Talking about narrative and tonal consistency between TFA and TLJ has me thinking. Now I’m not about to claim that Lucas had the Original Trilogy all “in his head” — as Lucas often revises his own history, it’s difficult to ascertain his authorial intent. His claims about using Campbell’s hero’s journey as a template from the off isn’t true; neither is this idea of him planning the saga as a series of two trilogies, three trilogies, four trilogies, then back to three etc. Lucas marshals different myths at different moments. However, Lucas was always the driving force behind his ‘vision,’ whether or not he hired writers and directors for ESB and RoTJ.
Who now is the main ‘author’ of Star Wars? Kathleen Kennedy seems to calling shots as producer. The Lucasfilm Story Group is there to ensure that stories don’t break the seal of continuity (although even Lucas’ prequels introduce a series of unstable elements for sure). Not to get into the nitty-gritty of authorship as the centre of meaning or anything, but I was struck when I learned that J.J Abrams was pitching Episode IX to Disney on the day of TLJ’s release! Moreover, after TFA was written, Kathleen Kennedy said she turned to Rian Johnson and said: “what happens next?” This seems to be more ad hoc in a creative sense; without a singular author to guide the structure, consistency, tone and so forth, Disney’s “authorship by committee,” as Gerry Canavan has described it, is perhaps one of the reasons why I feel TLJ is so out-of-joint with TFA, which Mar remarked upon earlier.
Not wanting to come full circle but having read all of your comments and ideas to this point I am struck by something Mar wrote right at the beginning: “there is no coherence– wasn’t Snoke supposed to be very powerful?” For me how they dealt with Snoke in TLJ sums up/characterises how the franchise is now under Disney’s watchful eye. It is has become too focussed on the transmedia/world building aspects of a Hollywood franchise. In going to see the film I wanted to some more on how this Snoke was, what his motivations were and how his plans were to unfold. Yet, very quickly, the film basically emphasised to fans and casual audiences alike that who Snoke is didn’t matter a jot. If you want to know then you will have to go to all the paratextual material like the reference books, novels and wikis to find out. I consider myself a fan of Star Wars,I still have my toys in storage, I’ve got the LEGO, I watch the animated series and play the video games, but I did not want to put in the effort to go find out who Snoke is or his background. Even after watching the film for a second time I have not been convinced enough to go look into who he is and where he came from. I guess I should since the film may make more sense if I did… by I’m left feeling is it worth the effort? This is why I say there is too much reliance on transmedia storytelling in the franchise now. I want the film to tell me what is important and what should be noted, not some paratext that I haven’t read yet. So, I suppose, replying to Billy’s last point - I am fatigued!
Now, I enjoyed TLJ, don’t get me wrong. Although, like Will I did fall asleep briefly during my second viewing of it. A shock to me and something I’m not proud of… falling asleep in a Star Wars film - sacrilege! Yet I am justified I feel since I nodded off during the ridiculous casino sequence where some poor treated alien beast were set free, or something like that. Moments I did enjoy included the throne room fight, Kylo throwing his toys out of the pram when he could shoot Luke and every scene that Rey was in. The best scene for me and one I seem to think fans weren’t so keen on was Luke milking the thala-siren on Ahch-To. Having spent years on this tiny island with no one for company except for some aliens nuns why not try out the local brew?!? I did enjoy the stories put out after people moaned about, that the scene has some basis in scientific fact and was planned as an homage to drinking blue bantha milk back in A New Hope. https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/19/16795346/green-blue-milk-scene-the-last-jedi-luke-skywalker-thala-siren-dairy-science
Again, I guess fans getting anxious about whether Luke would do this, questioning his Jedi ways, is another example of the type of criticism TLJ has attracted. But if this is the case then I guess Empire should be criticised just as much since this is where we first see Yoda as hermit completely lost in the madness of Dagobah - eating all sorts of weird stuff that Luke hated. Swings and roundabouts I suppose…
I want to briefly tease out a thread of the conversation that has hinted at the Disneyfication of the Star Wars franchise. Billy has mentioned Disney-era authorship and dubbed the moment that Leia uses the Force (still to my mind the single worst moment of the film) as ‘Leia Poppins’, which presumably draws parallels between TLJ and the all-singing, all-flying Disney version of Mary Poppins. Some time ago on Twitter, I recall someone point to the aesthetic similarities between Broom Boy and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the flash of the passing ship looking like the shooting star over the Magic Kingdom in the Disney logo. And I’ve already commented on the self-reflexive nature of the TLJ’s arms dealer narrative, which alludes to Disney’s power to perpetuate the onscreen war. As M W Lipschutz wrote in an essay on TLJ for the LA Review of Books (that I’m ambivalent about for a number of reasons, not least of all the unchecked privilege of the author – see https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/how-to-read-star-wars/#!), Disney is ‘weaponising’ the Star Wars franchise in a ‘content war’ with other content providers such as Netflix and Amazon.
