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.