I love Star Wars. I love it just as much as I did when I was a child. It’s my favorite film series of all time. It’s my favorite fictional universe to spend time in. I’ve spent countless hours endlessly rewatching the movies, playing the video games, reading mountains of novels, comics and in-universe guidebooks, and, when I was younger, recreating scenes with Legos, action figures and plastic lightsabers. Quite frankly, it’s one of the only things I enjoy about being alive.
What I don’t love about Star Wars is its fanbase. If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the last decade, you’ll know without me having to tell you that the toxicity and irrational gatekeeping of the Star Wars fanbase is truly unparalleled. Every Star Wars-centric comments section is filled to the brim with variations of “(X installment) was absolutely perfect, and everything since then has been cancer!” I’m old enough to remember a time when these comments were typically levied at the prequel trilogy, but these days I most frequently encounter them being levied at the movies made since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, most notably the sequel trilogy.
I’m not here to argue on behalf of or against any section of the Star Wars canon. People like or dislike what they want, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. Not to mention that plenty of the criticisms of the Disney-produced films are perfectly valid; I’ve made a number of them myself. What I’m here to do is to confront the fact that passionate hatred of them, coupled with a refusal to critically examine anything that came before, is both frustrating and, frankly, intellectually dishonest.
To love Star Wars in an intellectually honest fashion includes certain responsibilities, chiefly: the acknowledgement that the franchise is flawed. Deeply flawed. Flaws that, if I’m being honest with myself, I would never accept from a lesser series. But these flaws don’t stop me from loving these movies, and they don’t have to stop anyone else either.
So in celebration of today, the 43rd anniversary of the release of the original film, I’d like to address 5 of the common Star Wars complaints I’ve heard:
(spoilers ahead, if you’re somehow not caught up)
1. “Rey is a Mary Sue” — For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a “Mary Sue” is a character who’s good at everything with little effort and lacks substantive character flaws, therefore making them uninteresting as a character. Rey, the protagonist of the sequel trilogy, is frequently accused of this, due to her advanced piloting skills, vast knowledge of alien languages, quick mastery of the Force and general self-reliance.
Meritorious as this argument may be (and it kinda is), in all honesty, is Luke Skywalker any different? In A New Hope alone, he VERY quickly gets over the deaths of his surrogate parents, successfully overpowers a trained soldier and steals his armor (which just so happens to fit him), proceeds to mow down legions of other trained soldiers despite having no known combat training, and in the climax of the movie, hops into a starfighter he’s never flown before and blows up the Death Star using the magical superpowers he just learned about yesterday.
2. “The new trilogy feels disjointed” — This is probably the most valid criticism of the sequel trilogy, or at least the one I most agree with. There were a number of different and semi-contradictory creative visions at play during the production of the sequel trilogy, and without a Kevin Feige-like figure to, for lack of a better term, micromanage them until they fit together, the whole affair comes across as struggling to feel consistent.
While the original trilogy felt more consistent, due to having the constant creative mind of George Lucas, it had its fair share of inconsistencies too. While it still does feel like a more cohesive work, I’m very skeptical of the notion that Lucas wrote all of these ideas at the same time, as is often claimed. Just to name a few examples:
- Darth Vader appears to be just another Imperial officer in A New Hope, and is definitely outranked by Grand Moff Tarkin, whereas subsequent movies portray him as the unquestioned second-in-command of the entire Empire. (Incidentally, the fact that Tarkin, technically the main antagonist of the movie, is vastly overshadowed by Vader, is itself a narrative flaw.)
- Obi-Wan’s version of events in A New Hope portrays Darth Vader as a separate entity from Luke’s father. He even calls Vader “Darth” as if it were a first name. Subsequent movies would later clarify that “Darth” is a title/rank, and that Vader is in fact Luke’s father. This leads to the whole “from a certain point of view” conversation, which is possibly the laziest retcon of all time.
- The love triangle built between Luke, Han and Leia throughout the first two movies is very haphazardly resolved by the sudden revelation that Luke and Leia are twin siblings, despite the accidentally incestuous kiss that this entails. As much as I disliked the revelation that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter (and I really disliked it), if I’m being honest with myself, I’d probably feel the same way about the Luke/Leia revelation if I’d been an adult when I learned it.