However, there is, I think a more playful and reciprocal dynamic that we risk overlooking. For example, as Sean Guynes and Dan Hassler-Forest describe in the introduction to Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling, the finale of the 1980 Star Wars episode of The Muppet Show has Luke, Chewie, Kermit and co singing When You Wish Upon a Star—the theme from Disney’s Pinocchio—in front of a Magic Kingdom-esque castle complete with shooting stars.. On the one hand, it’s a humorous sending-up of the cutesy children’s storytelling that the rough-and-ready action of Star Wars, and the subversive comedy of The Muppet Show, tends to undermine. On the other, it’s a gesture that positions both Star Wars and the Muppets in the same category of family-friendly entertainment as Disney. Of course, there’s a certain irony to this as Disney bought the Muppets from the Jim Henson Company in 2004, and Star Wars from George Lucas in 2012. In case it wasn’t already clear… don’t mess with the Mouse.
I think there are also, potentially, fascinating visual continuities between the Star Wars women and contemporary Disney princesses. I was struck watching the live-action Beauty and the Beast in 2017 that Emma Watson’s Belle is, albeit briefly, styled like Daisy Ridley’s Rey in 2015’s The Force Awakens. In a chase sequence with the Beast and Gaston toward the end of the film, Belle wears an off-white outfit consisting of a kind of night-dress/pyjama hybrid that’s reminiscent of Rey’s sand-coloured tunic and leggings, and she also, like Rey, carries a staff. Possibly I’m pushing the theory too far but Moana might fit the pattern, too. It’s interesting that consolidating the Star Wars and Disney franchises might involve the StarWarsification of narratives and aesthetics more typically associated with the House of Mouse, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are references to The Last Jedi in future Disney releases.
I have read the LA Times article, Becca, and it’s little more than sophisticated nonsense, not to mention the author’s ‘un-dialectical’ approach — that is, not recognising the interplay between ‘exchange-value’ and ‘use-value.’ As a corollary, it is also based on How to Read Donald Duck, an academic work that Martin Barker, to put it frankly, decimates in Comics: Ideology. It is an example of what David Buckingham describes as “ideology-by-numbers,” an approach that constructs figures of the audience as victims of sledgehammer ideologies. That is not how cultural and ideological forces function, I’m afraid!)
This is just a quick note, but surely the intersection between Star Wars and The Muppets has been in place, and in canon, since The Empire Strikes Back? I remember articles commenting at the time that Yoda had the voice of Grover and Fozzie Bear, which is of course technically true. That Muppet Show episode was first broadcast a few months before the release of Empire Strikes Back, so it makes the connection before a character who is, essentially, a realistic Muppet appears with Luke in the Star Wars universe, but I think the relationship between them is interesting.
I also wonder if the Holiday Special set up a precedent for the Muppet Show crossover, as it seems to share a similar loose, playful and intertextual approach. The Holiday Special is of course more of an in-universe story, but it and the Star Wars Muppet Show seem related somehow -- in-between official and unofficial, like lapses into carnival. Perhaps the cantina scenes, the Jabba’s Palace party and the celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi can be situated a little further along the same spectrum, as canonical variations on the same theme; sequences where the story briefly stops, and the characters enjoy an in-house band. At the end of Return of the Jedi, we should remember, fireworks burst over Endor and then, in the Special Edition, over every planet from the saga so far, much like a Disney parade.
I think the Star Wars-Muppets crossover actually begins with The Muppet Show! The film’s production aside, the Muppets episode aired on February 23, 1980 and Empire Strikes Back was released on May 17. I do like the idea that the carnival scenes throughout the films situate it in a Muppet-like realm, although I wouldn’t suggest there’s crossover with Disney in that sense (not that you do, but it might be an extension of the argument). Disney musical sequences are too neat, too choreographed, to be comparable. But Star Wars and The Muppet Show do share a chaotic, riotous element of carnival.
To return to the discussion about fatigue… I’ve read some of the novels that fall between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and so much of my understanding of the sequels is predicated on having knowledge of those books. Without having read about the collapse of the New Republic, the rise of the First Order (what a surprise that this is largely a woman-led enterprise that gets effaced onscreen – I want more Rae Sloane!) and Leia’s reputation across the galaxy, The Last Jedi just doesn’t make as much sense. I only bought the novels because I’m researching Star Wars; it’s asking too much of fans to keep up with so much paratextual worldbuilding. It’s exhausting.
