Disney Star Wars’ Problems Began with The Force Awakens (& I Called it in ’15)

I have been skeptical of Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars ever since they jettisoned the EU and hired JJ Abrams as director for the first installment. I discussed this, and my overall problems with the sequel trilogy’s trajectory in an earlier blog post. But, I’m sorry, now that we’ve seen the final installment, I must reiterate the point again. This entire undertaking was a mess. It was a complete, total, unmitigated disaster of bad planning justified by the arrogant assumption that the public would swallow anything with the “Star Wars” name on it. In a financial sense, they were right, as each film made bank at the box office. (Though they’ve been on a downward trend.) But in the process it ruined most if not all of the goodwill the brand once had, alienated longtime fans and each film has a bevy of serious flaws in their storytelling which will not hold up well to repeat viewings. (Some of the people in my life who used to be die-hard JJ and Disney Star Wars apologists recently admitted to me as much as well.)

What’s frustrating for me is that I was one of the rare people who either saw this coming from the beginning, or had the courage to say it out loud at the time. And yet, not only does no one admit I called it, but even at the end, a large amount of people don’t seem to get what the problem was. No, it wasn’t The Last Jedi that killed Star Wars nor was it solely (real or perceived) feminine pandering with Rey’s many abilities (although those certainly didn’t help.) No, this make-believe “Abrams Cut” is not magically going to fix the trilogy in the eleventh hour after an abysmal first two acts. The problem with the “Disney Trilogy” was in its very foundation with The Force Awakens, the movie (many of) you all said was so amazing when it came out. The movie you all told me was a masterpiece, and any issues I had would be “sorted out in the next film.” I said it then and I’ll repeat it now, but the exact logical conclusion of this cinematic travesty was telegraphed to any prescient viewer from 2015. You were either in denial or weren’t paying enough attention.

I didn’t make this post just to say “I told you so,” and I imagine this particular essay is going to rub many readers the wrong way. But I don’t care; the fact of the matter is that we need to stop this kind of irresponsible film-making from ever happening again. And that means calling out this abomination of cinema for what it is, as well as laying the blame where it belongs. Rian Johnson may be a bad writer and a lousy creative for attacking both critics and speculative fans personally on social media but he’s a symptom of a far larger problem. The blame lays squarely with JJ Abrams’ sacrilegious approach to storytelling, as well as Kathleen Kennedy for hiring him (among her other blunders–look at how haphazard the production of each Disney film has been.) We could go even further up the chain of command and point fingers at Bob Iger for not respecting George Lucas’ wishes when it counted by throwing out his story ideas, yet doing so when it was a hindrance (IE keeping Kennedy in power.) But the point is Hollywood needs to stop putting all its eggs in this remake-established-property basket and take a chance on a new up and comer like George Lucas was who has a great idea. That, and audiences need to get over their sick loyalty to branding and stop making excuses for poor storytelling. Saying “oh they’ll fix it in the next movie” was never an acceptable answer before, stop giving these people your hard earned money when they openly insult us with half-finished, ill-conceived crap.

The problems with the Disney Trilogy’s stories, characterization, cinematography and production nightmares have been extensively covered in far more detail than I have the patience to reiterate here. I suggest Mauler, Midnight’s Edge, Worldclass Bullshitters, Anomaly Inc and a hundred others for further research into this topic if you’re interesting in what went wrong and why many fans are displeased. (Recently, even Jenny Nicholson, previously one of the Disney Trilogy’s biggest defenders was pushed to her limits and bashed the latest film.) I strongly believe books will be written about this unprecedented fiasco that will then be studied endlessly in film schools for generations to come.

All that context aside, I thought it would be fun to post transcriptions of two prophetic diatribes I originally posted on social media and a forum I used to be a part of which predicted all of this would happen four years ago. That’s back when most fans were still satisfied the Disney buyout was a good thing. The point is the signs were there from the beginning if anyone had the prescience to understand what the colossal lack of imagination that is The Force Awakens signaled for the future of the franchise. Unfortunately, back in December 2015. most people I knew as well as most media outlets were all too eager to believe the hype that Star Wars was “back.” It was back all right, just built on an unstable foundation–but far be it from me to ruin everyone’s fun I guess.

