I’m a huge Star Wars fan. In fact, as I write this, I’m wearing old Star Wars socks and my big toe is sticking right through a hole in Luke Skywalker’s face. I should get rid of the socks, but I don’t because I love Luke and what he stands for. That is why, as a grown-ass man and as a parent, I’m worried/annoyed/concerned at the direction Star Wars is heading. The premise of the new live-action Star Wars TV show was revealed this week and it’s extremely not about a peace-seeking Jedi Knight or even a revolutionary freedom fighter. Instead, the show is about “a gunfighter.” This is bad, not because TV shows about gunfighters are inherently bad, but because Disney has made Star Wars into a family brand and, given that, gunplay is a crummy default mode for storytelling.
On Wednesday night, producer and showrunner Jon Favreau Instagrammed the title and premise of the first ever live-action Star Wars TV show. The show is called The Mandalorian, which is a reference to the type of space armor worn by Boba Fett, the mercenary bounty hunter who worked for the gangster thug Jabba the Hutt in the classic Star Wars movies. “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe,” the description reads. This is already a little weird because Jango and Boba Fett were hired assassins, but whatever. It gets worse. There’s this: “We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic.”
Okay, so the new Star Wars show is like a Clint Eastwood joint about a gunfighter in a lawless town/planet/galaxy? Really? Ignoring the fact that Disney just tried this exact same thing with Solo, it’s troubling the franchise wants to double-down (triple down?) on the regressive notion that one person alone with a gun is an interesting premise or a compelling hero. Star Wars used to be a fairytale, one populated by all sorts of archetypes. But lately the cynical, darker archetypes have been the focus. The good guys are, well, evaporating. That might be okay, but all of these new characters have a blaster at their side. In the old films, Han Solo, Boba Fett, and their ilk were interesting story elements because of the contrast they provided. They were interesting because they were ethically ambiguous characters in an ethically transparent universe.
Now? I don’t know.
The gun fixation is particularly egregious because the original Star Wars trilogy was at least vaguely (and maybe staunchly) anti-gun. Obi-Wan says the lightsaber isn’t as “clumsy or random as a blaster,” and encourages Luke to learn about a weapon that works defensively even better than offensively. Luke sticks to this philosophy and even wins the day in both Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi by refusing to fight. Let that sink in.
Want proof that this notion of choosing peace resonates with children? This year, one grade-schooler was so inspired by Luke’s example that he took some punches from bullies rather than give into his aggressive feelings. Mark Hamill, and everyone else who seems to understand the true value of Star Wars were all visibly moved by this story. (I was too.) The point is, the front line of the mega-popularity for Star Wars will always consist of children. The old movies were made by people that understood this and cared. That’s doesn’t seem to be the case with the new shows. The IP is now scattershot.
Back when The Force Awakens came out, a lot of critics correctly pointed out that Kylo Ren seemed like a school shooter, making him a relevant and frightening bad guy for a new, contemporary version of Star Wars. Now, three years later, it feels like the franchise has been doing nothing but churning out more of the same: films and animated shows are studies in narrowly averted morality. In the old movies, it was pretty clear how you were supposed to feel about the characters. But since the prequels started up in 1999, moral ambiguity has surrounded such fun activities as genocide, child slavery, and political corruption.
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Hardcore fans will point out that the old movies had a space bar, populated by heavily armed aliens, and that the idea of the Mandalorian comes courtesy of George Lucas. True, but also beside the point because that’s not what those movies were about. If you watch the old Star Wars movies with fresh eyes (I know, very hard), it’s totally obvious that the “wretched hive and scum and villainy” of outlaws and gunfighters was a story element — an obstacle for heroes to overcome. The curiosity people have about Boba Fett or anyone else in a space bar is adult curiosity. And for those who think Star Wars isn’t for kids anymore, I’d like to remind you of the endless toys, costumes, and games for sale and that the new show will air on a Disney streaming service in late 2019.
Disney is a family brand and, under Disney’s stewardship, Star Wars has somehow become less family-friendly than it was back in 1983. This isn’t to say that the new movies are bad or that The Mandalorian won’t be a riveting TV show. But it is to say that Star Wars is getting away from our kids and that parents — specifically parents wearing Luke Skywalker socks — shouldn’t be pleased about that.
Kids need heroes. Rey can’t save the universe and a generation of new fans all by herself.