Death Star in a Bottle: Or Worries About Shrinking Star Wars Back Down to Movies

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Well, all I can say is that I expect things to escalate in the next film. And JJ Abrams is not directing Episodes 8 or 9. That’s been made clear.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    Did you know about the Hosnian Prime thing in advance Nob? Hubby and I didn’t and for him (a SW geek) the thought that the movie had just summarily vaporized Coruscant had him nealy out of his seat until he played it back in his head and realized the name they’d tagged to the doomed world was Hosnian Prime. Did you catch that yourself or did you have a similar wtf moment? I’m still puzzling over why the Republic would put its seat of government somewhere else.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

      The whole exposition into “we’re going to destroy the Republic with our new Death Star that we’re calling something else” thing felt really stilted to the point where, I found it a little hard to miss the “Hosnian Prime” note…

      That whole sequence struck me as being an exceptionally weak part of the movie, and really brought the “Abrams can’t do scale” thing to the fore.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Yeah, star wars did a grande job of giving a pizza delivery game new life.
    [and if you haven’t played it, you should]
    Also the studio that made it.
    (this is not to knock the game, mind.)

    You absolutely can make a grand civilization where a few select protagonists get to fight. That’s… actually kind of easy. You just have to make them better than everyone else, or have new tech they’re betaing. (evangelion, anyone?). Alternatively, you make everyone else into automatons. Holy fuck that’s a good premise. MINE, not yours.Report

  4. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    The post raises a complex question about the relationship of a work of art to the phenomena surrounding it.

    Give us a new generation of Kyle Katarns and Revans. Show us how some of our old favorites might find life in this new Star Wars universe.

    To someone entirely uninvolved in SW sub-culture or the “expanded universe,” this request is nonsense. Everyone in this universe, pretty much, knows who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are. Nearly no one knows who Kyle Katarn and Revan are, regardless of how much money Lucasfilm took in during whatever year, with or without a new movie being produced.

    That “maintaining a relatively expansive universe will be a key part of maintaining Star Wars as a cultural Force” is an assumption. It’s quite possible – I think likely – that causality runs in the opposite direction, and that maintaining Star Wars as a cultural Force is what maintains the “relatively expansive universe.” I’m also not convinced that either is important, or anything for a reasonable citizen to concern her- or himself with.

    SW puts forward a pseudo-epic for a culture that cannot yet be adequately defined, since its development, the culture’s, is still very much ongoing. It’s not clear that SW will outlive that cultural development, but the movies have a better chance of still being around, and of remaining the central governing reference point for interpretation, than all the games and merchandise. Fan discussion and other peripheral phenomena may survive in various forms, and be of interest to scholars or hobbyists or whatever the future produces. If any of it matters at all, it’s more likely to be Darth Vader and possibly the characters in this new sequence.

    I’ll also note in passing that the prequels get bashed relentlessly, but are arguably more culturally significant – in key ways – than the whole gameplaying, novelization, fan site, etc., etc., universe has been. I also found at least the first two movies all but unwatchable, and quite literally soporific – although, on the other hand, truth be told, I’ve never been much of a fan of SW altogether. Still, for all of the complaints about those films, Anakin, Ben, Count Dooku, the slaughter of the junglings, the Fall of the Republic, and even poor pathetic Jar-Jar all have entered into the common cultural vocabulary of our time. Kyle and Revan – not so much.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Don’t forget Darth Maul. I still see Darth Maul costumes every Halloween, despite the fact that he was a villain in one of now 7 movies. I can’t say that I’ve seen a Kyle Katarns, though I must admit that I wouldn’t know if I had, and I doubt 90% of the people who watch the movies would either. And 90% might be a conservatively low estimate (it might be more like 98%, or 99%, or 99.something%).

      I agree with everything you say, and would add this: the Star Wars expanded universe, in all the novels and games and role playing, is something people who (for the most part) started with the movies, or if they’re younger, perhaps the Clone Wars cartoons, seek out to get more, because the movies/TV shows/perhaps even the games aren’t enough for them. For the vast majority of people who see Star Wars, the limited universe of the movies is enough, and one could easily argue that the biggest flaw of the prequels was trying to expand it.

      The original trilogy worked so well because it told a grand story centered in a (relatively) small space and on a few people, and the moment it tried to expand on that even a little bit (as in TPM), it got completely lost. Better to leave expansion to the people who want to build and seek it outside of the films, and let the films just create a small space and let a few characters drive the story entirely, but with enough room at the edges that they can be expanded upon elsewhere by the willing.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

        Better to leave expansion to the people who want to build and seek it outside of the films, and let the films just create a small space and let a few characters drive the story entirely, but with enough room at the edges that they can be expanded upon elsewhere by the willing.

        Perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently clear, but this is, more or less, what I’m trying to say above.

        My concern is that Abrams in how the story of The Force Awakens is framed seems to have hacked away at the room around the edges and instead stuffed the world inside a bottle.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Ah, OK. I don’t know that I agree with that either, though it does answer CK’s objection, with which I was agreeing, I think.

          I disagree, however, that it doesn’t leave space around the edges. It’s vague references and mysterious characters (e.g., the Supreme Leader) seemed to open the door for massive expansion, either in the sequels or in the usual “expanded universe” media. What’s the New Republic? Who and where is the Supreme Leader? Clearly he has some place where dark lords are trained. What else is going on there? Are there Resistance-like forces elsewhere in the universe? Who’s doing what there? Is the New Republic basically like the Afghan regime that has power in Kabul but little anywhere else (with reliance on warlords, like say the leaders of The Resistance, to keep the evil Taliban/First Order from doing too much damage)? That seems like a lot to work with for me, but I admit that as someone not particularly interested in doing that work, I could be wrong.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

            Ah, let me clarify a little bit.

            There’s a media mix set of methods that Disney/LFL is using to expand upon the movie release, and one of the things that came out of it is that:
            The Hosnian System destroyed in the movie is actually the capital of the Republic and that (most of) the Republic Starfleet/military was there along with the civilian government/Senate.

            This basically was, I guess, meant to add tension to mean that the Resistance was the only force left to hold back/fight off the First Order’s attempt to take over the galaxy, which, honestly, feels both contrived and well, small.

            I mean Palpatine’s Republic and/or Empire probably would have found a super weapon that can destroy star systems to be a threat, but would have likely sucked up having a world or two destroyed and brought enough ships to bear to reduce Starkiller Base (…and let’s note this thing is a planet based weapon…) and the planet it resides on into molten rubble.

            In the current setting, evidently the New Republic has 1) no fleet outside of its capital system, and 2) evidently can be decapitated with zero warning.

            Also for a decent summary of what the novelization touches upon:
            http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-11-biggest-differences-between-the-book-and-movie-v-1749329046Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              Well, all that is silly, I admit. One would wonder why, if they knew about the First Order, they wouldn’t have military out and about to at least contain them.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

                Obviously they had drones out, and the command nexus was at the center because that was the strongest single point, and led to sufficiently good reaction times.
                [disclaimer: I’m playing the “why does that work?” game. not giving real answers]Report

    • I’ll note that this post itself is meant, mostly, to be my perspective as a fan and a consumer of the media in question, NOT as a cultural critic examining the larger cultural impact of Star Wars. Whether or not the specific point that the movie references have a wider life in the long run than the ephemera of fandom doesn’t much matter to Me the Fan as it would Me the Social Scientist. To be quite blunt: When our counterparts a century from now discuss Star Wars (if at all), it won’t matter a lick to me whether any of the books or video games are mentioned. I’ll be equally dead and my opinion irrelevant at any rate.

      But, however, engaging on your point about cultural vocabulary…

      I think at the moment we’re at a transitional point. The consumption habits in media are in sufficient flux that, at some point, it may very well be that video games serve as an introduction to a setting or particular fictional franchise before the forms of passive legacy media that have been cultural touch stones for so long.

      We’re not quite there yet, at least not in the western world, but we’re getting there. The fact that there is sufficient interest in adapting several video game franchises into movies outside of the awful and abortive attempts in the 90s and oughts is a sign of that. Once the haunt of the likes of Uwe Boll, we’re at least seeing the start of big budget, serious minded adaptations of some settings.

      This is, perhaps, particularly true in places where media consumption is distributed somewhat differently than in the US or western europe. The relationship between, say, manga and video games on one hand, and the wider world of Japanese cultural awareness is substantially different, at least, than in mainstream conceptions of the same in the US.Report

      • Of course, we don’t know: We don’t know whether “passive legacy media” are about to be consigned, along with the human race as we have known it heretofore, to the evolutionary dustbin, and “media consumption habits” as they seem to be developing are the basis of a new civilizational form. My bet would be on the passive legacy media, aka the Arts, surviving longer than particular game formats, in part because the necessary pre-conditions for accessing, preserving, and re-producing or preserving a text or art object are less dependent on a particular technological infrastructure, particular tools and skills, and a broad range of assumptions, than are games. I also think that games, however much they may call upon artistic and narrative forms, are different from them. The consumption of a game – or the self-consumption that occurs in relation to game play – is something different from the consumption, or social consumption and re-distribution, of a story or a work of art.

