LucasFilm (now a part of the Disney Co.) finally released a decent promotional clip for the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a few days ago. You have probably watched it by now but here it is anyway.
So I’m much happier with this than I was with the last “teaser” they released. That thing was awful. This one is good. But I am appalled by the way people have suddenly lumped the last three movies (Episodes I, II, and III) into the “awful films in history” bin. Sure, II and II were bad movies, but “Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace” was unquestionably the best and most interesting of all six of the Star Wars films released to date.
And nothing compares in awfulness to that Christmas Special. But let’s move on.
This whole fantasy movie thing has become such a pop cult that film-makers are being judged by canonical standards that technically do not exist. I read an article yesterday in which some of the details coming out of the Star Wars weekend conference in California were recapped. Apparently J.J. Abrams told his special effects crew that he wanted a Millennium Falcon model that was “exactly like the original”, only when they dug into the archives they learned that there were THREE original designs for the Falcon.
And we’re only just now learning this 30 years later? You Star Wars fans have lost your credibility in the “digs up every minutiae” department. But that doesn’t change the fact that Star Wars fandom has taken on a cult-like status. And I cannot help but notice that George Lucas has already begun distancing himself from the franchise. He apparently said recently that we won’t be able to blame him for any future lapses in director/writer judgment.
Yeah, I can see how this bodes well for the future.
Cults have a bad reputation. For example, a lot of people are interested in articles about the 10 most infamous cults in US history. You almost cannot find a good cult in modern fantasy fiction. In fact, I just published an article on the Middle-earth blog today about cults that Tolkien mentioned in Middle-earth. Although I am by no means an expert in Star Wars minutiae, I have come across articles that discuss various (evil) cults in the Expanded Star Wars Universe. I’m not sure if they are all evil, but I have only found references to evil cults.
I would consider the Jedi Order to be a cult because they were not representative of mainstream society. After all, only a fraction of the Galactic Republic’s population could use the Force. And yet Star Wars fandom is so large and widespread you have to ask if it matches any standard definitions for “cult”. And I am not just picking on Star Wars fans. I have also discussed the issue of whether Tolkien fandom is a cult.
Cults in themselves are not necessarily bad things. They simply represent practices and beliefs that diverge from mainstream practices and beliefs. In populist cults there is no religious theme or motif, but there are still charismatic figures that define the iconic symbology of the cults. Think of a dictator who puts his face on posters that line all the public-facing walls in cities, and who organizes mass rallies where he gives long speeches. That is a “cult of personality”.
We have dedicated fan conventions for some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy franchises, we dress up like their characters, we organize fan groups that study the histories and minutiae of these franchise worlds, etc. Fandom is very cult-like in some ways. And most of it is harmless.
But I have pointed out in past discussions that sometimes the fans have too much influence on the people creating the fiction. This interactive phenomenon has not quite yet achieved synergy but there is definitely a symbiotic nature to it. We cannot have the franchises without the fans but can we have the franchises without the fandoms?
And yet, when you allow the fans to have too much influence on what comes next they often react poorly. I believe that Peter Jackson’s fandom complained too much about certain things in his movies, and yet when Peter changed film Middle-earth enough to “fix” some of those problems the fans complained even more. This appears to be what happened with George Lucas and Episodes II and III. He really should have ignored the fans’ complaints and just told the story he wanted to tell.
J.J. Abrams gets to reset the stage in a lot of ways with “The Force Awakens” but fans are already setting expectations that future film projects may attempt to meet. I think that will be a mistake. Art cannot react to the emotions it seeks to evoke. It must simply evoke them and then live with the results of its own expression.