OBLIGATORY REMINDER: If anyone here enjoys the Disney-Era Star Wars movies, that’s completely fine and I’m glad they made you happy. I don’t care what kind of entertainment anyone likes, I only object to the corporate, careless and cynical film-making that these movies represent. At this point I’ve long since lost any sense of passion for the Star Wars license but as a massive film buff I find the way Disney botched this project to be a grave insult to storytelling and the artistic process. The only beef I have with any individual fans are the ones I’ve seen who know these movies are bad but still continue to go see them, either out of boredom, or being part of the new “hype” event, or brand loyalty, morbid curiosity and whatever other excuse they give. Stop feeding the beast if you know it’s terrible! You’re only ensuring they’ll make more of this crap!

The great irony of our time is that this company, which made its fortune adapting public domain stories, has fought tooth and nail so no other works will ever fall into public domain ever, and will continue to buy up every established IP in existence. Disney is buying our culture with the malevolent tools of crony capitalism and they must be stopped.

Trailer Reaction Post

[I’m leaving this largely untouched for posterity, spelling/grammar mistakes intact and all. Just keep in mind this was written four years ago and is not indicative of my writing style nowadays.]

UNPOPULAR OPINION TIME
Never liked any project Abrams has been associated with, and I dont understand all the hype and fanboyism for a franchise that only has one great movie, one good movie, one ok movie and three pieces of shit. Like…for real. I loved them as a kid too but that doesnt mean blindly support everything with the Star Wars logo on it and defend it just because its Star Wars. Instead of spending 4 billion to buy the rights…why not just make something new and original?

I read the plot details here: https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWarsLeaks/comments/3wv3c2/gameday_thread_star_wars_premiere/cxzkmy3
And I gotta say Im not impressed. It sounds like a boring, pointless, safe retread of ANH thats typical Abrams fare “lets raise a million questions and never answer them!” and setting up for the sequels instead of making a good standalone movie. I wont talk about specific plot points, but yeah. It seems like your typical stupid blockbuster but preying on your nostalgia and love of the originals to seem like more than it is.

And before anyone chimes in with the usual “well, as long as its better than the prequels” and “well what did you expect, Citizen Kane?” and “its a popcorn movie, cant you just turn your brain off and enjoy it” I think this reddit comment sums up my counterpoint to such sentiments better than I could:

“After seeing a lot of the comments and reviews on social media, the recent threads, and leaks, I just feel like something should be said in regards to this mentality of “eh, so long as it’s good enough”, or “it should be better than the prequels”, and other remarks defending mediocrity…

Let’s put some things into perspective: Star Wars is a highly popular franchise and has been for decades. It was sold for no small sum to Disney, a multi-billion dollar company who is a media and entertainment giant. It has the good will of millions of fans. It has the potential for mega blockbuster notoriety, which draws in an endless stream of talented actors, directors, producers, and the best and brightest in entertainment (just look at the casting for the new Han Solo movie). It, I’m sure, had infinite financial banking to ensure it’s success.

So, with all that said, If this movie does not turn out to be great, then it’s a monumental failure on Disney’s part, on Abrams, on Lucasfilm, on Kasdan, etc; and goes to show the trending mentality when it comes to media and entertainment.

It shows that if you slap the words Star Wars on anything, they will have legions of fans to hand over their hard earned money, regardless of quality.

I’m hoping this movie will deliver and be fantastic, and I’ll personally know for sure in just a few days. I’m tired though, of the constant “meh, good enough” crap that comes out year after year just because it’s Star Wars and the expectation is that it’ll sell regardless of quality.”

When you consider that Abrams did this after TFA went completely out of its way to shit on the prequels it becomes even more insulting. Lucas should have told him to pound sand.

Movie Reaction Post

[I’m leaving this largely untouched for posterity: grammar issues, occasional swearing, emotional tone and all. If you’re new to this site, just keep in mind this represents my younger self reacting in the moment to a terrible movie, and is NOT indicative of my usual writing style nowadays.]

