Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Why I Will Remember Star Wars VII As A Failure


As my hands rest against the keyboard, I realise this is an article i've attempted to write almost a dozen times now. There's so much here to critique, so many angles which might allow the subject of Episode VII to be discussed. Ultimately the problem is none of them carry the full weight of what i'm about to say. I've always tried to keep personal details away from this blog, something i've kept up in some attempt at professionalism as much as avoiding troll baiting. Sometimes however, you just need to open up and tell the full story. Rather than an analytical article, this is going to be more of your common blog post about what Star Wars meant to me personally. Namely in how it shaped my future and why that means the upcoming film is doomed to be a failure in my eyes.

Were it not for Star Wars you would not be reading these words. While many usually say this referring to how it drew them into the science fiction genre - and i'll admit that's equally true here - it's one of several reasons i'm capable of reading and writing. The truth is that, well, i'm dyslexic. Even in the early years of high school, I was still stumbling over some basic words, struggling to string certain sentences together and even get a basic grasp on grammar. You've probably seen signs of this, especially in my older works, where basic structure seems skewed and obvious mistakes are rather rampant. For all that though I was, at least, writing and Star Wars was to thank for that.

The franchise was hardly the only driving force which allowed me to actually start comprehending the English language. A great deal of credit needs to be given to a very kind, very patient teacher who was willing to even move schools with me to keep serving as my tutor. Her contributions, her time and efforts cannot be denied, but just as she was teaching me in class, there's no denying that my comprehension of words, terms and the like started to seriously improve upon taking up reading as a hobby. Just as Warhammer 40,000 assisted me in learning basic multiplication and arithmetic - yes, you're reading about someone unfortunate enough to be plagued with dyscalculia as well - Star Wars helped me to read through its video games.


Unlike many, it seemed I was one of the few who watched the original trilogy asking "what's just beyond the screen?" When the characters talked about Kessel, Lando's past or the efforts to steal the Death Star plans, I was less content with the basic information and kept asking "How did that happen?" "What followed that?" "What happened between films?" "Who else was a part of the Rebellion?" Eventually I discovered LucasArts had given us the answers. This was in the era of the N64, so spoken word in video games was in its infancy. Even those which used it tended to feature very muffled or difficult lines, such as Rogue Squadron. As such, my first chances to truly learn about the bigger setting were stumped from the outset. Rather than merely learning in class, I started actively trying to force myself to read things beyond it, usually assisted by another person. 

Gradually I started to learn more of the story and how things had played out, and started to value the pilots alongside the heroes. Being seven at the time, seeing the characters beyond Luke, Han or the others receiving even a vague storyline came as something of a shock. They introduced me to the feeling that many of the drama fodder accompanying the heroes were characters in their own right, actual people, and as were many Imperials. Seeing Kasan Moor, an Imperial squadron leader, defecting thanks to the Empire destroying Alderaan actually gave many of those the heroes were gunning down a face. They weren't robots or emotionless drones, each were humans in their own right. It was more depth than most of the black an white morality plays of my childhood had been willing to explore, and even the major films themselves.


Over time my hunger for more stories expanded to other games with Shadows of the Empire depicting how events had played out between films and even led into other series such as the seminal Legend of Zelda. However, one thing always stuck in my mind during all of this: Rogue Squadron's final level. Rather than being set between films, it showed a battle set on Mon Calamari where the Rebellion was fighting an entirely new war, years after Return of the Jedi. The game mentioned that the Emperor had been reborn, hinting of a darker, more desperate time with small bands of fighters desperately trying to hold back titanic siege engines known as World Devastators. The idea that there was an even bigger universe out there, kept needling me until I started to find these novels. It was quite a shock when I finally found them.

Despite starting on the venerated X-Wing series, and admittedly wondering where the events of the game were for a while, after a couple of years I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the New Jedi Order, specifically Dark Tide I: Onslaught. While still visibly Star Wars, the universe had been distorted and changed in some astounding ways. Chewbacca was dead, the New Republic had been fully established and had made peace with the Empire, the Jedi Order was rebuilt, and there was an entirely new enemy emerging from outside the galaxy. One who not only could fight the Jedi to a standstill but had no presence in the Force. Many say that bigger settings and big continuities drive readers away, but in this case it had me hooked. I hungered to know how this had all come about, how all the massive changes had started to come into play. Here, continuity and wanting to know about the stories which had led up to that point dragged me in, and I was ready to hunt every one of them down and read them. More importantly though, it showed me just how vast certain settings can become or how they could evolve.


