December 1, 2014

Star Wars: The cosplay fanfic sequel

If George Lucas raped your childhood, then J.J. Abrams is going to make sure you get a happy ending. See for yourself in the new trailer for next year's re-launch of the franchise.

Look, it's the original style of stormtrooper armor! Look, it's some kind of speeder bike! Look, a close-up shot inside the cockpit of an x-wing! Holy shit bro, the millennium falcon! And the original John Williams theme! Plus, no five year-old actor, no CGI rabbit, and no midichlorian meter? Well, who's gonna be camping in line one year ahead of release night? — this guy!

Yeah, it doesn't look like the third trilogy is going to be a great big middle finger to the fans or audiences with half a brain, the way that the second trilogy was. This time a stubborn idiot who thinks he's clever won't be directing them into oblivion. But we're still just getting an overly enthusiastic fanboy who's going to make it all about fan service, devoid of plot, character, or visual style.

Hey, he made everyone forget about those awful Star Trek: The Next Generation movies from the '90s. Not by making anything new, but by making reference after reference to the stuff that everyone already likes, or would like if they haven't seen it.

You can't "do Wrath of Khan again," or "do Star Wars again," because the zeitgeist has changed so much. The result is placing contemporary actors with contemporary attitudes in a great big cosplay re-enactment of the original movies, all shot with contemporary camera work, and presented after contemporary editing.

Star Trek now stars a gay Latino Millennial as Spock, the tone is constant frenzy, and the camera is hyperactive. Star Wars is going to star a negro Millennial (hopefully not also gay), the tone looks to be constant frenzy, and the camera hyperactive. Updating the classics for our times, or overly indulgent LARP session?

It's not a nostalgic re-enactment either, as the Millennials grew up long after Star Trek and Star Wars exploded as pop culture phenomena. Non-whites, let alone queer ones, couldn't have cared less about them. A nostalgic re-enactment would star straight, white Gen X-ers. Multicultural Millennials are just going to make it come off as a cargo cult performance.

I am glad that part of this cargo cult approach involves shooting on film and using practical effects (although still tons of CGI, judging from the trailer). If the superior technology doesn't get preserved, it could be lost for good.

Other than that, I have zero interest in seeing the new sequels. It's too late to re-launch Star Wars — and was already too late by the '90s. It would have been neat to see a Star Wars movie in the late '80s or very early '90s, before the zeitgeist shifted so far away from what developed during the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

We got a third Indiana Jones movie in '89, and it wasn't that bad — palpably more self-aware and winking at the audience (watch it again and see how many jokes are blatant asides to the audience), but still a solid Indiana Jones movie.* I didn't bother seeing the fourth movie in the 2000s because I knew it would suck based on the Star Wars prequels sucking, and hearing everyone say so when it came out.

Star Wars missed the window to follow up on a classic from the late '70s / early '80s, and should have stopped before the prequels got made. There's even less reason for these new sequels to get made, other than cashing in on a surefire opening weekend with a sequel to the most popular movie out there.

* Some other sequels worth noting from the late '80s / early '90s, which lagged quite a bit behind the original, which took on a noticeably more self-aware or winking tone, but which were still decent movies:

Back to the Future II and III ('89 and '90, original '85)
Christmas Vacation ('89, original '83)
Ghostbusters II ('89, original '84)
Gremlins 2 ('90, original '84)
The Exorcist III ('90, original '73)


  1. Zachary Quinton might be gay, but he's definitely not Latino.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to the problems with the Star Wars sequels. Interestingly, I'm watching the "Clone Wars" cartoon right now on Netflix and while it's not great, it does have the time to develop characters and interesting story arcs that you obviously can't create in the space of three two hour movies. As a Star Wars geek, I'd recommend the series.

  2. There's an interesting place I've seen evidence of the cocooning cycle - the latest world of warcraft expansion.

    Traditionally, the online RPG has offered incentives for players to hang out in major hub cities during their online downtime. Several hundred players would be running around in one at any given time, using the services offered like the bank, auction house, trainers, etc. It really does make the game feel like a bustling city. The first time I walked into Ironforge when the genre of game was new to me, I was amazed. It has a social feel with people forming groups and offering to buy/sell items in trade chat, plus you can see who is wearing the hardest to acquire gear and get to see the largest guilds, etc.

    The newest expansion offers no new hub city and instead provides incentives for players to hang out in their garrison. A garrison is a town you are in charge of, but you are the only player inside of it. It's filled with computer controlled fake players that look up to you ("followers" you recruit from doing missions in the game world). The draw is that you can customize and upgrade the buildings inside your garrison - it's totally your own creation, and as you spend more time in the game it eventually becomes larger and more impressive.

    It's bizzare, though, going from hanging out in a real city with hundreds of other players around to an empty garrison with only you and ~30-50 computer controlled characters that are sucking up to you "Need anything, commander?". It just feels solitary. You can access trade chat from the garrison, so it's pretty obvious that it's supposed to take the place of the hub cities. There are still a few reasons to hang out in the cities, but not very many especially if you pick the right buildings in your garrison. They're pretty empty now.

    I never thought I would see a move towards cocooning in an MMORPG.

  3. Back to the Future II and III ('89 and '90, original '85)-
    Cool original, part 2 was too busy, part 3 was more amiable though by the time you get to the 3rd part of any series you can sense the waning enthusiasm/creativity being invested.