While the original trilogy does a better job of rectifying these discrepancies than the sequels, the discrepancies themselves really shouldn’t be ignored.
3. “The new movies are toy commercials” — I hate to break it to you, but Star Wars has kinda always been a toy commercial. Now, I’m not saying it’s devoid of soul, or artistry; that’s just factually incorrect. What I mean is that it’s clear that, certainly by Return Of The Jedi and arguably as early as Empire Strikes Back that they were already making decisions and designing new outfits and vehicles based on the ability to sell a new toy.
While, yes, Threepio’s red arm was fairly obviously an effort to create a new Threepio action figure, so too was the Rebels’ decision to use snowspeeders during the Battle Of Hoth. (I’m pretty sure the already-existing X-Wings would have had more powerful weapons, too.) The Ewoks, obviously, were based on toy sales. I’m sure the new versions of Stormtroopers in every movie contributed to that, too. If you want to be cynical, you could pick apart the practical reasons for every story and creative decision in every work of art ever made.
4. “The new movies rely too much on Expanded Universe material to worldbuild” — Another 100% valid criticism of the new movies. Yes, the sequel trilogy (Rise Of Skywalker being the worst offender) have a number of plot points that make more sense (or even make any sense) if you’ve read the massive Expanded Universe of books and comics. Characters that go under-developed, details about organizations and backstory that aren’t explained, and even certain character’s motivations and relationships to one another. All of that is absolutely a problem.
However, these problems have been present in Star Wars since the very beginning; they’re just worse now. The prequels were filled to the brim with enough examples that I could write an entire article just about them, so I’ll skip them for the purposes of brevity. The original trilogy was rife with small gaps like this too. It’s easy to forget that the name of Luke’s home planet wasn’t even revealed until the third movie. Nor was the name of Luke’s father, a central character, whose true identity was very casually dropped by Ghost Obi-Wan in the middle of a much larger conversation, as if we were expected to know that already. Even worse, the name of the larger antagonist of the entire series wasn’t revealed at all. Palpatine is both referred to and credited as simply “The Emperor”. As was the faction of Force users he leads; the word “Sith” is not said once in the entire original trilogy.
All of these details, however, were present in other Star Wars media at that time. Tie-in novels, guide books, the original Marvel Comics series; they were all telling key pieces of information, filling in gaps the movies didn’t. The problem may be worse now, but let’s not pretend it wasn’t there back then too.
And finally, I’ll get to a point I really shouldn’t have to address:
5. “There’s too much diversity in these movies now!” — First of all, stop with that. You’re edging into some very iffy territory. Having women and minorities in a movie is not a problem. Shut up.
Second, Star Wars has always had women and minorities in it. Princess Leia was a seminal action heroine, and a key inspiration to every female hero created since. She was a fighter, a leader, and completely unafraid to create waves, or corpses. This idea is still (sadly) kind of a big deal as of today, let alone in 1977. (She was also played by the absolute treasure to this world that was Carrie Fisher.)
For another example, look to Lando Calrissian. As a recent article by an old college classmate of mine pointed out, Lando was an independent, charming, intelligent black man, in a leading role in a mainstream film, whose character held multiple positions of respect and authority, and most notably, whose skin color was a complete non-issue. At the risk of being redundant, I want to emphasize that this was in 1980. Considering that black actors still struggle to be cast in leading roles to this day, by the standards of the Carter Administration such an example of colorblind casting was almost unheard of.
None of what I’ve said here today is meant to disparage the original trilogy, or to advocate that you’re “not a real fan” if you don’t like the sequels. In fact, it’s the opposite. Star Wars fans are not the arbiters of who gets to be a Star Wars fan, and there’s no single requirement for which movies you have to like or dislike in order to pass the Star Wars Fan Purity Test. If you don’t like the sequels, that’s fine. I completely understand that. If you love the sequels, I completely understand that too. I’m simply here to advocate one single point:
Loving Star Wars in an intellectually honest fashion requires you to be accepting of its flaws, and to judge all of its installments by the same metrics.
It’s okay for a newer installment to not make you feel the same way the originals did when you were a child. You’re a different person now, and your experience will reflect that. But to someone else, the newer installments give them that same feeling that the originals gave you. And if you’re prepared to accept that, and love these movies regardless, then, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said 43 years ago today:
That’s good; you’ve taken your first step into a larger world.