Rather than be relatively isolated, the New Jedi Order linked into countless books across the Expanded Universe's history, intertwining themselves into everything from the Marvel Comics to the Thrawn trilogy. Over time we witnessed the series using that to its benefit, setting up some of the best character arcs the universe had seen and showing dramatic, but ultimately extremely natural changes to the new generation. Jaina Solo becoming the Sword of the Jedi, Jacen's growing resentment of his powers before embracing a greater understanding of them, and the new pilots of Rogue Squadron; all came into play. Across the twenty or so books, the various authors pushed for new ways to explore these characters and - no pun intended - expanded upon that had come before it. Compared with the arcs of the original trilogy such as Luke's slow growth, these were complex and dramatic sagas in their own right.

Showing how a universe could gradually evolve and utterly change pushed me into new settings. My interest in Dune, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, DC Comics, Black Library, and even the works of Bernard Cornwell all stemmed from this. Rather than, as is the cliched opinion, turning me into a basement dwelling obsessive only focused upon a single setting, it encouraged me to embrace all others. It encouraged me to try and see how others could construct whole new worlds within their narrative, building into a true setting rather than limiting themselves to a single, simple storyline. Perhaps most importantly though, it helped me to keep my sanity.

When I think back to my time of my education there is simply a blank haze. There's little which truly comes to mind and I have spent a long time desperately trying to forget most of what took place. Only two still remain and neither are especially pleasant. The first, towards the end of middle school, is of a mob standing over me, kicking me unto submission. The second was being taken to hospital to ensure that someone's exceptionally violent beatings had not fractured my skull. I was a science fiction fan, and my learning disabilities left me regulated to the bottom set in any class involving English or Maths. I was an easy target for thugs looking for a new plaything. Were it not for the escapism of those books, I probably would have drowned myself long before graduation. That or, given my hatred for certain classmates, perhaps something much worse. I won't claim to be someone who suffered the most traumatic time at school; only that I feel nothing but rage, frustration and pain when thinking back to those times. It's no exaggeration to say that Star Wars helped me retain hope in an extremely bleak chapter my life.

Even after finally escaping high school however, I did not stop reading. While they might have served as a crutch, keeping me going, the enjoyment I felt in keeping up to date with that universe never diminished. While I might not have had many happy memories, returning to those books time and time again brought a fresh wave of nostalgia each time. I would remember the joy of seeing each battle, each chase and each moment of fun, but at the same time it wasn't purely thanks to that childhood connection. So often, I would read over the same book but gain greater comprehension, better understanding themes or subtleties I had missed when first thumbing through their pages. Many times I would find new elements, new links or ideas, or even commentary and read off of those, searching for new stories. Their quality never lessened over time, but I nevertheless developed as a reader and a person.

For all of that joy though, I never looked through those novels with rose tinted glasses. The Expanded Universe was mighty, dynamic and massive, but certainly flawed. The likes of Darksaber or Karven Traviss' works were something I still hold up as major creative failures among successes of their eras. Many times I would see mistakes made by new creators or old cliches overplayed, perhaps even terrible concepts which never should have been invented in the first place. Yet for all of this, it was here I actually learned to enjoy a franchise as a fan truly should. I learned that you didn't need to aggressively defend everything, adamantly love every story, and that fans should learn to enjoy franchises despite their flaws. More importantly however, it allowed me to remain optimistic in spite of storytelling failures. 


For every terrible story, for every terrible decision or botched concept, quite often we'd see something better emerge from its ideas. While Palpatine's return might have been a flawed chapter, it led to many fantastic spin-offs such as the Crimson Empire series. While Kevin J Anderson might have overplayed the super-weapon cliche, it led to the Hand of Thrawn duology, Star Wars: Leviathan and a more dynamic era. Even as the Sun Crusher dominated Jedi Academy Trilogy might have led to a parade of mind-numbing stupid moments, it planted the seeds for new stories. We saw the Jedi being rebuilt, Kyp Durron would slowly transform into a better character, we saw a moment which explicitly depicted the Light Side having advantage over the Dark Side of the Force, and it led to I, Jedi. No matter how dark or dumb things seemed, you could always be sure some good would slowly emerge from them.