    Christmas Vacation ('89, original '83) -
    Fantastic original, the Euro sequel I can't really remember at all (I guess It did have Jason Lively from Night of the Creeps ('86) as the son, see Night of the Creeps if you haven't already Agnostic). A couple years ago I tried to watch Christmas Vacation but just couldn't get into it.

    Ghostbusters II ('89, original '84) -
    Like other kids born in the later 70's/early 80's Ghostbusters was at least somewhat of an element of childhood though I didn't get into it as much as some others. I haven't seen the original more than a couple of times. A good movie but not something that ever begged to be rewatched. The sequel was certainly sillier and you could get the sense that the actors were getting a little too old and jaded for it.

    Gremlins 2 ('90, original '84) -
    Didn't see the original growing up. Saw it later. The effects were still good (Gizmo is a great design) but it just fell kinda flat. I think Critters ('86) is a lot more fun(they shoot quills!) with more personable characters and quirky but not annoyingly camp sci-fi touches. but I also saw Critters as a kid.

    The Exorcist III ('90, original '73) -
    Can't really argue that the original was a sensation for good reason but it's too dour for my tastes so I'm not counting on watching it again. The writer thought that the director should've made it lighter esp. by giving it a more optimistic ending. I tend to find late 70's-mid 80's stuff to be the most rewatchable, probably because that period has very little affected/unwarranted pretention or sentimentality (inclu. the morose faux angsty sort). Part 3 was interesting and Part 2 is a complete chore that I couldn't finish.

  4. I'll concur with Agnostic about modern young actors dragging movies down; The Abrams Star Trek '09 movie was one of those off the assembly line modern corporate movies. Competent but not compelling. Maybe Abrams' heart is in the right place but yeah, especially with time it's gonna be more evident how self conscious and unimaginative his sequels/remakes are.

    With regard to Spock 'diversity', let's not forget that Leonard Nimoy is a Jew, albeit a sincerely religious, fairly wholesome guy and talented actor who did some good work. He also was the host of In Search of, a quintessential piece of later 70's culture.

  5. Quinto is Italian, but more to the point he's got weird neotenous facial features that no one would have ever thought to put in a movie until the past decade.

    180 OP. I couldn't quite sum up why this new trailer was offputting but "Millennial cosplay fanfic" nails it. The other thing that bothers me is how all these franchises have become de facto eternal cash cows. There was a long stretch there after the original trilogy where it seemed like Star Wars was a done deal (aside from some hack-work novels and comics for nerds) and it was going to sit in a prominent place in pop culture history while also fading into the background for new stuff to appear for new generations to enjoy. Fuck that, says George Lucas and a bunch of Hollywood accountants. We're going to squeeze this franchise for every dime it's worth with re-issues, DVD box sets, a new trilogy, cartoons, video games, more cartoons, Lego video games, and then another new trilogy. We're going to keep churning this shit out until people throw up a little in the back of their mouth when they hear "Star Wars" and whatever fond nostalgia existed for the original movies is lost in an avalanche of action figures and Saturday morning cartoons about the romantic drama of plucky teen Jedi girls.

    Apparently that's where we're at now. When some piece of entertainment captures the public's imagination, it has zero chance of ever being retired gracefully at the top of its game. No, it's going to get milked to oblivion, then rebooted as a "darker, edgier" version, merchandised all to hell, and then sold to another company and the whole process repeats. There won't even be any concept of Star Wars nostalgia for Millennials because Star Wars shit will still be getting cranked out 20 years from now (by then the main character will probably be a tranny or something). For another example, you can almost feel the studios bouncing off the walls in their desire to crank out more Harry Potter shit despite having run out of primary material, so I guess now they're making another movie based on some D&D sourcebook that Rowling tossed off on the side. $100 says there will still be some kind of HP movie in production 10 years from now. Again my point is not to claim any of this stuff was such a masterpiece to begin with, but it at least had some kind of beginning and end and was a product of its time. With these eternal cash cow franchises everything blurs together and gets overexposed to the point of disgust.

  6. I saw Exorcist 3 a little while back. William Peter Blatty didn't even want to give the movie that title, since the book he'd written was titled "Legion" and the first sequel (which he was not involved in) was such a flop. But the studio forced him and also made him include an exorcism scene at the climax. The ending of his book sounds too depressing for a movie though.

    I grew up on Christmas Vacation, watching it numerous times before seeing any of the other Vacation movies. I suppose I wasn't able to tell it was winking at the audience then.

    The cast members I've heard are going to be in Star Wars are mostly white (I'm counting Oscar Isaac that way). The exceptions are Zoe Saldana and whatever her name is from 12 Years a Slave, and I don't know if either of them will be leads.

  7. To clarify, Zachary Quinto is carefully designed to be the "ethnic" character who looks like the Latin American elite (Mediterranean and other white European), to draw in the growing audience from those countries who don't want to be depressed by being represented as Amerindians or mestizos. And to draw in naive white audiences who think that's who we're going to import when immigrants flood over the border.

  8. You've theorized that the gay germ causes arrested development in its hosts, and this is the reason for certain stereotypical traits. In a recent podcast with a linguist studying "gay voice" he mentions the midcentury Freudian view along those lines as a possible source for the frontal lisp stereotype, as opposed to the elongated 's' which seems the more accurate indicator. However, he also downplays gender inversion as a source for gay mannerisms.
    That stuff occurs a little past the halfway point of the podcast. Closer to the end he says he deliberately tries to sound Minnesotan because that's less gay sounding, but to me he didn't sound particularly Minnesotan at all (he's originally from Buffalo).

