Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Easy Solution To The Fan Problem

There's a sentiment batted around boards of media businessmen all too often. It's never never put down to an exact word but it always seems to come down to this - "Continuity is the enemy. Continuity is keeping new customers away. Do away with continuity and we solve all our problems."

We've seen this far, far too many times over the past years. A few continuity hating reboots have been successes admittedly, but many more have been failures. DC Comics' New 52 has been floundering for some time sadly, Transformers has had this in spades, Marvel's animation division is plagued by this trend, and then there's other stuff like DmC: Devil May Cry. What people always seem to forget is that the stuff which succeeds in being a new starting point comes down to one of two things: It either serves as an adaptation from new media, or it works itself into the old media as a "soft" reboot. This doesn't always work, but it doesn't alienate an established audience or insult them out of the starting gate. So, when the reboot inevitably starts having to recycle old ideas, it's seen as more a new approach and less out of pining desperation.

So, that brief intro brings us onto Star Wars, and the raging tempest of hatred emanating from Expanded Universe fans. And Bioware fans. And RPG fans. And... well, a large chunk of people who loved stuff which dared to go beyond the films. Declaring that the Expanded Universe never mattered, was never canon and never happened, Disney managed to isolate a large number of its fans. While many members of the public are excited to see the saga continue on the big screen, many of the replacement books have received much more of a lukewarm reception.  As the novels go on, more criticisms are arising. The supposedly greater continuity between novels has already broken down, especially in the Jedi department, and authors are stealing elements from the very universe they are supposed to replace. The impact of this is already showing, with sales down across the board and lacking the same pulling power past novels held.

The sad truth is that, in all honesty, there was never any need for a reboot. In fact, Disney could have had its cake and eaten it very easily, wiping the slate clean without alienating most of their literary audience. How so? By embracing one of the most ambitious parts of the Expanded Universe - Star Wars: Legacy.

Set several hundred years into the far future, the series saw the beginning of a new Sith-Jedi War, a far more desperate war than anyone would have believed. It served as much as a deconstruction as a celebration of Star Wars' strengths, taking the old universe apart and reshaping it in a darker light while preserving everything which made it great. While it might have repeated many old ideas and elements, it did so while exploring new territory and putting a new spin on things. Along with a very different (previously) Galactic Empire and new factions of Force users, the series went into surprising detail when it re-introduced the Sith as a major presence.

So, where is all this going? Two things. The first, and most obvious one, is that the setting was far enough along from the novels to begin a fresh start. The closest you had to old references was the mass Vongforming of war damaged worlds in an effort to try and heal them, but even that was kept to the background. The second, and most important one, the comic series ended on a new dawn. The Sith were still at large, defeated and forced underground but ready to start a new war, while the Galactic Alliance, Empire and others had united into a new government, and the Jedi were rebuilding again.

Ultimately Disney could not have asked for a better ending, or for a point to start building a new universe off of. Freed from the constraints from multiple book series, they could take the new universe from there in any direction they wished. They could have accessed all that old knowledge or ideas without it seemed like borderline theft and even the prior comics didn't need to be referenced all that much. If they just skipped ahead a generation or two it could be put down to "there was a war, we won but they escaped" or any level of detail they wished. Hell, if they wanted to show a new facet of that same war, with side characters and the like, it was a gold mine for new tales, with plenty of established areas yet to be explored.

While it might have been set far along, many old ideas were still about. TIE variants still bore their distinctive eyeball design, lightsabers were still swords, Stormtroopers still wore their distinctive armour and many locations iconic to the series were still about. So, it carried many familiar elements the public could identify with, but at the same time would have captured that same excitement of exploring a whole new universe. It's a powerful feeling after all, knowing you were on the cusp of seeing the next big step forwards in the setting. We've seen it many times over, with the prequels, Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Empire, even the replacements. So, you'd have exactly the same impact but it wouldn't suffer from driving away a major audience when you're trying to build a franchise.