I personally thought it was a load of garbage that relied entirely on nostalgia pandering (look! Lukes lightsaber! Look! Vader’s helmet! Look! Han Solo!) and had not a single original idea in the whole thing. Its basically a scene by scene remake of A New Hope but not nearly as good, it regressed the characters we all knew and loved (Luke’s a failure who just gave up, Hans a smuggler again after being a war hero general, Leia does nothing the whole movie), introduced a lame janitor storm trooper whose motivations made no sense, a mary sue perfect girl-power protagonist and a whiny pretty boy loser antagonist. There were far too many retreads to the originals, unnecessary slaps in the face to Lucas (“this’ll begin to make things right”/blowing Coruscant and Naboo up), and really heavy handed Nazi overtones to the bad guys which was so forced and lame.

Here was my in-depth review on my Facebook after returning from the theater. My intial thought seeing it was it was ok but just ok, but honestly the more I think about it the more i dislike it. I predict it will NOT stand the test of time and as the years go by and people rewatch and really analyze it, there will be significant backlash. I’m aware it’s getting good reviews but I think that’s a combination of the novelty of a new Star Wars, no one wanting to piss off Disney or go against the hype, and the power of the Star Wars brand making people go easy on it. But even the reviews if you actually read them have an air of disappointment and acknowledge its a total rehash of the original.

Anyway…

“Im gonna rub some people the wrong way here, but I gotta get this outta my system.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSaaa_OBkzw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6eqPEH_BvY

^History repeats itself? These are fans coming out of Phantom Menace for the first time calling it the best thing ever. You could argue this time’s different and I’m being a douche canoe for raining on everybody’s parade…but after taking it all in…the reviews, the IMDb comments, my friends’ opinions and seeing it myself…I’m predicting in another 10 or I guess 16 years we’ll be right back here at square one looking back and pretending we all instantly hated TFA and walked out when in reality we all bought into the hype and loved it…for awhile. One aspect of the prequel hate that gets brushed under the rug these days is that each one people initially seemed to love, then by the time the next came out, people realized it wasn’t good but seemed to say “but I’m sure this one will be a lot better” and coming out of the theater we seemed to think so. At least, that was my experience with my family/friends. It always took a year or two to “realize” or admit the last one sucked, and it still didn’t stop us from hyping up the next one anyway. So powerful is the Star Wars brand, it literally prints money and manufactures consent.

I realize I’m being kind of a smug asshole for trying to act like I’m above the curve and posting something like this…but I find the whole phenomenon here really interesting–more so than any of the actual SW movies sans Empire. Like I said in my profile pic about Lucas as a man, there will be an amazing documentary or fictionalized account of this series and his life someday. There’s just so much there to build upon–the maniac in the desert filming a stupid space story everyone said would fail, the runaway success, and the unsung heroes like Gary Kurtz, Irvin Kershner and Marcia Lucas working behind the scenes to fine tune his ideas into gold. Then there’s the divorce, the egomania taking over, the loathsome special editions, the mass delusion of initial prequel acceptance followed by the great backlash, the surprise sell to Disney, them using the Creator as a fall guy to blame all problems on, and (if I’m right) the repeating of history with what seems to be a pretty unimaginative new set of films. And thru it all, we’ve seen the pendulum of public opinion regarding Lucas swing back and forth from genius, to hypocritical hack, to sympathetic storyteller. I’m already seeing some reappraisals of the prequels online since TFA came out, that at least they’re new and imaginative if badly directed/acted, where TFA is polished and competent but also a complete rehash of the original.

The phenomena of undying love for a brand is really interesting to witness too, from someone on the semi-outside of it (loved ’em all as a kid, not so much now). I really think in this case, people WANTED to like each of the post-ROTJ movies so much they allow themselves to believe they’re better than they really are. And even with 3–possibly soon to be 4–disappointments, we still keep coming back for more…because hey, its Star Wars. Cant be that bad right…except the prequels (and possibly soon TFA) but still! It just begs the question…with so much disappointment and unfulfilled potential in the series’ history, what exactly is the appeal? Why do we keep paying for it? Was the original that good that it warrants so much unyielding loyalty in spite of all the let down since? Or is it the impossible childhood nostalgia we’re paying for? I’m not sure which but one thing I know for certain is TFA didn’t deliver for me. I bought into the hype and the herd mentality with the prequels because I was so young and easily impressed…but as a 23 year old, a pointless scene by scene rehash of the original with less interesting characters and forced nostalgia pandering just doesn’t cut it…and it’s actually kinda disheartening to see so many apparently buy into it anyway.