  9. "I grew up on Christmas Vacation, watching it numerous times before seeing any of the other Vacation movies. I suppose I wasn't able to tell it was winking at the audience then."

    In the original, Chevy Chase is acting as Clark Griswold, and behaves as the character would organically within the movie's own setting, plot, and character interactions.

    In Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chase is "doing" Clark Griswold, as though there's a Platonic ideal of that specific character that he, the director, and especially the audience are expecting. He's trying to meet or exceed a set of expectations that are external to the movie's plot, characters, and so on.

    When a character becomes such a popular icon, there's always a danger of this happening -- doing the character rather than being the character.

    But you don't really see that in sequels before the late '80s -- Temple of Doom, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Rambo II, Rocky, all those horror movie villains, etc. Reprising the role back then felt organic and internally driven, not forced by external fan expectations.

    As the trend toward self-aware, ironic, and meta- began to grow in the late '80s / early '90s, you see actors doing impressions of their earlier roles, rather than reincarnating them.

  10. "When some piece of entertainment captures the public's imagination, it has zero chance of ever being retired gracefully at the top of its game."

    Apart from the greedy / printing money aspect, there's something else going on with the creators and the audience having a broken emotional regulating system, whereby they don't ever feel satiety.

    George Lucas didn't only re-touch the originals to give the fans something new -- most of us just wanted to see them again on the big screen, not some awful techno-funk music video interrupting the scene at Jabba the Hutt's palace. He keeps tweaking and airbrushing and adding and adding and adding, with every new media release.

    It's not being a perfectionist, since successive changes just make it weirder rather than better. Instead, he simply does not know what he wants or what is good -- let's try this, it'll be neat, oh that sucks, let's try that, it'll be neat, oh that sucks too.

    Antonio Damasio wrote a pop sci book, Descartes' Error, about what people are like whose brains are damaged in the emotional regions, but whose other cognitive functions are intact.

    They can generate a long list of goals, forecast the consequences of each one, deduce the sub-goals necessary to achieve each one, and so on and so forth. But they can't get anything done because they have no emotional motivation that pushes them along one of those pathways rather than the million others. When a trade-off needs to be resolved, there is no gut hunch or emotional weighting scheme that makes a decision and moves them on to the next goal. They can envision infinite possibilities but not choose among them.

    Lucas obviously fits this pattern, in case we couldn't tell how emotionally deaf-mute he is from the thud-thud dialog in the prequel movies.

    But I think the audiences have grown increasingly that way too, and have fed the success of emotionally unsatisfiable creators. If the audiences are "still hungry for more," rather than feeling satisfied with the conclusion as it stands, then they'll be begging Hollywood to keep churning out new tweaks, re-boots, re-bla's of the things they fixate on -- roles (rather than characters), items (lightsabers, millennium falcon), places (Mos Eiseley or something like it), etc. Not the narrative, dialog, visual style, and performances, which are almost impossible to repeat. Just the cargo cult symbols that can still be clunked together to produce a sound.

  11. The great thing about music, in this context, is that it is not a narrative medium and does not lend itself to endless sequels, prequels, re-boots, and remakes. A cover version at the most, but even those are rare because it's not novel enough to pique the audience's curiosity, unlike seeing a re-boot of A Nightmare on Elm Street where we at long last get to learn the backstory of what made Freddie Krueger into Freddie Krueger.

    Unlike the Star Wars movies, the treasure chest of new wave and synth-pop music from the '80s will remain pure and alive-in-memory, not being sacrilegiously dug up, electrocuted into freakish re-animation, and then unceremoniously dumped back into the grave, every five years.

  12. The Star Wars, not that great a movie anyway, has already been milked to death by a generation of extended universe fiction, videogames, merchandise, cartoon tie ins anyway. They've been milking that shit since the 80s.

    So it's kind of natural for them to bring it into the age of milking comics and fantasy or sci book series on screen.

    Aim at it decaying Generation Xers and early Millennials who want to relive their youth with their kids, and the Millennial young adults who played through tons of Star Wars videogames and books, which made a big mythology and universe out of the films.

    You can count on po faced Generation X directors (like Nolan, who treats inherently ridiculous material like Batman, a wealthy man who dresses up as a bat and punches people in the face) with some gravity though, unlike the fun and comedy loving 80s directors who camped up the sci fi serials of their youth (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers) to death.

    Quinto is Italian, but more to the point he's got weird neotenous facial features

    He's a weird looking guy and probably has a gay face (to those who are attuned to such things, his expressions seem that way). But stubbled, thick eyebrows, large brow ridge and nose isn't really what I think of under neotenous.

    let's not forget that Leonard Nimoy is a Jew

    Shatner, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were also Jews. New Wars and Trek should've just cast a bunch of Jews.

    Btw, does anyone think that Black Stormtrooper guy pulling off his helmet is some dopey callback to how it was always James Earl Jones behind the helmet as Darth (well, him and Dave Prowse) in the original Star Wars?

  13. Lucas got things done. What he wanted to do just wasn't good. Apparently a lot of his script ideas in the original trilogy were lousy but he was working with other people who were able to correct him.

    Sequels to songs are uncommon, but not unheard of.

