Star Wars has been annoying me for a while now. There. I said it. It’s a painful admission since I saw the original film in the theater and it embedded itself into my ten-year-old brain like nothing has before or since. I’m not alone in this respect. Many artists, authors and filmmakers have cited the series as the kick in the pants that started their careers. To call the original films “seismic” is probably not an overstatement. That’s why it pains me to write this piece. It’s time to face facts: Star Wars is broken.
First, let me define some terms. When I say “Star Wars”, I mean two things: 1) The franchise itself, and 2) The reaction to that franchise in the culture — or, more specifically, the subculture known as “the fans”. It’s clear to me that, on both fronts, a certain galaxy far, far away is hurting.
Star Wars, as most of you know, began as the vision of one man, Northern California filmmaker George Lucas. He nearly killed himself birthing the first movie in the saga, so he deserves the lion’s share of credit for its success. From 1977 to 2012, he was the steward of the franchise, the hand on the tiller. At least with the first three installments, that stewardship was strong. Return of the Jedi has its detractors, but mostly it’s a satisfying ending to a three-part story.
Then came the prequel trilogy, and that’s where the strain started to show. 1999’s The Phantom Menace is still the weakest live action feature entry to date. Subsequent chapters got progressively better, but mostly the prequels are a stilted six hours with moments of greatness.
Then George Lucas decided to retire. He put Kathleen Kennedy in charge of LucasFilm Ltd. and sold the company to Disney in 2012. Kennedy’s tiller hand has not been the strong, assured one the property needed. In my view, she hasn’t succeeded in either of the two roles she signed on for — as producer or as vision-keeper.
Disney has released five Star Wars films to date and postponed or cancelled several others. In every case but one (The Last Jedi), the movies have either lost their directors or required costly retools. In some cases both. Rumor has it problems with Rogue One and Solo cost Disney hundreds of millions of dollars. For that reason alone, I can’t believe CEO Robert Iger didn’t fire Kennedy. Perhaps there’s something in the contracts that forbids such a dismissal, but Iger did take the step of putting Star Wars on hiatus until the company can figure out what to do next.
That isn’t exactly a feather in Kathleen Kennedy’s cap.
In terms of imagination, Kennedy isn’t George Lucas. She could never expand upon the universe in the ways that he did. But that doesn’t excuse her from her role as vision-keeper. A good manager delegates, and she failed in that role too. Like no other property (with the exception of Marvel), Star Wars needs a strong Creative Visionary out in front. In my opinion, this needed to be a single person with respect for the material as well as a vivid imagination — someone like George Lucas or Marvel’s Kevin Feige. Kennedy opted to go not with an individual but a committee, creating what is known as “The LucasFilm Story Group”. Looking at what Disney’s released since 2014, I can’t say the LFG has pulled its weight. In many ways, the sequel trilogy (which began with The Force Awakens) has been less coherent and less satisfying than Lucas’ prequel series.
Given the state of Star Wars fandom, I almost feel sorry for Disney. They had no idea what they were signing on for with respect to the fans. Imagine Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons but hyper-focused on a single property. Add an anal retentive obsession with minutiae and “canon”, as well as a shocking level of entitlement and you’ve got the current fanboy or fangirl.
As I said, I’ve been a fan of the series since 1977, so I consider myself a member of the subculture. I don’t go to conventions and you’ll never catch me cosplaying, but I do like to stay informed. Most of what I see irritates me.
Star Wars writers and YouTubers — with some notable exceptions — are people I wouldn’t want to spend any time with. Even with the glaring faults of both the prequel and sequel trilogies, I’d call them nit-picky and poorly- focused, homing in on trivia and nonsense — and staking out a kind of ownership most normal, well-adjusted people would be embarrassed to try and claim.
Both of these fronts, the Franchise, and the Fans, are undermining what was (and could be again) one of the greatest fictional playgrounds of all time. Disney: Star Wars is broken and you need to get its house in order right quick.