It’s been hard for me to focus today.
Technically it’s a work day — the place I work for doesn’t close down for the Christmas break until December 23. For better or worse, though, the primary element of my role — teaching — wrapped up at the end of October. Grading assessments brought me up to mid-November, but then it’s been working through a random assortment of things I’d been putting off for the rest of the year. Largely research and getting on top of reading for supervisions.
Which means I’ve had a lot of thinking time. Probably too much.
Today is December 16. Midnight tomorrow (12am December 17) sees me enter a cinema, don some 3D glasses and strap in for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Those who know me know that I’ve been a fan of Star Wars forever. I wore out the Special Edition VHS tapes as a kid, then bought up each new iteration as it was released (warts, badly-composited womp rats, NOOOOOOOOOO’s, and all). I’ve written elsewhere about how Star Wars was an escape, and it was. It helped me through a lot. It was that escape, that fantasy, that security blanket, that everyone needs and deserves.
As I’ve gotten (a little) older, I’ve become more invested in how this pop culture behemoth has taken over the popular consciousness. While I would never ever consider authoring anything academic about the franchise (though I have mentioned it on occasion, only as an example), it’s been really great to see that excitement about these films that are so special to me has not waned in some 40 odd years.
I’m not particularly concerned about the new film. I have a lot of time for JJ Abrams as a person and a director, which might shock some of my students. I have next to no expectations, beyond my wish for a good time. You’d think I’d expect more, given my extended fanship, but honestly I am a little over the whingers. Han Shot First, fan theories, despecialized editions, the list goes on. A great deal of George Lucas’s pain over the last thirty years comes down to fans thinking they own the franchise when, honestly, they don’t. They never have.
Now, let’s be clear: I think a lot of the changes Lucas has made over the years have resulted in poorer films. But jumping up and down won’t change anything. Sadly, said jumping up and down has resulted in an entire social network: Tumblr. I like Tumblr, it’s a fun place to be, but it can also be exhausting.
Tangent time: in the last 24 hours I’ve listened to the entire run of the podcast Limetown. It’s a fictional story in the style of investigative/story-based podcasts like This American Life and Serial (though there is speculation Limetown was produced before the latter was release). It’s a short and engaging story (six episodes of about 25 mins each) in the vein of Fringe or The Twilight Zone, and makes exceptional use of the format in order to develop characters and tension. After some discussion with the good friend who put me on to the show, I decided to investigate a little further into some of the unresolved story threads. Reddit didn’t let me down. Hundreds of seemingly unimportant references and words are ripped to shreds by fans who have listened to each episode ten or more times. While there is a tendency to label uber-fans as obsessives or ‘weird’ (per Jenkins), I can’t help but admire their dedication to this thing that they’ve found that they love. Some of the discussions, though, led to some fans defending an idea that was entirely based on speculation. Fans of podcasts are generally a genial bunch, so it never got nasty, but there were moments where, with other cultural artefacts, it’s gotten very ugly.
Again, it comes down to ownership. I see no harm in throwing theories out there, speculating on what might happen, or collectively bemoaning adjustments to a beloved franchise, but adoration/love/fandom does not equal ownership. Limetown and Star Wars do not belong to us. They are the genuine artistic creations of a series of individuals who should be praised for having the skills and the guts to put it together and put it out into the world.
It was gratifying to read that George Lucas had received a standing ovation at the premiere of The Force Awakens earlier in the week. And in the latest episode of Imaginary Worlds, Eric Molinsky dissects the Han Shot First debate, couching it in not dissimilar terms to those I’ve used above. One quote really stuck with me, and in many ways inspired this epic rant of mine:
“We shouldn’t be too proud of this technological terror we’ve constructed, and by that I mean Twitter. Because at a certain point filmmakers need to have leeway to make bold creative choices so the franchise can breathe and grow and not be just a big nostalgia trip.”
I had a lot of feels about Jurassic World. But, in hindsight, kudos to the rights-holders for giving Colin Trevorrow the go-ahead to introduce new characters and stories (and, sadly, dinosaurs) into this world we know and love. Jurassic World was a failed experiment, but without failure there would be no success. I think The Force Awakens will prove that such revivals, reawakenings, and reboots, can be successful.