2015/09/18

Disney's Competence to Guide Star Wars Undermined in New Novel's Aftermath

Star Wars Aftermath

Unless you've been living on Mars, the buzz surrounding Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, and their plans to release a whole new series of films, has completely enmeshed you in an inescapable web of hype. The first wave of movie marketing has already arrived in a multimedia blitz incorporating everything from comics to trading cards; toys to games (this one being particularly awesome).

Calling expectations "high" would be the understatement of the decade. We all remember how life-changing the original Star Wars trilogy was. We also remember (however much we try to forget) how much the prequel trilogy sucked. We desperately want--need the new movies to be better than I, II, and III.


According to recent signs, they won't. They'll probably be worse.

Aftermath: Star Wars: The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first canonical Star Wars novel to bridge the years between Episode VI and Episode VII. The book has been released to overwhelmingly negative reviews. Although the author tries to deflect some of the backlash with conspiracy theories involving bigots and disgruntled old school fan spammers, the book's disjointed, tonally dissonant writing style is what's drawing the lion's share of the criticism. The book's hyper-punctuated title is a pretty accurate foretaste of what awaits readers within.

Whenever some new iteration of a popular IP critically misfires like this, the question always seems to be whether it's a case of creative talent mismatch or executive meddling. Chuck Wendig, the author of Aftermath, has written several favorably reviewed books, none of which seem to share that same impenetrable, pseudo-literary style.

So either Wendig picked his once-in-a-lifetime shot at writing Star Wars to start going all art house, which would be catastrophically dumb, or he had a bunch of Disney suits breathing down his neck; telling him to make it more "relevant" and "mature". Based on some quick research into how Disney operates, I'm going with option 2.

Evidence of Disney Meddling
Remember when comedic genius Edgar Wright resigned as director of Marvel's Ant-Man?


Wright hasn't said very much about his departure, which is probably a smart move, but it's pretty clear that script changes made at Disney's behest were the "creative differences" that led to his exit.

Toy Story
Tom Hanks called Katzenberg's version of Woody "a jerk".
Then there was the time when Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg nearly got Toy Story cancelled by forcing Pixar to make it darker, even to the point of making Woody the villain. Luckily, Pixar found their backbone when a test audience panned the early version. But a bad precedent was set for Disney executives forcing artistic changes, despite being completely out of touch with what their audience wants.

A pattern seems to be forming wherein aloof Disney executives force baffling, artistically destructive decisions on their talent, usually in misguided attempts to make the product more appealing to adults and more socially conscious. There's no hard proof that this happened to Wendig, but the violence done to Aftermath is consistent with Disney's MO.

How do these three artistic blunders augur for the upcoming Star Wars films? Poorly, I'm afraid.

There is one ray of hope. Toy Story proved that directors can successfully defend their creations' integrity against Disney's wishes. Thus, the fate of Star Wars Episode VII rests on the shoulders of J.J. Abrams.

Setting aside Abram's recent past as the guy who basically made the same Star Trek movie twice in a row, comments he's made about the casting of Episode VII may be hints that entertaining the franchise's core fans isn't his top priority.

Whether you like the cast of Episode VII or not (and I've been a fan of John Boyega since Attack the Block), saying that it's important for movie characters to look like the audience undermines claims of color blind casting. And if you're using any other criteria than "Can this actor give the best portrayal of this character?" you risk churning out the same preachy message fic that's destroying print science fiction.

Can J.J. Abrams make a good Star Wars film? Yes, if he embraces an artistic vision that prioritizes fun. He can even include a Very Special Message, as long as it doesn't get in the way of the story. But if he doesn't stick to his guns when Disney execs show up with "notes"; if he turns what should be Star Wars' triumphant return to the silver screen into a 90 minute lecture, then Episode VII will reach depths to which not even Episode I sank: the level of cynical propaganda.

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