I gotta say, as a film buff this movie makes me really sad. I respect the original Star Wars for its innovations and success, and it’s still a fun movie to watch today. But I loathe its impact on Film–the beginning of the blockbuster era, and of mass merchandising of films into all-encompassing, forced cultural events with toys, marketing tie ins, and now even Star Wars brand makeup! And this film, as it shamelessly mirrors the original, represents all the corporatization it summoned coming home to roost. A studio paid 4 billion to gain the rights, another quarter billion to make a film, at least an eighth of a billion to market…all to make the same movie again, with new (lamer) characters and updated effects. And no one sees a problem with that, because…its a NEW STAR WARS DUDE! ITS AWESOME!! But is it really? Yeah, we got all the forced call-backs to Vader, Han, Leia, Chewie, Luke, the Droids, and the Falcon. But so what? What did any of it amount to? WOW I SAW VADERS SKULL FOR FIVE SECONDS, THAT REMINDS ME OF THE ORIGINALS!!! Han’s back…and his character growth of the trilogy has been completely undone so he can be the same lovable smuggler badass we remember even if it makes no sense. Leia does nothing important at all…but by seeing her again it taps into your nostalgia. At one point, C3PO literally mugs the camera and says “Yes, it is I, C3PO! And I have a new arm!” for no reason but to make the audience go “OMG!! I REMEMBER HIM!! YEAH, STAR WARS!”

All this, and the man who crafted the original against all odds is shamelessly thrown to the curb, his original treatments for the sequel trilogy abandoned because EW LUCAS MADE THE PREQUELS! HES EVERYTHING WRONG WITH STAR WARS! Even tho he also made the originals…and at least the prequels for all their faults were unique stories and had good ideas–just bad execution. So for all the hype about how JJ and the Mouse were saving the franchise…what were their bright ideas? A new Death…Planet? OH BUT IT’S BIGGER!! WOWEE!! A poor mans Vader who wears a mask for no reason, and takes it off to reveal a whiny loser pretty boy who throws temper tantrums? A token black guy whose motivation makes no sense (I don’t wanna fight so I’m gonna wipe out a bunch of my ex-comrades), a bunch of forced, obvious Nazi iconography to show the Empire–whoops, First Order–are bad guys, and a Mary Sue who can do literally anything as the lead. There’s a new lightsaber fight as expected, even tho it makes no sense a newbie could beat a trained Knight. There’s a new blow-up-the-death-star we’ve already seen in Episodes I, IV, and VI except with no tension whatsoever. There’s an ugly, annoying woman-Yoda who’s orange. A bland, forgettable new score from John Williams. All that’s good in this movie are the scraps from Lucas’ imagination, and the only reason people swallow this crap is because of the Star Wars brand. But no, fuck that guy, he’s a hack. This guy Abrams tho, who has no originality whatsoever. no man, he’s the savior of the galaxy. That’s why we made all the EU novels–many of which are far superior–not canon for his drivel. Bah, humbug.

I feel at this point I should explain that I personally thought the movie was ok. But that’s it. Just ok. And for 4.5ish billion dollars…that’s fucking disgraceful. With the keys to the kingdom–Kasdan, Williams, the original cast–even more so. How do you fuck that up–especially when all the speculative ideas for the new story, much of the EU novels, and possibly Lucas’ scripts–were all so much better than the knock-off bullshit you came up with? The frustrating thing is, this seems to be good enough for people nowadays. People wave away ALL criticisms of this movie with either “well, it was better than the prequels!” or “what were you expecting–Star Wars always had bad acting/directing/story.” Basically some derivative of “it was good enough” and without addressing the fact that if the latter is true…why does Star Wars even need to keep existing? If you acknowledge it’s just stupid action fantasy…can’t we all agree it had its time in the sun and maybe, instead of spending a fortune to perpetuate crap, Disney could and should spend that trying something new? Why not give a new Lucas, an up and coming idealistic filmmaker, their chance to make their dream movie? Maybe it’ll flop–but it could be the next big thing, and it would at least be fresh and interesting. But that wouldn’t be a guaranteed, immediate return on investment which is all the executives want or care about.