  14. Lucas did NOT get things done. Each one of the prequels is a sprawling incoherent mess, both narratively and visually, and only brought in audiences because of instant brand recognition, plus a desperation to see if the next one wouldn't suck so bad. Things happen in a sequence that lasts less than three hours -- doesn't qualify as getting things done.

    The other people who he worked with in the early days didn't correct him so much as focus his wandering attention, and make him choose something rather than try to do everything at once (comic / action / drama tone all in the same sequence, four separate locations all in the same sequence, 50,000 things going on in the background of every shot).

    If he were the type who gets things done, a la Woody Allen, he wouldn't even watch his own movies after they were done, let alone endlessly nitpick this or that thing that he'll tweak or airbrush in the next media release.

  15. "They've been milking that shit since the 80s."

    Wrong again, Millennial. You guys have had the internet at your fingertips since you were little, yet you refuse to look up what you don't know (because you don't know that you don't know). Nor do you simply ask someone who *would* know.

    There was a lot of merchandising right when the original movies came out, but it dried during the mid-'80s, and was not revived until the mid-'90s, to revive the hype as Lucas was conceiving and writing the Phantom Menace, as well as "enhancing" the first trilogy for re-release in theaters.

    The main movies ended in '83, with TV spin-off movies in '84 and '85, which kids would probably only have seen if they were taped off TV (I don't even remember the first one). A handful of spin-off cartoon episodes aired in '85 and '86, but again most kids didn't see them given the competition they had with G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the cartoons that were actually popular. (Contrast with the endless Clone Wars cartoon of the 21st century.)

    Nobody was reading Star Wars books or comics by the mid-'80s and after. The C-3PO's cereal was a one-off thing in '84. Despite a popular Star Wars arcade game during the original run, those machines were gone by the late '80s and early '90s, and were not replaced with Nintendo or Genesis games. Only in '92 did a new series of SW games come out on Super Nintendo, not very popular, followed by the highly popular Shadows of the Empire on N64 in '96.

    The toy line was huge when the movies first came out, but was wrapped up around '84, with only a handful figures released in '85, when production stopped. I remember in elementary school having to search for used figures at garage sales or comic book shops. Overall demand was so low by that point that they weren't available at retail. Kenner didn't re-launch the toy line again until '95, as part of the broader SW hype revival of the time.

    So no, they have not been endlessly milking Star Wars since the '80s. Like other hit movies, there was merchandising during the theatrical releases, and even a desperate attempt to keep it going a year or two after the final movie. But by around 1985, the hype was over -- there was simply too much cool new stuff aimed at kids coming out every month back in the '80s. Star Wars was a pleasant memory, and cool enough to keep your old action figures, but not an endlessly milked cash cow.

    This isn't a pedantic point. One, it's a lesson that you Millennials don't know anything about history before 1994 (whether high or low). You guys can't imagine a time when Star Wars was a cherished iconic series of films that was allowed to take its place in memory, and not be exploited to print money year-round, years after the series had wrapped.

    The larger point is that you shouldn't assume that the awful state of the world goes back indefinitely. In a lot of cases, it doesn't even go back to the '80s. It's a way of thinking about the world that feeds bitterness and fatalism, and it's just plain wrong.

    (The other larger point is look shit up before you make sweeping generalizations about things you know little about. Or more to the point, before you make sweeping claims, consider how little you know about the topic, and then hold your tongue, or write vague non-commital things that can't be easily disproven.)

  16. "The Star Wars, not that great a movie anyway, has already been milked to death by a generation of extended universe fiction, videogames, merchandise, cartoon tie ins anyway. They've been milking that shit since the 80s."

    Yeah, things these days are only slightly more exploitative compared to the 80's. But the Star Wars product was much better in the 70's-early 90's than it's been since the Special Edition atrocity of '97. Why? I think it's because of what artists are capable of and also, to a lesser degree, what audiences want.

    Simply put, due to the cultural climate artists don't have the fine aesthetic grasp now that they had in the 70's/80's. This is because spending a great deal of time in cocooning period causes people to become so cerebral, neurotic, aloof, easily bored and restless that we lose touch with the basic elements of effective art. Agnostic has done extensive posting about what makes good (or at least interesting) art. Regarding movies, just do a search on this blog for things like:

    - Cool/warm color contrast, which is more appealing to the eye than bland schemes

    -Use of foreground/background scale, which creates a sense of grandeur, wonder, and high stakes.

    - Speed of editing, faster paced editing is a stupid gimmick that desperately attempts to conceal deficiencies in acting, storytelling, special effects, photography, set design, and costumes. In theory punching up the editing makes a work more exciting for a coarse audience out of touch with good taste.

    - Limited vs. expanded focus, 70's/80's directors adored shallow focus and equipment that facilitated it. Shallow focus doesn't clue the audience into everything so the audiences' imagination is stimulated. It also generates suspense by withholding key info from the audience. Nowadays cameras show everything in great detail to the point that the brain is overwhelmed and wants to look away.

    Even if the photography/editing/music was above par, we'd still be stuck with later Gen X/Millenial actors who've spent too much of their life in a shell (both because of inherent temperament and post '91 culture) to be able to let their guard down and give a convincing, resonant performance. Boomers/early gen X-ers tend to be the best actors which is part of the reason so many good horror movies (which have young casts) got made from the mid 70's-80's.

  17. "Generation X directors (like Nolan"

    It's nice that he's an X-er, but the truly refreshing thing about his movies is how near exclusively Gen X the cast is as well. There may be a Boomer here or there, along with a throwaway annoying Millennial (like that nerd dyke from Inception), but overwhelmingly his cast was born within five years of the Seventies.