        As I started off by saying, this topic is a complex one. My only direct objection to any argument you made in the OP was to the proposition that “maintaining a relatively expansive universe will be a key part of maintaining Star Wars as a cultural Force.” I think that the cultural force, whatever that is exactly and whether or not we think it’s a good thing, is still much more a feature of the society of the spectacle. The “expansive universe” as a conceptual matter is not greatly affected by the flaws of this particular expression within it.

        I agree with you, in fact, about many of the problems with this movie. I’m just not sure they matter much, even though I find myself quite confounded by the “smallification” of what appears to have been a successful erasure of several planets full of people, and of the virtually affectless reaction to these and other losses. The movie didn’t help me understand and judge, what happened or what’s supposed to have happened. In short, I think it’s weird! Report

  5. Avatar Patrick says:

    “J.J. Abrams is bad, even notoriously bad at understanding the scale of space.”

    Yes.

    He also (so far, in his works) has a problem with… scope, generally. Which, to be fair, Lucas did as well. The span of history in the original movies was not there… but it didn’t need to be. They weren’t a longitudinal story, they were a snapshot of a dramatic period of time.

    The prequels, on the other hand, really needed to jibe with the scope of time to be believable to me. My problem with the prequels and their time scope I’ve already talked about, it’s pretty severe.

    That’s an issue I have right now with these movies. What’s the scope?

    The original trilogy wasn’t as much about destiny as it was about duty: Luke needed to redeem his father. The second trilogy they brought out all of this destiny stuff, about “restoring balance to the Force”.

    Where are we going with this? Is the balance of the Force finally going to be balanced at the end of this trilogy? Will we have a new Jedi Order, or a new Force order that combines the Light and the Dark, or will we have a duty story instead of a destiny one?

    Destiny stories are problematic. You have a destiny story, that puts a very severe constraint on what sort of additional properties you can make, and when you shell out $4 billion you’re probably not to interested, as a media company, in cutting off any possible future narrative flows.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Patrick says:

      Destiny stories are problematic. You have a destiny story, that puts a very severe constraint on what sort of additional properties you can make

      This is an interesting point, about the essential underlying conflict between a universe as massive and teeming with strange races as the Star Wars one, and this type of story (and one of its main engines).

      A story about a single planet, or maybe one solar system? OK, I’ll buy this “Force”/Jedi-destiny business.

      In a story with a massive, Galactic scale? Force-worship would be just one religion amongst many. And even it would have more than two schools.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick says:

      Robert Jordan did a destiny story, but his world was a boatload of fun to play in. Nobody really wanted to play Rand anyway.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Patrick says:

      Anakin did bring balance to the force. By the time he breathed his last iconic huff every highly trained and deeply knowledgable force user in the galaxy was dead as a stump. The scales of the force swing empty without powerhouses on either side.Report

  6. Avatar Glyph says:

    What I want to know is, when are they going to get around to making The Han Solo Adventures?

    I read all three of these when I was a kid, though I only remember the first (a prison break story) and third (a sort of “Indiana Jones in Space” story) – in fact, the first has a plot point which is remarkably similar to one in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I recall them being pretty good pulpy fun, and they get Han’s “voice” and persona pretty right (even pre- A New Hope, which is when these take place, he’s not always COMPLETELY mercenary – he’s the classic reluctant savior, doing the right thing when all his other options are exhausted).Report

  7. Avatar Lurker says:

    Sure, all artistic value is subjective, but I don’t agree with the criticisms of this film. Given the parameters for what it could be, IMO, it is nearly perfect.

    It can’t break much new ground as an action movie, because it is a sequel, thus it cannot be as ground breaking as the first Star Wars, which itself was only groundbreaking as a collage of Influences: Samurai films. WWII fighter pilot movies, fantasy sword and sorcery, etc., with a novel focus on really polishing up effects and visuals. And any big plot twist, like the :I am your father moment” that would be truly unexpected would be unwanted and unfun given the story-line of episodes 4-7, e.g. Leia is actually Snoke or some such.

    I agree that Abrams botched the Star Trek movies (though the second one has an element or two I like) by carving away everything good about Star Trek -the science fiction elements (Red Matter!! Agggh!), the “board room” scenes where characters debate what to do about such and such- and by turning the movie into action-only. But that isn’t a problem here. The Star Wars movies are action movies. Full Stop. And the action sequences in episode 7 were very well done (though the Squid-Monster scenes were a bit disappointing and unnecessary) and very well paced.

