Friday, 21 October 2016
Red Lightsabers Are Everything Wrong With Disney's Star Wars
There's a question which should always be asked of any reboot - What are you going to accomplish here, that you couldn't do with the old universe?
It's a simple one of course, quite a reasonable one, but something so many previous revamps fail. While you get the odd one which manages to prove its point, many others (especially those from the comicbook side of media) constantly fail it at every turn. More often than not, because of this, the new settings end up just stealing countless ideas from the old one, turning into "stuff the fans already know, stuff they've seen, but we're claiming it's new, so it's okay to still crap on the old setting." The only thing which tends to be worse is when the company tries to do something new, and it ends up being worse than the original.
Today's case is a near perfect example of the latter problem: A needless retcon which only undermines the bigger broader universe and simplifies all which came before it. In this case it's from E.K. Johnston's Disney Star Wars novel Ahsoka, which decides to retcon everything which ever existed surrounding lightsaber crystals. To quote Movieweb.com's explanation -
"In Ahsoka, it is revealed that the Kyber crystals are actually force sensitive. They choose their desired users and present themselves to the Jedi in question. Those who use the Dark Side of the Force, such as the Sith, don't have this unique connection to the crystals. The only way a Sith can get ahold of a Kyber crystal is by stealing them or taking them away from the defeated Jedi.
The crystal loses its original hue as the Sith, or other Dark Side users of the Force bends the Kyber to their own will. This results in the Kyber crystal 'bleeding', thus turning it red. A crystal that has been tainted by the Dark Side can be healed. But it doesn't return to its normal color, it instead turns white."
This might seem fine at first glance, or even an interesting concept on the whole, until you ask that same question - What does this add which wasn't already there?
Okay, lightsabers retain some Force sensitive elements and are tailored to their creator. We already knew that, but rather than it being down to a potentially mythical trance or moment of self-discovery on the part of the wielder, we get into some drawn out destiny nonsense. Something which, even counting the mystical qualities of such an idea, is already heavily overdone in this setting.
Lightsaber colours now mean different things and reflect the user's abilities, okay. The problem is, we also already had that as well. The colours themselves (while not universal) were generally associated with a certain Order or sect within the Jedi, and some were closely linked to certain groups over others. What's more, the fact the user chose the crystals for themselves quite often reflected more of their personality because it was an intentional choice, and often reflected their background in some way.
Well, we do also know that a Dark Side lightsaber can be carried by a Jedi, and vice versa. True enough, but once again, we already knew this as well. More than a few stories featured Jedi carrying the blade of a fallen foe, or a warrior taking a lightsaber as a trophy from a fallen enemy. The Jedi Order even kept certain blades for itself, guarding them and studying them, which is how Exar Kun came upon one of his more famous weapons. In addition to this, one of the most famous lightsabers repeatedly changed hands several times. Anakin Skywalker's weapon was first carried by himself, then his son, then Luke's insane clone, and was finally then earned by Mara Jade. That, and the history its wielders could feel through the Force surrounding it, was usually enough to give it a sense of legacy without it flipping colours every other minute.
Finally, we then have the detail that the Sith cannot use these crystals for themselves, and follow a different pattern of life from the Jedi. Okay, again, that's not really all that different from last time. The Jedi and Sith previously operated on completely different mental wavelengths when it came to constructing these blades, and the Sith did not actively hunt them down for themselves.
Once you truly sit down, once you truly start looking into this, it's quickly clear all we have gained is an exceptionally vast plot hole. Really, this is quite simply lore destroying stuff, and it is quite astounding that an author could get away with putting this into a book. Don't believe me? Consider that bit about the Sith for a moment, and then ask yourself this - Why is the lightsaber the official weapon of a Sith?
The fact the Sith themselves cannot take up such a weapon without murdering another makes it extremely difficult to obtain. It means that every single Sith recruit needs to hunt down and kill a Jedi just to be accepted into their rank and, combined with their typical attrition rate born of backstabbing, this means they would have a fraction of the Jedi Order's numbers. Worse still, it limits them to a weapon they can only obtain by leeching off of their worst foes, making their whole conflict pointless and at best turning events like Order 66 into a kind of mutual kill for their kind. Sure, they've killed off the Jedi like they always wanted, but they have no means for their apprentices to forge new weapons.
