Day 307: Of Lucas And Disney

originally published November 2, 2012

There are several ways one could react to this week’s news regarding the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney for $4.5 billion, stock options and free Splash Mountain ride photos for life for George Lucas and his family. Some devotees are hailing this as a miracle of child-dream proportions, anticipating the seventh movie (the Clone Wars cartoon doesn’t count), a possible re-issue of the original, untouched trilogy on DVD and Blu-Ray, all in the hands of the same parent company that gave us The Avengers and Ironman, and now owns films like Reservoir Dogs, City Of God and Clerks.

Others feel this is a desecration of their childhood, and that only George Lucas would have the insight and brilliance to don the kid gloves with which one must handle the precious legacy of the Star Wars universe.

To help sort through this very emotional issue – and keep in mind that the original Star Wars trilogy is to my generation what the Beatles were to the generation before us and the what polio vaccine was to the generation before that – I will examine it through the lens of some of the cognitive biases which all-too-often trap us and/or direct our instincts. I do this to make some sense of the internet community, which appears to have overdosed on its own self-importance in the wake of this week’s big news.

The Impact Bias is affecting both sides here. According to Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson, this refers either to the sense that it will take longer to recover emotionally from a disaster than it actually does, or that it seems as though the positive effects from a good thing will linger longer than they actually will.

The optimists want to see the original trilogy re-released. If that happens (and that’s an ‘if’ so huge it could block out the sun), it really won’t change our lives that much. I’m speaking as a purist, who argued here just last week (or so – all the days kind of bleed together) that the special effects wizards who crafted brilliance out of primitive technology are the ones who really got screwed over by Lucas’s CGI addiction. But beyond the 6-8 hours (depending on breaks) I’d devote to watching these alleged re-releases, how much better will they make my life?

Okay, an Episode VII… that’s a perk I just can’t take away from the optimists. And with Hammill, Ford, Fisher and Dee Williams all still alive and healthy (sorry, I’m leaving out the fully-costumed cast), we could see cameos galore.

The nay-sayers are blowing the same rape-of-my-childhood whistle we heard when Greedo shot first. I’ve heard the argument that Disney made Beverly Hills Chuhuahua, Prince of Persia and John Carter. No movie in the Star Wars franchise deserves such blasphemy.

But guess what? Your childhood won’t explode, even if the seventh installment is pure crap. The original movies are still there, even if they’ve been slightly altered. You can still buy the toys. We all survived The Crystal Skull, people.

The mind employs the scarcity heuristic when something appears more valuable because of its scarcity. We grew up with three brilliant movies. Today we have six, three brilliant and three of mixed appreciation, a 50% ratio. Now that the universe has opened up an imminent avalanche of future releases, Star Wars has fallen into the Star Trek realm of potentially endless reboots, sequels, and re-imaginings.

The question becomes, if Episodes VII through IX suck, and if X through XII are horrendous, and if XIII through XV feature Justin Bieber as a Jedi master and So You Think You Can Dance’s Mary Murphy as the voice of a droid, does that make the first three movies any less magnificent?

No. Disney didn’t just saturate your childhood memories with mediocrity. They just pocketed some of your adult money, and if they really went the Bieber/Murphy route, they’re probably having a good laugh about it.

The Black-dog bias has nothing to do with Star Wars. It’s a phenomenon in which people are less likely to adopt a black dog and more likely to adopt one with a lighter coat. Black dogs can be awesome. You should totally adopt one. Also, you can call him ‘Vader’.

The accentuation effect occurs when a person sees the difference between two objects to be greater if they are in different categories than if they are simply left uncategorized. Simple solution: make the next Star Wars movie something totally removed from the sci-fi universe we know – this leaves the sanctity of the original movies (well, 50% of them) intact.

This worked for the Clone Wars film. It was a cartoon – we placed it in the same category as the cartoon TV show that came before it. Purists either loved it, ignored it, or judged it according to the show, not up against A New Hope. So, maybe Disney should take the approach of conquering a new realm with Star-Warsishness.

I’m not suggesting a Tatooine-based rom-com, or creating a torture-porn Sith Lord that likes to kidnap people and force them to cut off their phalluses with lightsabers in order to live. But there was talk last year about a ‘grown-up’ TV show in the Star Wars universe. Why not produce something in the most relevant and interesting genre of broadcasting today?

Disney can stick their name on it, but hand the task of making the show over to AMC or HBO. Let’s build a novel-length story with a bit more violence, a bit more edge than we’ve seen. If you aren’t going to hook up with someone as reputable and bankable as Christopher Nolan or JJ Abrams to make the new movies, hand it over to Vince Gilligan for the small screen. Breaking Bad is done in a few months anyway.

I’m not sure if I’ve resolved anything here. Outsiders may suggest we’re all suffering from the rosy retrospection cognitive bias, believing these films to be more important, more substantial than they actually are. And I can see their point – I’m a film student, and it doesn’t take one to know that Return Of The Jedi is not as intellectually and stylistically challenging as Blade Runner.

But they’re wrong. The original trilogy is just as sacred and important as we internet nutjobs claim it to be. Not for its cinematic strides (though it made several) but for the power of the myth. My children grew up with their own quasi-religious film and literature institution (Harry Potter, not that Twilight crap), but even they understand and appreciate the edifice Lucas created.

But that ground is solid – CGI Ewok-eyes and shoe-horned cries of “NOOOOOO!!!” aside, the original trilogy will exist forever, no matter what the future may bring. I imagine travelling back to that afternoon in 1983 when my mom pulled me out of grade three to see Jedi at the old Westmount Theatre. Had I told my 8-year-old self that yes, there would be an Episode VII, but I’d have to wait until I was 40 to see it, I’d have started counting down the weeks.

So for now, I’ll watch for the 2015 release through that kid’s eyes.

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