Some people have always bitched about Star Wars. Whenever something becomes a pop culture sensation, especially when it makes a lot of money, it’s going to generate negative attention from those who somehow feel its success is unwarranted, undeserved or an unfortunate development for society. Attacking something other people love is a sure attention-getter and, for some, an empowering act of rebellion. It’s a declaration of independence from the status quo. In many cases, however, the specific issues that sparked the negativity in the first place are of far lesser concern than the conflict itself.
A big reason why I focus on issues of fans and fandom in this blog, specifically the petulant nihilism of the hateboys, is because over the years the bitching about Star Wars has evolved from harmless subjective disagreement into an active and organized campaign of destruction. Contrary to their claims, a big reason for this evolution is not the films themselves or the specific complaints, but rather technology. The Internet has given the haters a broadcast medium and a tool to join with other haters to coalesce their views, consolidate their activities and coordinate their attacks. What had once been small, isolated pockets of dissent and criticism now has an enormous megaphone to stage a crusade fueled by group-think. There are now dedicated warriors of hate on sites like Reddit, OriginalTrilogy.com and AICN that have made it their mission to let no discussion of Star Wars, no matter the topic, proceed without injecting a stain of negativity to poison other fans’ enjoyment.
The hateboys, of course, don’t see it this way. They’re convinced it’s Star Wars and George Lucas that has changed, not the ability of angry fans to communicate and synchronize their attacks. Their complaints about the SEs and the prequels, they argue, are somehow new and something that didn’t exist during the glory days of the 4-6 trilogy’s release.
Those of us who were around in 1977, 1980 and 1983, however, know this is utter bullshit.
The EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS hateboys now use to justify their snarky, childish and relentless attacks on the franchise were being made back then. Even “The Empire Strikes Back,” now ubiquitously lauded as “the best” of the series (and elevated to unassailable holy scripture by hateboys specifically because George Lucas didn’t direct it), was attacked for the very same “flaws” hateboys somehow think are unique to the PT.
Don’t believe me?
Only months after Empire’s release in the summer of 1980, Starlog magazine — the biggest genre publication at the time — published a scathing commentary titled “The Empire Strikes Out” written by Star Trek alum David Gerrold (as in the case of Mark A. Altman, its interesting that many of Star Wars biggest longtime critics also happen to be professional Star Trek fans). The article contains the same variety of attacks, nitpicking and general whining that hateboys have hailed as brilliant insight in RedLetterMedia’s “reviews” of the prequels or in ANY online debate about the saga since 1997. Thanks to reader Mike, I have a copy of the article. Unfortunately, I can’t simply post the scans due to its copyright.
Lucas must've time traveled 17 years back to do Spielberg's first "Special Edition".
Gerrold begins his article with a lengthy pre-buttal defending his attacks to come by acknowledging that his views aren’t likely to sit well with Star Wars fans. He describes a conversation with the magazine’s editor about his intent to write “some thoughts” about the movie, telling his nervous colleague:
“Now, listen to me–we have a responsibility to the readership. It’s that simple. I have to tell the truth.” “Even if it’s unpleasant.”
Gerrold then directly addresses — and preemptively dismisses — anyone who might have a contrary opinion.
“-uh, listen, if you’re one of those fanatics who started waiting in line sometime last December, who hasn’t seen daylight since May 21, who worships the wart over Yoda’s left eye, then maybe you’d better skip this part of the magazine and go on to something else.”
Perhaps in Gerrold’s eyes, enthusiastically liking the movie immediately disqualifies you from rational debate. Gerrold then moves into his empowering act of rebellion mode as he writes:
“I really hesitated before I wrote this column, because nobody likes the guy who stands up to say, ‘Awww, this party isn’t as good as everybody says it is.’”
As I wrote in Hateboys Ruin Everything, hateboys LOVE being the guy who stands up to “volunteer an opinion no one wanted with the sole intention of trying to ruin some other person’s enjoyment.” Gerrold’s acknowledgement that “nobody likes [that] guy” doesn’t prevent him from BEING that guy — because, ya know, the “truth” demands it.
Gerrold then graciously foretells the wisdom of what he is about to bestow [Emphasis Gerrold's]:
“My job is to make you think about what you saw. If you’re happy, if you don’t want to think, then turn the page.”
