I was thirteen when I watched Star Wars for the first time. Star wars, which only later became “A new hope”. I was exhilarated by the crossover of science- fiction subject matter (not that I would use the phrase) and western film narrative approach; plus, there was the magical, mystical element I had not yet ever met. Having been raised mainly on westerns (my father’s main cultural contribution to my education) I suddenly realised that there was another type of western – one with spacecrafts large and small instead of trains and horses, and weirdos with tentacles drinking in saloons. Plus the explosions and the laser sabers. It was supposed to be science fiction, but it didn’t look like any Sci-Fi I had seen (the sci-ti I knew consisted in black and white B-movies watched on tv; I was too young to know 2001 or Solaris. I had no idea what fantasy fiction was, at that time. Beside being blown away by the sheer fun, the realisation that you could mix genres was exhilarating. The discovery that once you have one or more heroes, and infinite space for them to move in, you could try infinite variations of narrative modules. Not that I put it that way, but it was a wonderful realisation.
The enthusiasm has stayed with me ever since: whenever I meet something truly new in the realms of fiction, something mindblowing in a way that is simple enough to appeal to my inner child, I think of it as a Star Wars moment. There have been some: not surprisingly, me being me, the most exhilarating was on my first reading Harry Potter and the Philosoper’s stone; I enjoyed as an adult reader and could feel my inner twelve-year-old’s glee. Watching Rogue One a couple of nights ago, instead, was an entirely gleeless experience. It was boring, the plot absolutely repetitive, I just kept noticing my total lack of interest or participation – let alone enthusiasm. So long, “Star wars”. It is over between us. To be frank, the Star wars world started its decline almost immediately: unlike J.K.Rowling’s books, which grew better, deeper and richer as she wrote them,Star wars started feeling less convincing quite soon. The empire strikes back had all the interesting mythology and the truly epic initial battle in the snow to compensate for the flimsy plot, but The return of the Jedy already feelt one too many repetition of the narrative module: “go to the enemy’s den, retrieve or destroy something important, making some new friends along the way, enjoy a very, very close shave as you run away”. The only novelty in Rogue One is that the young heroes die, but you know so little about them that you can’t be bothered to feel any sorrow as they are annihilated with their entire world.
Managing to make the audience or readers root for a character should be a specific advantage of serialisation. Characters become more nuanced, we learn more about their motivations and their experience. We choose favourites and suffer and rejoyce with them. In films and series the returning cast helps with that, but in the Star wars world that only lasted for the first round of episodes; after that, none of the actors ever had Harrison Ford’s blend of charisma and humour; Liam Neeson and McGregor were fine, but everyone else was utterly forgettable: in the two most recent films I found it difficult to even notice any of the actors, let alone grow to like them enough to care if something wrong should befall their characters.
Repetition is not necessarily wrong: countless westerns use a handful of basic plots, but they are crossed with other aspects such as ideological or moral perspectives on the constituting elements of those plots. So you may have natives and colonists killing each other, or communities facing the violent acts of strangers, but deciding who is right or wrong, who is the victim or the monster will make battles, or searches for long-lost relations, look and feel very different. Besides, the western is an interpretation of reality, so that spectators can fill in what may be lacking with what they know.
Expanding a narrative world also has great potential, because it answers the need we have to explore different places and experience different lives. Yet it must be done so that the expansion feels exciting, sometimes even necessary, not redundant, and there must be a connection between the old and new instalments. Showing how Princess Leia gets the plans of the Death Star really felt totally irrelevant. This was very unlike reading Harry Potter and the cursed child, which fits in neatly in the Potter world as we know it from the canon of the seven novels, but at the same time adds to it meaningfully. It may not be the joyous read (I was going to write ride) the novels were, but it feels true to its world. Besides, it gave me a few unexpected minutes with much loved professor Snape, and that alone would be enough to make it worth reading.