Remixing Star Wars is a recipe for failure.
Yes, it’s just my opinion and I have been wrong but I will make a case for why I think even if this show is a winner, the genre suffers despite its success. The problem is systemic.
Star Wars Galaxy Adventures: Where the colors are brighter, the villains darker, and the heroes are more cinematic than ever. Should we care? Is it a good thing? Why does it seem so familiar? Why does this seem like a bad thing to me? Am I just too old to see the benefits of this revival? Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with new versions of old characters being redrawn and stylized for a new generation.
I know: This is a lot of questions for a guy who calls himself, The Answer-Man. Bear with me a moment and I’ll explain why I think this is, no matter whether it’s successful or not, a miss for the industry.
How Much is Too Much
It’s been four decades since the first Star Wars movie was released. Here’s the timeline of all the official movies and television series (not including any books spawned from the original writings before Lucas sold the rights.) Since we are talking about the animated aspects of Star Wars, I have highlighted those.
1977: Episode IV (A New Hope)
1980: Episode V (Empire Strikes Back)
1983: Episode VI (Return Of The Jedi)
1999: Episode I (The Phantom Menace)
2002: Episode II (Attack Of The Clones)
2003: TV Series: Star Wars: Clone Wars (Season: 3, Episodes: 25)
2005: Episode III (Revenge Of The Sith)
2008: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (movie)
2008: TV Series: The Clone Wars (Seasons: 6, Episodes 121)
2014: TV Series: Rebels (2014) (Seasons: 4, Episodes: 75)
2015: Episode VII (The Force Awakens)
2016: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2017: Episode VIII (The Last Jedi)
2018: Solo: A Star Wars Story
2019: Episode IX
My goodness, that’s a lot of Star Wars. There would appear to be something for everyone. Movies for the adults, a host of animated series in a variety of styles and story-telling techniques. I am going to take a quick look at the animated series…
Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003) Genndy Tartakovsky (the same talented writer, director, producer known for Dexter’s Laboratory, Sym-Bionic Titan and the famed Samurai Jack) took us back into the Star Wars Universe with a collection of short animate videos featuring a young Anakin Skywalker and his erstwhile master, Obi Wan Kenobi. A kinetic storyline, featuring the Clone Troopers, new Jedi and new Sith enemies. We are privy to an era in the Star Wars Universe only hinted about between the Confederacy and the Sith Lords.
The high point of the series is the introduction of General Grievous and Asajj Ventress, new characters who had a lasting impression. Despite the short format, Tartakovsky took home the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, twice. The 130 minute movie made by Tartakovsky in 2008 based on the shorts, is the finest Star Wars movie ever made. A beautiful spectacle which brings Star Wars to life in a way nothing before it ever did. Yes, you can quote me on that. Tartakovsky doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Don’t take my word for it. Let the next six and a half minutes make my point. (Go, Mace, go!)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) was a revisit to the Star Wars Universe first envisioned by Tartakovsky but now told in 22 minute segments, with a more fully developed storyline. This was an American 3D CGI animated television series created by Lucasfilm Animation. The series is slower paced and has episodes dedicated to character development and exploration of the Star Wars Universe. The first series, Clone Wars revealed there was a hunger for animated stories set in the Star Wars Universe, and THE Clone Wars (2008) would become the definitive version of those stories, supplanting Tartakovsky’s version as the canon Clone War stories in the animated format. (But never in my heart.)
Star Wars: Rebels (2014) recently ended its run in 2018 to rave reviews. With its story beginning fourteen years after Revenge of the Sith and five years before A New Hope, Rebels takes place during an era when the Galactic Empire is securing its grip on the galaxy. Imperial forces are hunting down the last of the Jedi Knights while a fledgling rebellion against the Empire is taking form. Of the three series, Rebels feels the freshest and has the feeling of being something distinctly new and different. I think this is where my misgivings about this new Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures stories are being derived from.