Now, some of you are probably asking how they could make use of the classic characters, with Disney hyping Han Solo's return and all. Simple: Force ghosts and flashbacks. It's something the comic series itself used quite frequently, with Luke showing up to speak with his jaded descendant and old memories re-emerging. Records showed past events involving the major characters and shed new light upon some key moments in their lives. A few returned for sure, R2-D2 being a key example, and many even spoke with the protagonists. However, there's a key difference in how this was handled: The focus was always upon the protagonists without ever letting the older heroes get in the way. It made sure the audience was there to see Cade Skywalker and co, not the return of Luke, and it was their story. As such, the return of classic heroes was a nice bonus and a fun element, but it wasn't banking purely upon nostalgia.

Now, what makes the approach Legacy took so important in handling the old characters is this: It knew when and when not to bring up their tales and events. It kept the characters distant enough that they were not intruding upon one another's territory, and by handling it at such a distance it meant writers weren't running the risk of recycling old elements. Let's face it, that's something which happens a little too often in certain reboots. Case and point - Star Trek: Into Darkness recycling large chunks of an old film until the shining new frontier became Wrath of Khan 2: Wrath Harder.

Would it have solved every issue? Perhaps not, but it would have been a chance to do something new and dynamic. Not, instead, for a lot of people watching the Episode VII trailers to just roll their eyes going "yeah, we already did this song and dance years ago." Or, to bring up more jaded examples, for people to bring up the fact that we lost Revan but Disney kept Jar Jar Binks about.

Still, this is just my two cents on the subject. If you have your own thoughts, positive or negative, please leave them in the comments. It's been quite a fandom splitting subject after all, and whether or not you agree this would have been an easy solution or think it's overlooking massive flaws, i'd be more than happy to see a few more voices weighing in on the subject.


  1. Bra-fucking-vo!
    This is a good read to which I wholly agree. There was no need at all to axe the entirety of the Expanded Universe. Even if they axed only the Post-RotJ era, that would already keep the universe intact for a large part. Where the six films where the bones, the Expanded Universe were definitely the muscles, the flesh of Star Wars. The EU was the part I invested most in, the part that actually made the Prequels awesome interconnected stories instead of bad cinema.
    What I currently fear is that Star Wars will be milked to oblivion. each year a new (spin-off) film will lure people to cinemas, Disney will be churning out merchanidse for the masses and authors will be picking bare the corpse of the EU. While some new Disneyverse novels weren't too bad, like Tarkin. Though stuff like Aftermath is abysmal. For the sake of casual fans, X-Wings have glass viewports, instead of transparisteel and an elevator is an elevator, instead of a turbolift. Plus the author hasn't the slightest idea of which alien is which, because he apparently throws species around without regard.

    I'll stop the rant here, but I am very, very bitter. I will go see Episode VII, perhaps even like it, but the price Star Wars as a whole had to pay was too high.

  2. The issue is for the many people who know nothing about the extended universe.... Myself included. Disney no doubt want to attract as many casual fans as they can and it would be confusing for them to have to catch up with decades of Comics/novels/cartoons. I consider myself a Star Wars fan, but we never interested in the expanded universe stuff, so I'm pleased with Disney's approach. Is there not an aura of snobbery if people not into the expanded universe have to catch up to appease the "real" fans? Disney are selling a movie and the easiest way to appeal to the most people is to make it as simple as possible. I'm really excited for the new movies!

    1. No. There isn't. There tends to be an aura of snobbery from those saying "Well your stuff never mattered, get over it" when people complain about the Expanded Universe being wiped out.

      Here's the thing: No one is criticising people for not reading the Expanded Universe. No one has any problems if you just want to watch the films or even just leave it at that. That's your choice as a fan and, same as all media, you don't need to track down every little thing to see the full picture. After all, you're not required to watch all Marvel's tv shows to keep up with the films. However, I think people openly object when Disney wipes way everything they liked in order to roll out a new Expanded Universe catering to people who - and let's be honest here - never showed any interest in the old one in the first place.