    The criticism of the plot is misguided, too. Star Wars movies have never had good plots. They succeed in spite of -or perhaps because of- overly simple and often logically implausible plots (Luke does most of his training to be a Jedi in a day, the Death Star was built with a ridiculous flaw, does Vader want Luke to help him kill the emperor and “rule the galaxy as father and son,” Ewoks, Luke just happens to land right next to Yodas location on a fairly big planet, on and on, does Leia know that Obi-Wan is on Tatooine and if so that is odd and if not what a coincidence, etc. The plot of Star Wars movies is meant to be a vehicle for a.) action scenes and b.) for character archetypes that appeal to us on a deep psychological level to be displayed, e.g. the wise old man watching over us, the chosen one hero with latent magic, the morally conflicted “scoundrel” with a heart of gold, the frigheteningly powerful monster who we barely escape from, the evil corrupted king/government, the secret family connections, etc.

    That is, the Star Wars movies are fairy tales. Fairy tales do not have complex plots that make practical, logical sense. In fact, plot-realism can make such stories less powerful as the viewer is less likely to see the metaphors and the archetypes. Indeed, I think the prequels failed -among other reasons- by trying to add all sorts of political drama about the fall of the Republic and plot complexity. The scenes of Obi Wan being a detective in episode two were the least Star Warsy thing imaginable.

    The worry that the plot has too many coincidences is thus, IMO, misplaced.

    Finally, I think the movie had to bring in and make reference to all of the following elements: Luke, Leia, Han, some children of theirs, a new evil political entity, a new evil bad guy, all while introducing a new generation and being mostly action scenes. That is a lot. I really can’t imagine it could be done without big coinicidences and a reliance on deus ex machinas and unexplained coinicidences. Luke’s lightsaber is a powerful symbol and they wanted to intro it, so they just had a character say “I just got it somehow.” Fair enough. Why not?

    If you disagree, what action adventure movies have been made since LOTR -which is imperfect, IMO- are better than episode 7>Report

    • Avatar Lurker in reply to Lurker says:

      Mad Max: Fury Road? The Dark Knight? One of the new Bond movies? Note that those are all very different kinds of action movies.

      I’d say this is better than the Avengers, Guardians of The Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, but maybe your mileage varies.

      I’d say this is clealt amongst the top 3 Star Wars movies, after Empire -which will never be topped and was one of the better movie-experiences of the 80’s in any genre- and behind New Hope only because New Hope was original (it has some major flaws, IMO) and surprised the crap out of audiences by what could be achieved in special effects when they were taken seriously as had been done in 2001.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Lurker says:

      I agree with much of this comment, or what I take to be its main point, but I think that the final question points in the opposite, and wrong, direction. There are many “action adventure” movies made since LOTR (LOTR – which is what, the first one, or the whole trilogy?) that are in some sense “better movies” than VII or than LOTR (film or trilogy), in my opinion or to my tastes. CASINO ROYALE comes to mind – and even FURY ROAD, although I’m not as big a fan of it as some. I’m assessing them in relation to pure cinematic values, or an idea of cinema for cinema’s sake as realizable in the action genre (which I consider a central genre in American film…). I don’t, however, think that the question of whether VII is a good movie, or a movie better than others, is one of the more interesting questions about it. It’s in a sense “beyond good and bad,” and it’s mainly in relation to that quality that, for me, the question of how good or bad it is by conventional standards becomes interesting.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        Is GRAVITY an action adventure movie? I think so. Taken strictly as a work of art on its own terms, I think it’s probably superior to VII, but I don’t think it’s as socially and culturally significant. AVATAR comes closer.Report

        • Avatar lurker in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          I’d say Ep 7 is better than Avatar by a fair margin.

          I was trying to say let’s imagine the kind of movie 7 could have been, plausibly, and compare what we actually got from Abrams, to what someone could have produced as a sequel to Episodes 4-6, in the same fantasy, action adventure genre.

          Could someone have made something like Gravity as Episode 7? No. Gravity is a survival story, a “let’s put someone through intense fear and suffering all alone” action/drama. Different genre than fairy tale/action/myth.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to lurker says:

            You’re switching up genres on me! No fair. Also, and again, I don’t believe in a once and for all worse/better determination.

            I would argue that in some ways AVATAR was a much better movie – more innovative, internally more coherent and thematically rich story, more extensively developed characters, superior acting, superior dialogue, etc. – but my point was that, as a social-cultural event of discussable significance, it was closer to a Star Wars movie than the other films mentioned, or that come to mind.

