#CloneWarsSaved, or, A Poe Boy Hot Take

clonewarssaved

I’m not crying, you’re crying. Ah, look at that, now you’ve got me going. I guess we’re both crying now. So silly.

Have you heard the good news!? No, not that, the OTHER good news! I have a brand new Star Wars podcast, Poe Boys! Check it out on Podbean and Apple Podcasts!

It was a confluence of events that threatened to sour Star Wars, my great pop culture love, for me.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had performed poorly at the box office and thus any and all discourse to the film was relegated to everyone and their mother’s hot takes on what went wrong, rather than any sort of discussion regarding the contents of the actual film.

Unfounded rumors began to swirl that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would be resigning and that Disney was entirely scrapping any and all planned Star Wars anthology films.

It became impossible to forget that Solo and Star Wars were products, to the point that it began to feel as though that’s all they were.

Around the same time, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, essentially expunged her social media presence in response to the toxic little pigs that have coopted Star Wars fandom for their own racist, sexist agendas.

And of course who can forget the rogue band of fans offering/threatening to fund a remake of Episode VIII, a pursuit for which they claim to have raised… $400 million.

All this left me feeling like Star Wars fandom was something best left unengaged with, like politics at Thanksgiving. I felt like I’d been looking at Star Wars through rose-colored glasses and now my third eye had opened to reveal a dollar sign.

Look gang, I’m just trying to talk about the progression of heroism from Episode III to Solo and how that progression serves as a thematic bridge between the prequel and sequel trilogies, but it feels impossible to pry Solo out of its hardened fiscal resin!

And then San Diego Comic Con rolled around, and it was announced there would be a panel celebrating the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and they showed concept art and talked about the development of the show and OH YEAH THE CLONE WARS IS COMING BACK BABY THIS IS NOT A DRILL THIS IS HAPPENING THANK THE MAKER OH BOY OH BOY!!!

I don’t know that I’ve been as excited for a Star Wars announcement since I learned there would be an Episode VII.

The Clone Wars was what took me from a casual Star Wars fan most moviegoers could identify with to waking up at four in the morning in Orlando, Florida to wait in line for the Star Wars: Rebels panel at the last Star Wars Celebration. It is the beating heart of my fandom, and shortly after Disney acquired Lucasfilm Mickey buried a rusty axe in it, leaving untold stories in various stages of development and production dangling before fans’ imaginations, pesky what-ifs and what-could-have-beens just out of reach.

I’ve talked about it here one or five times.

I don’t remember if I wound up officially forgiving Disney for their flagrant transgression, but if I did I take it back, even in the face of the show’s eminent return.

#CloneWarsSaved rekindled my excitement for a franchise that seemed to be moving further and further from the contents of its actual stories and characters, not only because of the prospect of seeing more of my favorite show, but because of the fandom I saw on display during the panel at which it was announced.

Not every Star Wars fan is a Star Wars animation fan. We’re certainly a smaller subset of the sprawling audiences that flock to theaters for the live-action films. And if the panel in question is any indication, we’re also a subset that won’t immediately harass and berate creators and performers into digital oblivion because we don’t like the cut of their jib.

Perhaps because of that there exists a transparency, an openness between the creative forces that be and the fans of Lucasfilm animation that is not mirrored elsewhere in the Star Wars machine. Reading through The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, I found no mention of the directorial transition behind the scenes and how that may or may not have affected the art direction of the film. I’m not looking for juicy gossip mind you, I genuinely am curious about the creative mindsets at play and how the film’s art direction grew. But that’s unseemly and secret and even though anyone who’s buying The Art of Solo knows exactly what happened behind the scenes, we just don’t talk about it. Inversely, on the Clone Wars panel, Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni openly jokes about episodes fans have deemed “filler” and story arcs that viewers were ultimately less than enthusiastic about. There’s an openness to the conversation in which fans are just as ready to dislike something as they are to like it and creators are ready to acknowledge those feelings playfully because it never devolves into the Thunderdome. It’s the kind of back-and-forth you get when a fan base isn’t littered with ointment-sullying maggots.

The return of Clone Wars doesn’t make me excited just for a dozen more episodes tying up loose ends, it makes me excited for a discourse that, for a brief moment, felt in danger of being beaten to death by bigots and bullies. For me, and my relationship with the multi-billion dollar juggernaut of a franchise, it isn’t just The Clone Wars that was saved.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story, or, Don’t Join

solo

You will believe a Star Wars marketing campaign can be heavily orange.

