So, there was a bit of breaking Star Wars news yesterday. Granted, that’s the case every day, but this one felt…different. You see, there are even more planned movies in the Star Wars universe than Episode IX, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and whatever undetailed trilogy Rian Johnson has in the works after his writing gig for The Last Jedi. This isn’t shocking; I doubt any of us expected the “Star Wars stories” to end after only Rogue One and Solo. But it’s not just that there’s more in the pipeline—it’s that there’s another series of films coming, and they are being written and produced by none other than David Benioff and Dan Weiss.
Benioff and Weiss. D&D. The Game of Thrones showrunners. Yup yup yup.
For those of you who have been around The Fandomentals before, it won’t shock you that I have a less than favorable opinion of these two men as content creators. After all, I’ve spent countless hours trying to detail why Game of Thrones is simply a terrible show, by every metric. For those interested in a deep dive, I suggest my series of retrospectives with Julia, where we go back and watch the show plotline by plotline, uncovering the horrifying truth that even ignoring the show’s misogyny, racism, ableism, etc., there’s no coherent story to be found. (Though to be clear: I don’t think you should have to ignore those aspects; it’s a privilege to be able to in the first place, and asinine to think they don’t have a cultural impact.)
It may come as a little bit more of a shock, however, that I am a fan of both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In fact, I compared my favorite book from the series to that film! So maybe it’s fitting, then, that D&D are poised to take a dump all over this universe, too.
Now, I’d never claim that The Last Jedi, or certainly A Song of Ice and Fire, are without flaws or problems. Frankly, both content creators would do well with examining their own privilege since there are plenty of negative implications in their writing, particularly when it comes to racial portrayal and representation. However unintended those may have been, they’re still there and hurtful, even if there’s also positive and strongly feminist implications and messages that can be gleaned from these stories through another lens.
See, that’s the thing about where we’re at with Star Wars, the franchise, right now. The good intentions are palpable, and the entire message is still hope. What’s more is that Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group seems to have been working overtime to give us expanded canon material from diverse content creators and/or perspectives. The Last Jedi felt like it had fit right into that tonally. This universe doesn’t belong to anyone, it’s our actions that matter, no one’s entitled to a story, and the ones that exist have done so through strength of character. It’s almost like the newest movie was thinly veiled meta commentary to highlight this point!
Well…that’s not what this announcement feels like at all. As Twitter user @spacetwinks summed up:
benioff and weiss being in charge of a buncha star wars movies feels almost like a "we heard your complaints about there being too many women and people who aren't white in our movies" move
— Colin Spacetwinks (@spacetwinks) February 6, 2018
This isn’t aided by the fact that the last time D&D had made news about an upcoming project, it was to tell us that they were planning to write a series based on the idea that the South had won the Civil War and there was still slavery. Really the guys to be welcomed into the super inclusive vision for this franchise, right?
Unless…that vision was just our kinder projections thanks to our own engagement with certain stories/aspects of the universe, and never anything intentional on the part of Lucasfilm. Because stepping back, we’ve only got white men writing the movies. I happen to think white men can do good jobs, but for the love of god, it’s 2018. The disparity in opportunities are clear, and we’re goddamn overdue for differing perspectives. And you have to be living under a rock not to know that D&D’s reputation when it comes to stories involving any kind of marginalized character is not good. If nothing else, the “woman problem” within Game of Thrones has been pretty damn public, right?
Kathleen Kennedy’s justification was not exactly encouraging, either.
“David and Dan are some of the best storytellers working today, Their command of complex characters, depth of story and richness of mythology will break new ground and boldly push Star Wars in ways I find incredibly exciting.”
I’m sorry, what? I can kind of understand confusing D&D’s inconsistent writing for complex characterization, and I realize that not everyone reflects on the story to the frenetic degree that I do. But even disinterested partners of show-only watchers saw Season 7 for the incoherent mess that it was, and more and more people are twigging onto the fact that as D&D ran out of (or “boldly” deviated from) George R.R. Martin’s material, the quality of the show plummeted. Remember how Dorne was received? Their first plotline written without even vague scaffolding from the books?