While I might not have kept fully up to date with the series past the New Jedi Order into Legacy of the Force, I always returned for the books which interested me. As Knights of the Old Republic emerged from development and new installments such the Shadows of Mindor were written, I found myself returning and even keeping up to date with the slowly evolving universe. Even as I objected to some of the dumber stories, I could always appreciate the ever evolving narrative and huge scale of the universe, finding solace in how a massive, thriving setting had sprung forth from a relatively simple trilogy. Of course, this is no longer the case, is it. 

Even with hundreds upon thousands, perhaps millions, of fans devoted to the EU, Disney came. Disney took one look at this beloved, thriving place and slit its throat. They declared it worthless. They declared that it did not suit their needs, and determined that its existence didn't serve the "true" fans of Star Wars. You know, not those who had read the additional material, but merely the people who had perhaps glanced at the films once or twice. Not those who actually cared about the setting or how the characters evolved, but those who would saw the enjoyment of Star Wars as an excuse to try and crack open a fan's cranium. They didn't want a true setting. In the typical modus operandi these executive shit-stains running the corporation operate on, they didn't bother to actually stop and think. No, instead, they decided that rather than putting any effort in they were just going to plagiarize everything.

There's no denying that greed drove Disney into murdering the Star Wars universe, it's obvious wherever you look. They have been putting out all the stops to sell as much merchandise as possible and hype up the "continuation" of the story, all the while openly defecating on anything which actually developed the story. That would be bad enough, but then you have all those lovely attempts to steal ideas. You see, the likes of Thrawn, Corran Horn, Revan, Mara Jade, Darth Bane and others are all owned by authors. They created them and have some say in how things develop, and Disney doesn't want that. Disney wants dig their claws into any idea or concept, and wholly own it for themselves, not bothering to credit or reward those who created them. As such, after they lambasted everything involving the EU, we start to see hints creeping in. We start to see old stories emerging all over again, plots already well trodden re-appearing an EU exclusive species showing up under Disney control.

So we have many old ideas being repeated over and over again, but things start to get far worse than that quite quickly. We start to see very slightly edited older versions of characters emerging in Disney's new series or works, claiming to be wholly original all the while mysteriously resembling EU characters quite closely. Don't believe me? Let's take this example of Rebels' Kanan Jarrus:



Now here's Kyle Katarn, protagonist of Dark Forces, Jedi Knight and quite a few other EU Star Wars series:



Don't see it yet? Well, here's Jarrus with a slightly larger beard and slightly different coloured clothing:


See Original Image Here

Oh, that's rather unfortunate, isn't it? Still, at least they're wholly different characters. I mean, they're only both Rebel special agents loosely attached to the Alliance, learning to use their force powers in an age where the Jedi are being hunted down. They're only both fighting a Sith Inquisitor with aspirations for power, hunting for information on Jedi relics and flying around in a beaten up freighter with an amusing droid and another agent voiced by Vanessa Marshall. It's not like they have exactly the same quips, exactly the same reactions and exactly the same personality, right?

...

Yeah, they're the same fucking character. It's just that one, to try and sidestep any ownership issues, is a slightly re-edited version of the other. You might not believe this, but Disney is actually engaged in acts of "ORIGINAL CHARACTER, DO NOT STEAL!!" usually reserved for rabid twelve year olds on DeviantArt. Hard as it might be for Disney to understand, but murdering something fans loved will not earn their loyalty. Ripping off its metaphorical face and parading about in it, pretending to be the EU, will only earn the undying bloody hatred of anyone who once loved that setting.

When you actually strip away all the stuff Disney's authors stolen, all the stuff they've replicated or tried to life from that "flawed and failing" setting they relentlessly crap on, you're left with very little. Almost all of that shred left, those fragments of stories, serve only to try and hype Episode VII in some way, be it hints of what will follow or vague suggestions of what will become of the characters. They're often not stories in their own right, but mere vehicles for the Disney hype machine. So, what we're left with isn't some new age for better novels, some new push to build a bigger universe, but a single storyline. The simple idea that all that matters is the visual media, and that unless it serves as their propaganda machine, the novels can burn for all they care.

