Posts Tagged ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a Republic that was usurped by an Empire. In turn, the Empire was felled by a Rebellion. The warring factions, however, made use of the one tool proven to bolster despots as well as topple political regimes: Archives. Yes, the galaxy is populated by space wizards, space Nazis, and useless bounty hunters named Boba Fett, but it’s a known fact that lightsabers can’t rewrite the public record and a blaster can’t provide the essential plans to take down a moon-sized machine of death. For that, and more, you need a space-archivist and a space-archives.

Interestingly enough, two movies in the Star Wars franchise have made use of the archive as an important setting within the narrative. Not only that, they’ve inadvertently highlighted the importance of archives as institutions of memory and accountability while simultaneously showcasing the shortcomings of archives to protect the people they serve. For such a brief amount of time featured on screen given the expansive nature of the franchise, the archive still manages to make a large impact in the ongoing battle between the Jedi and the Sith. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the small yet important relationship between Star Wars and the Archive.

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While I’m usually hesitant to mention or even think about the Star Wars prequels for more than a few seconds, it is actually due to the events of the most recent installation of the Star Wars canon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, that we must travel back to the halcyon days of Episode II: The Clone Wars. A former professor of mine, Randall C. Jimerson, used a pivotal scene in The Clone Wars as an example of the power held within the archives and the power held by archivists. In his Presidential Address to the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in 2005, Jimerson writes:

George Lucas presents a more confident view of archives. In Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi visits the Jedi Temple Archives seeking the location of the planet Kamino. Archivist Madame Jocasta Nu, a frail elderly woman, provides reference assistance, but Kamino does not appear on the archives’ star charts. She concludes:

“I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you’re searching for doesn’t exist.”

“That’s impossible – perhaps the archives are incomplete.”

“The Archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi,” came the imposing response, the Archivist stepping back from her familiarity with Obi-Wan and assuming again the demeanor of archive kingdom ruler.

“One thing you may be absolutely sure of: If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” The two stared at each other for a long moment, Obi-Wan taking note that there wasn’t the slightest tremor of doubt in Jocasta Nu’s declaration.

It turns out, by the way, that the existence of the missing planetary system had been erased, in an act of archival sabotage. The Jedi Archives may seem “comprehensive and totally secure” but even this futuristic vision shows the limits of archival control. The archivist’s pose of omniscience is truly an illusion. However, as Eric Ketelaar points out, the fact that Obi-Wan must physically enter the Jedi Archives in his search shows the power of the archivist, who must mediate “between brain and source.” The role of the archivist is crucial and powerful. [Source: SAA]

It’s a lot to glean from a small scene, but the implications of how much power actually exists within the archives remains important to the Empire’s plans. That Obi-Wan even suggests the record may be incomplete is met with immediate reproach by Jocasta Nu. She’s a woman of age and experience, no doubt, and with that age and experience comes a confidence in the institution she serves. We never learn if there are other archivists serving the Republic, but if we’re to assume Jocasta is the lone archivist, then it makes her complacency and confidence far more worrisome.

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An ongoing issue among archivists and users is the assumption that archivists are intimately aware of everything they have in their repository. To put it bluntly: that simply isn’t true. Depending on the institution and the circumstances by which the archives were developed, some archivists don’t learn about the majority of what’s held in their stacks until it’s requested by the user. Time management, low funds, and little manpower are the typical culprits, but it’s still worth noting that even in the highly advanced world of the Old Republic, the archives can still be manipulated. If an archivist is unaware of everything under her purview, then it’s easy to see how information vital to the emerging Empire’s elaborate schemes could disappear without incident.

That doesn’t, however, absolve Jocasta of her role in aiding the Empire. Though she’s confident in the security afforded the records, there’s a distinct lack of scrutiny and curiosity in Jocasta that’s endemic throughout the Republic. It is, therefore, it must be true. Why keep searching when we already know the answer? Oddly enough, this has become true of our current political system.

