If you’re a Star Wars fan – and I here mean “fan” as abbreviation for “insane fanatic” – it’s been a charged week.
First, the powers that be decided to do away with the extended universe. Three decades of novels, comics, and other assorted erratum, swept quietly under the rug. Star Wars, at least in comparison to other franchise properties, has been renowned for the depth, breadth, and surprising continuity of its extended universe efforts. Compare the 70+ novels that continue the story of Star Wars well past the movies to the 200+ novels from the Star Trek universe that rarely, if ever, follow any sort of focused timeline. Compare the coherent universe of Star Wars comics to the Marvel universe, where the biggest events are retconned on a seemingly yearly basis. For example, Captain America has died at least a half dozen times; Chewbacca died once and hasn’t been heard from since (spoiler alert?).
That’s all to be forgotten now as George Lucas once again inserts his grimy, fetid paws into the universe he birthed so long ago. Many will blame Disney for this aggression, that megacorp having just purchased Lucasfilm and performed a similar retcon action with Marvel, but I fully blame Lucas. He has vocally sworn off the extended universe for years now, brushing aside the plethora of properties that have built on his original ideas as “someone else’s stuff.” This formal rejection of the extended universe in favor of the official movie-only timeline is just the final manifestation of that patented Lucas shrug at everything he hasn’t physically touched. Sure, Disney benefits too in that they’ve got a brand new playground to fuck around in. No need to incorporate fan favorite villains and heroes like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade! Not when they no longer exist. Now Lucas and Disney can come up with more commercially appropriate characters – perhaps a new race of even fluffier, cuter Ewoks? Just imagine the plush toys racing off the Toys’R’Us shelves.
But it’s easy to complain. Certainly this situation is unfortunate for the super-fan such as myself – we look at the bookshelf stuffed floor-to-ceiling with Star Wars novels and think, “So all that time I spent reading is meaningless?” That initial reaction is the one that hurts the most, feels the most. Eventually, we come to terms with the fact that, in the end, we do want more Star Wars films, we do want more exploration of the universe, we do want people to keep playing in that playground, even if it means pushing a pile of new sand over what’s already there. In time, we can look on the bright side – this change doesn’t mean all those Star Wars novels don’t count anymore, it just means that they exist in a parallel Star Wars universe, one that doesn’t necessarily overlap with future content. “Okay,” we think, “I guess I can deal with that.”
By that point, though, we’re no longer in the grip of all those anguished feels. Becoming resigned to your fate, even if it means finding the good in a bad situation, generally doesn’t mean you’re gonna get all riled up again. So we rarely write about that part. It’s so much easier to pour out our complaints while they’re hot and fresh and vivid, rather than take a step back and wait for things to play out.
Case in point: The cast list for the next Star Wars film was released yesterday. Big news! The original stars will return, along with a brand new cast of young, fresh faces. Talented actors, the lot. Such an exciting moment, the first big reveal in what will no doubt be many to come. So, of course, we find the first notable aspect of the occasion we can gripe about and proceed to complain. Because complaining is so much easier than expressing excitement and imagining a bright potential future.
I get that women are underrepresented in just about everything except for motherhood. And I agree, that’s a tragedy. And I agree, that’s an issue we should be vocal about. And I agree, that at first glance, this could be an issue in the upcoming Star Wars film. But is that really the first thing you think about, the first thing you want to talk about, when an exciting revelation comes to bear? You don’t want to write an article that dreams up all the story possibilities this cast list provides? You don’t want to take a look at each cast member’s film history, explore who these people are, what they’ve done, what they could do? I feel like jumping right to social criticism undermines the excitement of the moment, takes the wind out of everyone’s sails. Certainly, the revealed cast list has a bad male-to-female ratio, but doesn’t it also seem a bit premature to start judging the film? This is the first cast reveal – there could potentially be more women cast. There could also be less. I’m not saying the current lack of female cast members isn’t an issue, I’m simply suggesting that we all hold our collective horses a bit and wait for this to play out. When the film is released and there are only two women in the movie – then, then, we should all feel compelled to write excoriating screeds about the sexism of Star Wars. But to jump right at this first tidbit of information, complaints at the ready, seems like a great way to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. It also seems like a great way to get J.J. Abrams to shoehorn a female character into what might have otherwise been a pretty darn good movie simply to meet the needs of a society that is never changing fast enough to meet the barbed tongue-lashings of its most vocal critics.