Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Why Exactly Do We Care About Star Wars?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 14 May 2013 12:00
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Before the prequels, the original trilogy was floating in a void, with Empire floating a little bit higher but basically in the same bubble. After the prequels materialized, Star Wars existed for the first time on a clear and distinct spectrum of quality. The originals weren't floating in a void at all: they were helium balloons on the end of a very long rope, the other end of which was lodged in a tar pit with the prequel trilogy. It's the same principle by which one is advised to go out on the pull with a slightly uglier friend of the same sex, because it's only with a convenient comparison that the qualities of anything become identifiable.

Even George Lucas' concerted efforts to ruin the original trilogy by the repeated "Remastering" death of a thousand cuts ultimately worked to the benefit of the franchise's public profile. The body's immune system becomes stronger and more efficient the more small germs and infections it is exposed to. In the same way, the original trilogy's immune system - meaning, its fanbase and the affection it held in their memories - only grew stronger as George Lucas made more and more tweaks and additions to varyingly disastrous effect. Han shooting Greedo in the bar was not a T-shirt, a slogan or a symbol of defiance until Lucas threatened it.

The key word is "threat." Star Wars fans, until then engaged only in go-nowhere arguments over whether Lando was cooler than Han or if Luke was boning Leia between films, suddenly had something to unite against, to remind them of what was at stake, just as old enemies Britain and France put aside their differences in the face of the invading Hun. I've been criticizing things for long enough to know that goodness or badness fall kinda secondary to the passion that a work provokes, love or hate. We still talk about Citizen Kane because it was really good. We still talk about Plan 9 from Outer Space because it was really bad. What we don't still talk about is the 1976 James Earl Jones vehicle Deadly Hero, because it wasn't awful and it wasn't great.

But what would have happened if the prequel trilogy had been like that? Merely alright. Ticked all the boxes, had some good moments, maintained a level of quality similar to that of Return of the Jedi. Kept the level of esteem the series has in the minds of the fans at as near to level as makes no odds. What if the remastered versions had done nothing more controversial than remove specks of dust from the original print? There wouldn't have been much debate, and the only way something remains within the collective unconscious is as long as there's something to argue about.

The worst possible thing the 2015 sequel trilogy could do (or however many films they end up squeezing out, I hear troubling rumors of Disney putting out one a year) is be mediocre. Such a development would be the beginning of a long, slow, slide into dispassion. The sort of thing Star Trek went through that necessitated its recent rebooting, a procedure not unlike the application of a defibrillator. And unfortunately mediocre is what big-money entertainment does best. It might even be advisable for Disney to shoot for the worst possible film it could make. It would probably be easier. Just populate the new Jedi Council with a bunch of CG black and white minstrels or something.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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