It’s also exhausting, to return to an even earlier point about fandom, to keep rehashing debates about toxic masculinity within some elements of fan culture. Yes, I’m aware that women troll others online and participate in some unpleasant discourse (I think Mar used Taylor Swift fans as an example). I also appreciate that more work needs to be done to understand the nature of fan interactions and cultures in online spaces. However, there seems to be a suggestion that people outside Fan Studies should do that work or be attuned to any and all recent developments in the field, which I don’t think is fair. It’s not my area of scholarship and while I am a Star Wars fan, I don’t tend to write or think about fandom in an academic capacity.
Moreover, in the past year I have written three articles about Star Wars and been interviewed twice about my research and/or experience as a fan. I also discuss my engagement with the franchise on social media. Every single time I become visible as a woman talking about Star Wars I get negative responses from men. Always men. Today, even, just now, a man attempted to undermine me because I’m a woman and like the thing he likes. I have never, at any point in the last twelve months, had women diminish me, objectify me, or tell me I belong in a prison camp (yes, one male fan really did feel that strongly about my ideas). Don’t get me wrong, I know this is personal, and anecdotal, evidence. However, it can be incredibly challenging to be a woman, and also a Star Wars fan and scholar, in public space. We’re talking hundreds of negative, sometimes vaguely threatening comments, and I don’t get the worst of it. If women who write and talk about Star Wars (as journalists; as fans; as scholars) are not always nuanced in our discussions of ‘fanboys’ it’s because we don’t have the emotional or intellectual energy left to do that labour. If someone else wants to, I will eagerly read it! At any rate, I think it’s useful to balance an academic approach with empathy for people’s lived experiences.
In response to Becca, I feel that the important thing in this respect is the way individual, lived experiences map onto and relate back to broader structures of power. Women can be individually mean, rude and hostile, of course. Women can also abuse power in situations where they have relative privilege over someone else, in relation to race or class for instance. But I don’t think this should be a distraction from what, to me, is the most fundamental structure of power in our society, whereby half of the population is treated as subordinate to the other half, on the basis of biological sex.
If a woman calls me a whining man-baby because I express negative opinions about The Last Jedi, I might well find that unfair and annoying. But it doesn’t relate to any broader structure of power. It doesn’t relate to any other oppression I experience in everyday life, in terms of how safe or unsafe I feel walking down the street, or how hard or easy I find it to get promoted or published. If a man online tells a woman her opinion doesn’t matter, I think that has much broader and more profound connotations. I can’t know what that feels like within Becca’s lived experience, of course, but I would guess that a man being rudely dismissive online is more than just an isolated incident of rudeness, as it would be for me if a woman called me a whining man-baby; but, rather, that it is just another instance within a series of similar experiences, which to some extent structure women’s lives. To a woman she belongs in a prison camp is particularly striking, as we could see patriarchy as a system that tries to do exactly that to women: contain and restrict them.
For that reason, I think we should treat the cases of women being hostile and rude online, especially when it’s towards men, very differently from what might, on the surface, seem to be the equivalent male behaviour. Because I don’t think it’s actually equivalent at all, beyond a surface similarity. And I don’t think we should let these superficially-similar forms of behaviour distract us from underlying power structures and hierarchies.
One thing I do agree with Billy about here is that to insult men by comparing their behaviour to stereotypical femininity is unfortunate and ultimately damaging to women as well as to men. If we are insulting men by saying they’re fragile and emotional in their response to a favourite film, we are surely saying that behaviour more usually associated with femininity is shameful, and that, in simple terms, for a boy to be ‘like a girl’ is embarrassing. I don’t think mocking men who protest about Star Wars with tropes about ‘male tears’ is progressive, not least because it seems to endorse more aggressive and traditionally macho forms of male behaviour as a more appropriate response.
I'm sorry to hear that, Becca. The fact that is always biting men is due to structural privilege and sexism which as we all know goes beyond fandom, and certainly beyond Star Wars. It's the same system that tells women that they can't be geeks or sporty to begin with, or tells men that they are above women, or tell women to compete against each other. However, I reckon that that structural privilege also works against those fanboys because, maybe they feel entitled to call a woman names, but then again, the system is also oppressing them in a way if they fail to meet normative expectations of masculinity. They aren't victims per se but if we look at the broader picture, and other instances of life, one can argue that the situation is more complicated than it seems. In this regard, I cannot agree that we should treat women attacking men differently under the justification that we (as well as racial and sexual minorities) are victims of the patriarchy especially if, like Billy and Will have pointed out, they are reproducing gender stereotypes which I am at fault of using sometimes in my daily life. Therefore, yes, I acknowledge there is a problem of toxic masculinity in fandom but at the same time we can’t turn a blind eye on toxic fangirls. Work must be conducted in parallel because, it is pointless to try to change attitudes in others while refusing to deal with the effects (here, I mean competitiveness and malice all around) of such a sexist and brutal system on ourselves, as women. So, the way I see it, fan toxicity knows no gender. To clarify, fan toxicity needs to be urgently examined regardless of the gender from which it emanates.
