Movies: The Dark Side of Episode VII?

Oh Disney, you sly mega-corporation you. Ok, let’s be real. If last week’s EU-busting…err…re-classifying announcement was any indication, Disney was rapidly climbing the scale of Not Even Remotely Sneaky and was not at all inclined to wait until a certain widely observed nerd holiday to stir up the masses with fresh insight into Star Wars: Episode VII. That in itself may be kind of telling, or at least falls in line with what seems to be the burgeoning new standard regarding the treatment of what, up until this point, had been canon. Or perhaps that observation is ascribing a little too much to what was likely a marketing tactic to preempt consumer expectations. We'll find out on Sunday.

Let’s back up a bit. By now, even the most muggly of news outlets has covered of Tuesday’s announcement, majority of which has consisted of nitpicking over the single photo depicting the primary cast doing an initial table read. The results of said parsing have largely been good old fashioned Internet Outrage and it seems the quarrels fall into three sometimes overlapping varieties:
  1. There are only two women! This is barely any improvement from the gender ratio presented in the original trilogy! This is an outrage and demeaning to women!
  2.  The EU is gone! J.J. Abrams is wasting a treasure trove of material that features better racial/gender character balance, robust storylines, compelling technologies/ideas, deep appreciation for canon, fewer lens flares. Bring back the EU!
  3.  This movie is already terrible and this new trilogy is going to destroy the Star Wars universe, or even science fiction as a genre, as we know it.
Good gravy. I’m not saying that all of these concerns are entirely without merit, but let’s remember that we’re talking about a project that is still 19.5 months out from its projected release date. You could finish an associate’s degree/accelerated Master’s program, train for a marathon, successfully gestate 2 human children, or travel to Mars in that period. It’s not an insignificant amount of time and it would stand to reason that what little information we’re being spoon fed at the moment is highly preliminary. It’s no secret that a very large number of people, myself included, are very emotionally and personally invested in the Star Wars universe, but if we continually give ourselves over to histrionics at every step during the next 19.5 months we run the risk of casting a pall over Episode VII so intense that it’ll be damned near impossible to actually enjoy the movie.
Image: Fan made poster 

Is there a marked differential between the quantity of male and female cast members? At this point time the answer is yes, but J.J. Abrams was quick to refute complaints stemming from this matter with his intention to cast at least one more female character with the implication that said actor will have a significant role (consensus seems to indicate that Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o will be this actor). This is how preliminary the data we’re working with are; major characters remain uncast. The rebuttal to that revelation seems to have been a lot of “Well one more woman isn’t enough!” Really? How on Earth could you know that the casting will stop with this unnamed character? Instead of framing ripostes as conditional, (e.g. “…it’d be disappointing if the gender ratio remained as it is at present…”) we get diatribes crafted in absolutes. Maybe it’s too much to ask that discourses on major media outlets be framed more like professional pieces of journalism and less like overt clickbait. We all know which one of those generates more revenue. Bah.

The EU is gone. Yes, there’s now the Legends alt-timeline, but we all know that step was taken in order to not obliterate the underlying meaning of the work of dozens of authors and simultaneously not send EU fans into a frothing rage. But let’s peel away any rose-colored glasses we may be wearing and give the EU a good hard look. How much of it was of reasonable quality? I ask this not as the cynical facilitator here, but as someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time in the EU. There are not insignificant chucks of my cerebral RAM that are dedicated to things like the Yuuzhan Vong War and the primogeniture of the Hapes Consortium. While some of it was fun to read and it was very interesting to watch the trajectory of the communal story arc, the EU landscape is canvassed with large tracts of mediocre prose. Am I sad that Mara Jade is likely to fade from nerdy consciousness? Yes. Is it also entirely understandable that J.J. Abrams and company have enough cultural weight to contend with just with the six previous films that they would want some measure of leeway to create their own story? Of course. Also, who’s to say that every single idea contained in the behemoth that is the EU will be entirely excluded from the new trilogy and attending spin off films?  Bonus: Chewbacca is still alive!

The third complaint is equal parts misgivings about the first two quibbles and a mismatch between personal expectations and the realities of crafting a big-budget movie. What this boils down to is active reinforcement of one of the most widely held stereotypes of our subculture: that we’re a collective of rabid obsessives incapable of being satisfied by anything. Yes, we’re quite adept at throwing apoplectic fits, but we’re not doing ourselves any favors by employing this as our initial engagement technique with this new branch of the franchise. The scale of the exposure that we, collectively, are getting at the moment is arguably unparalleled and this is the impression we’re providing in return. Consequently, if our first reaction is one of blanket dismissal at this absurdly early stage, then why would studio personnel want to incorporate our feedback at all? These paroxysms of unconstructive bile are liable to make Abrams & company turn away with an, “Eff it. We’ll make a truckload of money no matter what we do, so let’s just film whatever.” Our only goal for Episode VII can’t be hate-watching. If that ends up being true, the community we've built will be weaker for it.

It's understandable that we're excited, that we have expectations, and that we'd like to see at least some of those expectations met. But it's also very, very early. We need to rein it in and take the rumors and 'analysis' with more than a few grains of salt. For our sanity's sake, let's give J.J. and his minions a little breathing room and give ourselves something else to focus on (like Free Comic Book Day tomorrow!). Otherwise, we're going to be in for a very long, and likely very disappointing, 19.5 months.

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