Now that The Rise of Skywalker is out and a confirmed turd, what will become of Star Wars? Can Lucasfilm right the ship after Kathleen Kennedy and coterie of pop culture arsonists have immolated the lore? Can Star Wars be salvaged? Can Star Wars ever matter again?
Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.
God willing, the rumors are true that Kathleen Kennedy’s ignominious tenure as head of Lucasfilm is coming to an end. Hopefully, we’ll look back on her stewardship as a mercifully brief, but painfully depraved act of vandalism on a beloved pop culture franchise. Maybe Star Wars won’t recover from her reign of terror, but we can always hope for the best and imagine the possibilities.
In a normal world, the failure of the sequel trilogy should prompt an earnest reappraisal of the relevance of the entire Star Wars franchise in the 21st century. At its core, Star Wars celebrates the revolutionary ethos; the scrappy underdogs taking on the mechanistic totalitarian behemoth. In 1977, this mixture of pulp sci-fi, Jungian archetypes, and old school Hollywood swashbuckling felt fresh and innovative. You could even make the case that it had reactionary overtones since the final celebration of A New Hope heralded the restoration of a monarchical aristocracy. Even if Princess Leia ultimately submitted herself to the interplanetary democratic bureaucracy, she was still royalty. Even JJ Abrams affirmed this fact in one of Lor San Tekka’s throwaway lines.
The sequel trilogy tried to present itself as a fresh update by putting a more multicultural, intersectional veneer on Star Wars, but the underlying formula remained the same. Embattled democratic idealists fighting an infinitely resourced technocratic military dictatorship. But what’s so rebellious about pandering to feminists, LGBTQ ideologues, and vegans or giving lip service to other hollow progressive pieties? Nothing.
Is this pop space opera formula even relevant anymore if you’re looking to revive Star Wars for a new generation?
It could be.
If the Disney Corporation had any real courage or was really interested making Star Wars relevant while repurposing the basic formula, they would have to completely realign the struggle between the Rebellion and the Empire. What gets easily forgotten is that the Rebels simply want to reclaim the seat of power of the interplanetary democratic imperium. They’re not trying to dismantle the Galactic Senate. Their ambitions are no different than the Empire in terms of acquiring power. You’re left to assume that they’ll just be more humane cuz womyn and multiculturalism and shit.
A more courageous 21st century Star Wars would focus on the #Brexiteers of the New Republic; planets who are sick of a bloated and decadent bureaucracy of indifferent elites on Coruscant. It would focus on societies who don’t want the crushing conformity and ineptitude of a multiplanetary super state. Since Disney is a propaganda arm of the globalist power structure, they’ll never do that. If anything, they’ll continue to offer up cartoonish strawmen of secessionists and Nazis as the sole embodiments of pure evil.
Should Disney just break the universe down into its constituent parts and focus on small scale projects like The Mandalorian?
Maybe. The Mandalorian seems to be drawing enthusiastic praise from the fans. Perhaps Star Wars makes more sense as a crime/Western or as a gritty remix of The Dirty Dozen a la Rogue One. It invites questions about whether or not these reinventions can even be called Star Wars, but people just want something that’s good even if it bears no resemblance to the OT. If Lucasfilm can just write a decent story and create memorable characters, the fans would be lining up to hand over their cash.
What’s obvious to anyone who isn’t already ideologically aligned with the Disney Corporation is that they are the Empire. Does anyone really believe that the military-industrial corporate powers behind a multibillion dollar global conglomerate like the Disney Corporation represent any kind of real world revolutionary underdog? Mass produced revolutionary chic is the ethos and the product of the global corporate democratic elite. #Rebellion is the establishment. Subsequently, they’re ideologically cornered. The safe bet is that we’ll continue to watch all their storytelling choices get funneled into this narrow cul de sac. Any other narrative choices are either too risky or just too far off the ideological reservation for the Disney Corporation.
Despite the romantic lip service to democracy, the Star Wars franchise is actually a subtle indictment of democracy. The prequel series traces the decline of the Old Republic while the subsequent chapters portray two generations of revolution. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of democracy. The series constantly glorifies rebellion as the highest virtue, but portrays the ability to govern and lead as a recipe for dictatorship. The Empire are clearly more accomplished at marshalling resources and maintaining order, but the means by which they achieve it is either through violence, fear, brainwashing or overwhelming military might.
A more honest and mature Star Wars would portray pro-Empire worlds who were beneficiaries of the military-industrial contracts and largesse. To amass that much military might purely through coercion absolutely strains credibility. Comfort, leisure, and entertainment coupled with order, safety and stability are far more effective means of population control than guns, prisons and superweapons ever will be. The perennial portrait of murderous Imperial monsters who just want to annihilate every world in the galaxy just doesn’t add up. They need resources, labor, and a tax base. They won’t have anything to govern if they just vaporize every planet in the imperium. It’s not exactly the mythic dichotomy portrayed in the franchise, but it would be a fresh update.
A more honest and mature Star Wars would also portray the Rebels for what they likely really are in the real world: controlled opposition; a subversive element which provides a pretext for consolidating more power. The Rebels would either be demagogues marshalling public sentiment, terror cells, or fifth column elements attempting to destabilize planets unsympathetic to the Empire. No one in the New Republic really wants a Holdo leading military fleets. In contrast to their real world progressive counterparts, the Rebels clearly do not repudiate firearm ownership, opportunistically glorify military leadership or embrace phony postures of pacifism.
I never thought I’d see the day when the gatekeepers of a major pop culture franchise would use it to telegraph their utter hatred for the mythology and the fans the way Kathleen Kennedy has over this film cycle. As someone who always regarded the very idea of being paid generous sums of cash to tell stories and be creative as the greatest achievement, this strikes me as the height of decadence and entitlement.
I certainly think Star Wars could matter in the 21st century, but I don’t blame anyone for writing it off as a dead mythology at this point. Because of the impact it made on me while I was growing up, it’s hard for me to completely reject it. However, that doesn’t mean I’m signing up for Disney+ just so I can watch The Mandalorian either. Because George Lucas lit my soul on fire back in 1977, part of me will continue to hold out a new hope that someone at Lucasfilm will simply love Star Wars and its fans. I’d like to think there’s room for a big hearted pop culture mythology that actually respects its fans and source material. Despite being the property of the most entitled and compromised people on the planet, I believe Star Wars could reclaim that position again. Help us, Kevin Feige. You’re our only hope.