Why They Are Wrong about Optimism

The news came across my feed: between the first and second weekend, The Last Jedi had dropped $150 million—largest drop in the history of film. This happened, even though, of the reviews published before the movie was released, all but two praised it to the sky. The critics loved it.

Some fans loved it.

But other fans hate it. So much so that more than 65,000 have signed the petition to declare the movie un-canon and ask Disney to issue a new Episode VIII.

The same thing has been going on with Star Trek. Star Trek Discovery has some admirers, but it has lost the hearts of many who have been devote Star Trek fans for years. And the same thing has been going on with comic books and with DC superhero movies.

All these series laud their new direction. Those speaking for them say that the franchises have “grown up”, “adjusted to the times”, “become more mature.”

In case you don’t speak their jargon, that’s code for: the new versions are cynical. They mock or deconstruct the very thing that made the show beloved to begin with.

Why would they do this? I am beginning to wonder if it is partially because of lack of historical context. The implication is: “The older shows were overly simplistic, from a simpler age. We know better now.” But anyone who says that does not remember what moves were like back when Star Trek and Star Wars first came on the scene.

The 60s and 70s were not a simple time of optimism. They were quite cynical. There were movies like Crazy Larry and Dirty Mary—where the thieves get away with the crime and then, at the very last minute, are hit by a train and die for no reason—or Taxi Driver, the only movie I’ve ever walked out of, or a whole slew of movies like Deerhunter, about how crazy vets might snap at any moment.

Back then, many movies were subtle shades of gray, cynical and “mature.” And most of those subtle, cynical, and mature movies? I bet half the people reading this haven’t even heard of them.

They certainly aren’t still selling millions of dollars of toys forty year later.

But Star Wars and Star Trek stood out. Why? Because they brought hope. Episode IV, as the original Star Wars is known now, really was a New Hope.

There are many cynical SF movies out there. Some of them look splendid, but most of them aren’t remembered—except by aficionados. Cynicism is great for a quick kick in the pants. It can make people gasp or sneer. But it very seldom stays with us, unless we remember it in our nightmares. It certainly doesn’t give us something that is still inspiring our lives and careers decades later.

Hope is not naïve. It is not from a simpler age. It is not unsophisticated and childish—unless the story is badly written.

Hope is the thing we need most when the age around us becomes cynical. Hope is the power that cuts through the darkness. It is the thing that lasts when everything else fails.

Superheroes, Star Wars, Star Trek—they have all flourished because they brought us heroes—hope. When you kill the heroism, the hope, you kill what makes these stories strike our heart. Using the same names and costumes might allow them to eek along for a little while, but few people are fooled for long.

Which is why they stop buying tickets.

If you want a story to last, you need heroes. You need a light in the darkness. You need hope.

  • Frank Luke

    Ask anyone who went to high school or college with me about my devotion to Star Trek back then (the only series I didn’t like was VOY). J.J. Abrams’s “Not Wrath of Khan” broke it so that I said I would not watch ST:BEYOND. When ST:D was announced and that the showrunner was a huge fan of Trek (which I debate if Jar Jar Abrams could honestly say that), I became hopeful. The more I heard about the changes corporate insisted on making for ST:D, the more leery I became. Then that showrunner left.

    ST was all about optimism. They faced big challenges like the Q, the Borg, the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Romulans with hope. We knew that the darkness wasn’t going to win overall. Even if Picard gets borged and Sisko sells his self respect to bring the Romulans into the war, that hope made it great.

    When the previews for STD showed no hope and a lack of basic human nature, I stated, “from where the sun now stands, I shall watch no new Trek forever.” Nothing in the Abrams verse or the STD timeline.

    • Mrs. Wright

      J. J Abrams made me chuckle out loud.

  • KL

    Some have said that this is the Star Wars for new generations, and the ones unhappy with it are just the old fans, those who saw the original trilogy in theaters way back when.

    But not all of them are that old. During the Christmas night (I have worked nights for a couple of decades, usually I can’t sleep during the nights now even when I’m not working) I went through several youtuber reviewers (among other things, I also watched a couple of old movies there and some cat videos… 🙂 ) who had negative or neutral opinion. One kind of resonated with me: she was pretty young (and pretty), definitely young enough that she can’t have even been born when the first trilogy came out. She said she was recording her review about two hours after coming home from the movie, and she seemed pretty upset, rather obviously fighting tears from time to time.

    And her main problem had been what the movie did with Luke. Luke had been her childhood hero, and she was so very disappointed with the way the movie had turned him into somebody with feet of clay, a fallen hero and a bitter old man who had given up. The fact that he did get redeemed didn’t matter to her that much because in her opinion he shouldn’t have been needing redeeming in the first place. To her that was not Luke.

    I was a teenager when the first movie came out, and I don’t like the idea of a fallen hero either. I guess it has to be worse if it was a character you had idolized as a child. Yes, heroes fall often enough in real life. But to me one of the big point with fictional ones is that they keep up the hope that it is not inevitable. That sometimes some people are strong enough to stay with their principles their whole lives.

    Luke should have been one of those.

    • Nate Winchester

      The movie is also just plain bad writing.

    • Whiskey Jack: Lord of Pith

      Luke should’ve been a paragon character, befitting the mentor archetype. Instead, they made him a bitter, broken man who needed redeeming, more a Vader than an Obi-Wan. Which is a huge misstep, and makes one question all of the decisions going into these new films.

      In the end, I think Star Wars fans will simply ignore this new trilogy, and proclaim the Thrawn Trilogy the true canon sequels, regardless what Disney says.

  • Thank you so much for this post, Mrs. Lamplighter! I’ve been saying this sort of thing for a while now about comics and other franchises, but I never dreamed I would have to say it about Star Wars. I thought that franchise was relatively safe – but that was before TFA came out.

    “Some have said that this is the Star Wars for new generations, and the ones unhappy with it are just the old fans, those who saw the original trilogy in theaters way back when.” You know how you can tell these people are lying? You can either see their lips moving or words are appearing on their screens. I didn’t see the original trilogy in theaters, but I have loved those movies for many years now. TFA was bad enough; I am not even going to give TLJ the time of day.

    The only good thing to come out of the Disney timeline is Star Wars Rebels and the media related to it; everything else for the new timeline is terrible. I know Rebels is not for everyone and that it’s (apparently) received lots of bad press, but it has managed so far to keep the tone of the original trilogy rather than the prequels or the new sequels. I really think it would have fit in with the original EU better than the new timeline.

  • xavier

    To me the new Star wars movies mocks St Paul’s letter when he says when I was a kid I played with childish thing but I put away childish things etc.
    Virtues are never childish but the social justice fools think otherwise and we have to suffer

  • Terry Sanders

    Ah, but there *is* hope! The Force has returned to the People! Rey is the vanguard of the New Era! Now that the decadent aristos have been swept away, the new Force-users, their minds uncontaminated by elitist Jedi teachings, can lead the Glorious Revolution that will set aside the surviving aristos and the Space Nazis alike; and the New Galactic Order can begin, bringing in the Age of Aquarius, where all beings are brothers and comrades, and–

    I’m sorry. I can’t do that any more. My cancer meds make stomach upset more of a threat than it used to be…