Turning now to Rogue One, we have the story of how the rebels acquired the plans to the Death Star that jump-started the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. The climax of the film occurs on the planet Scarif where the records and activities of the Empire are housed. There, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2S0 infiltrate the facility to retrieve the plans knowing that Jyn’s father, the Death Star’s architect, left a means by which the planet destroyer could be stopped.

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From an archival perspective, there’s a brilliant look at the Scarif facility by David Portman at Preservica. As a digital archivist, he breaks down all the ways the Empire failed at records management, which all but led to their downfall. Of the many errors, Portman cites:

–  The failure to replicate critical data to a remote location, preferably a galaxy far far away, which is not effected by a similar death star event

–  An authentication system that allowed the hand of a dead archivist to be used to gain entry (not generally recommended by the archiving community)

–  No encryption at rest – physical asset could be removed and re-read on another device, without even the need for the dead archivist’s hand

–  No metadata to prove the provenance of the plans – how could you be sure you were looking at the right death star plans?

–  A file format policy that relied on the Evil Empire and Rebel Alliance using the same software [Source: Preservica]

As Maddy Myers points out in her article covering Preservica’s critique, the blog post is done very tongue-in-cheek, but still manages to point out the importance of digital preservation and the work of archivists to protect born-digital records. That and the Empire seems to have learned nothing from the system they exploited back in Episode II. The assumption remains the same: how could anything possibly go wrong since we’re all super powerful and awesome?

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As in the film, so in reality, the archive has long been used as a tool to legitimate tyrannical regimes. Control of knowledge means control of society and powers such as the Empire always go for the public record in order to justify and perpetuate their existence. They also tend to be record hoarders, meticulously documenting every action and decision as more proof of power. That the Empire chose to store all of their records in one facility effectively plays into the paranoia of an illegitimate regime making damn sure no one has a chance to dethrone them. If the knowledge is secure, then so are we. Fitting, then, that the unraveling of the Empire would originate from a monument to their inflated sense of power.

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In news that shocks no one, Star Wars is kind of a big deal again. With the successful billion dollar box office trouncing that is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s not surprising that the followup projects to the reinvigorated franchise are drawing more attention. Specifically, the young Han Solo movie being written by Empire Strikes Back and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jake, which will be directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street). While the movie won’t be released until 2018, a shortlist of actors was revealed though the response from fans had about as much excitement as Arthur and his Knights eating Sir Robin’s minstrels. I mean, what’s not to get excited about when you see the same list of young actors from every YA movie adaptation?

Look, I know Han Solo is an iconic character to a lot of people. I get that. I love Harrison Ford and I love the Han Solo he created in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. But let’s be honest, Han requires about as much backstory as Boba Fett – zero. Han exists within the Star Wars universe as a philosophical foil for Luke (hokey religions and whatnot) and a romantic partner for Leia. He’s a pirate, a ne’er-do-well, a lovable rogue, and an archetypal character of the monomyth. Making a prequel movie feels like it might go the way of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in that Han can’t grow all that much because he needs to be at a certain place in order to match up with A New Hope. That kinda limits you since his character development only happens within the original trilogy and, presumably, the thirty year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Plus, the upcoming Rogue One, due for release in December of this year, is being described as a heist movie, which kinda takes the wind out of the sails of a movie focusing on a smuggler two years later. Really, the best we can hope for is the movie hinging on Han’s friendship with Chewbacca because if they do a “how Han Solo got the Millennium Falcon” type movie I swear to God I’m putting a blaster to my head.

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For my money’s worth, the movie will probably be about the Kessel Run.

My point is that Han’s story is really only of interest when it intersects with the activities of the rebels. His selfishness is paramount to his triumphant return at the end of A New Hope and his “reluctant” yet continuing association with the rebellion throughout Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The same goes for Luke. He’s drawn into the rebellion through happenstance and thus learns about his true heritage and “destiny,” I guess. But the final member of the heroic trio has been involved with the rebellion for much longer and it’s really because of her that there’s any Star Wars to begin with.

I’m talking about Princess Leia Organa and she deserves a prequel movie more than anyone!