    Aside from being able to act convincingly, it also puts them closer to the director's background. The more that is shared, the less must be spoken, and the less must be commanded.

    Lucas was 2 years apart from Ford, 7 years from Hamill, and 12 years from Fisher. What can be done when J.J. Abrams is 26 years older than two of his leads in The Force Awakens? That's too much distance. Look at the prequels for proof: Lucas was around 35 years older than Anakin and Padme, and over 25 years older than Obi Wan.

    In the 2009 Star Trek, the actors are from the same cohorts as a Nolan film, except for the Millennial Chekhov. Abrams and his producers are counting on him being able to relate as well to leads who are much farther away in generational distance with the Star Wars sequel, and it won't work.

    (Fun fact for folks thinking of grown-ups directing leads in a teen movie. The duo behind Back to the Future were only 9 to 10 years older than Marty, Lorraine, and Biff, plus an extra 3 years older than George McFly.)

  18. "You can count on po faced Generation X directors (like Nolan, who treats inherently ridiculous material like Batman, a wealthy man who dresses up as a bat and punches people in the face) with some gravity though, unlike the fun and comedy loving 80s directors who camped up the sci fi serials of their youth (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers) to death."

    Eh, I think that 70's/80's directors tended to do a fine job of finding a balance of not being too serious or too silly. Star Wars was much less campy than Flash Gordon, Conan the Barabarian was much less campy than the Steve Reeves Hercules movies from the 60's. Alien is much less campy than It! The Terror From Outer Space.

    Though those New Wave movies weren't total camp, they weren't over burdened with lugubrious angst either. A post '91 genre movie like, say, Batman & Robin ('97) or Batman Begins ('05) is going to tend to be either too goofy like the former or too dour like the latter.

    Expanding on my view about Gen X actors, a tip o' the hat to M, who has helped me realize that later Gen X-ers are just too cautious and self conscious to easily drop their guard and just go for it like people born in the late 40's-60's.

    So it's probably gonna be harder for later Gen X-ers to drop their smirk and go all out, especially for pulpier material.

  19. I might as well use the '82 Conan to demonstrate exciting movie making:

    Color Contrast:


    Shallow focus:


    Nature Symbolism (note the cat heads on the throne):
    The Bad guys also worship snakes and have a snake logo on everything.

  20. Even 80's kids stuff did this well:

    Check out this action figure package from '87 -

    Bright Colors on dark background? Check.

    Animal symbolism? Check.

    Mystical/spiritual overtones? Check.

    Exciting but not pretentious fonts? Check.

    Angularity in visual design (on the armor and the fonts) rather than mundane curves? Check., it's a good write up on the property with lots of images. Even 'kids stuff' back then could be pretty damn fun and visually stimulating.

    Hope this isn't formatted as weirdly as the previous post.

  21. "The toy line was huge when the movies first came out, but was wrapped up around '84, with only a handful figures released in '85, when production stopped. I remember in elementary school having to search for used figures at garage sales or comic book shops. Overall demand was so low by that point that they weren't available at retail. Kenner didn't re-launch the toy line again until '95, as part of the broader SW hype revival of the time."

    interestingly, this particular rehashing of old ideas intersects with several things that this blog deals with.

    Big box retail came to dominate the landscape as the 90's went on as people lost interest in running their own businesses and/or shopping at small businesses.

    Meanwhile, we lost our ability to develop enduring pop culture properties in the 90's.

    On top of that, consumers began losing interest in non established properties. Wal Mart and Target began demanding that toy companies release 'major' characters (read the 4 Ninja Turtles, Luke & Han, Snake Eyes, etc.) in every 'wave' (periodical new assortment of toys in a given toy line). This also points to how cowardly people were getting by the mid 90's.

    From the late 60's-early 90's (peaking in the early 80's of course) there were multitudes of new characters being produced in toy lines. The 80's especially had whole lines of characters that had never existed in the human imagination before. The fact that action figures dominated the boy toy shelves during that time (again peaking in the 80's) shows how pro social and outgoing people were.

    Last but not least, there was less creativity in the 90's because the toy industry became heavily monopolized as the 90's went on. This was caused by declining sales. Fewer good ideas and a less pro social public turning to video games equals crappier sales. Also, the aforemementioned declining interest in starting and running one's own company aided consolidation.

  22. Agnostic, are you familiar with the "Secret History of Star Wars" website?

    The site confirms a lot of your assertions about how Lucas had no clue what he wanted the movies to be. He really did just make lists of an infinite number of possible plot points, characters, ect, and relied on his friends/wife to help him pick the best ones. For the first film in particular, he would write an entire 120 page draft, hate it, throw it out, and start writing again.

    At the risk of sounding like a fanboy of the snob variety, I only particularly enjoy Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. Even Return of the Jedi has too many of the elements that made the prequels to awful.

  23. agnostic Wrong again, Millennial. You guys have had the internet at your fingertips since you were little, yet you refuse to look up what you don't know


    One, it's a lesson that you Millennials don't know anything about history before 1994 (whether high or low). You guys can't imagine a time when Star Wars was a cherished iconic series of films that was allowed to take its place in memory

    You're right that the main milking of Star Wars occurred straight after its release and after Generation X nostalgia began building up, and parents began reshowing their kids Star Wars on VHS again and again. I looked up the Star Wars "books" series before making the post as a check and they actually were few during the 80s, not something I decided to clog up that post with even more than it already was (I probably should have). My point was really that its already been milked to death already by now, and George Lucas had a good deal of milking in mind when he designed it (even he would've been surprised about how milkable its been).