      You cite here the refusal to get involved because of decades of storytelling. So, what's going to happen when the same thing happens here? If we shouldn't care about the old universe getting wiped out, what's the point in getting invested in this one because the same thing will happen. Hell, at least the old one was relatively accessible because it was so loosely connected. Writers tend to know how to build a universe, linking everything in without it all requiring hours of research. Knights of the Old Republic, for example, was closely connected to the Tales of the Jedi stories written years before its development, but that never barred people from understanding the setting. Better yet, if people did want to know, it's easier now to understand than ever before. The books explain them briefly, without intruding on events, and there's entire websites which quickly cover the whole setting and timeline.

      This isn't not about one group being "real" fans or not. It's about Disney needlessly destroying a greater setting, openly crapping on it and with people deeming those who enjoyed the EU as racists or homophobes thanks to a few outliers, then trying to shout down any objection they have to actually wanting the old universe back. The problem is that Disney's approach to the new films films is that they are, quite literally, the reason why a large chunk of the fandom can't have nice things.

    2. That's a very good reply, with several things I hadn't thought about (well apart from the racist and homophobic part - not sure what that was about).

      The original post asked for both perspectives and whilst I appreciate there are some for whom the loss of the EU is a huge thing, there is a benefit for others, otherwise why would Disney do it? Must admit, this is the first article I'd read on the matter, so I hadn't appreciated the depth of feeling around it.......

      But it appears that Disney have decided that it's easier for them to get more casual fans through the door without having to keep the films true to the EU. They've decided that they don't want the writers for the next 5 (10? 20?) films in the franchise to have to get to the same place the EU is at. I can see that this would really vex people involved with the EU, but Disney had a choice and they've decided the benefit to their franchise of killing the EU is worth it. More power to the people complaining about it, as is their right, but it's also fair to look at the benefits to others.

    3. Well, here's the thing then. All those new books, all the new material, are you going to read and keep up with them? Their reason for murdering the EU was so that everyone (not just fans who wanted to see the universe, all Star Wars fans) would jump on and start buying everything in a new expanded universe. Their idea to benefit their franchise has effectively been to shoot the old one in the head, insult everyone willing to keep up with it, and then try to make the new one with the plan on having all casual cinema-goers buy everything to keep up with a massive series of novels. The problem is that, let's face it, most of those people won't do that. You said yourself that you're mostly interested in those films and that's that, and that's the same with many others. So, at the end of the day, all they've accomplished is creating bad blood with their established audience in a desperate effort to grab onto a new one who is unwilling to make the jump Disney wants them to.

      There's a lot of other stuff atop of this - such as how the EU still existing as its own entity would have still been viable as an evolving universe, but Disney basically wanted to pilfer all its ideas - but that's a discussion for another time. As such, i'll just say that it's worth making another Marvel comparison. Look at how many people watch the cinematic universe and how many read the comics. If Marvel declared everything they'd done prior to done wasn't something worth caring about and started over, barely anyone watching the cinematic universe would want to get involved. Why? Because they enjoy the films, but that's about it.

      Anyway, to explain that bit about some unfortunate subjects of homophobia and racism, it's a weapon used against EU fans.
      One book brought out recently was called Star Wars: Aftermath. It's been widely panned by most readers as being dire beyond belief, and even its defenders admit they're mostly in it for info about the new film, stomaching the book's problems. Having read it personally, I can attest that it pales even in comparison to work on and is something you or I could honestly do a better job at covering.
      Well, the author decided to respond to this. Focusing upon a few narrow minded views complaining about a couple of openly gay characters in his book, he's started focusing only on the homophobia of a few people. He's focusing upon that, and only that with all critics, and is using gay rights effectively as a shield against criticism. So, thanks to him, a lot of people are now thinking the EU is homophobic despite establishing gay characters long before this book was ever written.

      As for the racist part, a few moronic white supremacists saw a black character in the trailer and started calling to boycott the film. A lot of people reacted to this, treated them as EU fans, and started basically widely decrying anyone wanting the EU over this as being racists.