MEGEN DE-BRUIN MOLÉ
Without rehashing what’s already been discussed, or diminishing what you are trying to say, I want to explain why I am personally uncomfortable getting into an 'open debate' about this here. For me at least, part of the issue is precisely in trying to make this an academic discussion. I'm not a fan studies scholar, so I don't have the tools or vocabulary to discuss this 'objectively' (a term loaded with gendered/patriarchal assumptions about the supremacy of logic and reason over emotion). This forces me to frame my academic debates from personal experience or qualitative data, which immediately places me at a disadvantage in this context.
It also creates a specific kind of power dynamic that (for me) is just too familiar from a fan perspective. The academic or 'logical' vocabulary is the one I've often seen invoked by (predominantly) male fans—not talking about you directly here, Billy or Will—to shut down female fans and their responses. Their response is somehow not rational, and therefore it must be invalid or less important. To the extent that the very use of this kind of language to talk about the 'irrational' pain, anger, and backlash of some female fans in itself shuts down debate on a basic level. This is precisely NOT a rational issue, in that it's an issue coloured by the whole debate about what is allowed to be called rational in the first place. This is also a huge discussion in feminism / feminist philosophy of science—see here, here, here, and here for similar versions of this argument in varying degrees of conceptual difficulty.
Professor Will Brooker is Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University, and author of Using the Force (20020 and the BFI volume on Star Wars (2009) among many other books.
Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé is a Teaching Fellow in Digital Media Practice with the University of Southampton. She holds a PhD in English Literature, and her research interests include popular culture, adaptation, and contemporary remix. Her article ‘Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses: Star Wars and Popular Feminism’, appeared in the 2017 collection Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling (eds. Sean Guynes and Dan Hassler-Forest). You can follow her (and her research) on Twitter: @MegenJM.
Dr Lincoln Geraghty is Reader in Popular Media Cultures in the School of Media & Performing Arts at the University of Portsmouth. He serves as editorial advisor for The Journal of Popular Culture, Transformative Works and Culture, Journal of Fandom Studies and Journal of Popular Television with interests in science fiction film and television, fandom, and collecting in popular culture. He is Senior Editor for the online open access journal from Taylor Francis, Cogent Arts and Humanities. Major publications include Living with Star Trek: American Culture and the Star Trek Universe (IB Tauris, 2007), American Science Fiction Film and Television (Berg, 2009) and Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom and Collecting Popular Culture (Routledge, 2014).
Dr Mar Guerrero-Pico works as a research assistant at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain). Her articles have been published in journals such as International Journal of Communication & Society, International Journal of TV Serial Narratives, Signo y Pensamiento, Comunicación and Sociedad (Mexico), Palabra Clave and Cuadernos.info. Her research interests include transmedia storytelling, fan cultures, narratology, television shows and media education.
Dr Rebecca Harrison is Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on media technologies and how gender, race and class affect people's experiences of visual culture. Her first book, From Steam to Screen: Cinema, the Railways and Modernity (I B Tauris, 2018) is forthcoming, and she is currently working on her second book, The Star Wars Code, which is due for publication in 2021. In the meantime, you can find information and links to her various Star Wars-related projects, including research, teaching materials, articles - and an accidental controversy about Dr Organa - on Twitter: @beccaeharrison.
Dr William Proctor is Senior Lecturer in Popular Culture at Bournemouth University, UK. He has published widely on numerous topics, including Batman, James Bond, One Direction, The Walking Dead, Stephen King, and Star Wars. William is a leading expert on reboots and is currently finishing up his debut monograph, Reboot Culture: Comics, Film, Transmedia, for Palgrave Macmillan. He is co-editor of Transmedia Earth: Global Convergence Cultures with Dr. Matthew Freeman (Routledge, 2018); co-editor of Disney's Star Wars: Forces of Promotion, Production and Reception with Dr. Richard McCulloch (University of Iowa, forthcoming); and co-editor, alongside Bridget Kies, of the themed-section of Participations: International Journal of Audience and Reception Studies on "Toxic Fan Practices" (May, 2018).