    I do remember from my 1980s part of my childhood that they had tons of toy lines ripped off from comics and adapted or designed to be milked again and again - He Man, GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, Teenage Turtles. Kids want what's new and cool unless their parents (because cocooning and "family values") and even a wider subculture of "adults" in a "fandom" effectively foist a tired series like Star Wars on them out of reliving their lost youth.

    There was less consumption than today (lots of kids TV then was still amateurish and homespun), and people weren't as cynical to consumerism. Neither there wasn't that nostalgia to exploit, a crowd of tired old people talking about how awesome their childhood was due to their disappointing adult life or the mythologising that seems to stop people getting tired of a pretty flimsy movie series.

  24. I do remember from my 1980s part of my childhood that they had tons of toy lines ripped off from comics and adapted or designed to be milked again and again - He Man, GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, Teenage Turtles.

    Those cultural properties featured entirely original characters; He Man, Transformers, Thundercats, TMNT did not exist whatsoever prior to the 80's while Duke, Hawk, Scarlett, & Snake Eyes did not exist in the 60's/70's Gi Joe toy line.

    The profit motive remains the same from era to era; the thing that changes is creativity and the tastes of the public. Like I said above, the 70's/80's featured a diverse set of companies making highly original toys for consumers that were open to new ideas. LJN, which ceased operation in the early 90's, made the HUGELY successful Thundercats line from 1985-1988 after making the 1st line of figures ever based on the Dungeons and Dragons license in 1983-1985. They also made WWF figures throughout the 80's. Kenner made the 80's Star Wars figures but was bought by Hasbro in the 90's. Nowadays it's basically Hasbro/Mattel that makes everything with a few things made by Playmates (who've always held the TMNT license).

    The mid century featured toys made by a greater number of companies (the pre corporate raiding era) but the character toys were usually based on generic or historical figures like say, Davy Crocket or Robin Hood. Mid century kids weren't all that interested in characters either; they preferred erector sets, science sets, vehicle models etc.Similarly, kids since the mid 90's and beyond are more interested in video games and lego sets compared to 70's/80's kids. Another similarity between the mid century and the post '91 cultural malaise is the plundering of all manner pre-existing licenses/characters to the point that Wal Mart demands that certain characters have to be represented constantly on the shelves.

  25. Let's see if we can take this in a related direction -- when *did* franchises, especially those for kids, become endlessly milked rather than enjoy a heyday and go into retirement? That reflects the desires not only of the producers of the stuff, but also of the consumers -- kids themselves, who seem never to tire of the same old characters, symbols, plots, etc., and their parents.

    Definitely not the early or mid '80s. Everything was new after a year or so. If you grew up on He-Man, Heathcliff, and so on, you might be surprised how short the initial run of the show was, and how soon the production of action figures, lunch boxes, etc., was shut down.

    Take He-Man, the prototypical hyped-up and milked-out franchise of its time. The cartoon only ran from '83 to '85. Even when it returned for another round of syndication from '88 to '90, it was on cable (USA), not network TV. Most kids would only have seen it during the first three years, and some would have seen a few episodes after then if they'd taped them off TV.

    They tried to reboot the cartoon in '90, but it flopped (I don't remember it at all, only learned about it from looking through the franchise's history). It did enjoy a three-year reboot later on, though, in the early-mid 2000s.

    The action figures appeared in '82 in advance of the cartoon, and lasted more or less through '86, just one year after the cartoon ended. (I checked a full list of toys sorted by year, and didn't recognize any of the handful that were made during the final production year in '87.) The toys were rebooted in the early-mid 2000s, when the cartoon was re-launched. There was a toy line for the failed sequel cartoon in '90, but I didn't recognize them either.

    They took a stab at turning the franchise into a movie in '87 (Masters of the Universe), but it was awful. Every kid hated it (and their parents too, I'm sure), and the attempt to make movies went nowhere after its failure.

    There was an unpopular video game made in '83 for Atari and Intellivision, a handful of unknown games for the British home computers, and only in 2002 and 2005 did they return to mainstream platforms (GBA and Xbox / PS2), timed with the re-launch of the cartoon. Nothing on Nintendo, Genesis, etc.

    Outside of media and action figures, what about being milked by McDonald's? Turns out there was a He-Man happy meal promo, but only in 2003 when the cartoon was re-launched, not back in the '80s.

    I couldn't quickly find a site that lists other merchandise such as lunch boxes and the like, but I don't remember that being big after the mid-'80s either. It was time to move on to Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, Silverhawks, or any of the other dozen new dazzling things that had come out in the past year.

    To sum up, He-Man -- one of the most iconic franchises for kids -- enjoyed a heyday of three to four years right when the cartoon came out, and was quickly retired. The handful of attempts to keep it going went nowhere. Not until the early-mid 2000s, when it was re-launched for another three years.

  26. Without going into such detail, you see roughly the same pattern with Transformers and G.I. Joe, two other franchises that were huge for a few years but allowed to take their place in memory -- until the 2000s when they had to be resurrected.

    In recent times, it's clear that the endless-milking trend goes back at least to the early 2000s with Lord of the Rings, Halo, etc.

