Here are some of my thoughts about the new Disney Star Wars Cinematic Universe. The DSWCU? What makes me entitled to an opinion on this particular subject, you might ask. I have only read a few of the current Star Wars books. But I’ve repeatedly seen Episodes I-VII and Rogue One. I watch the Star Wars Rebels cartoon (Disney XD). I binged Clone Wars (Netflix). I watch Jedi Council (Youtube) and sometimes other Star Wars shows on the interwebs. I don’t read the comics, although eventually I might. I don’t play any of games, and eventually I probably won’t. So I possess more knowledge than most and a lot less than some on these particular topics. That, plus I’m a person, with an opinion. And it is also an opinion that is formulated and structured. Being a person alone entitles the having of an opinion and I think that formatting and structuring of the opinion entitles me to share it. Whether you ultimately agree or disagree is up to you, that’s how opinions work. But, either way, this is my opinion:
People say that someone can still enjoy the Star Wars films without the knowledge of the books. I know that it seems impossible that people might say something that’s not true, but I don’t think that’s true. Ok, I guess one could “enjoy” them, but that doesn’t mean those films couldn’t be better. Anyone can “enjoy” anything subjectively depending on how they choose to frame things. But when a sports team wins a championship in a given sport they don’t retire from competition all together after. They still try to improve for the next season. I think that the current desire to avoid politics theatrically in Star Wars actually confuses the theatrical audience. That’s right, I think Star Wars is missing more politics! What sort of lunatic, heretic, other -tic, would say such a thing? Me. I would. Read Bloodline and Catalyst and then contemplate whether they contain information that could have benefited The Force Awakens and Rogue One.
While both films accomplished one goal - large box office returns (ok, and the goal to return a general feel of Star Wars, that too) - they fell short in another main goal which is to explain why. Not major cliffhangers, in the case of The Force Awakens particularly, that pave the path to the next film in ticket stubs. I understand the strategy of keeping those things out. Intentional designs to encourage future debate and continued relevance. However, there was other information. Information that I only discovered in the books that I did find extremely useful. I read Bloodline after I watched the Force Awakens and I read Catalyst before I saw Rogue One.
Lets start with Catalyst. Catalyst is a book that explains some of the characters and their histories leading up to Rogue One. Rogue One just starts with Galen Erso and Lyra Erso and Orson Krennic heatedly disagreeing on the Orso’s moisture farm? Galen and Lyra’s daughter, Jyn, is hiding. How would anyone who hasn’t read Catalyst understand the dynamics of those relationships? They wouldn’t. Basically the entire Catalyst book explores that relationship. How Galen and Krennic were old friends. And how Lyra fit into their past. And how Krennic took advantage of Galen’s mental acuity for his own gain. And how Saw Gerrera gained relevance for them. Why is this supposed genius, Galen Erso, on a moisture farm to begin with? Basically everything that gets brushed over in the first third or earlier of the film is explained much more adequately in Catalyst. The political realities of real life and the meaning of family in the context of the Empire and the Rebellion.
Oh, actually, speaking of family, in Rebels, they are exploring how the Rebel Alliance came to be. That’s an even better example of how these disparate ideas can meld together in real time. The Ghost is at the attack on Scariff, Chopper rolls through the rebel base, and they call for General Syndulla over the loud speaker. All the elements provide a small treat for the avid fan without detracting from the experience of the casual observer.
Now The Force Awakens. Rey’s parentage, who’s Snoke, where’s Luke? All legitimate tools designed to entice conversation. But what is this First Order thing? What is the Resistance? Why do we care beyond film making conventions telling us to? Just feeling how we’re told is a pretty First Order/Empire way to approach things. And now what’s the situation with Han and Leia? And then we briefly see some people on Hosnian Prime. But what is Hosnian Prime? We don’t know that. We’ve never seen that place before. And who are these people that we've never actually met? Why care about them at all? Upon first viewing I didn’t know about much of this. Unfortunately this lack of knowledge simply led me to apathy. Not necessarily an emotion you want to inspire in your audience. Or, what about Lor San Tekka? Or the Church of the Force? That sounds awesome. Who is that guy? What is the Church of the Force? Or what are the Knights of Ren…? There was some cool action, and hitting stuff, and flying around in The Force Awakens but more than nostalgia could have fed my hungry eyes. I read Bloodline and could not believe the deep and rich context provided. It doesn't answer the later questions but it touches on many of the former. I was blown away when reading. If even a modicum of similar service would have been paid to these missing story elements in The Force Awakens I would have had a much better, fuller, clearer, understanding of the entire context.
These stories incorporate a political context. They just do! It’s a part of their DNA. Any far ranging tale does, and a galaxy is a fairly broad subject. Republics, senates, empire, rebellion, resistance. Maybe even more than something else, these subjects necessitate a political explanation. It’s not possible to adequately portray the events of the movies while avoiding political discourse.
The producers of these films understandably felt burned by the large negative reaction to the prequels. They associated that reaction, in my mind for worse, to the inordinate amount of politics present in those films. But instead of aiming for a middle ground, they aimed at purging politics from the new films. I see that purge as a detriment. In my mind, Catalyst should have been incorporated further into the earlier parts of Rogue One. And in my mind, the story of Bloodline should have comprised most of The Force Awakens. Gun-shy-ness, when it relates to political topics, hurts the films and in turn hurts the fans. The pendulum has swung too far back in the other direction. It’s not currently in danger to diminish my enthusiasm for these stories, because the intensity of my interest, but it is a pendulum.