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Think about it: Leia is the princess of Alderaan who becomes integral to the rebellion’s survival by the beginning of A New Hope. She’s the one carrying the stolen plans to the Death Star and it’s because of her resourcefulness that R2-D2 gets away to deliver those plans, and her message, to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. Without Leia there is no hero’s journey for Luke and there’s definitely no turn-a-new-leaf story for Han.

So what made Leia go from Princess to Rebel Leader? What pushed her into the crosshairs of a war with the Empire? Because that sounds way more compelling than the Smuggler’s Life movie in the works for Han. It’s essentially a coming of age movie that starts the moment Leia is adopted by Bail and Breha Organa and ends with her decision to commit to the rebellion. I mean, if you want an easy way for a movie prequel to tie into the anthology films, then this is it. Rogue One ends with the plans stolen and the Princess Leia film ends with her taking on the role of envoy to ensure the plans make it to the rebellion headquarters. The last shot is of her ship heading towards the beginning of A New Hope.

What ties the whole concept together is the potential character arc of Leia prior to the events of the original trilogy. For one, now that we’ve met Bail and Breha it kinda gives some context for how Leia might have responded to her position as Princess of Alderaan. Thanks to the prequel trilogy, we have a visual of the Organas:

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Yeah, Leia had to have known she was adopted by the events of Star Wars, which opens up a lot of storytelling potential. How do the Organa’s explain their new daughter’s appearance? Has the Empire been keeping tabs on Leia the whole time? And since Bail knows Leia’s biological father was a very powerful Jedi, would he take steps to help her should she show signs of Force sensitivity? How would he take steps to help her if the Jedi have gone into hiding?

Leia’s prickly personality would certainly factor into the progression of the story as well. It’s clear, in hindsight, that Leia takes after Anakin more than Luke who tends to have more of Padme’s traits. Leia is strong-willed, stubborn, capable, and headstrong. Yes, she has a nurturing and romantic side, but Leia proves throughout the original trilogy that she’s a force to be reckoned with all on her own. Some of that could stem from being adopted and her sense of self-worth. Joining the rebellion may have given her something of importance to work towards, something that would make her feel like the title of “Princess” wasn’t just handed over but earned. Alternatively, Leia joining the rebellion could be her own act of rebellion. Perhaps Bail and Breha tried to keep a low profile under the thumb of the Empire to protect their daughter, but all Leia sees are her parents being subservient to the Empire’s cruelty. Furious at them, she takes more and more risks while helping the rebels, which puts her on the Empire’s watch list. And as a third option, Leia’s story could easily be about a high-born young woman whose eyes are opened to the truth of the Empire’s rule. She has everything and yet realizes it means nothing in a galaxy where the Empire reigns.

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The only prequel idea we’re not doing is the Leia-falls-in-love-with-a-handsome-member-of-the-rebellion-who-makes-her-see-the-truth story. That is the worst possible scenario. Again, blaster to the head. Leia being involved in the rebellion has to be because of her agency, not because a pair of pretty eyes and some abs said, “Hey.”

I’m also aware that Star Wars Rebels will feature a teenage Leia in an upcoming episode, which is fantastic. It’s not surprising given the timeline of Rebels and how close the show is getting to the events of the original trilogy. But if Disney and Lucasfilm want to continue doing anthology films within the Star Wars universe, complete with prequels, then lining up Leia’s story matters just as much, if not more, than Han’s. Besides, Leia’s got a sharp tongue on her as well. You want some real fun? Let’s see what a typical day in the Alderaan court is like when Leia gets political.

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Now that the premiere for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has come and gone one of the most striking things I noticed about the lead up to one of the most anticipated movies of the year is how much it resembled the excitement and gleeful anticipation of the Star Wars fandom pre-Episode One. Before The Phantom Menace graced the silver screen with the promise of revealing the events prior to the original trilogy, we had hope that questions would be answered and characters fleshed out in ways that Episodes IV, V, and VI couldn’t accomplish. The richly expanded canon of the novels and comics gave us an idea of the future for our heroes and villains in a galaxy far, far away, but Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith were supposed to provide us with the Star-Wars-Prequels1-600x300official backstory, the foundation of the Star Wars Saga from which the events of the original trilogy sprang.