    Harry Potter books began in '97, the movies came regularly until 2011, and while checking the history, I just found out that they're making a PREQUEL TRILOGY to begin in 2016. Merchandised out the ass.

    Pokemon video games began in America in '98 and have come out regularly ever since. Merchandised out the ass too.

  27. Poking around through other franchises that have been regularly re-branded and endlessly milked, it seems like the early '90s, maybe '88 or '89, was the beginning of the trend.

    Batman was just a flash in the pan on TV from '66 to '68, although shown in re-runs for a long time after. But not merchandised to high hell. In the '80s, there was a popular toy line by Kenner (makers of the Star Wars toys) for Super Powers, drawing from DC comic book characters. Batman was not the be-all, end-all -- just one character among the whole rest of them.

    Not until '89, when the Tim Burton movie became a hit. Suddenly there were toy lines just for Batman-related characters, Batman cereal, Batman video games, endless sequels into the '90s, plus the re-boot trilogy of the 21st century, Batman the Animated Series, a separate toy line just for the Animated Series, etc etc etc.

    That level of merchandising and re-branding was nowhere to be seen during the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

    Same goes for X-Men. The comic books were a hit sensation when my *dad* was a kid, in the early-to-mid '60s. Nothing came of it in the broader culture during the '60s, '70s, or '80s.

    There was a popular toy line in the '80s, Secret Wars, that featured Marvel characters, including Magneto and Wolverine. Like Batman in the Super Powers line, they weren't the be-all end-all of the toys, just two among the whole group.

    All of a sudden in '92, a long-running hit cartoon began, accompanied by an X-Men specific toy line and arcade video game, also big hits. Those lasted into the mid-late '90s, and then in 2000 the endless movie series began (they'll be continuing at least into 2016, BTW, with yet another sequel). With the success of the movies, it has spread everywhere else in pop culture.

    Spiderman was a little late to jump on the bandwagon, but the same basic timeline holds. He became popular in comic books during the '60s, and that was that. There was a failed attempt at a live-action TV show in the late '70s, a popular but brief cartoon in the early '80s (Spiderman and His Amazing Friends), and Spiderman-related characters in the Secret Wars toy line (who weren't hyped up as the main reason to buy it).

    The longest-running and most successful cartoon came in the mid-to-late '90s, followed by more re-boot cartoons in the 2000s. The trilogy of movies, and now a re-boot series of movies, came in the 21st century. Video games only began in the early '90s, and weren't that popular at the time anyway.

    The Incredible Hulk had its heyday in the '60s when the comic books were huge, then mostly faded out. There was a recognized, though not highly rated, live action TV show in the late '70s and early '80s, along with a somewhat popular cartoon in the early '80s. He wasn't even part of the Secret Wars toy line in the '80s (although some villains from the Avengers were), nor were there Hulk-related video games at the time.

    The re-boot of the cartoon came in the mid-late '90s, followed by spin-offs and other re-boots in the 21st century. Movies just about the Hulk, and then the Avengers, only began in the 21st century. He regularly appears in video games during the same time. Only in '90 did he become part of a hugely successful toy line (Toy Biz's Marvel line).

    I chose these examples because their origins go back over half a century by now, yet aside from their heyday in the mid-late '60s, they were retired for the better part of 25 years, only being resurrected, infinitely re-branded, and merchandised out the ass during the '90s.

  28. One final point to make is that in the pre-milking era, none of those characters were worshiped and discussed as though they were gods from contemporary mythology.

    In his criticism of the Star Wars prequels, Mike Stoklasa from Red Letter Media says that the decision to make them focus so much on Anakin's backstory was a crucial error which fed most of the other errors in the film-making. Darth Vader was just one of a number of colorful, interesting characters from the original movies -- he wasn't Space Jesus, whose life story and struggles needed to be told from childhood through early adulthood.

    All of today's hit superheroes are substitute Jesuses, whose elaborate backstories the audience craves to discover, as though they're being told the origin of Hercules. Spiderman is emo/nerd Jesus. Wolverine is angsty Jesus. The Hulk is loner curl-bro Jesus. Batman is vigilante Jesus.

    Perhaps one reason why audiences want to keep re-visiting these characters is that they're objects of worship. "Tell us more about the trials and feats of Emo Jesus..." When you worship someone, you don't just want to hear about their deeds for a weekend's entertainment, and you don't just want to pay tribute to them once. It has to be an ongoing series of rituals where you try to commune with the gods of your mythology.

    Back in the '80s, these characters were just interesting tales to tell for children, with no larger mythological or religious significance. No endless backstory, no focus on what transformed the character from mortal to demi-god. They simply have some set of beyond-the-ordinary powers that allow them to restore the chaos caused by villains who have their own powers.

    How they acquired these powers, what their character's motivation is for wanting to spread chaos or to restore balance, was glossed over. Who cares? They're simple personifications of the forces of good and evil, made to interact in a way that kids can understand, and hold their interest from one week to the next, until that cast of characters is retired for another -- not extended into endless life, as though the kids would continue to fixate on them.

    Go back and watch the pre-'90s versions of these characters, and notice how non-mythological they are portrayed. The focus is on action in the context of a plot about fighting crime (garden variety crime, not apocalyptic gotterdammerung). Not on character origins or development, nor on their powers and the backstory of how they got them.

    Batman -- the TV show from the '60s.

    Spiderman -- the Amazing Friends cartoon from the early '80s.

