella title for the entire saga, it was still never called anything but “STAR WARS.” Calling it A NEW HOPE is historical revisionism in line with any of THE SPECIAL EDITION changes and retcons.
In the buildup to THE PHANTOM MENACE, however, the episode numbers suddenly became important. For one thing, that film’s actual title wasn’t decided until six months before its release (being called THE BEGINNING all throughout production and referred to as EPISODE I in early marketing materials); and by informing audiences that this was the first chapter in the saga, it also cunningly implied the return of classic characters like Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader. Even the posters for the Prequels, as well as all other assorted ancillary tie-ins, blasted the words EPISODE I, with the eventual title itself little more than fine print to be read beneath.
The implications of Kennedy's decisions were obvious: the Prequels were being swept under the carpet, along with any and all things that the public would associate with their existence. They weren’t striking Episodes One through Three from the record, but their importance was being downplayed. Remove the numbers, and you remove the significance of a specific order in which the films would be watched; and when the company is highlighting the iconography of the classic films only, well...there you have it. It’s not surprising that THE FORCE AWAKENS was the first movie in the franchise to be released without a number in the title, and the film itself contained absolutely no references to the Prequels.**
This sentiment was felt outside of the internal narrative, as well. Those associated with the making of THE FORCE AWAKENS gently criticized or refuted the latter trilogy's methodology all throughout production, and even more vocally in the Blu Ray special features. It wasn’t simply what they said -- a desire to return to models, sets, practical effects, etc. -- but rather what they didn't. Even Helen Keller could read between the lines and see that THE FORCE AWAKENS was very specifically designed as an apology, and as a course correction.
The clearest indication of the new regime’s intent came when John Landis, during a 2015 interview, stated that Lucas had complained to him that Disney was planning to release the unmolested Original Trilogy on Blu Ray, fully restored to its former glory.*** The new Lucasfilm, with Disney’s support, was making it clear that they wanted me, and people like me -- pissed off First Generation fans burnt by THE SPECIAL EDITIONS and the Prequels -- to know they had listened, and they’d heard. They wanted to be friends. No more Mace Windu, they promised; here’s ROGUE ONE, a prequel -- yes, a prequel, but hold on! -- it's a prequel about the Rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans. You remember, right? The Death Star. From the movies you love. And we’re also gonna give you young Han Solo’s adventures, and plenty more where that came from. Trust us, Erik. We won’t fail you again.
It’s all good news until you begin to consider the bad. STAR WARS movies have always been events; families make a point of seeing them together, and press coverage is high. Audience connection, good or bad, is peerless. Once every generation, the saga is discovered through the release of a new trilogy. But, in a time of Marvel comic books re-conceived as a shared cinematic universe, the mere thought of ascribing this paradigm to STAR WARS is a troubling notion. Portion something out and it becomes special; make it a regular event on the calendar and it becomes routine. ****
A new STAR WARS movie every year begins to sound like typical Disney, who are the single greatest consumer-minded company in the world. So far they’ve done right by Marvel, and yes, they made an impressive opening move with THE FORCE AWAKENS…but then the bubble burst. It always bursts. Comic Book Movies can’t last forever, and neither will STAR WARS. It's a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. The question becomes how quickly Mickey Mouse ushers Luke Skywalker into an early grave, and whether the history books will remember this venture as the rebirth of STAR WARS, or the beginning of an endless series of films that became as inconsequential and boring as the Expanded Universe books and comics that preceded it.
I’m happy to sit back and enjoy it for as long as it lasts. STAR WARS is back, and so is the magic, at least in part. If Lucasfilm can produce films with quality comparable to what Marvel is routinely putting out, then maybe Disney and I can come to an understanding. Maybe we can even become friends, so long as we keep it limited to Captain America and Luke Skywalker and keep Aladdin and all those other shitheads out of it. That would be a big step for me. If they stay true to their implied mission statement, and continue to keep the fans a part of the commercial-minded process -- and if they release the original theatrical trilogy in a hi-def format -- I might even back off on my anti-Disney tirades. It's a small world, after all.
Just knock off the fucking pictures of Mickey and Goofy with lightsabers, please.
* Adults need to grow the fuck up and have interests beyond that of an eight-year-old, and engage in mature hobbies like writing daily STAR WARS articles examining the cultural significance of Jar Jar Binks, and whether or not Yoda should use a lightsaber.
** Kylo Ren mentions replacing Hux’s troops with clones. While some fans have Ah-HA!-d over the perceived significance of this dialogue (i.e., the new films acknowledging the events depicted in ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH, thus retaining their position as official canon), the reference seems designed less to say, “Jango Fett was the Daddy of all Stormtroopers!” than to say, “Hey, audience, remember all that? Well, we’re not doing it anymore. Move on and forget those movies.”
*** As of 2019, this hasn’t happened, but given Disney’s acquisition of Fox – and with it, the original STAR WARS, which Fox-owned in perpetuity – the possibility exists.
**** Except for Girl Scout cookies.
Erik Kristopher Myers (aka ekm)