This also undermines their image. Rather than using something more beneficial like swords forged from mandalorian iron (assuming those are not going to be screwed over as well), this theft approach means the Sith aren't so much dark overlords as opportunistic thieves. A group hanging around and stealing things from others, incapable of making their own way in the galaxy without taking the Jedi's stuff. There's no longer this sense of balance between two different but ultimately equal sides. It's just one side being dominant, and the other trying to murder their members and live off of their scraps.
Then, atop of this, you have to factor in how this suddenly makes the Dark Side appear as if it is no natural part of the Force itself. These crystals are supposed to reflect the Force, right? Okay, then surely the whole destiny angle - something which works as strongly within the Sith as it does the Jedi - should mean there are those bound for Dark Side practitioners. Nope, apparently we're ignoring that.
Really, it's not a hard question to ask, and the more you think about it, the less sense their use of these weapons makes. Even without getting to insane stuff, like the Death Star running on these things (because you just had to go and pinch lightsaber inspired superweapon ideas from Darksaber of all places, didn't you Disney) this creates more continuity problems and questions than anything it resolves.
So, nothing of any real worth has been added. It just has most of the same qualities but different terms. What, then, have we lost?
Well, a great deal of subtext highlighting the differences between the two orders and a large chunk of their history. You see, the Sith and Jedi originated from the same world in the Expanded Universe, and their split stemmed from an ideological conflict. The lightsaber's very history stemmed from that dark time, and ironically enough it was this conflict which ultimately spawned it. It was as much a symbol for the changing galaxy as it was their evolution, and how it was used by each side better reflected their nature. In the simplest terms - As the Jedi valued harmony and slower means, using natural crystals made sense, while the more forceful and driven Sith's artificial creations emphasized how they took the quick and easy path. The path which allowed them to bend aspects of the galaxy to their power and will.
Even beyond this though, the actual nature of the crystals themselves was highly flexible. Originally, there were a multitude of other designs, other materials which could be used to focus and forge the blades. While some were faulty or ill advised, it allowed a Jedi or Sith to have more a reflection upon their background and more character to the weapons they built. In its place now, all we have is a rock which chooses its owner. So, in short, what we've lost is a sense of legacy and history to the setting, and what's we've gained is illogical gibberish.
If this was even just a one off, that might have been acceptable. Yet the problem is that this keeps happening, over and over again. No thought has been put into any of this, no preperation, and going from what has been written elsewhere, there is no communication either. This is akin to allowing authors to run rampant across a setting with no guidance or established taboos. This is something harmful enough for an established universe, just look at what Karen Traviss did to the Expanded Universe's later arcs, but allowing this to happen so early on is tantamount to suicide. There's no effort to establish set rules here, so everything is already breaking down. As more and more cracks appear as it goes along, the thing will slowly collapse into itself thanks to a sheer lack of cohesion.
Yet, Disney does not care. They aren't bothered that this is the treatment their new universe is receiving, nor that the quality of the new novels is in the gutter and sinking fast. So long as it can tie into their big, shiny new cash cow they plan to milk dry, so long as it earns them a bit more cash while they ride it into the ground, that's fine to them. It's as simple as that - They don't want a good universe. They don't even want good stories, they just want a few more bucks from Star Wars fans who don't give a damn. The sort who would never have bothered to pick up a book until someone showed them something big, shiny and exciting on a big screen.
Does this mean that Star Wars is going to die? No. It's too massive to outright kill, but it's not immune to decay. As it goes along, as it is dragged out, I honestly think the overall franchise will start to slump inwards and become something akin to the current DC Comics Cinematic Universe; a bloated failure churning out poorly constructed or incoherent messes of works as times marches on.
While the term "they changed it, now it sucks" might be eye-rolling, in this case they did change it and it does suck. It's one of a multitude of abrupt changes which really adds nothing to the overall universe, and seems to change things without any rhyme or reason. From the insane Stormtrooper retcon to try and reinforce their ineptitude, to cortosis being abruptly changed from a lightsaber resistant/deactivating metal to something which can slightly resist blaster bolts, each one is change purely for the sake of change. The only thing this retcon has added, like so much of the new Star Wars setting, is to force gaping contradictions into the new universe they're trying to build.
Retcons like this only serve to prove that Disney is either drunk at the wheel, or they're trying to build a skyscraper without bothering with its foundations. Take your pick.