What “richness of mythology” is Kathleen Kennedy crediting them for having written? That a “dwarf’s cock has magic powers” and fetches a high price at a market? That the universe’s plague can be scraped off with a knife when it stops being plot-convenient? Oh god…the erection-activated poison? Does Kennedy realize that all the heavy lifting when it came to the show’s worldbuilding was already done for D&D?
I can keep asking incredulous, rhetorical questions all day, but then there’s also the central issue to this choice. Star Wars is a franchise about hope, and the goodness of humanity. No one is ever truly gone, and even Darth Vader had a redemption. Game of Thrones is quite possibly the perfect opposite of this. Everything is horrible and you should feel bad. Violence is championed, empowerment is reserved for characters that fit into a mold of toxic masculinity (while femininity is demonized), revenge is worshipped, faith is ridiculed, and the thesis statement is little more than reveling in the cruel shocks the world has to offer. Hell, even the good guys and bad guys are indistinguishable in actions, because it’s a story that stands for nothing.
Now that’s what I want in my fun family space adventure franchise!
The thing is, this nihilism rarely gets as much attention as, say, D&D’s gratuitous inclusions of nudity, or the way they liberally employ sexual violence against women, even in the most illogical of circumstances. That’s not to say those things aren’t cause for alarm, especially since they seem to be the vices D&D fall back on for drama or flavor. That’s more than a concerning pattern, and enough of a disclaimer where you’d think these guys would have been ruled out of the running.
Still, following the announcement I saw a lot of people sardonically asking who was going to be the first Star Wars woman to get raped, if we were going to get fully naked Twi’lek dancers, or if they were going to hook Luke and Leia up “for real” this time. I…get it, especially since the Jaime/Cersei jokes write themselves. It’s just that I also think this is missing the forest for the trees a little bit. D&D will be working within the parameters set by Lucasfilm, and likely aren’t going to be getting more than a PG-13 rating to toy with for any of these films. This announcement made me lose a whole lot of faith in Kennedy’s vision, don’t get me wrong, but I do honestly believe their product is going to have to at least be family appropriate in terms of what they show.
That’s not to say what they come up with will be in any way good, or less damaging on a cultural level, however. Rogue One wasn’t exactly a romp through the fields, so there’s obviously plenty of room for D&D’s Dark, Gritty, and Edgy™ brand. They can still write films that specialize in “oh that’s so messed up!” shock moments, with little else in the way of messaging, and certainly little regard for the viewpoints of marginalized characters—something that is the worst possible fit for the Star Wars universe right now, of course.
Will they? I mean, Benioff’s other notable creative works include X-Men: Wolverine and Troy, the Iliad adaptation that forgot about the gods, no homo’d Achilles to hook him up with his ‘war prize,’ and made Helen earnestly in love with Paris. Rewatch either of those masterpieces and tell me what was the story that he thought was so damn worth telling.
In truth, I haven’t the foggiest what D&D could possibly be so eager to explore in Star Wars either. Gretchen was floating around some ideas for them really darkening up the prequels era, and I could see it. Ripping the Jedi order would be very in-line with both their anti-religious arguments and their determination to tear down Ned Stark’s image. I could also see them taking a character like Boba Fett, who embodies “cool,” and sending him on nonsense missions. But there’s a whole host of options, and I have a feeling that coming up with them will be some semblance of fun for us over the next couple of years.
However, I do happen to think that D&D are going to come to realize the universe is a lot less expansive than they originally thought, at least in terms of what they can build off of. They’re going to actually need some of that command of mythology Kennedy claims they have, and, well…scriptwriters have been fired before. I’m not exactly anticipating this of course, but having studied these guys’ storytelling habits closely for three years now, I can say that I don’t magically foresee a focus on themes and messaging. It’s just up to Kathleen Kennedy and her creative group to decide if that’s something worth prioritizing over what I can only imagine is the bottom line.
I guess that’s what the rebellion was truly built on this whole time.