It would be an understatement to say that millions of fanboys and fangirls cried out in confusion when the prequels turned out to be more spectacle than substance. Since then there’s been a bit of a jaded quality to the fandom. Oh sure, we still want more Star Wars, but even the hype surrounding The Force Awakens could be considered subdued at times, tempered with a guarded quality that spoke to our lingering distrust. As evidenced by the amount of fan-edits, analysis, and what ifs created in response to the prequels, it would be a bit like preaching to the choir while beating a dead horse for me to go on about how those movies fail on their own merit.

And before you get your Jedi robes in a twist, this isn’t an attack on Star Wars, the prequels, or the fandom. If you love the prequels, then that’s great. People like what they like and I’m certainly not one to begrudge someone their passions. While not my personal favorite trilogy, the prequels actually present an interesting look at the stagnation and piecemeal growth in Hollywood since The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999. In many ways, The Force Awakens is a direct response to the failings and innovations of the prequels, so in many ways they function more as a tent-pole for the entertainment industry and the movies that followed.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

1. Prequels –> Low-Stakes Storytelling –> Suffering

The problem that we always come back to with the concept of “prequels” in general is the lack of stakes involved for characters we know are going to survive. Though the idea of going backwards to uncover the origins of characters we know and love is enticing, the story ultimately becomes a foregone conclusion. How can I be concerned for Obi-Wan in a life-and-death situation in Episode II when I already know he’s an old man in Episode IV? We see it throughout the prequels; fake-out moments meant to ratchet up the tension of whether or not Anakin, Yoda, or Obi-Wan might die only for them to emerge unscathed because of course they do. It cheapens the story by leading the audience to believe something they already know can’t happen.

That’s not to say that the characters in the prequels can’t be in life-and-death situations; they’re fighting a war, which means they’re putting their lives on the line everyday, but it’s the responsibility of the filmmakers to make those life-and-death moments count for something. That should be the purpose of a prequel, not just action pieces for the sake of action. The underlying story within the prequels is the fall of Anakin Skywalker, which puts the stakes of the prequels in the realm of the philosophical. How does a Jedi turn evil? How did Anakin become Darth Vader? In this case the action should inform those questions. Sure, Anakin is going to be in the midst of battle a lot but the very concept of War conflicts with the philosophy of the Jedi. And yet there they are, practically on the front lines where emotions are high and the ultimate goal is to subdue your enemy, usually by killing them.clones2

The prequels lower the stakes again by pitting the Jedi against armies of nameless, faceless robots. It gives the Jedi, Anakin specifically, an easy enemy to slay, one that holds no moral quandary and leaves the audience without the ability to sympathize and therefore question Anakin’s decisions. The closest the prequels comes to this conflict is in Attack of the Clones when Anakin kills the village of Tuskan Raiders out of revenge for his mother’s death. The subsequent scene where Anakin breaks down in front of Padmé should have been the jumping off point for the rest of the movies. Instead, it’s glossed over and used as an establishing scene to justify Anakin’s turn in the next movie without following through on the moral can of worms it just opened. The only saving grace of the prequel concept, at least for Star Wars, have been the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoon series as well as the animated feature by Genndy Tartakovsky. Through those cartoons, the Star Wars Universe, pre-A New Hope, has become a more richly populated world; one where the Empire’s rise and the fall of the Jedi are earned and the tragedy of Anakin’s fall is made all the more relatable.

Unfortunately, prequel-itis hasn’t left Hollywood, nor does it look like it’ll disappear any time soon. It’s become an easy way to cash in on a franchise, especially older franchises, without studios worrying about little things like character development, story, or whether or not the prequel even matches up to the films that came before it. When push comes to shove it’s about brand recognition. We live in a world where X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Hobbit trilogy, and Oz The Great and Powerful exist; and if the rumors are true we may be getting prequels to The Hunger Games. Even Lucasfilm and Disney are venturing, once again, into the arena with the planned young Han Solo movie and the upcoming Rogue One which focuses on the rebel fighters who steal the schematics for the Death Star between Episodes III and IV. One can only hope their writers understand that we’re willing to follow them if they give us a story worth telling.