Translation: If you liked “The Empire Strikes Back,” you’re a moron. You don’t have a brain and you’re not going to accept my gift of knowledge. Go away. Does this attitude strike anyone as familiar? Over on Reddit the other day, a critic of this site aptly named “adouchebag” wrote:
“Just another retard pandering to other retards that think the prequels were good.”
Whether 32 years ago or last week, it’s the same shit. If you like something these guys don’t, you’re a moron. [note to the Reddit guys: I don't call out hateboys because they have a differing opinion. I don't care. It's because they can't stop themselves from making sure their negative opinions pollute every debate, every discussion, no matter the topic, all the time.]
Gerrold then launches into the “quibbles” — the nitpicks. It’s here where the article most resembles an unfunny version of RLM’s screed.
“Han Solo maneuvers the Millennium Falcon into a hole in an asteroid to hide while he makes repairs. Princess Leia sees something outside the ship. They go out to investigate — wearing only oxygen masks. No spacesuits. They explore the inside of the tunnel they are in, walking around the ship — walking?!!”
Gerrold continues with skeptical “questions of ecology” about how the space slug could live in space, how it could find food to eat and why it would hide in an asteroid. Perhaps it’s Gerrold’s Trekkie demand for scientific accuracy (because Trek is always sooooo accurate), but he clearly can’t suspend disbelief in the scene. This scene was often cited when people would complain about the film back in the day. It was clear evidence of Lucas’ hackery and indifference to “good” storytelling. It ruined the movie for some people — exactly the way the RLM “review” bitches about the Jedi going through Naboo’s “planet core” in TPM. It just one of those implausible things that ruins the movie, ya know.
Gerrold moves on to low hanging fruit: how the Falcon goes from Hoth to the Bespin system without hyperdrive. I love this complaint because it’s EXACTLY the same complaint made about TPM: How does the Queen’s starship get from Naboo to Tatooine without hyperdrive? Again, for modern era hateboys (neo-hateboys?), it’s a fatal flaw in TPM, but not even worthy of discussion in the holy TESB.
The article then continues to berate the scientific inaccuracy in the film by complaining about the movements of the spaceships. Gerrold then adds this gem:
“What we are seeing may look like spaceships, but they move like supersonic fighters and flying aircraft carriers. Impressive, yes. But reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica.”
Wow. Gerrold certainly knew ‘Galactica’ was produced after the first film’s release and that it was clearly copying Star Wars’ “dogfighting spaceships” stylistic template (and that former ILMers were involved in both productions). By making such a flawed comparison, it seems obvious the intent is make a disingenuous argument: I don’t have to prove it sucks, I’ll just compare it to something everyone knows sucks. Viola!
Gerrold then makes more grudging concessions that the film is “great fun,” while giving faint praise to its “flash and dazzle, zipping and zapping.” As is frequently the case with PT criticisms, Gerrold praises John Williams’ music and admits that “most of the effects” are stunning. The list of kudos, however, is just the prelude to the inevitable big “but–”
Gerrold then goes for the red meat: the flaws in storytelling — and directly blames George Lucas (strangely NOT Irvin Kershner) for “forgetting the audience” and making “some serious miscalculations.” He says the “incompleteness” of the story is “terribly unsatisfying” because it fails to “demonstrate a piece of truth.” Gerrold then displays the douchy arrogance of any film school reject who took “Intro to Cinema” by complaining about the film’s lack of a McGuffin and lack of “epic quality.”
“All the chasing and racing is very exciting, but it doesn’t seem to have a larger purpose. Where before we were made aware that these events were one small part of a larger rebellion, now it seems as if everything revolves around Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker. The focus has been narrowed. The rest of the battles are therefore trivialized by comparison, and the sense of epic is weakened.”
That quote could easily fit into any of RLM’s reviews of the prequels or any hateboy “I know cinema because I watch the supplemental materials on my DVDs” rant. It’s a simple formula: dismiss the plot by being intentionally vague (“all the chasing and racing”), state it doesn’t have a purpose (RLM: “What are the Jedi trying to do? It doesn’t make any sense!”), and then make an unfair comparison to something unrelated. Argument MADE.