Far more disturbing to me are the accusations of racism/sexism when people complain about not liking this, or the reminder of its reviews. The first “argument” is just ridiculous. The second…like it says in this article…you can literally feel the undercurrent of disappointment and that same attitude of “it was ok and its star wars so that’s good enough.” I sincerely believe without the brand this would be rightly ripped apart, and even with it, there’s still an air of “meh” but nobody wants to go against the herd, and the professional critics were either paid off or are too afraid to offend Disney. More than anything tho, I hear people waiving away all the plot inconsistencies, plot holes, and unanswered questions as “oh, well that’ll be explained in the next one.” Which is part of the problem in Hollywood nowadays. It started with Deathly Hallows and already reached the absurd with the Hobbit being split into 3 whole films. Want a complete, satisfying story? Fuck you, you’ll have to pay double or triple to watch the other 2,3,4 planned sequels/parts you stupid consumer. AND WE PAY FOR IT. UGH, that’s the worst fucking part. Hollywood is not only devoid of original ideas, they’re milking us for every cent, and all the while the sheep call the latest insulting bile “genius!” and “brilliant!” and anyone who complains is a cynic, an asshole…or just doesn’t “get it.”

I genuinely predict a reevaluation of TFA and the new trilogy in a few years time, to where they become just as reviled as the prequels. Right or wrong, you heard it here first. I base that assessment on the fact that those not in favor (that I’ve seen) all have reasonable, well constructed arguments for their displeasure while those who argue in favor of the film rely almost entirely on nostalgia and name-calling to get their point across. As for myself, I recently said Heaven’s Gate was the worst movie ever made, at least in terms of its impact on the development of cinema as an art form. Now, I’m honestly wondering if it might just be TFA. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but the amount of money wasted to make such a bland pile of crap, the hypnotizing effect of brand loyalty on the masses it demonstrates, and the sheer audacity of that opening line “this will begin to make things right” just to plagiarize the very man you just insulted with the rest of the movie all really rub me the wrong way. I’m ashamed to have given this movie my money–but the allure of seeing it with a friend, and morbid curiosity all got the better of me. Fuck this movie and all that it represents.

This video best demonstrates the current state of Star Wars fandom in my opinion. It’s all about nostalgia and clapping for things you already recognize. Red Letter Media unfortunately also went soft of TFA itself but since then their sentiments on the new trilogy largely reflect my own. I thought the observation about Star Wars conventions in their Last Jedi review (about 37:07) was particularly astute.

Summary & Conclusion

To put my earlier unfiltered rant in plain English, the point is the trilogy was doomed with TFA because it left absolutely nothing to build on except follow the other two original movies beat for beat. Train with Luke, like we did with Yoda, battle on a snow planet, oh, but this time it’s salt so that’s different right? Then we get our Emperor confrontation all over again, no Jabba analogue because a gold bikini throwback wouldn’t fly in our new PC-conscious political climate. TFA telegraphed that this entire trilogy was either bankrupt for ideas or too weak willed to try anything new. (As that quoted Reddit post stated, even with billions of dollars and seemingly all the creative talent in Hollywood clamoring to work on this IP, with decades of original stories in the EU to adapt from. It’s inexcusable. Stop giving this multi-billion dollar company your undeserved goodwill for their continuously inferior product.)