This is the respect the Expanded Universe gets for keeping Star Wars alive for decades, long after the films had been forgotten and further helping to hype their return. Whatever else you can say about the prequels which were bad, the vast majority of the comics, novels, shows and material it spawned via the Expanded Universe were all pretty damn solid. And guess what else? The prequels fitted into the Expanded Universe without too much trouble. A few rectons here and there were all that were needed, because the universe adapted, altered and shifted to suit them. Apparently though, that isn't good enough for a shit peddling failure of a director like JJ "I can't be bothered to do research beyond pop culture, so burn everything" Abrams.

So, unless VII manages to make up for the loss of multiple generations of characters, unless it makes up for the loss of any push for original material not driven by nostalgia for the opening trilogy, unless it can make up for the loss of everything worth caring about with Star Wars, it will be a failure. Unless, in two hours, it can replace everything we lost for two decades, then the franchise will be left as a lesser shadow of itself. So please, don't try to stop and defend this move by claiming it somehow build a better fucking setting.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing the experience, while I'm fortunate enough not to have anything like dyslexia or dyscalculia to overcome, I'm amazed you were able to overcome both and write this blog, as well as all of the reviews you've written. It also helps to get some perspective too.

    As a slight aside, the Star Wars EU was one of those that also had me think about what lives nameless characters have, though for me it was a story that took place after Solo was captured in the second movie, but before he was frozen in Carbonite.
    To sum it up, in the story, Solo was telling one of Jabba's scribes some personal stories, as the scribe wanted to record memoirs of Solo since he thought he was going to die. One of those stories had Solo sneak hide in an area to dodge around some Imperials, and as he waited he heard a conversation between two of them about how one of them had kids, and how he was looking forward to seeing them on his next shore leave. After they discuss this and some other things that they plan to do on their next leave, they walk out, and Solo leaves his hiding place, knowing that it's likely he or some Rebels will have to kill the two of them later. The last thing he mentions to the scribe is that he'd much rather that he didn't hear that conversation, as he feels it makes the aftermath (given how many people with families he'd have killed) much harder to live through.

    The series also helped me learn how to read thanks to Jedi Academy, X-wing, and Shadows of the Empire, but to be fully honest that was entirely due to my age at the time of playing them (I was very young), and not anything else.

    Of course now that's all gone. I'm willing to give the movie a chance, but only as a movie. I don't care where Disney goes with the new universe, personally I can't see them doing anything besides retreading old plot points (going by the new books and what you've listed here I've definitely got some evidence to back that up), just like what happened with DC and their new 52 universe.

    I do understand the rage though, it's honestly how I feel about a lot of what GW did with 40k. To put it shortly, they traded out this (yes it actually is what it looks like): https://1d4chan.org/images/2/23/Tau_city.jpg
    In favour of this: http://miniset.net/files/set/gw-99120113036_6.jpg
    And I was also able to watch my favourite hobbyist magazine, the one that taught me how to create a gaming table and a massive Dwarf fortress for siege fights, turn into a catalog for the next newest thing as they rewrote the universe again and again to keep selling the next biggest thing, just like what Disney is doing now with their books/shows/models/games/this next movie.

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    1. Yeah, it's not a subject I would have liked to have brought up in all honesty, but to really emphasise just why i'll always view VII as a failure along with Disney's treatment of the EU, it needed to be said. Unfortunately, as expected, it's brought the trolls out in force, but that's at least offset by the catharsis of blocking messages filled with nothing but pointless hatred.

      Yeah, and the setting features a surprising amount of awareness when it comes to that subject. While it did slip up more than once, or featured a mustache twirling villain, many authors were more than willing to show shades of grey. That's one good example of offering many of the faceless enemies some level of depth, and the likes of Jedi Outcast (admittedly a video game), Old Republic: Annihilation and Death Star. Hell, New Jedi Order offered one of the single most relentless, merciless and downright sadistic force of aliens to be added to a world renowned sci-fi setting, and even then they opted to humanize them after a while. Damn shame that the new books have mostly gone in the opposite direction.

