A Discussion on Star Wars

By Daniel A. Kaufman

My discussion with Aryeh Cohen-Wade on Star Wars: the Force Awakens and more generally, on the cultural significance of the Star Wars (and Star Trek) franchises.

Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Originally aired on BHTV, January 2, 2016, on the “Culturally Determined” program.









5 responses to “A Discussion on Star Wars”

  1. Good discussion. I saw the Star Trek series in the sixties, although I was probably too young to appreciate it. I had been a long time fan of Doctor Who since the original airing of the first episode, so I think I had a pretty high standard for television sci fi. I do recall from older members of the family that Star Trek had actual science fiction writers doing the writing – which was a big deal at the time.

    When Star Wars came out much later, everybody knew it was a different kettle of fish. Despite the borrowings from Dune et al, this was a space opera in the tradition of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. But I don’t remember anybody who didn’t love it. Even the snooty film reviewer in the left wing paper I read at the time, who didn’t like anything without subtitles, loved it.

    People even loved that it was so predictable. Of course Han Solo was going to come through at the last minute.

    With the new film … Well, as for it rebooting the brand for a new generation, I saw it with my two twelve year olds. Afterwards I mentioned something about what would happen in the next film and they both said that they didn’t want to see the next film.

    I think that it was a mistake to make it so derivative of the first. My kids knew the first film well and it just annoyed them to see the same story elements played out, they wanted to see the story move on.

    Also, for me the film was spoiled by the 3D and the Vmax – which made everything look dinky when it was supposed to look vast. It was like playing with toys. And the perspective was completely mucked up in the final scene.

    I am half in a mind to go again and watch it alone without the 3D to see if I get a better impression of it.

    Real science fiction, as opposed to space opera, is still done best in books. As my brother points out, the special effects are better.

  2. Interesting point regarding your kids. When I talked about creating a new generation of Star Wars enthusiasts, I guess I meant kids who weren’t already sufficient enthusiasts to know the earlier films well enough to realize what a copy this was.

    I did not see Force Awakens in 3D so I did not have the experience of dinkiness that you describe. Then again, I hate 3D and never see movies in it.

  3. Hi Dan, ahhhh this gives me a chance to geek and nerd out all at the same time. 🙂

    It sounds like I had a similar experiences, having watched the original Star Trek in syndication (from a very early age, one of my earliest memories in fact) and then Star Wars when it came out. I loved both, though Star Trek has more meaning to me. You could say it was more influential.

    On the discussion, Star Wars is usually classified as space opera and Star Trek as science fiction. I think this explains the different kind of fans it attracts (or at least their different behaviors).

    Space Opera is fantasy with archetypes that are easy to understand, so you can just have fun playing with them. No deep thought and no deep investment because it just isn’t real.

    Science Fiction (and especially Star Trek) is potentially real, it is our future not past myth. There is almost a promise we can make this come true if we really tried. So people can get invested/lost in it easier as they try to make as much of it real in the here and now. At least I think that helps explain why it was more influential to me. You can become a science officer or engineer (some of the coolest/powerful positions in Trek) and geek out at work as if you are in Star Fleet, but there’s no chance of becoming a Jedi Knight in real life (uhmmmm… ok you can try, but the result is laughter).

    I thought this reboot of SW was better than the last three movies by Lucas. I can’t say it is better than the original SW because it borrowed too heavily from it, plus having some questions left hanging that it shouldn’t (to my mind). I thought it was wayyyyy better than the ST reboot which if one notices also mined heavily from the first SW film. You can run those side by side too (it even has a fracking death star!). Personally, I considered the ST reboot to be JJ Abrams’ demo reel for getting the SW franchise.

    One thing you guys did not discuss, is the important question of having placed the two hottest SF/SO properties in the hands of a single person. Now one man’s vision controls the current destinies of them both. I think that is a problem.

    The biggest problem being, as you noted, that Abrams seems to like (and understand) SW more than ST. He changed the mechanics of warp in ST such that they act like hyperdrive in SW (among other similarities he introduced). So these franchises will start becoming (or already have) more the same, rather than retaining their different flavors.

    One additional problem (for me), is that Abrams seems to have an issue with distance and time. His universes seem tiny, claustrophobic. It is warp/hyperdrive ok we’re there! No sense of the vastness of space or the time issue in having to move from star to star (which should be a major issue in ST). At least Lucas got that part right in his last three movies. His universe felt expansive. I am not awestruck or impressed with the Universes Abrams creates even if I enjoy the immediate visuals he is producing within them.

    And finally, I have never seen a successful Abrams movie which is not heavily derivative of something else that was already a major success. The second ST movie was just Wrath of Kahn combined with a best of ST character lines reel. And this fact makes me worry for what is coming next in SW.

    If the conspiracy theory Aryeh was discussing about Kylo Ren is right, Harry Potter is his next mining area. I suppose the jig will be up when Kylo Ren is revealed to be Darth Severus.

    (Originally my money was on Darth Emo).

  4. Robin, like Dan I avoid 3D wherever possible (it sucks). I saw the Force Awakens in 2D which was just fine and frankly helped it fit better with the original series which I (naturally) watched in 2D.

  5. Hey, where’d everybody go? Did I say something wrong? (like calling the new SW movie a reboot instead of a sequel and losing my geek/nerd creds?)

    Ah well, I found an interesting analysis of the Force Awakens specifically discussing how the storyline and characters work for Millenials (http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/off-the-clock-space-opera-millennials-and-their-gr/1100-5371/):

    The major members of the new “generation” of Star Wars characters–Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren–all stood in the shadow of a past in different ways. Or said differently, each is a sort of “fan” of the same Star Wars stories that we know and love, and they all find themselves struggling with the canon… Kylo Ren dwells on the good ol’ days of Darth Vader, frustrated like a 20-something who thinks that Baby Boomers are right about the rest of his lazy generation…

    Like most of us in our own lives, each of these characters has a limited understanding of the universe, and especially of the past. What do other worlds look like? What was “the Galactic Empire” really? Is the Force real, and if so how does it work?…

    In confronting the fact that the world might not quite be what they thought it was, these characters are unmoored from their senses of self. In some moments, Finn can’t seem to tell if he’s really just trying to escape the First Order or if he has nobler motives. Rey and Ren both struggle with their connection to the Force–the former wanting nothing to do with it despite aptitude, the latter wanting the control he thinks is his birthright. These dilemmas are pretty classic space opera, but look past the laser swords and they’re not so different than the struggles of real people (millennial or otherwise). “Who am I and what the hell is my place in this world?” is the sort of question people have been asking themselves for as long as there have been people.

    The author then moves into a philosophical/sociological analysis which goes as deep as bringing in Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi-Strauss.