2. There’s a Fine Line Between Fan Service and Pandering

What was the purpose of Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones? What did he do that added to the story besides being there so fans could recognize him by name? The same questions apply to Chewbacca, Jabba the Hutt, C-3PO, and R2-D2. The answer is nothing. They affect no change and they add nothing to the events going on around them. None of these characters needed to be in the preceding films. In fact, the presence of most of them raises more questions when lined up with the original trilogy. The reality of the situation is they were added for toy sales (see below) but it was also a case of playing to the audience’s nostalgia via a shorthand of familiar characters linked by an inordinate amount of coincidences that makes the coincidence- based plot of A New Hope look subtle by comparison.Young_Fett

Hollywood is still trying to find the right balance, though, and I don’t envy any creative teams who have to tackle this. With every franchise, adaptation, remake or reboot the line between fan service and pandering resets. There’s no easy formula because it largely comes down to story and characters. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a repeat offender of pandering with no regard for continuity or the laws of physics. Yes, I know it’s a comic book movie, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read comics where better care was taken in grounding characters in some kind of believable reality. Movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Transformers quadrilogy, and the Hobbit suffer from the same issues. On the other hand, a movie like 21 Jump Street makes multiple references without crossing the line mainly due to the story being told, the characters involved, and how much respect it has for the source material. Even The Force Awakens straddles the line repeatedly, to the point that it has near carbon-copy story beats from its predecessors. And yet the movie still works because while it does its job of giving the audience several moments of “Look, it’s that thing I know!”, especially on the Millennium Falcon, the film also gives us plenty of new things and characters to latch onto.

3. Unnecessary Explanations For Things That Don’t Need Explaining is Unnecessary

Midi-chlorians. Do I really need to get into how this one word changed how the Force was viewed in the eyes of the fandom? Yeah, if you were one of those people who believed the Force was the spiritual, mystical essence of life and the universe – something anyone could utilize given the right training – jokes on you because, according to the prequels, the Force is facilitated by the amount of bacteria in your blood! Because science? Actually, it was just a really lazy way of telling us just how strong in the Force Anakin was without, ya know, showing us through the visual medium of film. Why is it lazy? Because it’s never referenced again and yet midi-chlorians practically define what made the prequels a frustrating mess.Midi_Chlorians_by_A_Heart_of_Blades

There seems to be this insatiable need within franchises, prequels especially, to over explain what seemed like simple concepts in order to justify the existence of the film itself. The Exorcist prequels tried to chart the repeated meetings of Pazuzu and Father Merrin, Alien vs. Predator and Prometheus really wanted those xenomorphs and space jockeys to have a concrete origin story regardless of how much sense it made, and Monsters University believed that Sully and Mike’s college days were worth telling because we were concerned about how they met and became friends? I mean, if you were actually concerned, then I guess this worked out for you. Yay, you! Look, Hollywood, we’re okay with ambiguity. Not everything needs to be laid out for us to connect the dots. A little mystery is okay. We’re good.

4. No More Christ Figures And/Or Chosen Ones

One day I want to see a movie where every person has the initials J.C., that way the outcome wouldn’t be so predictable and I might actually care who lives and who dies. I know the Christ metaphor is as old as storytelling – at least after 33 – 36 A.D. – but it’s such a lazy way of trying to attach unearned importance on a character that I’m honestly taken out of the story the second I see it happening. It wasn’t enough that Anakin was super strong with the Force, nope, it turns out he was also an immaculate conception and may or may not be the Chosen One prophesied to bring balance to the Force.chosen one

The Chosen One/Christ Metaphor trope is also indicative of Hollywood’s preference for unnecessary explanations (see above). The most recent example is Pan. Supposedly the story of how Peter Pan ended up in Neverland, the movie goes out of its way to make Peter a prophesied hero instead of the spirited trickster that he was presented as in previous iterations. Pan misses the point of its main character because it wants there to be a reason for Peter’s existence in Neverland because happenstance doesn’t appear to be a good enough explanation.