The film suitably dismissed as “flawed,” Gerrold then continues to talk plot, but in doing so he exposes his real objective — and it’s the same objective today’s hateboys inevitable reveal whenever they complain about the SEs or the prequels: I call it the ‘Here, let me drive’ moment. It’s the moment when the hateboy tells us what Lucas should’ve done if he wasn’t such a hack storyteller. It’s the moment where they tell you what the prequels should’ve been about or how much cooler it could’ve been had only Lucas somehow accessed their childhood fantasies or read all that college-ruled fan fiction they’d written when they were in junior high. Gerrold writes:
“Structurally, the film is flawed by its need to imitate its predecessors “formula” of fast-paced cross-cutting. We cut back and forth between Luke and Yoda on Dagobah and Leia and Han in the asteroids, and the time sense of both sets are events is distorted. How long were Han and Leia fleeing? How long is Luke studying?
“Why not stay with Han and Leia until they leave the asteroid and head for the Bespin system, then cut to Luke arriving at Dagobah and stay with him until he leaves?”
Raise your hand if you want to see THAT movie. It’s ridiculous, right? But it’s no more ridiculous than the countless awesome suggestions (or fanedits) hateboys have offered over the years to improve the PT.
“Because the film now runs at such a fast pace throughout its entire length, it can’t build to an additional peak of excitement at the end when Luke finally confronts Darth Vader. It’s an exciting fight, yes — but we’re already at our peaks, we can’t get any more excited — and darn it, we should.
“The fight should be a climax, and it isn’t, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re left feeling just a bit unsatisfied.”
Remember, this is an article from September 1980 – long before Ewoks, long before fart jokes, long before the SEs or Jar Jar or the prequels. How many times have we heard hateboys complaining about Lucas “rushing” the story or screwing up the pace or fumbling the exposition or leaving them unsatisfied?
None. Of. This. Shit. Is. New.
What about Yoda? Surely, Gerrold loved Yoda, right? Well, he admits he’s “cute” and “has the best line in the picture: ‘There is no try. Either do or do not.’ [Gerrold's misquote]” But then he adds, “if he’s a Jedi master, then the galaxy is in worse trouble than we thought.” Gerrold describes the scene of Yoda lifting Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp and again kicks Lucas out from behind the wheel to show him how to drive. (Again, emphasis Gerrold’s]
“What is the point this scene is supposed to make?” “So why does Yoda give Luke his ship? He’s denying him a reason to learn. Having the fighter handed back to him so easily is definitely not going to teach Luke patience.” “If Yoda is truly a Jedi master, then after he has raised the X-wing fighter out of the swamp to show it can be done, he should drop it right back in and say to Luke, “When you believe you can do it, then you will.” And then the next time we cut back to Luke and Yoda, it would be enough to see the fighter out of the swamp again, cleaned off and Luke grinning like a man who’s just discovered he can run the four-minute mile in three and a half. It would get applause from the audience.”
Of course it would. Every Monday morning quarterback basks in the glow of the big game they would’ve won.
What about the characters? Here’s Gerrold regarding Luke:
“He isn’t a hero because he hasn’t demonstrated his ability to grow–and that’s what heroism really is: discovering that you can master what looks like an impossible challenge.” “If Luke doesn’t learn anything, then he can’t grow. And if this isn’t about growth, then it isn’t a story. In fact, it isn’t even a very good chapter.”
Imagine if the Internet existed back in 1980. How many “fans” would read Gerrold’s comments and parrot his talking points back in chatrooms and comment boards as “evidence” proving their point the same way hateboys religiously point to RLM or Michael Kaminski or Simon Pegg or any other voice of supposed authority to make their case? The arguments haven’t changed — the ability to broadcast them and create a clone army certainly has.
Gerrold ends by restating that the storytellers have failed.
“An author or filmmaker chooses the specific incidents that he believes best tell his story. That the authors of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ chose to portray these incidents suggests that they may not fully believe in the power of the Force themselves.”
And that’s the point: Gerrold wants his readers to know that he understands the story better than the storytellers. Just like hateboys understand Star Wars better than George Lucas.
Gerrold was also not the sole voice of dissent complaining about the film at the time. There were other negative reviews and plenty of commentary. People forget what a radical departure TESB was from the formula established in the first film. It upset a lot of people. I personally had plenty of debates defending the movie and I have an older brother who still insists TESB is a “terrible movie.”
What this article shows is that neither the complaints nor the complainers’ tactics have changed much in the last 32 years. If anything, they’re remarkably (and astonishingly) consistent. Their hate for the SEs or the PT isn’t original in the least. What has changed is the ability of these hateboys to gather with the like-minded, exchange information, organize and take action.
And the goal they’ve dedicated themselves to achieving is ruining other people’s enjoyment of movies they don’t like.