      As for giving the film a chance, well, each to their own. As you said though, they're probably going to end up just retreading a lot of old territory or screwing stuff up, something they've already started to do. Want to know what Marvel's big new series they were excited to cover, hyping the idea of new story ideas? Seeing Obi-Wan with Anakin as his padawn. No, that's not a joke unfortunately. Really, it's just like you said, the whole thing is badly botched in a desperate effort to build hype. Rather than using the film as a starting point, everything exists only to hype the next film.

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    2. So I'm just morbidly curious, which got you more hate messages? This or the article where you bashed My Little Pony?

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    3. Not nearly as many but the content is certainly far worse. The MLP mudslinging was at least funny in its own way, but the stuff i've been blocking on here is downright hateful. Not the internet nerd rage kind of hateful, but the kind of hateful where someone is openly threatening your family.

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  2. Agreed. Hell, I'll confess that I knew nothing of Kyle Katarn, Thrawn and others. My knowledge of EU was minimal. Then I came across a mod for Empire at War called Thrawn's Revenge. It was then I was formally introduced to the genius that way Thrawn and all the cool things in EU.

    Sure in the base EAW expansion, thrawn was there, but he only served as a dummy for a merc lord to bully. How did a bunch of mercs steal the unfinished eclipse is nothing short of Deus ex Machina. But the mod piqued my curiosity and I read up about Thrawn.

    So far, VII seems to be pulling nothing but nostalgia strings. And the supplementary materials seems lacklasture. Heck, Rebels feel like Naruto with a Star Wars skin on it. Especially the Main Character. In short, this killed any hype and expectations I had for VII and will judge it as a separate series.

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  3. Wow, just wow! Well done on laying out your soul on the inter webs. Overall I was a bit disappointed in the new Star Wars movie due to the space battles. Since at the same time was reading the White Scars novel and the little tie fighters vs X wing fights just can't compare to the 40k scale and is diminished as a result. Was fun to see Han Solo out in action again though. Honestly even though I've enjoyed reading the EU stories, it's just fiction novels so don't feel 'betrayed' to the level you seem to be feeling.

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    1. I'm sorry, you read all of that, you know full well jsut where i'm coming from and you promptly declare "don't feel betrayed"? Good sir, I rarely say this in any matter, but fuck you. Fuck you long and fucking hard for even saying that I shouldn't get angry over seeing a universe I loved cast aside, wiped out and shat on by a hack who couldn't make a halfway decent product if you pointed a gun at his head. I have every right to feel betrayed when the setting I loved was put to the torch and is now little more than a source of material for new failures of writers to pillage ideas from and claim it was their own.

      You enjoyed seeing Han Solo in action again? Guess what, to the fans of Star Wars who actually cared enough to keep up with things he never left, and he certainly had no end of great moments. He certainly was valued enough to not be thrown aside and used as a sacrificial lion to some mewling excuse of a villain stolen from a dozen other sources.

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  4. Its wonderful knowing someone else actually shares my opinion on this whole thing. Everyone keeps saying its fan fiction, that it never mattered, only the movies mattered. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

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    1. It's The Farce Awakens that should be considered fan-fiction. Jar Jar Abrams is not a true Star Wars fan. I like The Clone Wars and think Rebels is decent because despite their differences from the Expanded Universe, there's real passion and effort put into both series, especially when they focussed on Ahsoka Tano, my favourite Star Wars character of all time. Although we saw less of Ahsoka in Rebels, her confrontation with Darth Vader didn't merely satisfy my expectations but surpassed them. I'm a guy with high standards and not only did they give Ahsoka a phenomenal final episode but they also showed respect for the audience by leaving the victor of Ahsoka and Vader's duel ambiguous, allowing us to make up our own minds about whether she survived or not. Personally, I think she survived but some would argue that the brief glimpse of her at the end was meant to symbolize her becoming one with the Force. Respect for the audience is uncommon, if not downright rare these day and quite frankly, most audiences don't deserve it anyway, since most hate and insult something they don't understand. Few people actually respect art anymore. Since Ahsoka left, I haven't been as interested in Rebels but at least they're trying to do Admiral Thrawn justice considering Disney has all but forbidden them from doing a screen adaptation of the books. What I like most about Thrawn is that he was written in a way that allowed the people making Rebels to subtly insult those corrupt fuckers who ruined the Original Trilogy and the Expanded Universe stories that took place after it (I'm not bothered about The Clone Wars and Rebels replacing their respective sections of the EU because of Ahsoka, the fact that George Lucas himself was involved with TCW and Dave Filoni), due to Thrawn having great respect for art. Thrawn is a villain, yet he still has higher standards and respects art more than most people. That says a lot about what humanity is like these days, doesn't it? Heck, I think the fact that Thrawn's an alien exemplifies the fact that a large part of the human race is made up of idiots and assholes who hurl insults at artists. Both The Clone Wars and Rebels should remain canon in my opinion but The Farce Awakens should have never even been made, let alone called a continuation of the Star Wars saga.