Turning a character into a Christ Figure or a Chosen One is a surefire way to make them the least relatable person in the story. Putting the burden of fate or prophecy on them puts the burden of empathy and sympathy on the audience. We can’t spend the whole of the movie trying to find things to like about them. There has to be some instant commonality because if they’re elevated too high, then we can’t truly follow them. At least with the Harry Potter books and movies we didn’t know there was a prophecy until Order of the Phoenix, but once it was revealed it changed the way we viewed Harry, though not necessarily for the better. The Star Wars prequels, Man of Steel, and The Matrix all deify their main characters and shortchange them on personality, something that could, at the very least, make them entertaining. The result is the audience stops caring and loses interest.

5. CGI Isn’t King

Speaking of losing interest, one way of doing that is to create an entirely CGI world where human actors are standing, sitting, or barely walking on a green screen while expositing dialogue at each other. Okay, I’m willing to give George Lucas some leeway on this – mostly. While we’ve now reached the plateau when it comes to the overuse of CGI, the prequels were made in the interim years when the potential of all-CGI environments seemed new and innovative. The idea of Star Wars looking slick and updated was enticing as well. We could see the galaxy in a new light thanks to the technology finally catching up with the imagination of the filmmakers. Lucas certainly put a lot of time and energy into crafting the gorgeous environments of Naboo, Coruscant, Mustafar, and the like but it was at the expense of giving his actors room to, ya know, act.

What we’ve learned now is that CGI really shows its age even within the span of a year. Our eyes are now trained to see CGI, so when it’s done poorly we notice it quickly. CGI is best used as a means of enhancing the story not as the primary facilitator. Some filmmakers understand that, which is why films like Jurassic Park, District 9, and Pacific Rim still hold up. They found the balance between practical and visual effects. Other filmmakers haven’t quite figured it out, which is why we have the prequels, the Hobbit trilogy, and the Matrix sequels.coruscant

The most recent trailer for Disney’s live action Jungle Book shouldn’t really be called live action, I feel, since a majority of the movie will be mostly computer animated animals and an occasionally human child doing stuff. There’s a reason the Force Awakens team put out that featurette emphasizing the use of puppets, on-location sets, and the choice of film over digital cameras. It was a means of showing fans that Abrams and company had learned from the mistakes of the prequels. The egregious use of CGI over practical effects in a movie that’s supposed to be “live action” results in a lack of weight and physicality, which affects our ability to relate to characters on a human level. If we know the environment isn’t real, then we don’t feel the immediacy of their plight. We flinch at every punch and kick in the Daredevil tv series because they’re fighting and the impact is palpable with the people and the environment. A lot of limbs get cut off over the course of the prequels and it barely registers.

Part and parcel of the all-CGI environment, however, is the more nefarious agenda of…

6. Blatant Merchandising Within Movies

Yes, I know this isn’t a new thing, but the Star Wars Saga has been on the cusp of huge technological and cultural shifts that have changed how movies are marketed within the last four decades. The original trilogy is single-handedly responsible for the merchandising boom of genre movies in the 70s and 80s- there are action figures for background droids for crying out loud. A lot of that is due to Lucas being a smart businessman, but even by Return of the Jedi we witnessed the mad grab for toy sells with the introduction of the Ewoks (buy a fuzzy sci-fi teddy bear, kids!) and a slew of new vehicles like landspeeders and chicken-walkers. The prequels practically put the original trilogy to shame where merchandising is concerned. The hard push on Jar-Jar Binks, the inclusion of familiar characters, and the all-CGI environments were thinly veiled attempts to cash in on Star Wars fandom through action figures, play sets, and, more importantly, video games.Anakin_conveyor_belt (1)

Within Episodes I – III there is an obvious set piece meant to be a level in the upcoming video game; Phantom Menace had the pod race, Attack of the Clones the droid conveyor belt, and Revenge of the Sith the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar. Their placement is obvious because each sequence goes on far longer than they have any right to and the actual function of the scene devolves into spectacle. All for the sake of giving gamers young and old a reference point, a level to look forward to when the game comes out. The sequences, however, come at the expense of the movie’s pacing and the chance for more character and/or plot development.

