Solo (2018)

The old Star Wars movies were masterpieces of world building. Mostly because they never stopped to explain what everything is – they just casually mentions things and move on, leaving the viewers to fill in the gaps. It begins early in A New Hope with a casual mention of the clone wars, which is never elaborated upon or made an object of exposition. It then continues as the protagonists go from place to place, with a similar lack of explanatory pretense. What is Mos Eisley? Don’t know, but it’s bad and that’s where the space ships are, so we have to go there. What’s on Alderaan? Don’t know, but it blew up. What is the Force? Who knows, but apparently it gives you the ability to choke people and somehow confers military rank within the Empire. What is the Empire? Who can tell, but they blew up Alderaan, so they are probably evil.

This goes on all the way to the Ewoks, at the end of Return of the Jedi. Things are introduced, and the gaps between these new things and what is already known allow for creative efforts to try to explain how it all fits together. A non-trivial part of the original movies consist of people standing around in costumes without being either acknowledged or explained; they are just there, a fait accompli which must be taken into account for the narrative universe to make sense.

The fact that most of these movies take place on a connotative level makes them extremely goofy if you watch them with a denotative sensibility. Darth Vader, menacing presence par excellence, becomes a figure who shows up every now and then to proclaim things with supreme confidence. This confidence is not based on any particular reason available to intersubjective scrutiny, but is simply present because. Seen in this light, he becomes a smug muppet more than anything else.

The newer cinematic entries into the Star Wars universe follow the same dynamic, albeit with less dramatic results. The new Solo movie aims to make explicit what has so far been implicit, with the result that the movie becomes less interesting for it. The events depicted have mostly been deduced from information already provided (with the particulars differing across individual interpretations), and putting them on screen adds little to the narrative copia already in place. In fact, it has the paradoxical effect of subtracting from the space of possible interpretations; knowing just how the card game wherein the Millennium Falcon came into Solo’s possession came down isn’t conducive to generating more stories. It just means we got this one on screen.

To be sure, this dynamic extends to the prequels as well (e.g. midichlorians), but it is exacerbated with these new movies that pertain to particular events at particular times. A Boba Fett movie (rumored to be in the works) would have to take into account that for most of his screen presence, he is one of the aforementioned suits who is simply there to provide ambient world building. What he did on screen pales in comparison to what he would have had to do off screen in order for things to make sense. Any particular instantiation of these implied stories would, by necessity, be lesser than the potential range of stories afforded by not telling them. The new movies are, in many ways, a self-defeating proposition.

When seen in this light, the reactions to Solo can be understood in context. On the one hand, it goes through the motions of being a movie, and does it with adequate alacrity. On the other hand, it closes down avenues of potential stories, without an equal opening up of new ones. Those who enjoy the movie in the first sense are happy to have seen a nice flick, with all the bells and whistles. Those who worry about the implied trajectory of the franchise, in the second sense, can’t help but feel a more or less explicit sense of dread with regards to the movie. Despite the production value, if this is where things are headed, there is reason to sense a disturbance in the force indeed.

Somewhere in here, we glimpse the difference between content and culture. It would be an easy (albeit work-intensive) process to simply tick off boxes of potential new movies. The backstories of Boba Fett, Leia, Yoda; there is an endless series of Solo-style movies just waiting to happen. It would, in a long enough run to warrant massive financial investments, be a sure bet; the potential to unleash the forces of cinematic mass production is there. But as we saw from the Hobbit, more is not always better. More content will certainly bring asses to seats, but it would also define and close down the narrative universe. Rather than being a space to project what-if on, it becomes a long list of movies to watch to even be a part of the conversation. It becomes a chore to keep up, with enough granularity inherent to the material to enable a non-trivial number of smug muppets to appear.

But then again. That might have been Star Wars culture all along.

Solo (2018)

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