Welcome to Rebootopia
Rebootopia1: a portmanteau I created fusing reboot and dystopia, used primarily as a pejorative. I define it as a condition where a movie or series is rebooted for no apparent reason other than a nostalgia-based cash grab. I coined the phrase to define my personal disgust with Hollywood’s current obsession with remaking old series anew trying to cash in on the nostalgia of previous eras. The poster child for such nostalgia-grabbing the the new version of Robo-Cop, which completely retells the original movie but in no way improves upon it except for twenty years of better special effects. The subversive heart of Robo-Cop is lost in translation. Robo-Cop is a B-movie, no doubt. But it was a B-movie with something to say about corporate America, greed and the economic politics common to major cities, and it said it without taking itself too seriously. Since the revised Robo-Cop, movie executives have gone berserk rebooting television and movies, hoping to cash in on the good vibrations of previous eras.
Why does Star Wars: Rebels not bother me but Star Wars Galaxy does? Because while Rebels is based in another Prequel-Zone, we don’t know most of the characters and their existence is entirely their own. They could live and die and not affect the main Star Wars legacy in any significant way. Thus the stories have the potential of being new, different and the fate of those characters can still matter to me and other viewers. It’s why I believe the Star Wars prequel movies leave me cold. I already know the outcome. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Han Solo lives, he’s likely to be betrayed. He takes it in stride. Yawn. The most daring thing Star Wars did was to kill the entire cast of Rogue One. The entire diverse cast… A conversation for another time.
Instead, Star Wars Galaxies is retelling OLD stories anew. This isn’t new or different. If the clips I am viewing are any indication, I am seeing OLD Star Wars, 40 year old Star Wars being redrawn, anime/manga style, making everything over again, stylizing it, glamorizing it, frosting it in a way that only a retelling of a story could do. Everything seems bigger, the fights more glamorous, every interaction between the characters retold from the point of view of fans who are getting to play again with the toys of an earlier generation and making their new thing BIGGER, BOLDER and more fantastic than the earlier version.
An example you say: An example I have. Remember the scene where Obi Wan gives Luke his light saber for the first time? Sure you do. Everyone remembers their first laser sword. He activates it, waves it around for a bit and turns it off. In the animation, we get the same scene but amplified. His hair blows back, he’s light by the sword, he imagines swinging it around in a classic Jedi fight kata. All of this is what we thought to ourselves, but in this animation, they show it to you. Remember, when Obi-Wan and Vader fight later, it is not the acrobatic bouncy style we have come to associate with the Jedi. Back then, they looked more like fencers than acrobats.
In this retelling, we are changing the experience. I know, to everyone else this sounds fine. Unless you are like me, and you are craving something NEW.
Everything is a Remix
Here’s where I step away and give you a bit of perspective: I remember a series of web videos called Everything is a Remix. You can watch this highly acclaimed video on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/139094998). In this excellent film analysis series, it describes the nature of cinema and how its evolution has altered the way stories are told.
The most important thing I walked away with after seeing this series is there are no new stories. Even when you think what you are seeing is new, it is inevitable affected by some sensibility, some ideas, from the era before it. To give you a tangible example, look at the scenes when Tie Fighters and X-wings battle over Star Destroyers in space. Does it seem familiar to you?
It would if you were familiar with old military films like the Battle of Midway. Star Wars was made to invoke the very same feelings those old World War II at sea battles did. Tight space, small ships, crazy air battles between two forces, supported by the battleships who are also fighting against other larger ships.
Nothing you see, or almost nothing you see, stands alone. Directors take their best shots from other movies. Actors imitate the best of their era every chance they get. What you are seeing when you see a movie, is a director’s perspective on what he or she wants to evoke from the lexicon of movies that have gone before.
Are there new scenes which don’t do this? Sure. But if there are too many, viewers may grow restless, because what they are looking for is the successful genetic transfer of scenes which gave them a particular feeling, which a good director has figure out and is sure to incorporate them into the next movie, with a percentage of new ideas woven in at critical moments.
Why do the best movies give you such a glow? Because you’ve seen them before, the best parts embed the DNA of earlier, more famous movies. You just don’t realize it unless someone more knowledgeable points it out. As Everything is a Remix points out, a movie must feel familiar with just the right points of novelty, to keep the viewer watching, but shouldn’t have so much novelty, the viewer gets bored, disturbed, or uncomfortable trying to bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar themes of the new movie.