Even TLJ, for as much as it claimed to subvert expectations, was full of on the nose retakes of set-pieces done better in the original films. It builds up to Rey joining Keylo only to chicken out of its own thesis and revert back to the status quo because Disney won’t take real risks. The fact that they started on such a hallow, effortless and cynically pandering film as TFA should have been the dead give away that this was what we were in for. People should have been giving Disney, Kennedy and Abrams hell for that in ’15 when it was still potentially salvageable, but they rolled over and accepted this embarrassingly sub-par effort. That was the signal to Disney that they could get away with continuing to half-ass it, that people would come for the brand name alone and they’d still make a billion dollars per movie. They gambled on their ability to insult our intelligence indefinitely and were proven right. All this, when there are a million great original ideas not getting produced right now which could have been the next Star Wars level cultural phenomenon that they could have funded for a small fraction of the cost for this misbegotten catastrophe of a trilogy. This is why these films are so particularly offensive to me. That is what my younger self took 2,000 words and a rainbow of colorful vocabulary to express.

There’s a reason I chose “Cassandra” for my pen name. Without getting too pretentious about it, I make predictions about social and political issues in my day to day life which tend to be accurate but nobody ever believes me and often I’m alienated because I went against the herd mentality. As an example, I caught a good deal of flak for posting these at the time and repeating the sentiments in person to both friends and family back in 2015. The irony is most of these people have since come around to my line of thinking but nobody remembers or admits I called it 4 years ago back when it was anathema to suggest the Emperor had no clothes.

I got a lot of blowback on that old forum for this opinion, and I will admit that some was warranted due to my harsh tone. I was young and passionate about the subject, I would try to choose my words better if I were to write a negative review today. Anyway, I won’t reiterate everything that was said in response here, but one person did make fun of me for being snobbish in my tastes in media and another made some oblique point I still can’t understand about “sour grapes.” The one which makes me laugh the most in hindsight was when someone told me I should hope that Disney makes a lot of money on movies like these as it would ensure they could fund more creative small scale films in the future. I guess that’s why, after making a billion per SW film and even more with the MCU, the best Disney could do in 2019 was three soulless live action remakes of their old animated classics, an unnecessary fourth installment of the Toy Story brand (where they got to sell plastic forks to kids with nary a hint of shame, hooray consumerism!) and a Kim Possible reboot.

Hail Corporate, if they’re doing something wrong it’s your fault for not buying enough! If you want something that isn’t a sequel or remake, keep buying the sequels and remakes they churn out and be thankful for it, peasant! Stop thinking and consume product!

I promise my blog posts won’t always be this snarky going forward. I just really needed to get this out of my system.

This is probably the best rebuttal against the Disney Trilogy Apologism I’ve yet to see anywhere on the internet.

4 Comments

  1. Awesome breakdown, and thanks for that video. The list of what doesn’t matter and the question of what does leaves me breathless. As people who enjoy crafting strong stories, these films are…frustrating. But I don’t want to chuck JJ and Rian under the bus without first learning what they had in mind before Disney’s corporate demands swooped in. Do you think their stories would have been more palatable without Disney’s mucking it up?

    1. I appreciate the comment very much. Personally I think Abrams is a hack who never should have been hired and if left to his own devices would have proceeded similarly. If he had done the whole trilogy it would have been ANH knockoff followed by an ESB knockoff and ROTJ knockoff regardless of Disney. This is what he always does, just watch Star Trek Into Darkness.

      Rian Johnson by all accounts had complete creative control on TLJ. If he had free reign over the whole trilogy though, the verdict’s out on whether he would have done things in a different style or if it’d be better.

      1. Oh, I’ve seen Star Trek Into Darkness. Ugh, that was a disappointment. I didn’t agree with a lot of choices Rian made in TLJ, but at least it’s clear he was trying to do something different.

  2. Hi Cassie,
    While you and other observers fosaw and explained the problem with Disney StarWars, unfortunately the moviegoing public did not head the warning and continued to flock to watch StarWars movies. They were warned. If the public continues to pay to see crap movies then crap movies is what they will receive. I don’t blame Disney so much as I blame the people that continue to buy tickets to the bad StarWars movies. If the public does not vote for crap with their money less crap will be produced. Companies are in business to make money. When they don’t deliver a good product the public has the power to not pay for it. There are other forms of entertainment they can buy. Star Wars is not the only brand. Disney’s failure is an opportunity for a more creative group to bring forth something new and better.

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