A couple weeks ago, a humble open letter found its way onto the Internet, and not just any open letter. This one was accompanied by top-notch animation, an exclusive interview on io9, its own launch party, and an a cappella soundtrack. It’s title: “4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again”
That isn’t actually what it is; that’s just what it’s called. It would have been more accurate to title the video: 4 Pieces of Lame Conventional Wisdom and 1 Really Obvious Marketing Ploy. Hit the jump for more.
Just so we’re on the same page, here’s the video:
This is, after all, not the work of some gurus of storytelling or scholarly monks who’ve devoted their lives to analyzing the works of Mr. George Walton Lucas, Jr. This is a marketing agency in Portland, Oregon that figured unleashing a video custom-engineered to go viral was the best way to show off their skills.
And drum up new clients. Mostly, that.
I begrudge them not even a little bit for this. Kudos to them for garnering so much attention for their company — that would be Sincerely Truman. See, it worked. I just gave them some publicity.
I don’t even begrudge the actual rules they offer up. Everyone should have an opinion. Well, not everyone. This is Sincerely Truman’s opinion:
Rule 1: The Setting is the Frontier
Rule 2: The Future is Old
Rule 3: The Force is Mysterious
Rule 4: Star Wars Isn’t Cute
What I do begrudge is so many people in the geek-o-sphere embraced this tripe so uncritically. From io9 to CNET, and every blog in between, the video garnered nodding agreement, if they even bothered to comment on its substance at all.
Sometimes it was enthusiastic, as in the case of Serial Optimist magazine, where their entire commentary was summed up with, “Yes, Star Wars can be great again!”
Geek Tyrant “ultimately really like[s] what it brings to the table,” without ever really delineating what it is.
On CNET, Amanda Kooser “sure hope[s] [J.J. Abrams] is paying attention to Sincerely Truman’s sweet and simple video.” She even signed the petition.
Oh yes, there’s a petition. The video is paired up with a site, DearJJAbrams.com, where you can add your name to the list of people who also nodded in agreement with the video. “If we can hit one million virtual signatures,” the site says it will “hand deliver our petition along with a copy of the video.”
The video is on YouTube, which I think they have access to at Disney’s headquarters. I’m not sure why they need to deliver a copy of the video.
The petition, as of October 6, was at a measly 14,540 strong. There’s only 985,460 to go.* Thank God for that, because I for one sure hope J.J. Abrams is not paying attention.
Let’s look at these rules, one by one.
“Star Wars doesn’t happen in the city. It doesn’t happen in parliament, or in the library. It happens out here, away from civilization, amidst smugglers and bounty hunters.”
“Star Wars is a western,” it concludes, putting a great deal of emphasis on every syllable of that word.
No, it is not. Or rather, it is not just a western. It isn’t even primarily a western. It’s many things tossed into a blender: Arthurian legend, adventure serials in the tradition of Buck Rogers, samurai action films, and yes, westerns. That’s just for starters.
Back in 1977, when the film came out, this fact was so fascinating they wrote scholarly essays on it, including one by Robert G. Collins in The Journal of Popular Culture entitled “Star Wars: The Pastiche of Myth and the Yearning for a Past Future.”
Even Wikipedia gets in on the act, devoting a couple paragraphs in its article on pastiche to the Lucas-creation. It cites not only westerns and science fiction serials, but also gangster films and fantasy. Clearly Star Wars is blended from a rich tapestry of influence.
Reducing all of this to frontier vistas and a single genre is not only overly simplistic, it ignores plenty of great Star Wars stories. The Knights of the Old Republic games had a compelling narrative and engrossing characters, and its plot unfolded all over the galaxy: from urban cityscapes to dangerous ruins on backwater worlds. Timothy Zahn’s popular Thrawn Trilogy of novels doesn’t shy away from the metropolis of Coruscant. Then there is the Clone Wars animated series, which is an outgrowth of the hated prequels, but manages to be compelling nonetheless.
The strength of these stories was their characters, not their settings. They embraced the entirety of the Star Wars galaxy, and they were better for it. Trying to shoehorn their narratives into a barren, desert milieu would have only made them feel smaller, more limited than an entire galaxy could ever be.