Obviously this mentality hasn’t gone away. The Hobbit trilogy, more so than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, had overlong sequences meant to be video game levels (the barrel ride through Mirkwood, for example) but were also deliberately designed to pad the running time of the movie as a means of justifying the decision to make a three hundred page book into three movies. Even Episode VII has sequences that are sure to be video game levels, but the difference is in the execution of the scene and how the characters are involved. Rey’s piloting of the Millennium Falcon, Poe and Finn’s escape from the First Order, and the trench run on the Star Killer are obvious set pieces for game levels, but they’re also sequences that don’t drag and keep us rooting for the characters. They keep us engaged instead of boring us to the point of noticing the marketing ploy.

But the one thing that still seems to elude Hollywood, especially when it comes to merchandise is…

7. Women Love Genre Movies and Want to Buy Stuff

You’d think this wouldn’t be such an issue, but even after the release of Force Awakens and the obvious heroine that is Rey there’s still a complete dearth of official Star Wars products marketed to, or featuring, women. We went through this with the lack of Black Widow merch for both Avengers movies and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and it isn’t letting up. The hashtag #WheresRey has been trending since the Force Awakens premiered as children (girls and boys) and their parents have come up empty finding Rey action figures or seeing her represented in toy sets. Not only is it part of a larger conversation about women led movies as viable properties but it’s also part and parcel of the gender gap within the Star Wars canon.reybb8

In the last five years we’ve seen movies featuring female leads make bank at the box office. Frozen, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Mad Max: Fury Road are just some recent examples. The Force Awakens counts as well based on the numbers rolling in post-release date. And yet there’s still an enormous blind spot in merchandising and marketing where young girls and women are concerned. The very idea that women would like, let alone want, merchandise based on a popular movie or genre that isn’t a princess movie seems to cause aneurysms with executives for all of the mental gymnastics they have to go through. It’s not hard to see the reason, however, when one considers that the marginalization of women where merchandise is concerned is a direct result of the marginalization of women within genre movies.

The prequels are just a piece of the greater puzzle that is the relationship between women and genre movies. Unless it’s a romantic comedy, any movie in the realm of science fiction, fantasy, westerns, pretty much anything action-oriented still applies the 2:1 ratio of male to female characters. If you have four or five leads odds are only one of them will be a woman. It’s Hollywood’s version of inclusion. They’re marketing the movie to men, but the female character is thrown in the mix supposedly so women will have a character to draw them to the film when it’s really just another marketing ploy for men; a sexy woman to stare at while the male characters act out the power fantasy.

Viewed in this way, it isn’t hard to see how the original trilogy and the prequels took their cues from this formula. In Episodes IV-VII there are only four women featured and three of them have barely a minute of screen time. In Episodes I-III the only substantial addition to the female population of the galaxy is Padmé Amidala and her role is essentially reduced from Queen turned senator to wife, mother, and dead. It isn’t until the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons that we get a variety of female characters in Ahsoka Tano, Asajj Ventress, Hera Syndulla, and Sabine Wren. Finding their action figures or any kind of official merchandise, however, boils down to a search on eBay.

The greatest innovations in Hollywood aren’t visual effects, but the audience. We’ve become more savvy, more inquisitive about the ins and outs of making movies. We’ve also become more vocal, willing to speak out when we see something that doesn’t sit right. There are definitely strides being made, but the system is the system because it’s managed to work for so long. It’s going to take time, but there are definitely people listening and some of them have some clout in Hollywood. Some of them are making movies in a galaxy far, far away.