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  5. I kinda liked the fact that the the Grey area of SW would be explored more freely. Even if flawed in some aspects, I really liked ideas like the Potentium and seeing then being bastardized because of Lucas obssession with "Jedis views are the correct ones" always angered me. There is a lot ways of making the universe more interesting if you drop some of Lucas ideas Abou the Force. But of course they had to be lazy fucks and create a future where the rebellion achieves nothing and even character arcs are retconned

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    1. One of the most important things about the prequels were that the Jedi views were not necessarily right. Hell, even the Original Trilogy touched on "a certain point of view" in ROTJ but in the prequels, George Lucas went out of his way to show that both the Jedi and the Republic were destroying themselves. I'm not trying to attack you but you must misunderstand what George was trying to get across. He didn't intend to say the Jedi were right and the Sith were wrong. Count Dooku's belief that the Republic was corrupt was completely right and even Palpatine said "Good is a point of view". George was saying that becoming too rigid, arrogant and unwilling to change can end up destroying everything you stand for. It's a lesson that Hollywood has ignored and at this rate, it seems they will continue to do so until they destroy themselves from the inside. People keep complaining about the prequels for surface reasons and either can't or simply don't try to understand what's underneath. And honestly the surfaces of the films aren't nearly as bad as the haters make them out to be; the visuals are creative especially with the variety of planets, the fighting is great and while people complain about the acting, I think that most of the main performers, including Hayden Christiansen who conveyed a lot with just his expressions and body language, could act circles around Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver (although to Driver's credit he was okay, albeit not good, while he was with Harrison Ford). While, for me, the surface layer of the prequels still hold up okay - they aren't perfect and yes, Jar Jar Binks could be annoying, but arguably there's no such thing as a perfect film, simply because any film will always have people who don't like it - it's the lessons the prequels are trying to teach that makes them timeless and that is the most important reason why they are vastly better than The Force Awakens. Even the haters can't deny that the prequels are still being talked about all these years later, partially because it's often them doing the talking. The people who like the prequels often used to just stay out of their way but now that The Force Awakens has wounded Star Wars, most likely beyond repair, more people are voicing their appreciation for the prequels.

      Sorry if I came across as pretentious. I have a tendency to write long posts.

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  6. I felt pretty much the same way when Disney decided to go 'Nope!' to the EU. Especially considering that Episode VII was Episode IV 2: the Electric Boogaloo.

    Funnily enough my first piece of EU that I read was the Jedi Academy trilogy. I was way too young to notice the...questionable bits, and was so enamoured of the fact that writers had continued the universe that I was entranced.

    I get by the sheer BS of Disney by telling myself what I do whenever the companies make questionable choices over beloved franchises: "Do I REALLY give a crap what they think?"

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    1. Honestly, I wish I could take that same viewpoint, I really do. The problem is, they went the extra mile to crap on this one and de-legitimise it in every sense of the word. If they just did something to justify this massive retcon, if they just made some concession towards old fans like claiming the EU is an alternate timeline, that would be enough. Instead, we're just repeatedly beaten over the head with how all of the EU is simply lies, myths and falsehoods, full of ideas to be whored out to their new setting.

      Still, thank you for confirming I was not the only one who felt this way when it came to The Force Awakens. It is good to know that there are others who did not overlook that film's failings.

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