    Hulk -- the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the early '80s, and the naturalistic TV show with Bill Bixby / Lou Ferrigno from the late '70s and early '80s.

    X-Men -- ... doesn't look like there was a portrayal of them from the pre-bombastic era, aside from the original comic books in the '60s.

  29. " Spiderman is emo/nerd Jesus. Wolverine is angsty Jesus. The Hulk is loner curl-bro Jesus. Batman is vigilante Jesus.

    Perhaps one reason why audiences want to keep re-visiting these characters is that they're objects of worship."

    I have a hunch that what should be kid's entertainment has become infected by the desire of today's immature adults to want 'dark' or 'deep' layers added to comic booky stuff so that said adults don't feel so embarrassed by their compulsive interest in kiddie stuff.

    And no, watching overwrought, exploitive, nihilistic BS on TV doesn't compensate for consuming cartoons and wimpy ass fantasy/comic book movies. An overlooked reason for all the gore in 80's movies was that it made the audience feel the impact of serious, violent subject matter. Modern movies are so generally sanitized of hard hitting carnage that it let's today's cowardly audience off the hook. It also is harder to make the heroes heroic and the villains evil when you don't show the full extent of violence.

    I'm remind of a comment on this blog about how today's culture is simultaneously G and X rated. That's about the best way to put it. Things are either laughably lightweight or turgidly in your face. With no agreeable middle ground more sensible viewers end up frustrated and despondent.

    Also, it's both heartening (in terms of the maturity and taste of 80's kids) and alarming (for the crass, childish taste of post '91 audiences esp. adults who've got no excuse) that even kids in the 80's had better taste than the modern general public.

  30. It will also be two other things:

    1. P.C. sequel

    2. Disney anti-male sequel.

    Both are related, of course. The PC-ness comes from the trailers already, with blacks and tough grrrls put first and foremost. Fans have already complained, and the black dude actor came out and said to complainers "get over it." Because, you know, you white guys are done.

    Abrams is a joke. He is a hired-gun who can only take previously-established franchises and make them worse; his first star trek film was abysmal, which is why the second one did so much more poorly---fanboyswho loved all things trek, didn't trust him on the new ones anymore, after getting blueballed on the first. I've had several discussions with hardcore trekkies who confirmed this: Abrams ruined the series.

    Disney, too, has a bad history with boys; once the boys age out (around 8 or so, but definitely by 11), the Disney product is too girlish/infantile for them except the rare holiday movie (when even little boys can get nostalgia). One reason Disney bought Marvel's stuff was in desperation to have a ready-made-for-boys product that they couldn't develop. Girls, in contrast, are much more willing to stick with infantile crap with few murders or explosions or men working together as a unit.

    Disney taking Star Wars will reduce the explosions and deaths and emphasize "working together" and "democracy" and all other pc-stuff. No doubt one of the major "fights" will be some girl with force powers engaged in a prolonged staring contest with a dark sith---and then one will collapse in pain (but not die).

    Contrast this with Luke finding the skeletons of his aunt and uncle in his burned out home.

  31. "Disney, too, has a bad history with boys"

    Yeah, in the last period of high outgoingness (which tend to be male friendly) that occurred in the 70's/80's, Disney struggled mightily. The 80's were particularly unkind, with exciting TV screen/Toy shelf properties like Transformers, He-Man, GI Joe, and Thundercats soaring into the enduring cultural consciousness while Disney's big screen efforts to appeal to boys like Tron and The Black Cauldron flopped big time.

    Tron did become a bit of a cult hit among young adult/adolescent nerds in the years to come, to the point that Disney dusted off the property for a decades later sequel (which also flopped). But 80's kids didn't care.

    80's boys evidently wanted unpretentious entertainment (ideally with lots of episodes) featuring a large, colorful cast of adult action heroes. Disney evidently didn't get the memo so they stuck to high concept, gimmicky movies with unappealing characters.

    Also in the 80's cartoon movies were extremely unsuccessful until 1989's Beauty and the Beast. Around 1988 was when the culture begin to go more PC, more drab, more affected, more sophomoric, and more self conscious. Basically faggier which is why musicals and cartoons have been so much more popular in the 90's-2010's than they were in the late 60's-80's.

  32. @Feryl

    Disney seems to have a longtime corporate policy against blood, war, and guns in any feature made for children---which automatically alienates boys 8 and up. The most you can expect is in Mary Poppins when the crazy dudes on the roof fire a cannon into the air to mark the hours; if someone rarely does pick up a gun, he's a super-evil bad guy.

    As I said, this seems to be long-ingrained corporate culture. I used to watch the Disney Channel's original movies and series, and even the ones for boys had diverse teams of kids outsmarting stupid evil adults, but never by fighting. The girls were always science whizzes, or else the black kids; The Famous Jet Jackson, in fact, made the cool black kid the hero (sorry white boy losers lols!). Eventually, Disney just gave up and made a bunch of teeny bopper Disney channel films and shows designed for girls.

  33. I guess I'm the only one who liked the Phantom Menace and loathed the Star Trek reboot. That's because I had no expectations in the first case.

  34. The Phantom Editor hasn't been mentioned in all this? His second edition, especially, found a decent movie in the Phantom Menace solely by cutting out the craps. (Please note I said decent, not great.)

  35. The prequels were great films. they were Star wars films that expanded the universe. The problem is gen xers over rated the OT. The prequels did exactly what the OT did but better more serious with out a Han Solo guy.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."