Even before its release last week it seemed pretty clear that for better or worse Solo: A Star War Story was poised to be something of an antidote to the divisive execution and reception of The Last Jedi. Where that film ran around the party pulling any rug it could get its hands on out from under whatever unsuspecting feet it could find, the marketing for Solo seemed to suggest a film  that intended to deliver on exactly the product it was selling – a swashbuckling, hot-rod adventure in space. And deliver it did.

Whatever my feelings on the film have evolved (or devolved) into now after a holiday worth of hot takes, when I left The Last Jedi I felt conflicted and disappointed. While Solo didn’t blow my mind with a reinvention of every facet of the Star Wars universe it could get its hands on, it in no way left me feeling conflicted. To describe Solo as a film that delivers on expectations rather than defying them might give the impression that it is a lesser Star Wars film, or at least a less inspired one. On the contrary, in my own personal Star Wars canon the film has already begun to solidify its place amongst the grand narrative painting that is the Star Wars universe.

As oppositional as The Last Jedi and Solo’s filmmaking sensibilities might be, Solo actually delivers an excellent continuation and elaboration on the themes presented in its five-months-older sibling. The Last Jedi is the first Star Wars films to really lean into the idea that the seemingly ceaseless, titular star war is utterly futile and that as exciting as watching heroes and villains duke it out in space is, a majority of us aren’t heroes or villains and given the choice, there are probably a lot of space people for whom the sight of a red lightsaber or finger-lightening simply isn’t enough justification to enter into a war.

Solo is the first Star Wars movie in which there really is no war. There are no grand causes or hallowed establishments. The heroes of this film are thinking of themselves and their individual everyday survival and, crucially, the film doesn’t condemn them for that. As a movie, Solo can be seen as an extension of DJ and Finn’s exchange in The Last Jedi – “don’t join.” Moreover it also offers a glimpse into some far more pragmatic, far less glorious motivations for joining: desperation, escape, poverty.

Just as Rogue One’s Saw Gerrera showed us that not every rebel is a moral paragon, Solo shows us that not every Imperial Stormtrooper is a patriot.

Solo is equally fascinating in comparison to what is now, at least for the time being, its immediate canonical predecessor, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. That film sees its protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, all-power war hero and force-wielding super-warrior, crushed into oblivion by the establishment, by the military-industrial complex, by the cause, by the man. Anakin, for all his power, joins. And he is utterly annihilated for drinking the Kool-Aid. Han Solo, on the other hand, has no such mystical power, he is not a war hero or Chosen One, he’s just a scrappy orphan boy armed with a modicum of cynicism. He’s not yet the sarcastic, callous smuggler we meet in the original Star Wars, but even as a youth, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han is wary of “delusions of grandeur.” Episode III gave us a protagonist doomed to fail, and in the aftermath of that sprawling failure, Solo gives us a new protagonist, the type of unaligned protagonist needed to succeed where the likes of the heralded Jedi order failed.

With that in mind, Solo serves as the most impressive fulcrum yet between not just the original trilogy and prequel trilogy, but also the two Star Wars animated series and the sequel trilogy. It is the most profound step yet towards an utterly unified, grand Star Wars canvas in which the sometimes-disjointed worlds of Kylo Ren, Jar Jar Binks, Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano feel more unified than they ever have before.

Key to that is the believability of the likes of Ehrenreich’s Solo, Donald Glover’s Lando and Joonas Suotamo’s criminally under-recognized Chewbacca. Their performances are instantly believable in spite of the iconic shoes each is tasked with filling. This is Han Solo. This is Lando. This is Chewbacca. There is never any doubt and thus their placement and actions here reverberate into and connect with characters and events from across the Star Wars galaxy in ways that manage to feel unifying, rather than stifling, alive, rather than overly-coincidental.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t going to force you to reexamine everything you’ve ever expected from a Star Wars movie. “This is going to go the way you think.” I’m not going to have to sling out hot take after hot take on this bad boy just so I can sleep at night. It didn’t leave me feeling conflicted and defensive. It left me feeling excited, it left me with story beats and background characters that still have my imagination flying like a kite (I think about Lady Proxima a lot…), and most importantly it left me wanting more.

Whatever skepticism I had going into Solo has been replaced with an impatient hope that we’ll get Solo II.