Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Letter to an Aggrieved Star Wars Fan

No, not a specific one. It's a literary device!

Since The Last Jedi came out, there's been a lot of talk online about the way Disney and Kathleen Kennedy have been dealing with the Star Wars world (I refuse to use words like "franchise" or "property.") There's a lot of angles to this, and I'm not going to discuss any of the really crazy stuff. This is about the people who seem to feel legitimately concerned that the current team at Lucasfilm are destroying the legacy of Star Wars, and are even openly hostile to it. A search for the phrase "Lucasfilm hates Star Wars," for example, brings up a lot of responses.

You think you have it bad? Want to talk about sequels that completely, callously disregard a story's basic continuity, established world, and, most damningly, the integrity of beloved characters? Let's talk about being a fan of the Terminator movies.

I describe my relationship with the first two films as a "deep-seated religious feeling." I can't count the number of times I've seen them, and can quote pretty much all their dialogue. AndI have endured three films plus a TV show which have used the Terminator name, but have shown little to no concern with the legacy of James Cameron's original work.

After the third film, I signed up with IMBD for the sole purpose of writing a review called "Basic Math Shows Contempt for the Audience." And you want to compare nitpicking? I was trying to give the Sarah Connor Chronicles show a chance. I gave myself a whole lecture about accepting that network tv was going to force a softening and a simplification of the characters, and I tried to roll with it. We didn't get too far in before there was a plot point about how John didn't know how to drive a stick, and I was like, "That's it! We're done!" and I couldn't bring myself to watch any more of it. That's probably not fair, but it's true.

The fourth film was particularly frustrating because Christian Bale and Anton Yelchin were such good casting for the older John Connor and the younger Kyle Reese, but they were utterly let down by almost every aspect of the movie around them.

In the case of Star Wars, the truth is, in order to make enough money back to justify paying for expensive blockbusters with state of the art special effects, Disney has to take a lot of different audiences into account. That means every individual fan just isn't going to love everything or agree with everything. But that's not even my point. Lucasfilm has a dedicated team of Star Wars enthusiasts who work to keep the timelines and continuity intact, something which almost no other pop cultural world has ever bothered to do.

Some people spend all day harassing Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo, with his encyclopedic dedication to the lore, for -- I'm not even sure what, even though I see their tweets. But after James Cameron's run with the original and T2, the Terminator world has apparently NEVER had anyone looking out for any interest beyond "Hey, if we make another Terminator movie we can make some money off it!"

Okay, I do imagine there's a frustrated junior executive somewhere whose blood was boiling, but who couldn't fight the machine. Wow, kind of meta!

So really, it could get so much worse. It's perfectly fair to comment on the films. I agree that Last Jedi didn't totally work, despite having some stuff I really liked. But it's weird that fans are spending so much time, energy, and vitriol without realizing that there could be real, honest-to-god bean counters in charge, who really DO only want to squeeze Star Wars for the quickest buck. That would look a lot different from the time, detail, and loving care a lot of the Lucasfilm folks are putting into the new films and shows.

Bonus: Here's my IMDB review of Terminator 3. I'd probably go even further now. Try re-watching T2 with the idea that John is in the midst of his first love. Oy vey. All of this contortion so that Claire Danes could be introduced by a truly ridiculous coincidence: that John would break into a business looking for medicine, and run into this girl he knew when he was "13." And wait, the Wikipedia tells me her father was involved in the creation of Skynet? Are you KIDDING ME? I totally blocked that out. There isn't enough eye-rolling in the world.

Basic Math Shows Contempt for the Audience (Spoilers) 
14 July 2003

Many things bothered me about T3, which to describe would probably take more than a maximum of 1,000 words. One little nitpick really stood out for me, however, and seems indicative of everything wrong with the movie. T3 insists upon John Connor's being 13 years old and in the 8th grade during the events of T2. I went back to my DVD, and he is clearly identified during T2 as being ten years old. I was willing to let that go, and say it wasn't really a big deal, but then I realized there's a bigger problem. The original Terminator film clearly and unambiguously takes place in 1984. John Connor is clearly and unambiguously born in 1985. Judgment Day, before the events of T2 change the course of the fictional history, was clearly and unambiguously going to take place on August 29, 1997. (T3 still accepts that date as correct, with the whole gratuitous leukemia thing, which I won't get into).

It took me all of a few seconds to see what was wrong with this picture. If John Connor was conceived in 1984 and born in 1985, he wouldn't turn 13 until a year AFTER the world was destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. The world looked in pretty good shape in T2 considering, huh? And if Sarah was supposedly diagnosed with cancer three years before 1997, John would have been nine years old -- younger than he originally was during T2, while Sarah would probably have been in Pescadero.

Why is this important? In the course of sequels, things are going to get tweaked to make the new movie work. Certain things may get re-written or reinterpreted. But the anchoring dates of 1984 and 1997 are basic and important facts about the world the Terminator series is set in. The filmmakers were paid incredible amounts of money to make this film, and either couldn't be bothered to do simple math that an elementary schooler could do, or they did do the math, and decided to arbitrarily ignore it, to make a change that really has no pay-off and adds no meaning to the film. I paid $5 to see this film. They're getting back millions. And I offhandedly know more about the world of the film, and care more about it, than they do. This shows a casual contempt for anyone who cared enough about the first two movies to actually bother paying attention to the plot. The exact same people whose money they anticipated taking when they decided to make another sequel in the first place. This isn't a movie with any meaning: it's a cynical cash cow.