This is why Star Wars: Galaxy of Adventures disturbs me. It appears to be a retelling of the previous first movies, Episodes IV, V, and VI, except in animated form. Is this a bad thing?
If you are a Disney executive? Probably not. Reboots are in, they are relatively low effort because they know the story worked. It became a phenomenon. So they don’t have to worry if kids will like it. The return on investment is good, and in their eyes, the risk is non-existent.
But is it a good idea?
Does remixing Star Wars again, violate what should be a good practice for any company hoping to stay in business? Good businesses are in the habit of perpetuating new ideas, not just rehashing old ones. New ideas, new stories, new properties are the lifeblood of good companies. How many times can you chew that gum on your bedpost before the flavor is gone…
Star Wars Galaxy of Adventure is a remix: a new style with new animation based on new sensibilities. But the underlying story is NOT new. In my eyes, this will be a loss for the franchise, not because it won’t be stunning visually, all indicators say this is likely to be the best artwork for an animated Disney Star Wars series yet. But if it is indeed just a retread of the original series, it has a lot of effort going into retelling an old story rather than creating something new and meaningful to a new generation of viewers.
Yes, I see you thinking, but the current generation growing up didn’t see the original, it will be new to them, right?
Extrapolate that out. Does that mean ten years from now, Star Wars: Galaxy should be retold, xeroxed for a new generation? How many times should a story be retold before we stop re-chewing that particular bit of cud? The recent Robin Hood (2018) release, which barely moved the bar, should be an indicator that just because you can dust off something that worked once, it doesn’t mean you should.
Okay, you have a point. Maybe I am just being a curmudgeon and making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe this generation is entitled to have as many retreads as companies can quickly pump out to fill their streaming services queues.
But ask yourself this: Where is their Star Wars?
Where is their formative creation which spurs a generation to create new things, to imagine new boundaries, to alter the way they tell stories forever? Because that’s what Star Wars was for us. Star Wars, when it came out, challenged a number of notions about what made for good science fiction and by challenging those assumptions, it became one of the greatest franchises in movie history.
So ask yourself: Why does this generation have to settle for hand-me-down space heroes?
Doctor Who, Star Trek, Red Dwarf, Babylon Five, Lexx, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Killjoys, and the Expanse are a few of the space-themed shows which share the stage with Star Wars these days. Only Killjoys and The Expanse are new. Neither are movie franchises.
The Star Trek franchise, Starship Troopers, Serenity, Chronicles of Riddick, the Fifth Element, the Predator franchise, the Alien Franchise, and the Avatar franchise. There was the one-shot Valarian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Guardians of the Galaxy I and II. Except for the last three, these franchises are as old as Star Wars and about as dusty.
Maybe this generation already had its watershed fantasy moment in the creation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The celebrated writer has created one of the most extensive modern franchises in the history of movies and publishing. The fan base is vast and her stories continue to make movies such as the recent Fantastic Beasts series, even if they aren’t quite a popular as the smash YA hit.
This generation may have also tapped out when the most recent superhero genre craze swept the market. Crossing both movies and television, Marvel movies and DC television have a firestorm of content, some rehashed, some new, but all based in heroes from previous generations. As the trend continues, I expect we will see more modern creations such as the Incredibles and some subversions such as Deadpool. There may simply not be any room for new space adventures series with any chance of creating the buzz, the new energy that Star Wars did with its release back in 1977.
Maybe what I am missing is the feeling of something new. Something so revolutionary, I didn’t realize I didn’t have it because it has been so long since anything new crossed my desk. Something that wasn’t derived from a long-tortured franchise, or a one shot wonder like the Fifth Element. Is it even possible to create something new enough or interesting enough to set Hollywood back on its heels to re-evaluate how they do everything? Probably not.
Maybe it will be enough for this generation to just have so many choices. Even if half of them are retreads, they will still be able to be inspired just like I was when Star Wars first came out, and I imagined I could be a Jedi Knight, just like my father before me…
1 See “Electric Boogaloo” – ed.