            GRAVITY had a different form altogether – much simpler story, told almost in “real time.” More relevant – and a few Neil Tysonish sidebars notwithstanding – is that it aimed to be convincingly logical and realistic in ways that, as you point out, are and arguably ought to be of little interest to the Star Warsians.Report

      • I think where Casino Royale might have done better than The Force Awakens is that it took a definitive, beloved franchise, stripped it down to its bare essentials (and perhaps further than it really should have) and crafted a plausible modernized edition of Bond, that while recognizable also went into a different direction that was more topical.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Lurker says:

      Do the movies have to be western ones?

      I would say Space Battleship Yamato in terms of both delivering on the premise and being what it was (a big budget live action adaptation of a beloved franchise revived after several decades) executed better than The Force Awakens, though perhaps not by much. Some other comparable franchises I’ve seen do really well in Japan – the three-part adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin – which honestly could be a perfect foundation to a good Star Wars story.

      In case I’m unclear – I don’t know if I have a problem with the PLOT of TFA so much as how executing that plot, seems at least on the edges, to have closed off some of the avenues that could be explored elsewhere. In fact some of the details were really well done.

      I find it perfectly plausible for there to be an Imperial successor state AND for it to pose a bigger risk than the legit government thinks (and thus necessitating the Resistance). The new generation of characters is, I think, one area where the movie was thoroughly modern in a good way. Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and Kylo Ren are substantially more interesting at this stage in their movie story development than their counterparts from the A New Hope, while Han’s role as “baton passing mentor figure” works better because he’s a character most of the audience already knows.

      But I think Abrams misjudged a little bit on a few bits of details around the edges in a way that I’ve found unnecessarily plagues his movies. The Hosnian System didn’t actually need to be the capital of the New Republic. Kylo Ren need not have completely destroyed Luke’s attempts to revive the Jedi Order, the Resistance cell led by the characters we’ve known need not have been (it seems) the entirety of the people aware of the threat posed by the First Order and so on.

      And part of that was because there was perhaps an unneeded bit of threat ratcheting in trying to make sure Star Wars: The Next Generation was bigger and more spectacular.

      I also fully cop that a good bit of nitpicking and based upon, again, my personal feelings about the director/producer and his work in general. The Force Awakens is a fun movie and I’m glad it was made with as much care and precision as went into the production values. But I also see areas where things can be improved, and don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing those out, either.Report

  8. Avatar miguel cervantes says:

    Interesting, I was wondering about the novelization, which explains some things, couldn’t get into Gravity, but I warmed to interstellar, yes, star killer’s beam, not unlike the dark matter in the trek revamp, manages to traverse, a huge tract of space, in a short time, they did try a parallel with Hosnian Prime and Alderaan,Report

    • INTERSTELLAR is in a different class altogether – not higher or lower – just different. I also liked it, but it’s also almost brutally incredible in a number of ways.Report

      • Avatar miguel cervantes in reply to CK MacLeod says:

        Merry christmas, Highlander,

        it really does take a while to figure out, there are still some quibbles, like how did the ships avoid the massive accelerations even a wormhole trip would require,

        Force Awakens is a pop corn film, which reboots the trilogy, the first film didn’t explain everything either, Now Ren’s character does borrow from the Expanded Universe to a degree Jacen Solo, is one who turns to the Darkside, but one wonders, how long can Rey
        stay on the light side of the Force,Report

        • Merry Xmas to you, don miguel. There is much more about the scenario of INTERSTELLAR that I find difficult to make sense of – exactly what process reduced Earthly agriculture to the production of corn alone, for example, or why it was that, with the wormhole apparently only a short skitter in a ready-to-go spaceship away, humanity had to wait for Cooper pere to go look for survivors or other effects of his world-super-historical voyage to the other side.Report

  9. Avatar miguel cervantes says:

    the Nazis in Argentina, were a possible starting point for Abrams, but I think there is another real world analogue with Force Awakens, Volodya’s kingdom, in relation to the old Soviet Union, Commander Snoke fits into that parallel, specially having read Dawisha’s tale about Putin’s rise,Report

  10. Good piece @nob-akimoto. I had a similar relationship with the Star Wars universe. As I was born the year ROTJ was released in theaters, Star Wars always existed for me alongside the Expanded Universe. I read countless books/comics and played many of the games. Some of those stories (The first Tales of the Jedi comics and the Thrawn trilogy) are still some of my favorite Star Wars narratives.

    Thus, I was sad to here they would no longer be “canon.” If this were to happen when I was 17, I would have been outraged. Now, I can better recognize that these stories are all fictional at its core, and I can recognize the parts I like and disregard those I don’t (so long prequels).

    I enjoyed the new film, and appreciate the focus on a few characters over the constructed universe, I just want other elements of the SW universe to allow for a broader approach, more technical approach. I won’t fault JJ for making his film small in that sense.Report

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